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 certain nuances to watering vegetables that you should know about in order to make the most of your watering efforts. For example, watering seedlings is different from watering established vegetable plants. Watering in-ground beds is different 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 important 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 seeds and young seedlings require a steady supply of moisture—don't let them dry out! Water seedbeds lightly every morning, and check them again 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. Watering frequently rather than deeply.

While daily watering is important for seedlings to germinate, established plants should be watered differently. Frequent shallow watering may perk up your plants in the short term, but it also promotes shallow root growth. This means plants 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 inches, where they're better protected from rapid moisture fluctuations and less likely to dry out. Deep soaking two to three times a week—taking rainfall into account—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 just wets the soil surface with an additional soaking can wet the soil to a depth of several inches, providing a deep 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 to some extent—a sandy soil dries more quickly than a 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 when supplementary watering is necessary.

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 of all, 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 your finger a couple 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 heat of the day is less efficient; water evaporates more quickly 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 your watering to the soil surface and avoid wetting leaves because water helps some plant diseases spread. Use a watering wand to reach ground level, or use 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. A two-inch layer of mulch around your crops, such as tomatoes that are prone to a number of foliar diseases, helps prevent soil from getting splashed around when you water or when it rains as well.

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