Do You Water Your Garden?


I would bet quite a few let it rip since we have been having drier weather in many places around the country. Is it green grass you want?


It took me some time to actually find grass without weeds in my lawn for the images above. I don’t water the grass and depend on the weeds keeping my lawn rather green.

I just saw a NASA photo of Lake Mead and how much it has receded rather quickly in recent years. Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States, and is fed mostly by the Colorado River and its tributaries.

“According to the U.S. National Park Service and the Bureau of Reclamation, the amount of water flowing out of and evaporating from Lake Mead in recent years has consistently exceeded the amount of water flowing in. To date, Lake Mead has been able to meet the growing demands downstream. “ (source)

Does this cause you concern? Well if you live in areas using this water, I bet it does, (Government relief on the way). So I started thinking if there is benefit to watering gardens in these times of less rainfall.


Luckily, the rain gods have been vacationing in NY this year and being more generous than in previous years, but watering is still necessary to keep blooming plants hydrated.


Looking out into dry and brown meadows the last number of years and seeing large forest trees in decline, I realized our insect populations are being severely hit from all sides, not the least of which is plant blooms not hydrated to provide nectar and produce pollen. The plant may be blooming, but not necessarily providing sufficient sustenance if it is too dry. I realized since natural spaces are not providing adequately due to the decrease in rainfall, home gardens are of more importance than ever for bees and butterflies.


I keep reading people were not seeing as many bees or butterflies. Could it be that parched garden plants are partially to blame?


This year I have been selectively and frugally hand-watering plants in bloom. What I found was a great increase in insect visitation to the plants fully hydrated. We have had some rain that has relieved some of the problems of recent droughts, but it is still not sufficient for garden needs.

So, How to Water?

I do not believe in turning on the sprinklers being the answer unless entire gardens are in jeopardy, and do think places facing drought need water restrictions or rationing. I also believe in planting more drought tolerant plants, but have seen some areas getting too much rain also killing off these type of plantings. The weather has just been too volatile and unpredictable to plan for long-range landscaping. What many have faced in areas with adequate rainfall as the norm, is now dryer than average growing seasons. So how do we cope, yet still be water conscious and conserve?

A few options are available.

  • Rain barrels are great to have, but don’t usually help if rains don’t come for months. They aren’t even allowed in places requiring the downspout to be connected to storm sewers.
  • Retention ponds are an asset on large properties.
  • Using gray water is an answer to watering problems. There is even restrictions on gray water use on food crops because of safety issues. Then there are concerns over laundry detergents and the effects of the elements into which the biodegradable detergents decompose.
  • Only watering those plants needed by wildlife or food for humans. Include those seasonally wildlife frequent while in bloom.
  • Hand watering. I hand water by utilizing bath and cooking water.
  • Use drought tolerant plants. Plants such as asters are drought tolerant and can go longer before showing signs of stress or not attracting bees for lack of nectar. Monarda is very long blooming if kept moist.

It really is a conundrum in many respects. Do you be concerned or just accept what nature throws your way? I make a conscious decision each time I carry the bucket of water to the garden on which plants will receive it.


Today, the little birds were out in the garden feeding on Monarda. The feeders were down temporarily while the trumpet vine and Monarda are blooming, but now they are back.


Keeping blooms hydrated for the hummingbirds is just as important.

In the case of dragonflies being seen less, the insects on which they feed are in diminished supply apparently. What comes around goes around…



It is getting harder to just depend on nature providing the rain, even for drought tolerant plants. This year as most, I do have a good selection of pollinators. They say plant it and they will come, but I add water it too. Anyone saying native plants don’t require your care is wrong, just take a look at drying and bloom-free meadows that have no additional care.

Hosta-in-the-rainSo if you are or were missing the bees and butterflies, try keeping plants that they forage hydrated.


Think of all the water going down drains and how with a little work in carting it outside, plants will be happier that you thought to reuse and conserve.

The companion post to this article on Nature and Wildlife Pics, pretty hummingbirds in the garden, plus native gardening. Have a look at happy hummers.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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55 Responses to Do You Water Your Garden?

  1. Nell Jean says:

    Water wars continue between Georgia, Florida and Alabama where the mighty Chattachoochee River flows. We sit over the Floridan Aquifer but caution decrees that water will become more and more a precious commodity.

    Despite plentiful water here, I judiciously dole out drinks to the thirstiest of decorative plants grouped together. Drip irrigation keeps fruit trees and vines supplied. Lawns are allowed to go dormant during prolonged dry spells.

