Secrets to Watering Your Vegetable Garden the Right Way

Watering Vegetable Garden

When a fellow gardener approaches me looking for help with a gardening problem, one of the first questions I ask is “How often are you watering your vegetable garden and how are you watering?”

Water is such a vital part of your garden’s success, and watering incorrectly can cause a lot of problems.

In my experience, most gardeners are watering way more than is necessary. This can be harmful to some of your plants and is a waste of your local water supply.

Here are some critical things to remember when watering your garden.

Tips for Watering Your Vegetable Garden This Season

Water as efficiently as possible. Drip irrigation is the most efficient use of water in your garden. But, most gardeners I know (including yours truly) don’t have it set up in their gardens. If you live in an area that doesn’t get much rain in the summer, drip irrigation will allow you to leave your garden for weeks at a time and not worry about whether your plants are getting enough moisture.

If you don’t have drip irrigation, the next best thing is to make sure you’re watering at the base of the plants. Don’t set up a sprinkler and then walk away from your garden. Overhead watering is inefficient because a lot of the water is lost to evaporation and can be damaging to plants because it’s more likely to spread disease.

The leaves of squashes, cucumbers, and tomatoes are best left dry as much as possible because they’re susceptible to so many fungal and other diseases.

I use a hose with a wand and hold it at the base of each plant for 20-30 seconds.  I usually judge when to stop by how quickly the water is infiltrating the soil.

When it starts pooling up a bit around the plant I move on.  Yes, this takes a long time – but call a friend and catch up while you’re out there watering.  I use a wand similar to this one with a metal head that’s less likely to crack and break over time.

tips for watering vegetable garden

In general, vegetable (and perennial) plants need about an inch of water per week. This all depends on your soil. If you have sandy soil that doesn’t hold moisture, you’ll likely need to water a bit more. If you have clay soil like me, it should hold the moisture from your last rain very nicely!

I suggest keeping track of how much rain your garden has received each week by installing a simple rain gauge in one of your beds. (I have this one.) I keep a mental note throughout the week and water on Sunday night if necessary. If it rains an inch or more throughout the week I might choose not to water my garden for a while.

Water established plants deeply and infrequently.    Frequent and shallow watering will cause your plants’ roots to stay at the surface of the soil. You want deeply rooted plants – so water less often and for a longer duration. Let the water really soak into the soil to encourage the plants’ roots to go deeply into the earth.

Water newly seeded vegetables lightly and frequently.  If you’re waiting for seeds to germinate, watering once a week will be too little moisture.  You need to keep the top of the soil moist until germination.

Depending on the vegetable and the weather, I give the bed a quick soak every one to two days. I’ll often use a watering can for this task. I prefer a steel watering can because it lasts much longer than plastic in the garden.

Remember that the different vegetables take various amounts of time to germinate. Spring radishes will poke through the soil in less than seven days, while carrot seeds can take up to three weeks! Both need to be kept consistently moist until those first leaves break through the soil.

Water in the morning or evening.  Much more water is lost to evaporation when you water in the middle of the afternoon.  Water your garden in the cooler morning or evening hours…plus it’s much more pleasant to be out there at that time anyway.

mulching helps with watering your vegetable garden

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Mulch, mulch, mulch.  Bare soil is a bad idea in the vegetable garden. It’s an invitation for many weeds to grow and your soil will dry out more quickly, sometimes even cracking from lack of moisture.

Mulching thickly with hay, straw, or leaves retains the moisture in the soil, keeps weeds at bay, helps with disease issues, and breaks down to add organic matter to your soil. (Read more about why you should be mulching here.)

This season, examine your established watering habits and see how you can do better. Is there something in this list you can make a part of your regular gardening routine? If I had to pick one for you, I’d put mulch at the top of the list (even though it was last in this post!). It’s one of the best ways to protect your soil and retain moisture so your plants never dry out from the beating hot sun and warm summer winds.

Understanding how to water is one of the best ways to set your plants, and your garden, up for a successful and abundant season!

Check out this video for more tips and a behind the scenes look at my watering techniques.

ck out  .

This is part of a series addressing Summer Gardening Challenges. I’m hoping to keep you motivated throughout the summer garden season! You can find the first article about beating the weeds here and planting for big fall harvests here.

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Comments

  • I’m learning this lesson the hard way. I cut off the vine a few dozen little tomatoes last week because they had BER, due I’m sure to overwatering. I gave them calcium and adjusted the watering schedule and those plants are looking much happier! One problem is that I have them planted in straw bales and I thought they would need more frequent watering because water seeps out of bales so fast, but I guess I was wrong. (I’ve had other problems with the bales too – not sure I’m going to repeat the experiment next year!)

    • Megan Cain - The Creative Vegetable Gardener

      Hi Susan- Yes, you’re right that blossom end rot can be from over watering and lack of calcium. I also always get it on the same variety every year no matter what I do. Gardening can be somewhat of a mystery! I do think that the easiest way to grow food is in the ground. It’s hard to replicate the complexity of soil in containers and straw bales. Thanks for reading!

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  • Hi Megan! Love the site! You mentioned to mulch the garden… Do you recommend I wait until the plants are visibly growing out of the soil, or should I mulch before the seeds have even sprouted? Thanks!

    • Thanks, John! You should never mulch over seeds that are waiting to sprout. There’s a chance they could get smothered by the mulch. I wait until they are a few inches tall and then mulch around them.

  • […] season! You can find posts about beating the weeds here and watering the right way during summer here. The first post listing all of the challenges is […]

  • You mentioned that your veggie garden needs about an inch of water a week. I water with soaker hoses. Do you have any idea how long I should leave them on to obtain the needed inch? It hasn’t rained here for about two months, so a rain gauge isn’t helping me. Thanks for the help. I liked your article.

    • Hi Laura- Great question! If you use drip irrigation the system should tell you how much water comes out. Soaker hoses are more variable so you’re going to have to do some experimenting. It’s better to water deeply and less frequently than a little bit every day. One idea is that you could try to set your rain gauge under part of the soaker hose and time how long it takes to water an inch. Or, you could time the watering and keep going out until and feeling down into the until it’s thoroughly moist. Here’s a guide that gives a bunch of tips: http://www.savingwater.org/cs/groups/public/@spu/@conservation/documents/webcontent/smartwate_200311261701453.pdf

  • Im noticing that I have some actual tomatoes on my plants but also have a lot of blooms that are dieing and falling off without producing tomatoes. What am I doing wrong?

    • Keith- How hot has it been at night where you live? Tomatoes don’t like when the nighttime temps are above 70 and will drop their flowers. They will also do the same when the daytime temps are above 85 F.

  • Some years ago I have no experience in gardening and this time I destroy my tomato plants by over watering.I read your blog fairly often and I always learn something.I shared this on Facebook and my followers really enjoyed it.
    Keep up the amazing work!

  • Hi, Megan Cain!
    Thanks for sharing these valuable in information!
    I have read your post vary carefully and noted many information and tips on my notebook. I have a small garden on the roof of my house. I want to make it very beautiful. I will follow your instruction in future.

    Please, continue your writing in the future!

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