How to Water Your Vegetable Garden in Summer

Watering Vegetable Garden

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One of the fun things about being a known garden expert is that when I’m out and about in my city teaching, speaking, or even grocery shopping at the local co-op, I’m often approached by gardeners who ask me questions.

When presented with a gardening problem, one of the first questions I ask is how often and how the person waters her garden. Water is such a vital part of the garden, and watering incorrectly can cause a lot of problems, especially disease.

It’s not necessary to water you garden every day, or even every other day, even in times of extremely hot weather. Especially if you set your garden up right.

Here are some things to remember when watering:

Vegetable (and perennial) plants need an inch of water per week.  If it rains an inch, or even ¾ inch, you’re off the hook, you don’t need to water your garden that week!  How do you know how much rain your garden has received?  Buy a rain gauge and check it after a rainstorm.  I keep a mental note throughout the week and water on Sunday night if necessary.

If you have a garden with very sandy soil or you live in an dry or very hot climate, it might be different for you. Check your local recommendations.


Water plants deeply and infrequently.  There is absolutely no reason to water your garden every day.  In fact, over watering can cause fungal issues in vegetables that like drier conditions, like squash and tomatoes.  Let the soil dry out a bit between waterings.

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.

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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, I give the bed a quick soak every one to two days.

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 moist that whole time.

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Water at the base of the plant.  Overhead watering is inefficient and can be damaging to plants because it’s more likely to spread disease.  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.

hen 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.  Drip hoses or drip tape are also a good option for watering at soil level.

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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.

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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, sometime 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 mulch here.)

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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!

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