Watering Your Vegetable Garden – How Much Water Do Crops Need

How often should you water your vegetable garden? Watering your vegetable garden is essential if you want it to grow and thrive.

As such, it is important to know how much water your crops needs and when you should be watering your vegetable garden.

In this article, I’ll go through into detail on how you can keep your vegetables well-hydrated to yield a great harvest.

 

Garden Care

 Once you’ve planted your seeds or seedlings into the ground, it’s time to take care of them until they’re mature enough to harvest.

Here’s what to do.

 

Watering

Plants get a lot of water from rain. Unfortunately, it’s not a good idea to rely on rain as your garden’s main source of moisture.

That’s because you can’t predict how much rain will fall. Just as importantly, it’s not consistent. Some months experience more rainfall than others. Similarly, some places get lots of rain while others are much drier.

An even bigger problem is that too much water is bad for your plants. But, not enough also leads to dehydration. And, if it’s not remedied, it can likewise kill your crops.

This is why it’s a good idea for you to be able to supply your garden with water when it needs it.

That brings us to another problem: how to water your plants.

 

How Much Water Do Plants Need?

As you’ve probably guessed, each plant has its own water requirements. But, how much water they need also depends on what stage of growth they’re in.

You can think of it like sleep for us humans. As infants, we slept almost all day. As we get older, the amount of sleep gradually goes down until it stops at about 7-9 hours a day for most of our lives.

Then, changes again as we become senior citizens.

The same is true for plants’ water requirements.

  • Seeds and Seedlings. Because their root systems are still small and developing, seeds and seedlings prefer light but frequent watering. The small, gentle doses done regularly allows them to absorb a lot of water a little at a time in order to grow quickly. Here, watering once a day up to a few inches in depth is ideal.
  • Transplants. For plants that have just been moved into your garden, frequent watering likewise helpful. So, start watering when they’re transplanted (about 6 inches deep) and do so regularly for the following days. This helps them get over the shock of being transplanted.
  • Plants that have acclimated to your garden. Plants that have gotten used to their environment don’t need to be watered as frequently. Thus, doing so every 3-6 days works when there’s no rain. Bt, do wait for the soil to dry out a bit before doing so. You don’t want to overdo it. And, when you do water them, make sure to provide 6 or more inches deep of water. Deep, infrequent watering is key as it encourages the roots to dig deeper to find water.

 

How Root Depth Affects How You Water Your Crops

In addition to their growth stage, how deep its roots affect how you water them.

To understand that better, let’s begin by looking at how deep the roots of different plants grow to.

  • Deep-rooted plants. These plants have root systems that are within a foot to 6 feet in depth from the surface. Their ability to burrow deeper allows its root tips to search and find more moisture and nutrients in the soil. And, in doing so, allows them to go longer between watering. A few examples include tomatoes, artichokes and asparagus.
  • Shallow-rooted plants. These crops’ root system only stays within 1-2 feet from the soil’s surface. As such, they need more frequent watering, especially during hot weather and droughts. Cabbage, onions and broccoli are a few examples of shallow-rooted crops.
  • Moderately (Medium) rooted plants. These have root systems that are between 1-4 feet beneath the soil’s surface. Much like deep-rooted plants, they are better able to get water from the soil due to their depth. Carrots, eggplants, peas and peppers are some popular medium rooted crops.

In any case, it’s important to understand that the root characteristics of plants because it allows you to irrigate your vegetable garden according to what crops you’re growing.

For deep-rooted crops, you can water deeply and less frequently. However, that strategy won’t work if your garden is full of shallow-rooted plants.

For them, you don’t need to water as deeply. But, need to do so more frequently.

 

How Can You Tell How Much You’ve Watered?

Since water goes into the soil, it’s hard to actually tell how much water you’ve given them. As a result, many beginner gardeners resort to guessing. I know I did.

But, you shouldn’t.

Guessing doesn’t really help because it’s hit or miss. Instead, take the guesswork out of it by picking up your trusty trowel and start digging.

Digging through the soil allows you to see how many inches down into the ground the water has reached. If it doesn’t reach the depth that you need to get to, add more.

Checking goes a long way especially when you’re just starting out. It helps you get an idea of how much you need to water to get certain depths based on the soil you have.

After a while, you’ll have a good enough feel to it that you don’t need to dig anymore. This is akin to chefs and bakers who don’t need to measure their ingredients.

 

Related

 

When Should You Water Your Plants?

Unfortunately, there is no set amount. Therefore, it depends.

That’s because the amount of rain your garden receives affects how much water your plants get. Additionally, you’ll also need to take into consideration what kind of soil you have and how well it retains moisture.

Weather likewise plays a role. The hotter the climate or season the faster water evaporates. Windy conditions also reduce moisture as well.

