Watering the garden…it sounds like such a simple and peaceful chore. But in reality, it is one of the biggest factors in the success or failure of a garden. The secret to success is knowing how to water, when to water, and how much water is needed for your plants to thrive. 

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Proper watering can make all the difference in a great garden. Photo Credit : Shutterstock / Dusan Zidar

It seems that each year, we get a growing number of questions about proper watering techniques – so as we head full-steam into gardening season, we thought it would be a great time to go over some useful tips.

As much as people worry about pests and disease ruining their garden – far more crop damage is done to the backyard vegetable patch each and every year from either too much, or too little water to their plants.  

Although watering needs can certainly vary from place to place and plant to plant – following a few simple basic watering rules can keep your garden growing beautifully all summer long. 

The Basics of Watering In The Garden

When watering, concentrate efforts on the soil and root zone around the plants – and not on the leaves of the plants. Not only does it cut down on evaporation – it keeps plants much healthier in the long run. Watering with a full stream or heavy spray directly on plants can injure leaves, stems, and easily knock off the tender blooms needed to create vegetables. In addition, all of that harsh spray splashes soil up on to the foliage of plants – making it much easier for soil-borne diseases to infect plants. 

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Drip hoses are an excellent way to water! photo credit : shutterstock / Zaitsev

Slow and gentle watering of the root zone is the key. If watering with a hose – take off the spray nozzle and use the steady gentle stream of water flowing out of the hose to water around the plants. Drip hoses that deliver water right to the root zone at a slow and steady pace are an even better choice if available. We water our garden with gallon jugs pulled from our rain water tanks – making it easy to deliver a quarter to a half-gallon of water per plant right to the root zone without hitting the leaves at all.

When Is The Best Time To Water?

Early morning is the perfect time to water the garden for you and your plants. The sun is low in the sky, the temperatures are cooler and the plants are at a low stress level. A gentle watering can give them the drink they need to take on the upcoming heat of the day. More importantly, due to the cooler temps – less water is lost from evaporation. 

By the time afternoon rolls around, plants are stressed to the max from the sun and heat of the day. Less water makes it to the root zones of your plants because of evaporation – and the scorching sun can burn the tender leaves of your plants from the water spraying on to the foliage.

If mornings are just not your cup of tea – then early evenings are your next best choice as an alternative. One word of caution about evening watering – cooler overnight temps can create a better environment for mildew and mold to form on the plants – so again be careful to  water the root zones and not the leaves.

How Often Should I Water?  

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A heavy-duty garden rain last year at the farm – nothing beats rain as the ultimate watering for a garden!

This is a big one! The only time daily watering is needed is when plants are first becoming established. Young, tender, just-transplanted veggie plants need to be watered every day whether by rain or you for about the first 5 to 7 days after transplanting. After that – watering every day can create more problems than it solves.

Why? Plants that get a little water every day never send their roots deeper to look for moisture and nutrients – creating a weak root system that leads to a weak plant. Plants that establish deeper and healthier roots can take in and hold on to more water and nutrients – leaving the plants less vulnerable to extreme weather conditions.

How Much Should I Water?

Here in our Midwest climate – nearly all established vegetable plants need about 1 to 1 ½ inches of water a week.  If the rain falling from the sky isn’t cooperating – then you need to supplement. If you are experiencing a long dry spell and plants are drying out to a wilted state by the day’s end  – then water about twice a week – 1/2″ to 3/4 of an inch of water each time.

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Proper watering leads to healthy plants

How much is that? That figure is based on having a container or rain gauge getting filled to the 1/2″ or 3/4″ level mark during a rain or a watering. As a general rule of thumb – it works out to about a 1/4 to a 1/2 gallon of water per plant watered in around the root zone.

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

Signs You Are Watering Too Much

If your plants are lingering in the soil, with a yellowish hue – it is a sure sign of too much water. Back off of any watering, and pull back any mulch that may be around the plants. This will allow the soil to dry out and the plant to get back to a healthier stage. 

Here is to a great gardening season – and hoping Mother Nature provides us with just the right amount of water we need!

Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary

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