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GARDENING To water or not to water?

Outdoor Living
To water or not to water?

To water or not to water?

Organic growing
Hans Wieland

“Watering is rarely necessary outdoors in the West of Ireland. The only time you may need to water is after transplanting your seedlings outdoors” – Klaus Laitenberger

“As well as weeding your plot, one of the main summer preoccupations is watering your plants. Some require more than others” – Alan and Jackie Gear

“Even in the apparently wet climate in the British Isles, most vegetables benefit substantially from an increased supply of water, particularly in the drier regions of the country” – Joy Larkcom

“Watering depends a lot on your soil conditions” – Jill Scott

“Get to know your garden, the soil, the plants and water accordingly”
– Mary O’Connell

Five experts, five opinions. So what are we supposed to do? My answer is simple: Become your own expert in watering. Here are a few guidelines.

What to water
Seeds need water for germination. You can water the ground or seed compost in advance. For watering seeds, you need a fine rose for your watering can.
Transplants should be transplanted into moist soils and watered until they are established. If you transplant on from modular trays to pots, young plants should be watered regularly.
Plants need water to suck up nutrients from the soil. Quick-growing leafy vegetables like salad crops or spinach need more water than root crops and other plants with deep roots.
Each plant has its own water needs. Water mainly stimulates leaf growth, which means that root crops, for example, could produce excessive leaf growth if over-watered. I find that root crops grown organically tend to develop good root systems to go in search of nutrients.
Peas and beans need water especially at the stage when fruits start to swell.
All crops in polytunnels and under cover need regular watering.

How to water
It is generally accepted that watering thoroughly every few days is better than to water a little and often. If I do water in the outside garden, I give the plants a good soaking.
In the polytunnel, I would water Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the morning with a heavy dose, depending on the requirements of the plants. For example, tomatoes will get five to six litres each, lettuces much less.
I would also try not to splash the water on top of the plants, but water around the root. Young carrot seedlings and all other seedlings can be watered with a fine rose. Try to avoid watering in full sunshine, as it might scorch the leaves.
With fruiting vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and sweet corn) the critical time for watering is when the plants are flowering and the fruits are swelling. This is also the time when they benefit from your home made comfrey liquid (potash) fertiliser.

Tools for the job
My watering tools are ten-litre watering cans with a medium and a fine rose and a hose with a spray gun, that can provide mist as well as a full single jet spray.
I collect rainwater in butts and tanks, as it is much better (no chlorine) and softer than mains water and best of all, free.

Plants are like teenagers
Finally, here’s a little bit of my own watering philosophy: Young plants which have left the cosy environment of the propagation shed or hardening off area and are planted in the garden need a good watering in, but regular watering in the outside garden will make them dependent on us gardeners. It is much better to let them find their feet and develop roots to look for water and nutrients. Occasional help, especially in dry spells, is needed and allowed.
Think of young plants like teenagers who go off to college. We drive them to Dublin and make sure the flat has power and water and occasionally bail them out, if they are in trouble. However, if we continue do all their washing and cooking at the weekend when they come home, they will always come home and won’t learn how to turn on the wash machine and cook dinner!
They need to find their roots elsewhere, as do the young plants in the garden. In the process of searching for water, they develop their root system and become independent, strong and mature plants, which can look after themselves, much as we like our teenagers to develop.
Happy hardening and watering!

Hans Wieland is joint manager of The Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co Leitrim, which offers courses, training and information in organic growing, and runs an Eco Shop and an online gardening store. For more information, visit, e-mail or phone 071 9854338.
Questions or comments? Contact Hans at