You get the idea.

As such, it’s important to learn how to “read” your garden. While this comes with experience, there are a few tricks that will help you get started.

When it comes to watering there are 3 basic guidelines that will guide on how often to water.

  • Stick your finger into the soil. This is the quickest and most effective method of figuring out whether your plants need water. Depending on how deep the roots of your plants are, you can stick your finger up to the first joint to see whether the soil there is moist. For deeper rooted plants, you can do as deep as 3-4 inches down. If it feels dry, add water.
  • Your plants are wilting. This one isn’t as accurate since wilting can be a sign of other things or just something natural in some vegetables. That said, water provides support for the stems to stand upright. As such, when they start bending over it may be time to add more water.
  • During your vegetable’s critical period for watering. Critical watering periods for vegetables are the times where they need water. And, if they happen to lack moisture, it will affect their yield. Thus, during their critical periods, crops are susceptible to drought. In most cases, this happens right before harvest and also 2-3 weeks before harvesting.

List of vegetables critical watering periods. Chart shows you the times when each crop needs to be watered.

 

How to Water Your Vegetable Garden

When it comes to watering your vegetable garden, there’s a right and wrong way to go about it. And, since overwatering is just as bad or worse than not giving them enough water, it’s important to get things right.

Here are a few tips.

 

One Inch of Rain + Water

Most vegetables will need around an inch of water weekly. As such, investing in a rain gauge is a great idea.

It’s cheap and simple to use. And, it will tell you how much rain there is. This allows you to see whether or not your vegetable garden got enough water.

If the total reaches an inch or more, then there’s no need for you to water. But, if it falls short of an inch, then you’ll need to supply the remaining amount to get it to an inch.

 

Water in the Morning

Morning is the best time to water your plants. That’s because there’s enough sun to allow the excess moisture to slowly dry up. And, it isn’t as hot as the afternoons where you lose more water to evaporation.

In contrast, night time isn’t a good time to water because temperatures drop. This prevents excess moisture from drying up. Thus, allowing it to stay on foliage which increases the risk of disease.

 

Soak Thoroughly

Soaking the soil or deep watering allows water to penetrate deep into the soil. This is good as it encourages your plants’ roots to burrow deeper. In doing so, they develop a healthier root system.

In contrast, shallow watering or just sprinkling the top with a little bit of water makes the roots lazy as it encourages them to stay close to the surface.

 

Water from Below Instead of Above

Common irrigation methods like hoses and watering cans make you water your plants from above. This often wastes more water, can deflect it elsewhere and make a mess as well.

Wet leaves also increase their risk of developing diseases.

A better way to do it is to water from below. That is, target the soil instead of the plant. This is done with soaker hoses and drip irrigation where the water is directed to the soil instead of the plants.

 

How to Conserve Water While Growing Your Vegetable Garden

  • Take advantage of rainwater. One of the simplest and most effective ways to conserving water is to re-use rainwater. You can collect it with buckets or a rain barrel such that excess rainwater from your roof doesn’t just end up drying on the ground.
  • Choose plants that don’t require a lot of water. Another quick solution is to pick drought-resistant crops and avoid water-hungry ones. This allows you to cut down on your watering schedule without changing anything else.
  • Install soaker hoses or drip irrigation. Sprinklers are convenient. But they also spray water everywhere including walkways and areas where there are no plants at all. A better option would be to set up soaker hoses or drip irrigation. The former is easier (and cheaper) than the latter. But, both will allow you to specifically target water dispersal where it’s needed.
  • Avoid frequent, shallow waterings. I’ve mentioned this a few times above. But, it bears repeating. It’s better to water deeply, less frequently than do it daily in a shallow way. This not only saves you water but also allows your plants to develop a healthier root system.
  • Know what kind of soil your garden has. Different kinds of soil retain water in different ways. If you’re lucky enough to have loamy soil, then you won’t need to water as much since it retains water very well. On the other hand, you’ll need another strategy for clay soil which is heavy, and therefore doesn’t hold moisture well.
  • Watch out for inclines and slopes. Slopes and uneven areas in your garden cause water to run off before the soil can absorb it. So, if you can avoid planting in these areas. If you can’t try watering at intervals (water for 10 minutes, then let it soak the next 15 minutes before watering again).
  • Water in the morning instead of afternoons. Mornings are much cooler than afternoons. As such, watering during this time reduces the amount of evaporation that happens in the coming hours. In contrast, you lose more moisture watering during mid-afternoon when the sun is most intense.
  • Grow your vegetables closer to one another. While this isn’t always possible for all plants because of how much space their root systems need, it works for many vegetables. By growing them closer together, you’ll only water a smaller area allowing the plants to “share” the moisture there.