The Right Way to Water Your Garden

“It’s so green,” I gushed excitedly, gazing out the airplane window as we flew over the Netherlands on our way to Ireland for the first time.

“I didn’t expect it to look almost as green as Ireland….Is it pretty green where you live?” I asked the young German man next to me (it was September, by the way).

“Well,” he smirked, “I think nearly everywhere is pretty green–except the southwestern part of the U.S.”

“Oh,” I chuckled, thinking. “Yeah, I guess it would be…. I don’t know why I never thought of that.” Having lived all my life in California, I guess brown is just my default expectation most of the year. So perhaps this post mostly reflects #CaliforniaProblems, but regardless of where you live, your plants will be happier when their soil water stays pretty level.

Here’s the why and how of even watering.

Wondering how much to water vegetable plants? Learn how to keep your garden happy and grow lots of vegetables with the best vegetable garden watering tips.

1. Healthier Roots

Did you know that the roots of most plants need air to “breathe?”  This is why over-watering  can be just as bad for your plants as under-watering. Some plants (like certain houseplants or tropical plants) can handle having waterlogged roots but most vegetable plants will not. A plant that gets too waterlogged can actually “drown.”

2. Better nutrient absorption

Similar to the point above, too much water (or too much inconsistency) can keep plants from properly absorbing soil nutrients. This can lead to nutrient deficiencies which take the form of bad fruit, poor production, or sickly plants.  Having healthy, happy plants in the first place is the best way to avoid or minimize other outside problems.

3. Better fruit production

“My plants look so big, healthy, and green–but there’s not a tomato in sight!” I hear this one a lot, and perhaps you’ve pondered the same problem yourself.  There are multiple possible reasons, but chances are, you may need to give them a bit less water, or space out the waterings more so that they sense a little dryness in between waterings. This will give them just enough “stress” to know that they need to put on fruit so that the “next generation” (seeds in the fruit) is ready to go in case things go south!  Just be careful that you don’t let the difference be too drastic once they are producing, or fruit quality will suffer.

4. Better looking fruit

Ever had your tomatoes crack and split?  What about black or rotten spots on the bottom of tomatoes, and squash (or zucchini or courgettes) that look wrinkly or brown at one end? The second set of problems is called “Blossom End Rot,” but all of these problems are often primarily caused by too much dramatic change in soil water levels.

If your watering is good but you still have blossom end rot problems, adding fertilizer and/or calcium to the soil might help.

So What IS Perfect Watering?

Unfortunately I can’t give you exact amounts since conditions will always differ. But here are some pointers to help you know if you’re doing it right.

  • The surface of the soil may or may not look wet, but if you poke beneath it a bit you should feel some moisture making it damp to the touch. I’ve also heard it said that you can poke a wooden pencil into the soil for a while and come back to see if the wood appears to have absorbed water.
  • When you poke or press it, the soil should NOT feel like a saturated sponge. If you’ve only just watered it, maybe so, but the water needs to be able to escape so that the roots can breathe. If your soil is staying soggy for too long, you should consider adding more drainage holes, choosing a soil that drains better, and/or simply watering less.
  • You should not allow the soil to become completely dried out between waterings. This is especially true for plants in pots. Especially if the soil is not good quality, sometimes once it dries out completely, it is very difficult to make it thoroughly again. But the main problem is that it will stress your plant.
  • If all else fails, grab a watering meter / soil moisture tester to let you know for sure!

Yes, I know, it’s all much easier said than done!  It will get better with practice and trial and error. But I’ll admit, the first year I had a baby, I over-watered or under=watered my garden more times than I could count until my poor tomatoes were cracking all over the place!

That’s why I now use and swear by a hose watering timer like one of the ones in the affiliate links above (attached to a soaker hose), self-watering containers, or just about any product or system that takes the guesswork and human error out of watering. Find some more ideas and suggestions in this post (forthcoming).

Any watering tips or facts I didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments.

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