Of all the garden chores that can make or break your garden – watering is at the top of the list!

Too little water – and your plants will shrivel up and disappear.  Too much – and they will begin to turn yellow at the base, stop growing – and linger in the soil.

A green pepper glistens after and evening rain. Proper watering in the garden is a key to a good harvest.
A green pepper glistens after and evening rain. Proper watering in the garden is a key to a good harvest.

So much is made each year of all of the pests and disease that gardeners must ward off to have a successful harvest – when in reality – it’s the simple act of too much or too little water that will do in a far greater number of veggie plants.  In fact – the very act of practicing good watering habits can fend off or even eliminate some of those very pests and diseases.

Although water needs certainly vary from plant to plant – and from region to region – there are some general rules of thumb we can all follow that give our plants the best chance to grow strong and produce.

When Should I Water

The absolute best time to water is in the early hours between sunrise and mid-morning.  Not only is it cooler and easier on you the gardener, but your plants are not stressing from the heat of the day either. It allows them to soak up the moisture and be prepared to handle the hot day ahead.

Proper watering will help lead to bigger harvests
Proper watering will help lead to bigger harvests

Try to never water during the heat of the day.  Not only do you lose much of it to evaporation, but you also can easily burn the foliage of the plants, as the sun beats down on the water droplets left on the leaves.

Evening watering is your next best choice if you can’t water in the morning, although it can create mildew if the water sits on leaves through the cool nights.

Watering at the base of the plants root zone puts the water where it is needed most.
Watering at the base of the plants root zone puts the water where it is needed most.

With that being said – in a busy life – sometimes we can’t always water when it’s best for the plants!  So if you find yourself in the middle of a hot sunny day looking at a garden full of dry and dying plants that have to have water – then go ahead and water  each plant at the soil level around the root zone – being careful to avoid spraying the foliage of the plants that can result in burn.

In reality – that is the best place to water plants all of the time – at the base of the plant and extending 4 to 6 inches out around the root zone.  I have never been a big fan of spraying gardens from above with big garden hoses.  Watering right at the base not only conserves huge amounts of water – but it gives the plants the water right where they need it.

How Much Do I Water?

So what is the perfect amount?  Well, it’s of course never that easy to answer – but there are some guidelines that are good to follow.

Wen first put in the ground - plants like this young cucumber need frequent watering until establsihed.
When first put in the ground – plants like this young cucumber need frequent watering until established.

When the plants are very young and for the first week or two, you may need to water daily to get them established.    After that – watering every day is a no-no.

Why not every day? Plants that get a little water every day never send their roots deeper to look for moisture and nutrients – and you end up with a weak root system, leading to a weak plant. (Unless of course you live a desert or extremely hot and humid climate where daily waterings are a must)

Here in our Midwest climate – established tomatoes need about 1 to 1 ½ inches of water a week.  If mother nature can’t supply that  – then you need to supplement.  If you are experiencing a prolonged dry spell – water every two to three days with about a 1/2″ of water to the plant at a time.  This allows enough water to go deep into the soil and create longer roots.

And be careful of feeling the need to water more on those extra humid and hot days. On those sticky hot humid days – soil will sometime retain most of its moisture because of the high humidity – and extra watering won’t be needed.  It’s actually those low-humidity, breezy days you need to worry about – they can dry out the soil quickly!

Mulching – The Key To Less Watering

Save yourself from watering too much – mulch those plants! (see:How To Spend Less Time Watering By Mulching)

A little compost around the base of each plant is a perfect mulch!
A little compost around the base of each plant is a perfect mulch!

Mulch is perfect for helping to retain moisture in and around your plant’s root zone – keeping them from drying out between rains or watering.  A simple two-inch layer of straw, grass clippings or compost about 8 to 10 inches around each plant will go a long way to keeping your plants healthy – and full of the moisture they need to produce!

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Happy Gardening!

Jim and Mary
Old World Garden Farms

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