By Vicki Krage, Director of Operations at Sunrise Financial Services & Sunny Gardens Volunteer.
There is something attractively simplistic and also deeply complicated when it comes to vegetable gardening. Plant a seed, water it, it grows. Simple, right? Yes, but…plant a seed in soil with the proper nutrients, next to a companion it partners well with, give it quality food, water it the right amount at the right time, and it grows better and is more fruitful. Kind of like people.
This project has been, and still is, a learning process for us. We want to share the important lessons we’ve learned so far in a series of articles, beginning with the most fundamental practice of watering. If you give your seeds water, they will likely grow. Pretty basic concept; however, we’ve learned watering a vegetable garden isn’t as simple as it might seem, and isn’t always the same as watering a garden with flowers and plants.
Last year we hand-watered everything via a hose with a special nozzle, and didn’t water our vegetables enough in the beginning when it was crucial. Some of our seeds didn’t sprout, and of course, we didn’t figure this out until a couple weeks into the process. Other things grew, but probably not as well as they would have if we had watered them properly in the beginning.
Below are some basic bullet-points for watering that we’ve discovered during our first year, as well as some things we’ve learned not to do.
- Water in the morning or in the evening, avoiding mid-day when the sun is high in the sky. If you have to water mid-day, it is better than not watering at all; however, more water evaporates in the heat of the day and while the sun is up. You can also burn your vegetable leaves or cause them to be more susceptible to disease. Many concur it is best to water early in the day so any moisture on the leaves will dry off before evening.
- Water the roots, and try to avoid the leaves. You want a strong, deep root system; the roots are the part of the plant that need water, not the leaves. If you water slowly, you’ll have better results. Soaker hoses or drip irrigation systems can be especially helpful tools.
- Water thoroughly. This goes hand in hand with #2. Ideally, you want the water to penetrate as deeply into the soil as possible, to at least 5-6”. On a hot day the top couple inches of soil can dry up fast. The roots go where the water is and will stay shallow if only the top few inches of the soil are being watered.
- Water when needed. Your vegetable garden likely doesn’t need water every day, especially in a rainy spring like we’ve had this year. Too much water can cause just as much trouble as watering too little. We’ve learned our vegetable garden needs about 1.5-2 solid inches of water a week. Early on, this is usually a combination of rain and watering. Later in summer, there is much more watering needed. There are some really easy ways to set your garden up to be watered automatically and not to over-water, including automatic watering timers or Ollas, self-watering terracotta pots.
Things to avoid when watering your garden:
- Watering with sprinklers. Sprinklers can beat down seedlings, mostly water the leaves, and they generally don’t penetrate deep enough into the soil to give the roots a thorough watering. Most of the moisture will evaporate, not be absorbed by the soil.
- Don’t let your seedlings dry out or get soggy. Think moist, not wet. These babies are sensitive because they are just getting their root systems established. If too dry, the seedling could die. Too much moisture promotes disease that could kill your young plants, and spread.
- Getting soil on plant leaves. If you’re working with compost or even normal soil, it can have a plethora of diseases in it that can spread if it gets to the leaves of your plants. Mulching around your plants can help avoid soil from splashing up onto your plant leaves.
- Not doing your own research/believing everything you read. Just because someone tells you what they did, or you see it on Pinterest doesn’t mean it will work for your garden. There are different soil types and watering methods; they may not be growing the same things as you, or there may be other variety of factors. Local gardeners or nurseries are a good source of information. Many offer up their thoughts for free, and it doesn’t hurt to collect opinions.
We hope you found this first learning lesson of ours helpful. It is always easier when you can learn from someone else’s mistakes, but if you’ve already committed one of these vegetable “gardening sins”, don’t beat yourself up. Seeds are cheap and plants are pretty resilient.
If you have any questions, thoughts, or words of wisdom to share about watering, (or even other topics you’d like to hear about,) we’d love to hear from you. Happy growing!
Email us at: email@example.com