    Just last night I looked at a group of several large pots and decided that the vignette does not justify hauling water and containers must join others in a different shady location where watering is convenient.

    • Like you Nell Jean, I too move my sun loving baskets to the shade in times of high heat and little rains. They get watered daily just because they are confined with little water holding capacity. I also in a 2012 post mentioned how I behead perennials in bloom to save the plants to bloom again when the temps drop. No real lawn here, all weeds, so I care little if it goes dormant. I agree, we are headed to a crisis on water worldwide.

  2. Very good piece. I have stopped watering my turf a few years ago, but it not as pretty as it use to be. It would take 30,000 gallons a month in summer to keep it ideal.

  3. Indie says:

    I really try to place the right plant in the right place so that I don’t have to water nearly as much, as I hate more work for me. Drought tolerant plants go in higher, sunnier places, plants that like moisture go in low places. I hardly ever water my lawn (my lawn usually looks the most lush in the neighborhood at the height of summer, thanks to all the crabgrass and other weeds). Maybe eventually we’ll get sprinklers, but now I just selectively water enough to keep the plants looking good. It is a good point about the insects, though – I never thought about insects and watering before!

    • I agree as a designer, right place planting. But lack of rains and drought don’t discriminate whether a plant is in its most optimal location. No water, is no water. I am glad you got the point of my post. It is not about our plants looking pretty, but rather what work they do in our gardens. Last year the native Rudbeckia was crispy and missing in the meadows blocks from my house. This year with rain, they are blooming with abandon. Those plants are in the right place, but what do the insects do with a brown, crispy Black-eyed Susan that could not provide?

  4. I don’t water except for new plantings and haven’t seen any harmful effects. Any plant that doesn’t survive this regime doesn’t belong in my garden so it is a great winnowing process. Personally I think watering is overrated and often done when it isn’t needed. I do think there is a problem with watered plants not forming healthy root systems and so needing to be watered and a vicious cycle starts. None of my native PA plants ever need to be watered.

    • joepyeweed1 says:

      I think I am in Carolyn’s camp – native plants survive better than others. But having a few bird bath’s around can help even the insects. I think in drought years we want to keep the tress and shrubs from dying and give an occasional watering to plants under stress. If we do water we should water deeply and not often.

      • Yes they do – my own garden reflects that as well. You are right on birdbaths, but that does not help them with the nectar needs that a hydrated plant provides. I agree about watering deeply. Most don’t water correctly, and the plants develop shallow roots. A newly planted large tree requires 15 gallons of water per minute of watering. Rule of thumb is about two gallons per inch of trunk diameter for a tree 1-2 inch caliper. More in high heat or high wind times due to transpiration and evaporation. Trees up to 4 inch caliper require/need about 4 gallons of water daily. My landscaper/tree grower gives new trees closer to 15 gallons in the first watering. New plants are the exception when looking at daily watering. Many do as you mention and water too often.

    • My post mentioned how I feel about native plants, proper plant placement and conserving resources. It was not about the plants as much as the insects that need them. I showed phlox, Monarda, Rudbeckia and asters (all sun worshipers) in my garden, but the point is if they are dry and brown like the last two years, they are of no use to the insects. Meadows are blocks from my home and those past few years had little or no blooming plants. Yes, the knapweed (not native but a bee magnet), Queen Anne’s Lace (not native but attracts a variety of pollinators), Canada Thistle and other meadow plants have strong, deep tap roots where they are back this year blooming, but the whole point to the article was if no rains, no blooms, no insects. I garden FOR the insects. You are very fortunate to garden under all those huge trees, but that is not the case in city gardens. I don’t know if you saw my Garden Walk Buffalo posts, but those people water every day. It is much harsher in these conditions even though a number of those gardens had native plants. The post on the shade garden (Hosta hybridizers) had the same plants as you generally speaking, but they watered almost daily to keep their tree-covered shade gardens lush. Their gardens because of water-sucking huge trees, needed the supplemental water to keep their hostas happy. All this because they show the gardens to thousands of visitors each year.

      Sun conditions in cities are much harsher surrounded by heat retaining asphalt and heat emitting concrete. Not to mention all the stone base with pH8 or higher and no water holding capacity. There is never a right place for plants here except maybe shallow rooted turf grass that goes dormant in summer. Yet Buffalo made a point to green up the city and even though it requires much water to keep these gardens healthy and lush, the city is teeming with insect activity. I was going to do a post showing their gardens free of pesticides and herbicides. They are similar to mine in that respect. Many environmentally conscious gardeners in Buffalo.

