Adequate and proper watering can make the difference between lots of vegetables to harvest, a lackluster harvest or none at all. Just like soil and sunlight, water is a key component to successful vegetable gardening.
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If you struggle with knowing when, how, and how much to water your vegetable gardens you’re not alone. Watering plants can be a really frustrating experience. Too much water and your plant may die, not enough water and your plant may also die.
If that isn’t enough pressure, researchers recently discovered tomato plants “scream” if they’re stressed or not getting enough water. When I read this all I could think of was my poor tomato plants screaming in July.
Principles of Watering a Garden
Let’s explore the essential principles of watering a vegetable garden.
- Garden Water Needs
- How to Water
- How often To Water
- How much water is an inch or two?
- Water Saving Tips
Garden Water Needs
Several factors influence water frequency and the amount of water plants need.
What part of the country do you live in? Temperature and humidity, play a significant role in determining a plant’s water needs. Gardens in hot, arid regions like Phoenix will need more water than those in cooler, more humid areas.
Container vs. In-Ground Gardens
Where is your vegetable garden? If plants are in raised above ground beds or in pots the soil will dry out faster than plants in-ground gardens. Keep this in mind and remember to water plants in containers more frequently.
How old are your plants? Seedlings and young plants need frequent waterings. To sprout they need consistent moisture.
What type of plants do you have in your garden? Different vegetables have varying water requirements. Refer to the seed packet for more information on the amount of water your particular plants may need. For example, leafy greens like lettuce and spinach need more frequent watering than root crops like carrots and radishes. Leafy greens like consistent moisture, without it they may taste bitter.
How much rain do you get where you live? Consider the amount of natural rainfall your area receives and adjust your watering schedule accordingly.
What kind of soil do you have? The composition of your soil affects its water-holding capacity. For example, if your soil is sandy it will drain faster than clay soil, so it may require more frequent watering.
How to Water Your Vegetable Garden
Whether you water with a drip system or by hand there are some general watering tips to help your garden.
Water in the Morning
Morning is the best time to water your garden. It allows plants to absorb moisture before the heat of the day, reducing the risk of disease. Avoid evening watering, as wet foliage overnight can promote fungal issues.
Water at the Base of Plant
Minimize water waste by directing water to the root zone of the plant. Using drip irrigation or a soaker hose makes it easy to water this way. If watering by hand, use a watering can or a hose with a nozzle to control the flow.
Apply a layer of organic mulch (straw, wood chips, or compost) around your plants to retain moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature.
Help create a strong root system. Apply enough water to penetrate the root zone of the plant. Shallow watering encourages shallow root growth, making plants more susceptible to drought and trees are more likely to fall during a storm.
Overwatering can lead to root rot and other issues. To check if your garden needs water, insert your finger into the soil. If it feels dry an inch or two below the surface, it’s time to water your plants.
Develop a consistent watering schedule based on your garden’s specific needs. Most gardens need at least 1-2 inches of water per week, but adjust based on the conditions in your location.
Frequency of Watering
The frequency of watering varies based on the factors mentioned earlier.
Seedlings and Young Plants
Young plants are susceptible to drought and need to remain consistently moist in order to take root. Water frequently, usually every 2-3 days, but monitor soil moisture for adjustments. If you’re in an arid climate you may need to water more often depending on the season.
Once your plants are well-established water less frequently, but deep or for a longer period of time. Depending on conditions, this might mean 1-2 times per week.
During periods of extreme heat or drought, you may need to water more frequently. Monitor your garden closely and adjust as needed.
If mother nature provided rain you may not need to water as much.
How much Water is an Inch or Two?
Many plants or seed packets suggest watering 1″ to 2″ of water per week. I’ve always wondered how a person is suppose to determine how much an inch or two was. Maybe you may have also wondered what exactly this means?
If nature hasn’t provided any water for your plants for the week they are relying on you to do the right thing and give them some water. But how do you know how much water to give them? To make this applicable to real life I decided to break it down to square inches and then use some dimensions of popular raised garden beds.
One inch of water or rain is equal to approximately 623 gallons per 1,000 square feet. This equals to .62 gallons of water per square foot.
This is just a general guideline, you can always test the soil by sticking your finger in the soil. If the soil is dry it’s time to water. Container gardens or raised garden beds will need more frequent watering than in-ground garden beds.
Let’s break it down for some common garden bed sizes. Length by Width
How Much Water is Needed for 2′ x 2′ Garden?
If you have a 2 foot by 2 foot garden bed you have 4 square feet of garden space. Your garden would need 2.48 gallons to provide one inch of water or 4.96 gallons for two inches of water.
How Much Water is Needed for 3×3 Garden?
If you have a 3 foot by 3 foot garden bed you have 9 square feet of garden space. Your garden would need 5.58 gallons to provide one inch of water or 11.16 gallons for two inches of water.
How Much Water is Needed for 6′ x 3′ Garden?
If you have a 6 foot by 3 foot garden bed you have 18 square feet of garden space. Your garden would need 11.16 gallons to provide one inch of water or 22.32 gallons for two inches of water.
How Much Water is Needed for 4×2 Garden?
If you have a 4 foot by 2 foot garden bed you have 8 square feet of garden space. Your garden would need 4.96 gallons to provide one inch of water or 9.92 gallons for two inches of water.
How Much Water is Needed for 4′ x 4′ Garden?
If you have a 4 foot by 4 foot garden bed you have 16 square feet of garden space. Your garden would need 9.92 gallons to provide one inch of water or 19.84 gallons for two inches of water.
How Much Water is Needed for 8′ x 4′ Garden?
If you have a 4 foot by 8 foot garden bed you have 32 square feet of garden space. Your garden would need 19.84 gallons to provide one inch of water or 39.68 gallons for two inches of water.
Conserving water in your vegetable garden is not only environmentally friendly but also cost-effective. Here are some tips to help you save water:
Use a Rain Barrel
Rainwater is free and a perfect to water your garden during times of drought. Collect rainwater in barrels to use for garden irrigation. In most U.S. states harvesting rainwater isn’t regulated, however please conduct your own due diligence, as some states do have regulations surrounding this. For example, Colorado has regulations regarding harvesting water.
Group Plants by Water Needs
When planning out your garden group plants with similar water requirements together. This way you can water them more efficiently.
Install a Drip System
My personal favorite lazy garden hack is to install a drip system. Drip irrigation systems deliver water directly to the root zone, reducing wastage. They are very convenient if you are forgetful or if you are on vacation. The new one we install can be managed by an app, so I love it. Despite all of the positives of this type of watering system it isn’t 100%. In Phoenix the lines often crack after awhile due to heat and the nozzles can easily clog. I recommend running regular tests just to ensure everything is still getting watered, especially at the beginning of the season.
Weed Regularly & Mulch
Weeds compete with your vegetable plants for water. Minimize water loss by keeping a weed-free garden. Mulch can help deter weeds and it helps keep moisture in the soil.
Water & Gardening
Adequate and proper watering is necessary for a bountiful harvest of vegetables. Employ the right techniques, and adhere to a consistent watering schedule for healthy plants and plants that don’t scream.