Water Wise Vegetable Gardening

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on June 22, 2011

Normally when we talk about water wise gardening, we are talking about ornamentals.  Vegetable gardeners need to be water wise, too.  Vegetables require a lot of water, relatively speaking.  It is our responsibility as gardeners to give them what they require in the most efficient manner possible.  First the means of watering:  use a soaker hose or drip irrigation.  Oscillating sprinklers can lost 40% of the water they put out to evaporation in the warmth of a summer sun.  That means if you put out ten gallons, only six reach the ground.  You still pay for ten, of course.  You can also get a ticket for violating watering restrictions, if they have them where you live.

drip irrigation

Drip irrigation before planting and mulching

Soaker hoses are very inexpensive now and can be laid down easily.  To tell how much water they put out, use an empty tuna can and bury it even with the soil line, then drape the hose as if watering plants.  Turn on the hose and check to see how long it takes to get one inch of water in the tuna can.  Remember that number.  Drip irrigation can be calibrated in the same way.

Now the amount:  the first week you transplant your vegetable plants, you will probably have to water them every couple of days.  Their roots are shallow and are still spreading out and developing their ability to soak up water.  After the first week or two, watering twice a week and applying an inch each time is usually sufficient.  Now you can use that test you performed with the tuna can to tell how long to leave the water on in your garden.

If plants start to wilt between waterings, you may have to add a third watering.  However, watering every day is excessive.  Not only do you risk problems such as blossom end rot, you give the plant roots no reason to grow deep and pick up ground moisture and nutrients.

No, they can stay shallow because they get all this water every day.  But they are not as healthy and cannot utilize soil nutrients as easily.  It is better to water less frequently but give the plants a good drink each time.  If you have mulch in your garden, it absorbs some of the water and acts as a time release water dispenser for your plants.  It also blocks weeds, which compete for water and nutrients.

In summary, to be good stewards of our resources, we need to water efficiently, water in the amounts our plants need, and use mulch to help keep the water in the soil and available to our plants.  This allows them to produce the maximum amount of produce for the least amount of water.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Tracy June 22, 2011 at 11:10 pm

Given the drought that is gripping the southwest right now, this is timely information. I haven’t experimented with soaker hoses yet, Since I mostly use containers. But I am thinking of doing so. Thank you for the advice.


Stephanie Suesan Smith June 23, 2011 at 6:13 am

Drip irrigation is actually easier with containers. You run a line down beside the containers with a feeder line to each container. You just have to make sure you have the water pressure to force the water up through the feeder line, or put the main line higher than the containers.


Bill Brikiatis July 23, 2011 at 7:42 am

One area you didn’t touch on in this article is using rain barrels to reduce water consumption. Do you think it is a good strategy?
Bill Brikiatis recently posted..Vegetable Garden Watering TipsMy Profile


Stephanie Suesan Smith July 23, 2011 at 7:57 am

Rain barrels are good IF you keep a screen over them so they do not become breeding places for mosquitoes. A simple screen cap can easily be made and fitted on the barrel. Or you can use the barrel lid and just cut a hole where the gutter spout fits in. Caps and lids not only keep mosquitoes at bay but keep wildlife from trying to get a drink, falling in, and drowning. I live in a mobile home without gutters so forget about rain barrels. Thanks for bringing it up.


Jimmy from Flexible Solar Panels August 12, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Mulch is now my best friend. I can pick it up for free at the dump and it’s great for holding in the moisture and keeping out the weeds. I water way less after a fresh layer of mulch goes down. Sometimes I find random bits of plastic and other recyclables in it, but it’s worth it 🙂
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Stephanie Suesan Smith August 13, 2011 at 7:35 am

Mulch is really wonderful, especially in a drought.


Jerry Clifford from minneapolis real estate August 28, 2011 at 6:30 pm

People should really look into this watering system. It could save them money, time, and effort by doing so, I can’t even name a negative effect coming from this method. Good article Stephanie. Thank you for the info.


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