"How often should I water my vegetable garden?" is one of the common questions I am asked. Most seeds require just three things to grow; soil, water and sunlight. Watering your vegetable garden correctly plays a huge role in the success and health of your vegetables.
Watering needs, even within the same yard, can vary for various reasons. The type of container, raised bed, or in-ground garden you are growing in may each have different watering needs. Sunlight, quality of your soil, size of your plants as well as wind are also factors that play into your plant's watering needs. It is important to be able to recognize when a plant is dry vs. when it is waterlogged.
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Overwatering is just as detrimental to plants as underwatering. Many plants do not like "soggy bottoms" and will suffer if roots are continually wet. To avoid overwatering ensure all plant containers you use have drainage in the bottom. When watering your vegetable garden check for pooling water that stays pooled for 10 to 15 seconds after water is no longer being applied. Soil with adequate drainage should not end up with standing puddles. If this is happening you may have high clay content and need to amend your soil.
To avoid overwatering only water when soil is dry one to two inches down. (This applies only to sprouted plants. Plants that have not germinated benefit from soil that is more moist.)
How to Know if my Garden Needs Water?
To check soil for moisture, dig down into your garden with your pointer finger. If it is dry to a depth between your first and middle knuckle (for most this is 1 to 2 inches), it is time to water. It is much better for your plants to be physically checking the soil to see when your vegetable garden needs watering vs. watering only on a specific schedule, because as we discussed above, there are many factors that will affect soil moisture from day to day.
Because containers and pots have smaller soil amounts per plant they often are the first to dry out. Keep a close eye on hanging baskets and containers in high heat.
If you notice plants wilting, before jumping straight to watering, check the soil dampness. Many plants wilt both when they are dry and when overwatered.
Make sure you don't forget to water plants protected under eaves, trees or roofs during periods of rain.
We use this water timer to turn automatically turn our sprinkler on in our garden for 20 minutes during the summer.
How Much Water Does My Garden Need?
Water recommendations for vegetables gardens is that they should receive 1 to 2 inches/week. By no way is this a hard and fast rule. Also, who actually measures the water they are giving their plants? (I sure don't.) If you mulch you may be able to get by with less water. If it is hot and windy you will likely need more.
On hot days you will most likely need to water every day. If mulched well, you can probably get by with every second day. If it exceptionally hot and windy, you may need to water twice a day. Cloudy and rainy days may leave you not needing to water for weeks.
When you water, try to allow moisture to soak deep into the soil. You can check this using your hand or a trowel. Ideally soil should be damp at least 3 or 4 inches down. Aim to deep water your garden at least once a week. Watering in the evening or early in the morning is superior to mid-day watering, allowing more time for the moisture to soak in before the heat of the day evaporates it.
Tips on How to Water Plants
Nearly all plants grown in zone 3 (tropical houseplants are the exception to this rule) do best if water is applied to the base of the plant. If hand watering, avoid getting water on the leaves of your plants. This is especially true for plants prone to powdery mildew such as tomatoes, squash and cucumbers. Basil is another one that does not like wet leaves. Wet leaves are also more susceptible to sunburn.
Heat loving plants like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and basil will appreciate if you water them with room temperature water vs. freezing cold water from the hose.
Rain water is better than tap water for plants, being the right pH for your garden and containing less salts and minerals and more micronutrients than tap water.
Note on Fertilizing
Never fertilize extremely dry plants as the nitrogen in the fertilizer can scald the dry roots. It is much better for your plants to fertilize when they are still just slightly damp.
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