How to Know When to Irrigate

Raised Garden Beds

Both over and under watering are detrimental to plant health. Under watering will weaken or even kill a plant. If plants are starting to wilt before you water it may be too late. Over watering virtually drowns the plants. An irrigation system can help maintain proper soil moisture but just setting it to run every day or so is not the answer. There are several methods for determining if your landscape needs watering.

1. The screwdriver test

Use a screwdriver to take small samples of soil from several locations and 4 to 6 inches deep. Simply feel the samples for moisture. If it feels dry, irrigate. If it feels moist just leave it alone for now. If it feels real wet you may have a drainage problem. 

2. Foot Prints in the Lawn

Take a stroll through your lawn. If you look back and see footprints it’s time to water. If there are no foot prints then there is enough moisture already. If you can hear your footsteps as you walk you are way over due to water.

Since this method is not very suitable for flower beds or vegetable gardens, use the screwdriver

3. Actual Water Usage by the Plants

There are methods to calculate how much water different plants use on a daily basis. This is a very involved process that takes a lot of daily work and is not considered practical for the average homeowner or residential landscape. For those that are really interested in learning more there is a book available for free at

 4. Measuring Soil Moisture

Several types of moisture measuring tools are available on the market today. They range from very simple to high tech radio control that turns your irrigation system on automatically. Some of the very inexpensive models may not be very accurate and the automatic controls are very expensive. A device called a tensiometer is a middle of the road device that measures soil moisture tension. As the soil dries the gage on the tensiometer reads higher. When the gage reaches the indicated point it is time to turn on your irrigation. It’s important to check the gage at least daily and more frequently during the summer.

Varying Water Needs of Plants

The amount of water needed varies by plant. For this reason you should group plants based on their needs. You wouldn’t want to plant cactus which use very little water in the same bed as plants requiring much larger amounts of water.

Watering Tips for your Plants & Lawn

This Garden Bytes video offers watering tips for your trees, plants or lawn.

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