Vegetable Garden Watering Tips

ONE OF THE MOST MISUNDERSTOOD AREAS of vegetable gardening is watering. Here are the answers to nine of the most common vegetable garden watering questions:

1. How much should you water your garden?

There is no easy answer to this question. The answer depends on the type of soil you have, needs of the plants you’re growing, air temperature and humidity.

Soil. If you have a sandy soil, the water runs right through it and you’ll need to water more. Clay soil holds the water longer and requires less.

Plant needs. Some plants like to sit in water. Some are easily damaged by too much water. You’ll need to know what your plants need to determine how much to water. Read the seed package if you are growing from seed or ask the garden center if you are buying seedlings.

Temperature. When the weather is warmer, the soil dries out more quickly so water more.

Humidity. Evaporation takes place more quickly in a dry desert than in a tropical rain forest. Water more in extreme dry and windy conditions.

2. How should you water?

When watering from the top, simulate the rain. Don’t use a high pressure blast, which damages topsoil and , of course, can damage the plants as well.

3. Is there a way to test if plants are getting enough water?

First, if your plants are wilted and it’s not due to too much heat, there’s a good chance the soil is too dry. Wilting can have a number of causes, but if you see wilting, check to see if the soil is too dry.

There are gadgets to help you determine the dryness of the soil, but probably the best test is a manual one. Stick your finger down into the soil as deep as it will go. Use a gloved hand if you don’t like getting your hands dirty. Be careful not to damage plant roots. You should try to get down over six inches because plant roots hang out between six to twelve inches deep. If your finger comes up dry, you probably need to water. If not, you can wait.

4. How long should I water?

Vegetable Garden Watering

It’s a good idea to test how long it takes to penetrate below the six inch level. When you look at the soil, it looks wet enough. But dig down just a little and it’s still bone dry.

You can learn a lot by watering for a while and measuring the depth of the moist soil. Then water longer and measure again. Repeat this until the soil is moist below six inches and record how long it takes to get there. It will take a while. In the future, you can use this amount of time as a rule of thumb when you’re watering.

5. Should you water from the top or use drip irrigation?

The experts disagree on the answer to this question. First lets define what I mean by the two alternatives.

When I say watering from the top, I’m talking about using a hose with a sprayer, using a watering can or using a sprinkler. Drip irrigation is when you use a hose or pipes on the ground to drip water at a slow rate.

Many people don’t like drip because it’s hard to maintain and hard to distribute the water evenly and efficiently. Some people like it because you can place the hose or pipes under mulch. This reduces evaporation and also the number of plant leaves that get wet. Keeping leaves dry helps prevent against fungal problems.

Many people would rather water from the top because they can see and control where the water goes. Undoubtedly some water is absorbed through the leaves, so watering overhead has the advantage of getting more water to the plants more quickly.

Before we go on to the other questions, here’s a video from Monkey See Video that provides a lot of valuable guidance on watering your vegetable garden.

6. When should you water?

The answer depends on which watering method you use. If you use drip, it’s probably best to water in the late afternoon or early evening because you don’t have to worry about getting the leaves wet. Watering late in the day increases the chances of fungal diseases because leaves remain moist all night long.

If you water from the top, it’s probably best to do it in the morning so the leaves can dry before night. No matter what method you use, you should avoid the heat of the day. If you water from the top when it’s sunny and hot, there’s a good chance that the magnification of the sun through the drops could damage the leaves. Watering during the heat also wastes water because of the high levels of evaporation.

7. How can you reduce the amount water you need?

Mulch helps conserve water. The deeper the mulch the slower soil will dry out. Another strategy that garden book author Carol Deppe uses is spacing plants more generously. The more space a plant has the less water you need. This philosophy is the exact opposite of square foot gardening. A third way to conserve water is to use a rain barrel with your house water gutters. Click on rain barrel for several articles that discuss this subject.

8. Does the water temperature make any difference?

At the beginning of the growing season you are often trying to warm the soil. Cold water can reduce the soil temperature significantly. Better to let the water warm in the sun before using it with your new seedlings.

