Did you know that a tomato is 95% water? So, is it really a big surprise that how you water your garden tomatoes is just as important as how you fertilize them or care for them?
After having fertile soil, watering your garden the right way may be the most important thing you can do to keep your garden growing, healthy and productive. Although beginning gardeners often think that just having plenty of clean water is all it takes, knowing how to water your garden means understanding a lot more, such as when to water, where to water, what type of water to use, and even how your garden vegetables take up the water they get.
When you water your garden this year, pay attention to:
The Temperature of the Water
Do you enjoy freezing cold or scalding hot showers? Shocker: Neither do your garden veggies. In fact, water your garden with water that is too cold or too hot and it can take weeks for your plants to recover. Do it again and you’ve lost another few weeks of your growing season. In fact, some plants may never recover from the shock.
So, how can you prevent shocking your plants? Use standing water (like water from a rain barrel or water that’s been stored outside for a day or so) instead of water from the hose. Just make sure that the water you use hasn’t been sitting in the sun too long, otherwise it could be too hot. Also, using a drip irrigation system in your garden is great for preventing temperature shock to roots.
Where You Water Your Plants
If you want to keep a garden that’s productive and efficient, a good rule of thumb is to water the roots and not the leaves. Since garden plants take up water through their roots, that’s where the water is needed. So, when you water the leaves, you’re really just wasting water that could be used elsewhere. Also, water that pools on leaves can promote humidity-related diseases like molds, rots and powdery mildew.
An easy way to minimize wasted water is to use a strategically placed drip irrigation system or soaker hose. Some studies have even found drip irrigation to be around 90% more efficient than standard hose watering for allowing plants to use the water given to them.
When to Water Your Garden
The amount of water your garden needs and the depth to which it’s needed are different based on the types of plants you grow and where those plants are in their life cycles. For instance, seedlings have different watering needs than mature plants, and different plants have different critical watering periods.
Although your best bet is to spend a little time researching the critical watering periods for vegetables you’re growing, if you can’t spare the time or energy, here are a few general guidelines that may help:
- Water your garden in the morning or in the evening, since you’re less likely to lose water to evaporation at the beginning or end of the day.
- Refrain from watering at midday or the hottest part of the day, since water will most likely evaporate before your plants can take it in.
- Remember the “inch per week” rule, which basically says that if there hasn’t been at least one inch (2.5 cm) of rainfall in the past seven days, water your entire garden very well. You’ll want to make sure that the water permeates deeply and that it gets everywhere (and not just around plant roots).
The Type of Water You’re Using
Are you watering your garden with hard water or soft water? Do you even know, or know the difference?
Hard water is water that has a lot of dissolved minerals in it, particularly calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate. If you find white deposits in your sinks or on your utensils, you probably have hard water. So, what does hard water do? Well, it can raise the pH of your soil (which, depending on the pH sensitivity of the plants you grow, can be devastating or no big deal), and it can result in yellow, sickly plants with stunted growth. Soft water, on the other hand, has a lot of salt in it, which removes nutrients, retards growth, and inhibits plant life in general.
If you only have access to hard water, consider only growing plants that can thrive in high-pH conditions, such as asparagus, broccoli, beets and carrots. Otherwise, you’re likely to be disappointed with your yields. Also, remember that plants and vegetables grown in containers may be affected even more by soft or hard water conditions because they’re typically watered more.
How Dry Your Garden Soil Gets
Most gardeners understand that nutrients pass from the soil to plants through water that is taken up from the plants’ roots. What they may not realize, however, is that when the soil around a plant’s roots dries out completely, plants don’t just stop taking in nutrients (which, in turn, slows their growth), they also start reacting in other ways. In fact, if a plant’s roots are dry long enough, the plant basically panics, switching from growth mode to crisis mode. When in crisis mode, plants bolt, send up seeds, and let their leaves die instead of producing delicious leaves and fruits.
This is one of the reasons it’s so important to follow (at a minimum) the one inch of water rule. More than a week without water and your plants are likely to panic, bolt and slowly die off. So, if it’s been seven days since your garden has seen water or rain, it’s time to give it a good soaking.