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Edible Gardening Essentials: Tips for Traditional Hand Watering

Save the cost and hassle of a complex garden system by using a simple watering can or nexpensive hose add-on.

In today’s world of sophisticated drip and irrigation systems, it is easy to dismiss the old-fashioned irrigation method of hand watering as too time-consuming and water-inefficient. These concerns are valid, and drip systems are certainly the system of choice for many edible gardens. However, these systems take time to set up and, in the case of irrigation systems, can be expensive. If you have a small space and scattered plants, or if you garden primarily in containers and don’t have the preparation or ability to create a more elaborate system, using a watering can or hose can actually save your water and time in the long run.
The obvious advantage is the setup. It takes very little time to fill a watering can or attach a nozzle to the end of a hose. You can also water exactly where you want, such as a bucket around the tree, individual flower pots, or around the base of your squash plants. No water is wasted on the soil or weeds and it prevents water splashing onto the leaves where mold may develop. Taking the time each day to water individual plants and observe them closely at the same time means you are more likely to spot developing problems and deal with them before they become problems.

Best for: Containers and small or irregularly shaped gardens.

Advantage: You can control when and where your water. You will naturally be watching your garden’s development closely.

Disadvantage: With a watering system, you can’t “set it and forget it”. Carrying too many hoses and watering cans can get tiring.

Cost: $10 to $100 (more for heavy-duty versions) for a watering can, hose (including soaker hose), hose tip nozzle, and underground sprinkler system.

Difficulty of control: Easy

Duration: Moderate to heavy depending on garden size.

Watering can

There is nothing more attractive than placing a watering can on your porch or planter bench. It’s also practical. You can fill it with enough water to water several plants, but not so much water that it’s difficult to carry or pour. Watering cans are especially great for container gardens or for overhead watering individual plants that don’t mind their leaves getting wet.

Choose a sturdy product that suits your garden style. Choose galvanized metal for a traditional look, hard plastic in bright colors for a modern garden, or cans in soft colors for a country feel. For small plants, smaller is better. Using a larger water bottle allows you to fully water larger plants without having to refill the can.

You don’t need to put a rosette on the end of a watering can, but it will help disperse the force of the water and spread it throughout the plant. Choose the right size for your plants and container. Some rosettes are so large that the spray pattern may extend beyond the plant or container.


Another option in addition to or instead of a watering can is a hose. Using a hose allows you to cover more ground without having to go back to refill the container. You can also reach under the plants to fill in the basins or furrows to a minimum.

Hose end nozzle. You can always use the tried-and-true method of directing the water by placing your thumb on the tip of the nozzle. However, attaching a hose end nozzle is more effective and saves water. Simple is fine, but if you’re watering multiple areas, it may be worth spending a few dollars more to get a product that has multiple options, such as mist spray, shower, or rain options. This will help you keep the soil moist when you start planting your seeds and allow you to water them later without damaging the delicate seedlings or washing out the soil.

Soaker hose. Other hose end options include soaker hoses and sprinklers. You will need to connect the hose and turn the water on and off, but you do not need to stay at the hose while watering. If you forget to turn off the water, you can use the timer attached to the system to turn the water off and turn it on occasionally.

You can thread the soaker hose into the garden bed next to the plants. Connect the hose, turn it on, and let the water slowly seep into the ground. For an edible garden, choose one where the water seeps down the sides rather than squirting out the top of the hose.

Soaker hoses are perfect for closely planted edible plants and plants in larger containers or garden beds. You can cover it with mulch. Make sure the mulch does not cover the plant stems.

Hose end sprinkler. Hose tip sprinklers can also be placed in garden beds and used to cover the entire area at once. Like a soaker hose, it can save you time while watering. Plants susceptible to mildew should be watered early enough in the day to prevent leaves from getting wet at night. You also run the risk of irrigating areas that don’t need it, such as sidewalks, and encouraging weeds in unplanted areas. To avoid the former, look for sprinklers that have multiple options for spray patterns.

Ground sprinkler system. If you have multiple areas that are very close to each other and have a consistent appearance, consider an in-ground sprinkler system. Like a drip system, the main line has a cap on one end and a hose attachment on the other, stretching from 50 to 100 feet. Up to five spray heads, with options for spray direction and coverage, can be positioned along the main line and anchored to the ground. Place the hose in the garden, determine the location of the sprinkler, then punch the sprinkler through the hose and anchor it into the ground. After adjusting the spray
direction and spray width, connect the hose to the sprinkler and water up to 5 locations at once. You can purchase a kit or make your own.

Root feeder. If you have fruit trees in your edible garden, you can also periodically use a root feeder or root soaker to deeply water the tree’s roots. You can find these products at nurseries, garden supplies, and home improvement stores. Plug the soaker into the ground inside the tree’s drip line, connect the hose, and turn it on.

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