Watering by hand is more and more a lost art, especially as gardeners have come to rely on automated watering systems. Yet knowing the ins and outs of watering by hand gives gardeners invaluable insights into what is arguably your most important gardening tool of the summer and one that will even help you manage your irrigation system more effectively.

Established plantings need deep, infrequent watering. Most plants require an inch of water per week: rain plus hand watering or irrigation. Applying that inch of water in one deep watering will encourage deeper rooting, which leads to stronger, healthier plants. Shallow, infrequent watering, on the hand, will lead to shallow root systems and high water loss through evaporation.

Slow and steady. In the same way that a slow, steady drizzle benefits a garden the most, when watering by hand, apply water slowly and not in a deluge. This means setting the hose to a gentle spray and going over the same ground multiple times to ensure water has time to reach the roots, rather than running off. At Rachel’s Garden at Mulford Farm, for example, hand watering should take up to an hour. Note that in our other gardens, most of which have drip irrigation, we still need to hand water newly planted materials until their root systems are well established.

Focus on the root zone. Remember that it’s the roots that need access to water, not the leaves. Wetting the foliage is a waste of water and can promote the spread of disease or unsightly funguses on foliage.

Use a spade to check whether water has reached the root zone to a depth of 12 inches. Perennials, shrubs and trees concentrate their roots in the top 12 inches of soil, and the best way to know that you’ve watered to that depth is to dig and check. To get a feel for how the soil ought to look when watered properly, push a spade into the soil before you water and again after you finish. You’ll begin to see the difference between dry and moist soil, and to recognize about how long it takes to water by hand and get the soil moist to a depth of 12 inches.  In addition, you will gain insights into which parts of your garden benefit from rainfall more or less than others. At the Millstone Garden, for example, the beds closest to Main Street rarely receive as much rainfall as those at the back of the garden, because a large shade tree on Main Street acts as an umbrella deflecting water away from these beds. So some days, the front beds require hand watering when the back beds do not.

The best time of day to water is early morning before temperatures begin to rise. This gives the plants a good supply of water to face the heat of the day. Early morning also tends to be a time of lower winds and thus reduced evaporation. Very late afternoon is also sometimes satisfactory, but generally within 2-3 hours of nightfall so that foliage has enough time to dry. Remember that water that sits on leaves overnight can damage foliage and allow plant diseases to flourish.


Using a spade, shovel, or even a bulb digger, collect a series of small soil samples from about 3” to 6” below grade (so that you are below any mulch or other additives) and mix together all of the samples for a discrete area you wish to test. Air dry the sample for 24 hours and then send it to a lab for testing. The University of Connecticut uses a Modified Morgan test whereas other labs may use the Mehlich 3 test, which overestimates some micronutrients in northern soils (it was designed for Georgia). Here is the link to UConn’s website with detailed directions and forms for submitting soil samples for analysis: http://www.soiltest.uconn.edu/sampling.php


The New York Botanical Garden LuEsther T. Mertz Library
Plant Information Service:  “From gardening advice to houseplant questions,
identification to landscape design consultation.”
Speak to a specialist or make an appointment at 718-817-8681
Service is available Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. until 12 p.m.
E-mail your question to pltinfo@nybg.org

Horticultural Alliance of the Hamptons
“An opportunity to join other gardeners and make your own gardening more
enjoyable.”  Lectures, round table discussions, plant exchanges, garden visits, a
monthly newsletter and the most comprehensive horticultural library on the East

Southampton Rose Society
Offers membership for “individuals who simply share a love of our national flower.”
An affiliate of the American Rose Society providing horticultural education and
activities centered on rose cultivation.

Cornell Cooperative Extension websites:

General Gardening Resources Home Page

Gardening Resources Index
“Your portal to gardening information at Cornell”

Home Gardening
“A supplement to the Cornell Gardening Resources website”

Suffolk County’s Horticulture Leaflets Online
An encyclopedia of information about plants and their culture,
lawncare,vegetable gardening, meadow gardening, fruit trees, and the
identification and control of insect pests and diseases.  An invaluable

Resistance of Annuals, Biennials, Perennials, Groundcovers and Vines
To Deer Damage
Deer resistant plants specific to Suffolk County.

Cornell University’s New York State Master Gardener Program
Volunteers trained by Cornell Cooperative Extension in the art and
science of gardening.  Neighbors teaching neighbors.


Long House Reserve
Located in East Hampton. Jack Lenor Larsen’s Garden.??

Madoo Conservancy
Located in Sagaponack, artist Robert Dash’s Garden.

Bridge Gardens Trust
Located in Bridgehampton.


Quail Hill Community Farm
One of the original CSA farms in the United States.  Located in Amagansett and
serving over 200 families.

Edible East End
A magazine celebrating the harvest of the Hamptons and the North Fork season by
season.  Highlights the produce and cultural practices of local farms and vineyards.
Available free at many local stores and markets.