When we don’t get enough rain to keep the garden producing goodies for my table, I have to water it. Here are some general watering tips for gardens.
- Water from below. Never spray water onto the foliage or flowers. Remember that the roots need the water, not the leaves. Here in the humid Midwest many plants are susceptible to fungal diseases that are spread by overhead watering, so I shy away even from foliar fertilizers. I use soaker hoses in my raised beds. I attach the hose to the soaker hose and turn it on just a quarter turn, not full blast, so the water comes out at lower pressure and slowly soaks the root zone. Then I set a timer to remind myself when it’s time to move the hose to the next bed. Whenever I use the regular hose for watering, I attach a long water wand to it so that I can direct the water down toward the roots without bending over.
- Water deeply and less often. Frequent light waterings will encourage your plants to develop shallow roots, and they will fade quickly in a dry spell. When we get no rain, I aim to water the kitchen garden twice a week. Remember, however, that newly planted seeds and plants will need to be watered more frequently until their roots have grown and they are established.
- Know the water needs of your plants. This is as important as knowing their sun and shade preferences. Put plants that need more water, such as hydrangeas and astilbes, in the wetter areas of your yard. Keep plants like cactus, sedums, and begonias in the drier, quickly draining areas. Most vegetables require well drainingsoil and one inch of rain per week.
- Keep accurate track of the weather. Your plants may need to be watered more often during a heat wave. What appears to be a heavy rainfall might be turn out to be only 1/4 inch of rain. I recommend using a good rain gauge. If you don’t have one, you can tell that the ground received one inch of rain if you dig down and see that it’s wet 6-8 inches deep. Watering just the top inch of soil is not watering the garden enough.
- If you have rain barrels, you should be careful about using their water on edible plants because of possible contamination from roofs and gutters. You should water the soil only; do not get the plants wet. Stop using the rainwater a couple weeks before harvesting. I recently found this extension service article that discusses the question in much more detail. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, you should at least scroll down to the “Best Practices and Recommendations” section at the end. It talks about using a bleach solution to lower the risk of contamination of edible plants.
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