Guide to Garden Watering Methods

It's this: consistent watering. See, even if your garden is getting regular rainfall, you may still need to give Mother Nature a little help. So what's the best watering method? It really depends on the type of garden you tend, how much time you have, and how much money you're willing to spend.

Check out these common watering methods, then choose what seems right for you:

Watering Can

A watering can is the perfect choice for delivering the wet stuff to a few pots or newly planted seeds that need just a gentle sprinkle.

  • Pros: Easily portable, a watering can allows you to take water to any spot on your property—including where the hose won't reach.
  • Cons: Large cans are heavy when filled and can be hard to carry. It's also more tempting to water plants lightly (instead of deeply) so you won't have to make as many trips back to the faucet. Unfortunately, that encourages plants to develop shallow root systems, which means they'll need to be watered more often and may not grow to their full potential.

Garden Hose with Nozzle

A garden hose with a nozzle provides an easy way to water many different types of plantings—containers, raised beds, shrubs, and even small lawns. Choose a nozzle with at least two spray settings: jet (or stream) and shower. A jet setting is good for cleaning pots and bird baths and watering bushes the hose can't quite reach, while a shower setting is the best choice for watering established plants. You can instead choose a hose wand for extra reach, but it usually has just one setting (a gentle spray). Use one of these for watering potted plants, newly planted seeds, and young seedlings.

  • Pros: Both hoses and nozzles are inexpensive, readily available, and can be used to water just about any kind of garden.
  • Cons: You have to drag a hose around and take the time to water each individual plant.


Sprinklers are affordable and come in many styles, like the popular oscillating sprinkler that slowly rotates through a semi-circle as it waters. Water-conserving, multi-pattern sprinklers let you customize the spray to suit the size and shape of your garden. Sprinklers can be used to water raised bed gardens, landscape plantings, lawns, and vegetable gardens.

  • Pros: Sprinklers deliver a gentle soaking that keeps newly planted seed beds moist while also providing the kind of overhead shower that knocks aphids and spider mites off plants. Bonus: When not watering the garden, your kids (and you!) can use the sprinkler to cool off on hot days.
  • Cons: You have to schlep the sprinkler around to all of the areas that need to be watered. Usually, the area closest to the sprinkler receives more water than areas further away, plus you're likely to lose a good portion of the water to wind drift or evaporation. In high humidity, leaves may stay wet after watering, which can encourage disease to develop.

Soaker Hoses

Often called a leaky hose, a soaker hose is laid on the soil between plants, where it will "sweat" water along the entire length of the hose. Because the water goes directly into the soil, there's a lot less waste than you get with overhead watering. A soaker hose works best with densely spaced plantings and in raised bed gardens.

  • Pros: Soaker hoses conserve water by delivering it directly to soil. Plant leaves don't get wet, so it's harder for disease to develop.
  • Cons: Unless you invest in a timer, you'll need to leave the water running for a long time to soak soil deeply enough for best growth.

Water Sensors & Controllers

Water sensors measure how dry the soil is and then alert you when it's time to water. Smart water controllers go a step further, actually triggering your in-ground irrigation system to water plants when the soil gets dry. Sensors can be placed anywhere, while controllers work best with irrigation systems for lawns, raised beds, and landscape areas.

  • Pros: This kind of technology-based watering conserves water by providing only what plants actually need, when they need it. Plus, it's super-simple, allowing you to do all the "work" from your favorite mobile device, wherever you are.
  • Cons: It may take multiple sensors to cover all the areas in your garden, and the initial investment can be expensive.