Down the Garden Path: How to make water conscious gardening choices

The weather cycle in the Midwest has been hotter and drier in recent years. In response to the current cycle, one change that we can make is how we water plants. Let’s look at some ideas that can conserve water and provide a good vegetable crop.

Whether you have a new garden or an existing one:

• Plant what you need or can donate; don’t waste food by watering plants and not using the produce.

• Mulch helps conserve moisture and helps control weeds. When using mulch wait for soil to warm in the spring before placing mulch.

• When using a hose make sure you have a faucet nearby or plan how you will transport water to your garden. This decision can determine how many plants you will be able to water.

• Time of day that you water is important. Many people water early in the morning or early in the evening during the heat of summer.

• Never spray your plants with a hose; they need to be dry at night to prevent disease. Also, water will evaporate more quickly under a hot summer sun. On a windy day, water evaporates even more quickly. Use of drip hoses is more efficient: the plants don’t get sprayed instead the water drips slowly into the soil where it is needed – the plant’s roots.

Block planting versus row planting is another idea to consider when planting vegetables. When planting something like green beans, instead of the usual row of green beans, plant in a small, block/square pattern. You will be watering a smaller area inside of the block of plants. The plants help shade each other and can help discourage weed growth. Another option for planting is a raised bed. Use mulch in a raised bed and you may also use a drip hose to conserve water.

More on drip hoses:

• Drip irrigation is a great way to supplement water. You can purchase drip hoses at hardware stores, garden centers, etc. You can also make drip hoses by purchasing the hose and drilling holes in it.

• As a rule of thumb, plants need one inch of water a week. Put a rain gauge out and record the amount of rain on your phone or paper calendar; water only if the minimum amount of rain has not fallen.

• Lay down hoses as soon as possible – match plants to holes in hose or punch holes to match plants if making hoses.

• Wait for soil to warm and plants have germinated before adding mulch and put the mulch over the drip hose to conserve water.

• Measure water so you don’t waste it. Place a butter dish or some other low-profile container under one area of the drip hose holes to measure how long it takes to get an inch of water in the container. Keep track of the time to see how long it takes for an inch of water to gather in the container to determine how long you need to let the faucet run.

• When you turn on the faucet time watering by setting the timer on your phone or on a separate timer, so, you don’t leave the water running longer than needed.

• Water is important. It is up to all of us to use it wisely and use only what we need.

Learn more about gardening, at Also, check out the University of Illinois Extension Horticulture YouTube Channel for videos on other horticulture topics.

• Darla Emmert is a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener serving Lee County.

Have a question for the Master Gardeners? Residents can contact the Kendall County Master Gardener volunteers on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. by calling 630-553-5823, stopping in at 7775B IL Route 47, Yorkville, or emailing For helpful hints on what to include in your email, visit