  5. I have rain barrels, too, and water my vegetables, especially my tomatoes, first. I have some sunchokes or Jerusalem artichokes in pots this year. They’re native plants, but even though we got a lot of rain, and the ones in very large pots needed to be watered. The sunchokes in the garden bed did fine without watering. Great photos!

  6. photoleaper says:

    Great blog post and the most beautiful pictures!

  7. Debra says:

    So true. I water plants in containers and watch for water stress in the trees. I do think rain water ought to be a public good. Catching and using water makes so much more sense than diverting it to storm sewers. I do feel lucky to live in a municipality that not only allows rainwater collection but actively supports the idea. Since this country’s infrastructure is so old and in need of repair it would be nice to rethink the system of storm sewers which contribute to river/sea pollution. Old technologies that keep water on the land are so much better. Cisterns and johads would really benefit places where rains tend to be seasonal.

    • It would be great if water was free to all, yet then there would be further water usage and abuses at the expense of others not near enough to get water other than what is piped in to far away areas at considerable expense. Our storm sewers are also our sanitary sewers (same drain pipes) so there is not supposed to be any sump pumps or diverters. During storms, the system backs up into cellars which really is a major mess.You would think using the water from roofs would help alleviate pressure on the old system, but foundations of structures would be compromised from the excess water on properties. Cities are too big to handle old infrastructure.

      • Debra says:

        I can see how storm sewers make sense for some areas but where I live the water tends to be seasonal. We kind of get monsoon rains like India does so collecting water (safely) makes more sense than diverting it.

  8. Wonderful post Donna with so much info we need to remember. We have had too much water at times with flooding but I will still take it. My tomatoes and other veggies didn’t like it as the weather cooled with the heavy rain. But we don’t water the veg garden unless we have had many days without water which was rare. And a few containers here and there. But we do not water the lawn or any other part of the garden. My plants seem to be well adapted in my heavy clay and I try not to move plants or plant new plants in late spring through summer. I also have several gardens that use the diverted water from rain spouts so they stay very hydrated too.

    • Flooding has been more common as having droughts. It seems the weather has made major changes where we can not predict or prepare. I have heavy clay as well, but it causes its own headaches like you mention in spring and summer. Gooey and sticky in Spring and like concrete in summer. No matter the amount of added compost, each winter heave brings a new fresh batch of clay and gorge rock pushing up.

  9. Beautiful post, my dear Donna! 🙂
    Watering a garden is a large issue nowadays, everywhere I think. Over here, by law, farmers are obliged not to water during the warm hours [mainly noon], because water evaporates. In my balcony I use a watering system which I find is much better than me watering them [however much I like it!]. It is programmed for only a couple of minutes of dripping water daily [twice on high temperatures]. In the winter I set it once or twice a week. This way much less water is used and it goes straight to the root. Once or twice a month I will sprinkle water on the leaves to clean and refresh it.

    • navasolanature says:

      It seems the rain whether too much or too little seems to be so changeable that it is hard to plan well. In Spain the Eco veggie gardeners were complaining that the damp spring had caused a lot of problems for them. My study of the wild flowers has sometimes uncovered their very deep roots. August very little flowering now as the grasses dry out and the seeds fall.

      • We had too much rain a few years ago where farmers could not plant their crops, too wet for too long. Another recent year, frost was late and buds on fruit trees were killed. Not many realize how much weather – too much or too little rain or late frosts – affects our economy and grower’s livelihoods. It affects our cost of produce too, where some produce – usually fruit – is not available or too high in price.

    • It does seem other places around the world have much more severe water problems than we do in this country, but it does seem the weather changes are shifting to make some places here be without or pressure municipalities in ways to keep adequate supplies. Having huge fresh water sources around us, Niagara River, Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, the water gets sent many places far from us. We pay quite a bit for water right out our front door.

  10. Denise says:

    Watering wisely is one of the most difficult parts of gardening for me. I wanted to write about it a few weeks ago when my plants were suffering in the heat and drought. But in the last few days we have had a lot of rain. My rain barrel is full again. For now. Wonderful photographs!

    • Thank you, Denise. Great you have a full rain barrel. It makes such ecological sense, but we cannot have them here. I collect it in one of my large grower posts without drainage holes. Never that much to use, but every bit helps.

