Nothing says summer like the bounty of your backyard vegetable garden. However, that bounty can be greatly reduced if you are not watering properly.
First, we should talk about the why’s of watering. I know, I know–the main reason is obvious, right? Plants need water to survive. Yes, that is correct, but since the fruit of these vegetable plants contain a very high moisture content, fruit quality is greatly enhanced with an adequate supply of water. Nutrient availability is another reason to be sure that your vegetables have the water that they need. Blossom end rot, a very common affliction of tomatoes and peppers, is caused by a calcium deficiency. This deficiency occurs due to moisture extremes– periods of wet weather followed by periods of dryness or vice versa. Consistent watering is the best means of preventing this common malady.
Moving on to watering how’s – drip irrigation is the most efficient watering system that you can use in the garden. A drip system consists of a water source and black plastic tubing with evenly spaced, pressure regulated openings for water dispersal. Water is distributed in a consistent manner and is applied directly to the soil surface. Drip tubing and soaker hoses are not the same. Soaker hoses are not pressure regulated and the amount of water emitted will decrease as the length of the hose increases. Drip tubing provides consistent moisture no matter how long the row may be. Although not an ideal method, sprinklers may be used if a drip system isn’t an option. With overhead sprinklers, the amount of water lost to evaporation is greatly increased compared to a drip system. Also, water contacts the foliage directly, which can lead to increased disease occurrence. Hand watering is another means of watering your garden. If this is your method of choice, be sure to focus the water at the base of the plant, near the soil surface. Try to keep the foliage as dry as possible. As previously mentioned, foliage that stays wet encourages disease development.
When should you water? Related to overhead sprinklers or hand watering, early in the morning though midday is the best time to water, as leaves will dry off quickly. Also, early watering results in less water lost to evaporation.
So, now we should discuss just how much water your garden needs. Generally speaking, gardens need about an inch of water each week. How do you know if your plants are getting enough? The first step is to use a rain gauge. This tool is a great way of keeping up with just how much rain your garden receives. For accuracy, be sure to empty the gauge after each rain event. When it comes to determining the amount of water distributed by an overhead sprinkler, a basic collection container, such as a tuna can, is a great way to see just how much water is being applied. However, the best way to know if your garden is getting enough water is right at the tip of your fingers, literally. Insert your finger into the soil profile to a 1-2” depth. If the soil just under the surface feels moist, then no need to water. If not, then supplemental water may be required, if rain is not likely.
I hope these tips are helpful. Providing consistent, adequate moisture is key to your vegetable gardening success!
By Bethany O’Rear, Regional Extension Agent, Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Contact Bethany at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. ACES is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce. Educational programs of ACES serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin.