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?
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.
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