Water Wisdom for Vine Crops
by National Gardening Association Editors
Vine crops are the camels of the garden! They contain up to 95 percent water at maturity, yet they don't require any more watering than other vegetables. But they do need a steady supply of moisture -- about one inch of water each week. This is important for taste, because cucumbers and melons can become bitter or bland if they're stressed by dryness or lack of soil nutrients.
When to Water
If you live in a dry area, or experience a dry spell, you'll have to water. However, water when your plants need it, not just because you're in the habit of watering every few days. You can tell if your plants are thirsty by digging into the soil. If it's dry four inches down, water. If you reach moist soil three inches down, your plants are okay.
Another way to tell if your plants need watering is if they look wilted before eleven o'clock in the morning. If your plants droop in the heat of the late afternoon sun, don't worry, that's normal.
How to Water
How you water is as important as when. Don't just sprinkle the soil surface. Shallow watering promotes shallow, weak root growth and that's bad for plants. Water to a depth of six inches to do the most good.
You can water with an overhead sprinkler, a hose or with buckets, but soaker hoses and drip irrigation are the most efficient techniques. Soaker hoses have tiny holes along them. By laying one right next to the plants, the water seeps out to soak the soil thoroughly. You don't wet the foliage, and hardly any water is lost to evaporation. Drip irrigation systems have individual water lines that you place next to your plants; at the end of each line is an emitter that drips water onto the soil.
You can also use homemade "automatic" water dispensers. Punch a few holes in the bottoms of large, wide-mouth cans or sawed-off plastic gallon jugs and bury these in the melon patch before planting. Plant seeds in hills around each can about four inches from it. Rain water will collect in the can and seep through the holes to the roots, or fill the cans when you water.
Beware the Wet Garden
Vine crops are prone to disease, so stay out of the garden when it's wet. Diseases can spread quickly by traveling on beads of water from leaf to leaf or plant to plant, and even if you try not to touch the plants, you could transfer any number of bacteria without realizing it.
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