7 Watering Mistakes That Could Sabotage Your Vegetable Garden

Keep all your veggies well hydrated and healthy with these simple tips.

How do you know when to water your vegetables and how much water to apply? It's not difficult, but there are specific nuances to watering vegetables that you should know about to make the most of your watering efforts. For example, watering seedlings is different from watering established vegetable plants. Watering in-ground beds differs from watering containers. And watering in the morning is better than watering at noon.

Understanding these differences will maximize your watering efficiency. Here are the most serious mistakes to avoid, so your vegetables get all the water they need for a healthy harvest.

watering can planted seedlings
William N. Hopkins

1. Under or overwatering seedlings.

Because they're just developing their roots, newly planted and young seedlings require a steady supply of moisture—don't let them dry out! Water seedbeds lightly every morning and recheck them in the evening. If a dry crust forms on the soil surface, it can be difficult for new seeds to germinate. And if a germinating seed dries out, it may die.

On the other hand, don't let the soil get too soggy; overwatering a seedbed can promote diseases such as damping off, a fungus that kills young seedlings. The key is to maintain an evenly moist—not wet—soil until the young plants have developed healthy roots.

2. Not knowing how often to water a vegetable garden.

You must know how often to water a vegetable garden for successful plant growth. While daily watering is essential for seedlings to germinate, established plants should be watered differently. Frequent shallow watering may perk up your plants in the short term but also promotes shallow root growth. This causes plants to dry out quickly when the soil surface dries, which can happen fast on a hot, sunny day.

When you water deeply, roots will grow down beyond the top couple of inches, where they're better protected from rapid moisture fluctuations and less likely to dry out. Deep soaking two to three times a week—considering rainfall—will promote healthier, more productive growth than frequent shallow watering.

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, watering after a light rain can be very efficient. Following a shower that wets the soil surface with an additional soaking can soak the soil to several inches deep, providing a substantial drink for your plants.

3. Not using a rain gauge.

Most vegetable plants grown in the ground need about an inch of water each week, whether from rain or irrigation. Of course, that depends on your soil—sandy soil dries more quickly than heavy clay soil. (Raised beds and container gardens need more water—see below). Keep track of the amount of rain your garden is getting by using a rain gauge; record rainfall amounts (jotting a note in your garden journal works) so that you know how often to water your vegetable garden for additional moisture.

watering vegetables with orange watering can
Cameron Sadeghpour

4. Under-watering containers and raised beds.

Vegetables and herbs grown in containers or raised beds need water more often than in-ground beds. Why? First, the soil mixture used in containers and raised beds is designed to drain more quickly than the soil of an in-ground bed. Secondly, because their soil is above ground level, the temperature rises quickly on warm days, increasing evaporation.

Check the moisture level in your containers and raised beds regularly by sticking a moisture meter or finger a couple of inches into the soil. If the soil is dry, it's time to water.

5. Watering during the heat of the day.

The best time to water your garden is in the morning when leaves that may get wet have plenty of time to dry before night. Watering during the day's heat is less efficient; water evaporates faster and less reaches the root zone. In the evening, when temperatures drop, evaporation slows again, but cooler night temperatures also favor the spread of some foliar diseases. If you must water in the evening, avoid wetting leaves.

6. Wetting leaves.

Plants get their moisture through their roots, not their leaves. Direct watering to the soil surface and avoid wetting leaves because water helps spread some plant diseases. Use a watering wand to reach ground level or a soaker hose or trickle irrigation system to wet the soil rather than the leaves.

7. Splashing soil onto leaves.

The soil can harbor many plant diseases. If your watering efforts splash soil onto the leaves of your plants, those diseases can spread, so use a gentle spray or a soaker hose. In addition, a two-inch layer of mulch around your crop, prone to several foliar diseases, such as tomatoes, helps prevent soil from getting splashed around when you water or when it rains.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where should I plant my vegetable garden?

    Plant a vegetable garden in a spot where it will get at least 6 hours of sunlight each day. The spot should have good drainage. You can add vegetables to existing plant beds as long as the soil and sun exposure are suitable. Make sure it's easy to access a hose so you don't have trouble getting water to the plants.

  • What are easy vegetables to grow?

    Grow lettuce, radishes, and peas in the spring. When summer comes, there's nothing easier to grow than zucchini. In the fall, leafy greens are once again the best choice.

  • How do I keep weeds out of my vegetable garden?

    Use mulch, such as organic grass clippings or straw, to keep the weeds around your vegetables from getting the sunlight they need to grow. Spend a few minutes each day pulling weeds that sprout through the mulch. When it comes to keeping weeds away, persistence is key.

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