QUESTION: How often should I water a vegetable garden? I’m planting one this year and need to know. — Alfred D.
ANSWER: Because your water will get some of its sustenance from rainfall, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to your question. However, between rainfall and the water you provide, you should provide your garden with at least one inch of water per week. Some vegetables do best with two inches of water per week. Tomato plants are different and should get a gallon of water at least twice each week and sometimes more frequently. You may have seen these instructions before and wondered what they mean.
Be advised that you should be breaking up your watering sessions so your plants get water more often than once per week. In other words, don’t try to give your vegetable garden its weekly inch or two of water in just one application. Very young plants like seedlings need water much more often, something like twice per week. Other plants do best when they get water around three times per week to add up to a total of one or two inches.
The best time of day to water your plants is early in the morning. This schedule gives the foliage time to dry off before the heat of the day sets in. Watering too late can leave droplets of water on the leaves of your plants in the afternoon when the sunshine is hottest. If excess water is on your plants at this time, they can suffer from sunscald and other plant diseases.
Another good time to hydrate your garden is right after a light rainfall. Often, the rainfall that plants get naturally only penetrates around half an inch into the soil. You can add more water once the rain stops to meet the goal of one or two inches of penetration.
The best way to tell when your plants need more water is to look at the soil. Stick a finger in at least an inch to see whether the dirt clings to your skin. If so, the ground is moist and does not need water yet. Another common test is to try to gather the dirt into a clump inside your fist. If it sticks together and maintains its shape, the ground is still moist and the plants do not need water yet. For best results, use soil from at least an inch under the surface of the ground in your test.
There are also rain gauges you can set out in your garden that are inexpensive if you want another measure of how deep the rainfall and irrigation has moistened the soil. Another option is to just place some small shallow containers around your garden with an inch marked inside them. You can use them to make sure the rainfall and your irrigation have hit the mark.
We hope this article has demystified the one or two inches guideline for you. Using a gauge or checking the soil is the easiest way to make sure that your vegetable garden gets the right amount of water. Just remember to water your vegetable garden in the morning or immediately after a light rainfall.