9. Does misting plants when it is too hot help to keep them growing?

All plants stop growing when the temperature surpasses a certain point. Misting can lower the temperature when it’s too hot for growth. But I would advise against it because of the chance that the sun will be magnified by the droplets and result in plant scalding. Instead, let the plants natural defenses against heat take over. This will encourage deep root growth, which is good for your plants.

What’s your best watering tip? Let us know by commenting below.

Related articles you might enjoy:

1. Testing Garden Strategies
2. Selective Sloppiness
3. Rain Barrel Downspout Diverters
4. Product Review: Rain Reserve Diverter



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7 Responses to “Vegetable Garden Watering Tips”

  1. July 23, 2011 at 9:06 am #

    The extension service recommends watering between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. no matter what method you use. Drip irrigation is more difficult to maintain, but 40% of the water from a sprinkler can evaporate before it hits the ground in the heat of the summer. That is a lot of water to pay for that never reaches your plants. With drought everywhere, it is a lot of water to waste, too.

    • July 23, 2011 at 11:49 am #

      Thanks Stephanie. I’d agree with the extension service that the best time to water is early morning. But sometimes life gets in the way.

  2. July 23, 2011 at 6:26 pm #

    Good topic Bill,i think you have covered everything.Stephanie also has a good point with paying for water that never reaches your plants.I on the other hand have two wells,one for the house and one for the garden,so i don’t have to pay for water.This does not mean i waste it,i have used my well this year for one and a half hours.The rest of the time i use rain water,i collect it in barrels and water tanks,i have enough now for the rest of the year.I water a little different than most people,i check the weather forecast everyday,if there is no rain for the next seven days i start watering right away.But i don’t have to water as much as the people living in the city would have to do.My garden was made from a field,so the Capillary Action is still there,so the damp still rises as normal.Plus i have a nice 12 inches of top soil.In the city they take off all the top soil and excavate so far down to build the houses.The result is,no more Capillary Action,the damp does not rise anymore.That is why they have to water way more than i do.

    • July 23, 2011 at 8:23 pm #

      Hi Bob — Like you I also have a well, but I still consider the fact that I have to pay for electricity to pump the water out. I try to use the rain barrel water as much as possible. There’s also the problem that my well water has a basic pH, so I believe my rain barrel water is better for the plants in most cases. I really like the idea of checking the forecast and starting to water right away if there’s no predicted rain in the 7-day forecast. I think I’ll start doing that. Thanks again for stopping by. You always have great information!

  3. Jay
    August 11, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    Does it hurt the garden to water it with chlorinated water? We were having a severe dry spell and I watered every night from the tap. I noticed my pepper plants looking burned and wilted. Since the rains have returned, the peppers are looking better, but I’m not sure I will have a pepper crop. Just curious as to what your thoughts are on this.

    • August 11, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

      Jay — The chlorinated water may be killing the soil microbes that your pepper plants need to be healthy. That could be why your plants look better when it rains. But what choice do you have? You could try a rain barrel, which would give you un-chlorinated water (if it rains at least a little). You could also let the water sit for a while in an open bucket so that the chlorine dissipates. But this would be a pain.

      I’ve also heard it said that rain has a little bit of nitrogen, which makes plants look better almost immediately.

      But, in any case, don’t water every day. This encourages the roots to stay on the top. Instead, water 2 times a week, but water very deeply, making sure that the water penetrates deep into the topsoil. If it’s really, really dry, water 3 times a week. But deeply.

      One more thing: You should water more than just the area directly around the pepper plants. You need to water the microbes, small insects and worms to keep them alive and active. When it rains, the water goes everywhere and activates the soil microbes, making your plants healthier. I know it’s hard, but you want to try and keep the soil life alive until it rains.


  1. Watering your vegetable garden is a good thing but only if you do it right - August 25, 2012

    […] For more information and tips on watering your vegetable garden, we recommend thses two articles: Watering A Vegetable Garden and Nine Tips For vegetable Garden Watering. […]

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