7 Ways To Water Plants Manually And Automatically

Are your plants dying from lack of water? Is it too much work to water your plants? Learn which of these ways to water plants will work best for you.

If you usually have drought conditions in summer like we do here on the west coast of Canada, picking the right watering system that meets your needs is a challenge.

And it can be one of the most time-consuming tasks if you try and do it manually.

Plus the cost of watering can get prohibitively expensive, especially if you water rates set by your utility are high.

So here are 7 ways you can water with the pros and cons of each.

Letting Natural Rain Water Your Plants

rain drops in puddle

You could just let Mother Nature take care of it. Most established plants do okay if they get at least 1 inch (2.5cm) of water a week.


  • Completely passive, not much you have to do other than maybe move a few pots away from overhangs or keep them away on a permanent basis.
  • Good for your plants as rainwater is soft, free of most chemicals and the right temperature, unless you get freezing rain!
  • Gentle rain is easier for the ground to absorb.
  • During lightening storms, the extra nitrogen in the rainwater will help your plants grow.


  • Rain won’t water your plants in a greenhouse, cold frame or under a roof overhang, so you’ll still need to water the plants in these sheltered locations in some way.
  • You’ll need to check weather forecasts carefully and be ready to water manually if you hit a dry spell.
  • Getting water on certain plant’s leaves can introduce disease. Tomato blight is caused by water splashing up from the ground, where the blight spores live, onto the lower leaves of the tomato plants.
  • You may think a brief rain shower has watering your garden enough, but in reality only the top fraction of an inch may have received water.

Hand Watering Plants With A Watering Can

watering planters with a watering can

This can be the most time-consuming way to water. However if you only have a few pots on a balcony or patio or a small raised bed in your backyard, this is manageable.


  • If you are collecting rainwater, it is easy to fill a watering can from a rain barrel.
  • If you are fertilizing your plants with a liquid soluble fertilizer such as seaweed or fish (or both like I do), this is much easier to mix in a watering can.
  • If your plants are on a counter or shelf in your greenhouse (such as transplants), a small watering can is ideal.
  • Hanging baskets also are easiest to water with a watering can.
  • For newly planted seeds or transplants, you want to be able to control the water stream so that you don’t float away the seeds or damage the transplants; you can get fine roses (the spray end that screws on the spout and lets water out in a fine spray) to help with that or you can use a spray bottle.
  • You can literally do some watering as you wait for your significant other to get ready to leave the house without worrying too much about messing up your good clothes with a dirty hose.
  • Children can help you water without overwatering the plants if you give them a small watering can to use where you control how much water they can put on a plant.


  • There are some very cheap and poor watering cans; they drip water from every seam, don’t have good roses and are not well-balanced. A good watering can is expensive and can be hard to find.
  • A large watering can can be quite heavy when full.
  • You can’t easily water a large plot of garden without having to go back and forth many times between the water source.
  • It is slow to wait for the can to fill up, especially if you need to make multiple trips.
  • You can’t automate this.

My recommendation for a good watering can:

Hand Watering Plants With A Garden Hose

green garden hose hanging on a wall

This is the next logical step up from watering with a watering can. It is a bit less time-consuming but still takes your time.


  • You can get a lot of water onto your plants in a relatively short period of time.
  • There are many different hose-end attachments you can screw on, including some watering wands which will let you water far into a bed without stepping into it.
  • You can add an inline fertilizer dispenser that will fertilize your plants as you water.
  • You can moisten your compost, clean patio furniture, your windows, the car, the dog (!), etc. with the hose so it serves several purposes.
  • The hose can also be used to lay out irregular garden beds, walkways or ponds.


  • You can get a lot of water onto your plants in a relatively short period of time, drowning them, so you need to be careful.
  • If you have hard water or water that is heavily chlorinated, your plants can be affected.
  • You need a long enough hose to reach all areas of your property or you need to invest in having hose bibs/taps installed in key locations in your garden.
  • You may find that pulling a hose behind you, especially if your yard has a lot of obstacles is very tiring.
  • Rolling the hose back up on the hose reel is time consuming and difficult especially with cheap hoses that have memory.
  • Hoses do break down from UV or you might accidentally run over it with the lawnmower! So you’ll have to budget replacing it every few years.
  • It’s easy to splash water on the leaves of the plant, potentially causing disease issues.