  11. debsgarden says:

    Great post with fabulous photos. I am fortunate to live in an area with plentiful yearly rainfall, about 60 inches a year. Water restrictions are extremely rare, but we do have occasional droughts, usually during the hottest months. That can be brutal on plants. I have hauled a lot of gray water out to my plants in times past, but I do use hoses and occasionally sprinklers. Sprinklers were running all day yesterday in my woodland garden. Trees, moss paths, shrubs and weeds all got watered. I do this once or twice a month during the summer if needed. I have too much invested to watch things die, and I do care about the wildlife that live in my garden. Of course, native shrubs such as yaupon holly tolerate most weather conditions.

    • I can pretty easily use the bath water and cooking/kitchen water because the gardens are so small and I can keep an eye on what plants need water the most, but understand those of you with large gardens this would be a hassle. There are methods, landscape-direct systems to take water outside mechanically piping it outdoors for larger properties. Greenhouses use it sometimes also. But restrictions apply depending on the locality. Most have to do with the contaminants and where and on what the water is used. I can see why you water. All my clients do for the same reason as you, the large investment, both in money and in commitment to their gardens. My clients have little care for the wildlife though. Most have companies spray. No changing the minds of people who detest the insects and hate the deer.

  12. Always in awe of your most amazing photography. Not even mentioning the information you provide everyone with.

  13. This is a timely and interesting post along with amazing photography (as usual!) I have noticed a decline in the number of pollinators this summer and didn’t realize that it could be the result of the drought we’ve been having. Luckily we have experienced lower than normal summer temperatures but the lack of rain has shown in the lack of butterflies and bees. I have a variety of drought tolerant plants and try to keep my pollinators hydrated but even after a record rainfall just a few days ago with up to 13.25 inches of precipitation in some spots the ground was still dry the next day. Since the rain; however, I have seen a few more Swallowtails which is a good thing.

    • We too have had lower temperatures than recent previous years. It has been a blessing. I have noticed the same thing with rainfalls. We get a lot of rain and it is dry the next day, showing how the droughts have been affecting us. Funny thing about the weather this past winter until now, the snow, temperatures and rainfall have been more similar to when I moved here initially – like what was the norm. Maybe because it is a 2014 El Niño year.

  14. I water mainly new plants, containers, and vegetables. Then also I will water plants vulnerable to drought, like eupatoriums, if things get really dry. Water here is not free but we are lucky to live in the Lake Michigan watershed.

    • Thank you for your experiences. I did not know you were in the Michigan watershed. The maps of it have you outside the area shown as the watershed. Our water is very, very expensive and we have some of the most fresh water around with the Niagara River, Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. It gets shipped to everyone else so prices are very high. It has always been a bone of contention with residents of Niagara County.

      • I’m surprised that your map shows me not in the watershed, but maybe the boundaries are partly determined by which unit of government you live in. Since I live in the City of Evanston, which borders the lake, I am at least treated as if I lived in the watershed. Towns to the west of us have more expensive water, and more water restrictions when conditions are dry.

        • Actually it was all the maps I Googled. I was interested in the watersheds to see if they changed around the Great Lakes. I looked at where you live and thought it was because of the high density of the area. It was all places along the coast of Lake Michigan to Chicago were not shaded in as part of the watershed.

  15. lucindalines says:

    We work hard to minimize water waste. Our gardens are mostly spot watered, and we have a large rain barrel, but when it rains I always wish that I had two or three.

    • I do myself too. I have done many posts on water decrease and conservation, but it only helps when many see what we all may be facing worldwide in the near future. I know that sounds alarmist, but I believe we are headed to times where rationing will become the norm. I wish I had a rain barrel, but some neighbor would probably report me to the city. Too many busy bodies.

      • lucindalines says:

        I know there are some places that forbid it. I always worry about mosquito breeding, but we do make sure to disturb the barrel lots. Yes it is important to educate and you have done good for that.

  16. bittster says:

    I have parts of the garden planted for things I water and other areas that have to make do. I grew up in one of the suburbs of NY city and a green lawn was third behind a big house and fancy car. Here in the valleys of Pennsylvania it’s ok to let the grass go dormant when drought strikes.
    In spite of that I ran the sprinkler twice this summer and with the cooler weather we had that little water was enough to keep the grass out front green, but I think my splurge was nothing compared to the yards which get some water every few days, rain or not.
    I may just subscribe to the western philosophy though… the numbers predict rationing in two years. Why start now? Just keep dumping it on the garden until the government puts out the limit and ignore the writing on the wall. I think we should all feel ashamed that the Colorado river dries up before it hits its former estuary.

