Hose watering is best done on container or individual plants so to not waste water.
It seems like this technique should be as obvious and easy as picking a tomato, but how you water your vegetables can influence the size and quality of the harvest. Besides the soil, water is the most essential element to plants. Improper watering can cause plants to be dwarf, stunted, and produce poorly. It's not just drought conditions that can cause a problem. Too much water can be as harmful as too little. Too much water can squeeze air out of the soil, causing poor plant growth.
The old rule of thumb was to give your plants one inch of water a week. That's a good general guide, but the reality will depend on weather and your soil. Sandy soil and soils low in organic matter tend to dry out faster and will require more frequent watering. Clay soils and soils high in organic matter hold onto the water longer and require less frequent watering.
It's important to know the most critical time in a vegetable's growth to water. Mulching helps reduce the need for extra water.
It's always better to water infrequently and deeply than frequently and shallowly. Frequent light waterings only moisten the top few inches of the soil. The roots will stay where the water is and when dry conditions occur, the plant is more likely to suffer water stress due to the shallow roots. Deep waterings send water down 6 inches to a foot into the soil and the roots will follow. These plants will be more likely to survive a bout of drought.
You'll know your plants need water by looking at the leaves and soil. Wilting plants and dry soil are a sure sign of water stress. However, don't just look at the wilting leaves. If the soil is moist, the wilting may be due to other problems such as disease or overwatering. Some plants, such as eggplant, will naturally wilt during hot periods but recover when the temperatures cool. They may not need watering.
If the plants aren't indicating it's time to water, the soil will. You can also stick your finger in the soil. If you dig down 3 to 4 inches into the soil and it's still dry, it's time to water.
So, while it's important to keep plants properly watered all season long, there are critical times of the growing season to water. Here's a chart adapted from the book, Vegetable Gardening for Dummies (2009, Wiley), showing the most critical times to water your produce.
|Vegetable||Critical Watering Period|
|Bush bean||When flowering and forming pods|
|Broccoli||When forming a head|
|Brussels Sprouts||When forming sprouts|
|Cabbage||When forming a head|
|Carrot||When forming roots|
|Cauliflower||When forming a head|
|Sweet corn||When silking, tasseling, forming ears|
|Cucumber||When flowering and developing fruit|
|Eggplant||From flowering to harvest|
|Lettuce||When true leaves form|
|Melon||During fruit set and early development|
|Onion||During bulb enlargement|
|Pea||When flowering and during seed enlargement|
|Pepper||From flowering until harvest|
|Potato||When tubers set and enlarge|
|Pumpkin||When fruits form|
|Radish||When forming roots|
|Spinach||When true leaves form|
|Summer squash||When forming buds and flowering|
|Swiss chard||When true leaves form|
|Tomato||From flowering until harvest|
|Turnip||When forming roots|
Avoid using overhead sprinklers if you can. They tend to waste more water than soaker hoses and drip irrigation lines.
Not only is the timing of your watering important, how you water makes a difference too. Depending on your area and the season, there may be watering restrictions in place or water may be very expensive. Using efficient watering systems not only will be better for the plant, it can save water and money for you.
Here are some of the common ways to water your garden, with advantages and disadvantages of each. The automated systems described below are best used with a timer that will turn your watering device on and off so you don't have to remember.
Soaker hoses concentrate water near roots where the plant needs it the most.