My recommendation for best garden hose is in Upgrade Your Garden Hose To Make Watering Easier And Faster

Using Manual Sprinklers To Water Your Garden

oscillating sprinkler on lawn

The next step up from hand watering is attaching a sprinkler to a garden hose and placing it where you need to water.


  • Relatively inexpensive
  • You can daisy-chain several sprinklers together with shorter pieces of hose
  • Lots of variety of sprinklers and many are infinitely adjustable to water only a certain area
  • The sprinklers can be put on a timer to water when you are away; you just won’t be able to move them around of course


  • Sprinklers do break down over time and need to be replaced.
  • Some sprinklers may cause puddles of water to form close to the sprinkler body.
  • You have to find a location to place the sprinkler where it won’t be blocked by foliage or a fence, etc.
  • Some sprinklers are hard to adjust to just water the area you want watered.
  • In many cases you’ll be watering areas that don’t need water, such as walkways and driveways.
  • If you only have one sprinkler and one hose, you will need to turn off the water, move the sprinkler, turn on the water, adjust it, etc.
  • Sprinklers water from overhead and get leaves wet which can cause disease.
  • Sprinkler spray can be lost due to evaporation and wind.

My recommendations are to browse through Amazon or your local garden centre

Using In-ground Sprinklers To Water Your Garden

Water sprinkler system

While this is an expensive and somewhat disruptive improvement to your yard, it does pay off in the long run in terms of convenience.


  • Very hands-off way to water.
  • No dragging hoses across your yard or lugging heavy watering cans.
  • Lots of variety of sprinkler heads and many are infinitely adjustable to water only a certain area
  • Usually there is a timer that you can set according to local watering restrictions and your preferences
  • Zones allow you to water various areas of the yard at different watering intervals and durations.


  • Expensive and time-consuming to install.
  • Installation will require trenching to lay pipe, which could disrupt plants.
  • Water freezing in the pipes can lead to having to dig up pipe and replacing it if it splits.
  • You could damage pipes when digging holes in your garden to plant trees or bushes.
  • Winter preparation requires turning the system off and in some cases blowing compressed air through all pipes to ensure they are completely empty of water.
  • All of the other cons mentioned above with manual sprinklers

Soaker Hoses

soaker hoses in garden

Getting the water to the root zone of plants is critical. Soaker hoses do that well.


  • Soaker hoses are relatively inexpensive and you really only need the hose and a water supply.
  • They can be buried under mulch to be invisible.
  • You can daisy chain them together for larger areas.
  • Easy to change the coverage.
  • Can be put on a timer.


  • You will likely need a pressure regulator to avoid bursting the hose.
  • You will need to hook up a regular hose if your garden is far away from a water source.
  • Soaker hoses are easy to pierce with a shovel or garden fork by accident (don’t ask me how I know!)
  • Over time they can get brittle and need to be replaced, hence why it is a good idea to keep them covered with mulch.
  • You have to snake the hose around plants and can’t easily make sharp bends unless you cut the hose and use elbow connectors.

My recommendation:

Micro Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation

This form of watering plants has only recently become popular, mainly due to the concerns about water supplies. It is similar to an in-ground sprinkler system but relies on efficient emitters and smaller sprinklers to water.


  • Very efficient water usage as it is low pressure, low volume.
  • You can literally have emitters directly next to each plant.
  • Cuts down on weed germination as you are not watering the whole soil surface.
  • Usually put on a timer to automate when the system waters.
  • Can usually be used even with strict water restrictions that may ban all sprinkler usage.
  • Can be added to easily as needs change.


  • Can be expensive to setup, especially if you are putting in permanent in-ground pipes.
  • Not that flexible if you move plants around, especially during crop rotation.
  • Hoses and emitters may get in the way when you’re cultivating the soil.
  • The fine emitters can easily get clogged if your water contains any sediments.

My recommendation (to start):

There is no one-size-fits-all with these different ways to water.

In fact you will find that you will need to utilize several of these watering techniques. Like me, you might have in-ground sprinklers but need to also water containers by hand with either a watering can or hose.

So long in the end you don’t let your plants wither and die with no water!

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