    • I was surprised to read you have had drought conditions. I remember a map I saw years ago predicting areas least affected by “climate change” or a warming climate, and it was color coded to areas in severe circumstance to places that would be less likely to be affected in 30+ years from now. PA was a place to move to, and Buffalo was not a bad spot to live either. Some coastal places no longer were on the map due to rising sea levels. I wish I would have saved it because it really was an eye opener. Of course, it was just a prediction, but it still seemed likely if climate continues its current path.

      • bittster says:

        I know I call it drought, but our latest dry spell probably doesn’t come anywhere close to qualifying as such. I think for the summer we were somewhere near 4 inches below average, so it was dry, but not that tree killing kind of drought that makes you want to give up on the season.
        Last year was much worse, and both years it seemed very localized to our valley.
        Just a few years ago the valley experienced a record flood so any dry spell is probably just an extreme blip on a very variable model. Can’t wait to see what winter brings us this year!

  17. Annette says:

    The rain gods have been busy here too, my dear!!! Usually I only water young plantings or when plants show signs of stress. We’re very lucky because we have a well which -up to now- never let us down. I also have two reservoirs (each with 650 l) which is great…but watering with cans is quite time-consuming so usually restricted to the pots. Well. it wasn’t a typical hot summer but it certainly saved me a lot of time 😉

    • I too always, or should I say almost always if I don’t forget, water new plants. I often forget because of my job, getting home and not feeling like going out in the garden. I then remember to find a crispy brown plant. I am especially bad at those I transplant. You are fortunate to have the reservoirs. They must come in very handy.

  18. I do not currently own a lawn and that is a good thing with being in a drought and a few months back having to cut back on water usage by 10%. I use the water from cooking if I can to water. I do water a little bit for my garden as well as the birds, bees, butterflies, insects, and lizards. If plants start drying out I will need to take them out to protect from being used as fuel in a wildfire situation. It is a fine balance at times because I enjoy nature as well as the wildlife, but then there is drought and wildfires. I have to protect and prevent too. My guilty pleasure in being in green spaces is to rub my feet in the grass 🙂

  19. the photos are fantastic as always. I stopped watering the lawn some years back but I hand water the gardens and hanging and potted plants. My portulaca isn’t blooming well this year. I use it around the base of my morning glories which are on wrought iron climbing trellises in huge pots, and usually it’s profuse. It’s been a sunny but cool summer which I don’t think is good for blooming plants but suits me just FINE 😀

  20. I am proud to say I took out all the grass about 5 years ago and have been moving the garden to plants that do not need to be watered. Even Seattle is going to become drier over time…Your photos just keep getting better and better.

    • Many say they have made the move to plants not needing to be watered, but droughts may say otherwise. Not all plants will go dormant. Even those that do depend on deep roots, and hopefully the ground is moist at their level.

  21. Lula says:

    Really very well said. Conscious watering is not the only concern, it s also food for pollinators which means flowers, that need humidity. Southern Spain, where I am staying these weeks, has an enormous problem with watering. Using drought tolerant plants can be one of the possibilities, but my personal opinion is that there are less flowers and that reduces the possibilities to pollinators. So, conscious watering is essential but needs to be a combined effort with conscious garden design, more green cover with bowers, trained arbours, etc., in gardens prevents evaporation and can help. I am researching some of these traditions for future projects. Thanks for presenting the topic!

    • That is true and what I alluded to in the post. Drought tolerant plants will likely survive a short drought, but will not produce flowers for the pollinators. I saw in 2012 where very few meadow plants bloomed for on day then were dried the next.

  22. Interesting article on water use and conservation. Something most people don’t think about – hydrating the pollinators. Your photos are beautiful as usual! I loved the white flower with the raindrops on them. It looked like a hosta?

    • It is not so much hydrating the pollinators as it is feeding the hydrated plants feeding them the nectar. Pollinators will drink water, but not get the nutrition they need unless getting nectar or in the case of insect eating birds like hummingbirds will do supplementing their nectar intake, get the insects too.

  23. Because of the water concerns, many people are choosing to hand water certain plants rather than get the hose or sprinklers going just to water a few select items.

  24. Pingback: Water Conservation – Saving Money and the Planet by Reusing/Saving Water | Live Like No One Else

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