The heat is on.
Hot, sunny summer days can take a toll on the kitchen garden. Vegetable plants need water to beat the summer heat and maintain optimal production. If Mother Nature doesn’t provide enough rainfall to meet your garden’s needs, you need to step in and assist. Here are eight tips for watering your garden like a pro this summer.
1. Measure the rainfall. Vegetable gardens need about an inch of water per week. Install a rain gauge to measure how much rainfall your garden gets. If your garden isn’t getting enough rain, it’s time to turn on the hose.
2. Water consistently and deeply. Going from dry soil to wet and back to dry stresses plants and causes problems like split cabbages and blossom end rot in tomatoes. Avoid these issues by keeping the soil consistently moist. But don’t confuse consistent watering with frequent, shallow watering. It is better to water infrequently, yet deeply. Thoroughly soaking the soil on consistent, yet infrequent, intervals encourages plants to develop deep roots. Shallow watering keeps the roots near the hot soil surface, which makes plants more vulnerable to drought. When you turn on the hose, keep it on until the garden has received an inch of water.
3. Check soil moisture. How often you must water depends on how quickly the soil dries out. Sandy soil drains quickly and needs to be watered more frequently than loam soils, which hold moisture longer. Container gardens need more frequent watering because soil dries out more quickly in pots than in the ground. Raised bed gardens also may need more water more often. Water when the soil is dry to a depth of two to four inches.
4. Mulch around plants. Adding one to three inches of mulch around plants keeps the soil cool and helps it retain water longer. You can mulch with compostable matter such as straw, grass clippings, chopped leaves, sawdust, or shredded newspaper. Not only will a mulched garden require less frequent watering, the mulch will keep the weeds down, too. In the fall, work the mulch into the soil. The added organic matter will increase the water-holding capacity of the soil for next year’s garden.
5. Water in the morning. Water loss in plants is highest at midday and lowest at night. Water plants in the morning to provide the moisture they need to get through the heat of the day. If you water during the afternoon, the sun will evaporate much of the moisture before it even hits the ground. Watering in the evening leaves the foliage wet overnight, which increases the risk of disease like powdery mildew.
6. Use a soaker hose instead of a sprinkler. Using a soaker hose is a more efficient way to water than using a sprinkler. Sprinklers result in surface runoff, water loss due to evaporation, and saturated foliage. A soaker hose delivers water right to the root zone of the plant, where it is needed most. Hand watering also is more efficient than using a sprinkler, especially for small gardens. The most efficient method is a drip irrigation system.
7. Recycle water. Connect a rain barrel to a downspout on your house to divert water from your roof to your garden. Also capture household “gray” water from the kitchen, bathtub, and laundry room for watering your plants. When canning, I keep a large bucket outside my kitchen door in which I deposit water from the water bath canner (after it has cooled) and ice water bath. I also collect water that I use to wash greens and other vegetables. I use the recycled water for the plants in containers on my deck and screen porch.
8. Don’t overwater. Too much water is just as bad as not enough. Waterlogged soil prevents plant roots from getting the oxygen they need to grow and thrive.