A good way to water your vegetable garden is to use a soaker hose, or a drip irrigation system. However, if you have a small-space garden, you may not want to purchase one of these options.
Throughout the growing season, you’ll need to water your plants or they’ll get dried out and die. Watering your garden is an important part of vegetable gardening because vegetables can’t live without it.
There are several different ways you can water your veggies, each having its advantages and disadvantages when working in a small-space garden. There are three main methods: hand watering, overhead watering, and drip irrigation. You can decide which one is the best option for your vegetable garden.
For a small-space garden hand watering may be the easiest option. Hand watering is done by using a container of some kind, or a hose connected to a water source, to water individual vegetable plants. The main benefits of hand watering are you can direct where the flow of water goes and you have control over when and how much water you give the plants. While doing it you also have time to observe your plants. Another plus? The equipment needed is inexpensive to purchase.
Any kind of container that will hold water can be used to water your plants, but a watering can be made either of plastic or metal is the most common and it will be fairly inexpensive to purchase. When choosing a watering can, the nozzle may be the most important component to check. Each nozzle has a different number and size of holes that affect how much and how quickly the water comes out.
If you are watering tiny seedlings you want a nozzle that will give a light spray of water. A Haws watering can is great as it naturally gives a very gentle spray of water. If you are watering larger plants, the holes in the watering can be bigger as the larger plants can handle a heavier spray.
The size of the watering can or container is another consideration. A large can holds a large amount of water so fewer trips are needed to your water source; however, the container can be extremely heavy and difficult to lift and carry when full. Consider your strength, how much you will be watering, and the distance you have to pack the container.
If you choose to water with a hose, the nozzle is an important component to consider. Choosing one that has a variety of spray options is best; that way you can give a light or heavier spray depending on what kind of plant you are watering. Make sure your hose easily reaches all areas of your garden site, which makes it easier to water the garden.
There are some plants that do better if they are hand-watered. For example, containers are best hand-watered since there is less waste than when using a sprinkler. Larger mature plants such as broccoli, cabbages, and cauliflower do better with hand watering (or drip), as the leaves can impede water from reaching the roots if using an overhead sprinkler. Plants like tomatoes, squash, and carrots attract pests and disease more readily if their leaves get wet, so hand-watering is beneficial in growing these as well.
When seeding your garden it is important to keep your seedbed moist until the seeds have germinated. When setting out your transplants makes sure the seedlings are moist when planted and water again after planting. Young seedlings have very shallow roots so you do not want the soil to dry out.
Hand watering your vegetable garden can take up a lot of time even in a small space, and that is one definite disadvantage. But some gardeners find hand watering relaxing and enjoy this aspect of growing vegetables. Others do not have the patience.
Using an overhead sprinkler is easy and probably the most common way most gardeners water their vegetable gardens. All you have to do is set up your sprinkler, turn it on, and everything gets watered all at once, especially in a small-space garden. It takes approximately one hour of sprinkling (depending on water pressure) for the water to soak into the soil several inches.
When purchasing a hose, stick to a 50- or 100-foot length. Anything longer than that is very heavy and cumbersome to move around. If you get shorter lengths, make sure they are all the same brand and size of the hose so they can be easily connected together if needed.
There are many benefits to using an overhead sprinkler:
- It is simple to set up and use.
- Equipment is fairly inexpensive to purchase; all you need is a water tap, hose, and sprinkler.
- A sprinkler saves time as you can do other gardening chores while the sprinkler waters your garden.
- Timers and automatic water houseplants equipment are available to make it even easier.
- Sprinklers can be easily moved around your garden.
- Overhead watering is used to keep plants cool in warm weather.
Some vegetables that benefit from overhead watering are lettuce, spinach, salad greens, and Swiss chard. As it evaporates, the water on the leaves keeps them cool, lowering the temperature of the plant and preventing the plants from wilting or being scorched in hot temperatures.
Some disadvantages to using an overhead sprinkler:
- Too much water can be wasted through evaporation or the watering of areas that do not need water, such as your garden pathways.
- With some vegetable plants, moisture on the leaves can cause diseases such as mildew and blight.
- In larger vegetable plants, such as those in the cabbage family, the moisture can be impeded from reaching the plant roots by the leaves. This stresses the plant, which in turn can draw pests and cause diseases.
The best time to water your vegetables is in the morning. This gives the plants’ leaves time to dry off and remain cool once the sun hits them. Plants do not like to be cold, especially young seedlings, so it is best to water when the temperature is increased during the day rather than when it is decreasing at night.
Choosing to use or not to use an overhead sprinkler is a personal choice. If time is a factor in your life, then overhead watering may be the simplest solution. It is also important to look at what vegetables you will be growing and what adverse effects overhead watering may have on those plants. You will have to find out which method will work best in your situation. Another option is that if you have a larger garden, you can choose to water certain areas with a sprinkler and others by hand.
Drip irrigation is a term used when a hose that has many little holes in it, or a flat, plastic tubing that has slits on one side, allows the water to seep slowly out into the soil. It is also known as a trickle or weeping system. Either hose or tubing is laid on the ground along the base of your plants and allows water to reach the roots where it is best utilized. The flat plastic tubing needs more setup and is commonly used in larger, commercial vegetable gardens. You will need irrigation connectors, attachments, and a water pipe in order to attach the tubing to your water source, which is most likely too much work in a small-space garden. A soaker hose, however, can be easily attached to a water tap as it has the same attachments as a regular hose. In a small-space garden, a soaker hose can be a good option. You can purchase one—they come in varying lengths—from a gardening or hardware store. It is an investment that will save you time and will last for many years. With good water pressure, both the soaker hose or plastic tubing can give your garden soil up to an inch of water in approximately fifteen minutes, making drip irrigation a very efficient way to water your vegetable garden.
If you have an old hose lying around, it can be easily recycled into a soaker hose. Use a nail or another sharp object to punch holes every few inches along one side of the hose. Make sure the end is closed off; then lay it out into the garden bed, turn on your tap, and you now have a soaker hose working for you.
Advantages to using a drip system:
- You use less water because very little is lost to evaporation.
- The moisture reaches the roots where it is most needed.
- Soaking adds moisture to the soil slowly, allowing the water to soak in over time, which allows the roots to utilize it better.
- The soil is watered evenly and thoroughly.
- Hoses or equipment can be fairly easily moved around to where they are best utilized.
It is best to have enough soaker hose or plastic tube length to cover your garden area; that way you can place the hose out when you plant an area and pull it up after harvesting. For easier setup, place the hose along your beds as you plant your seeds or set out your transplants. The plantings will not be disturbed later. The hose and plastic tubing can either be mulched or just left on top of the ground. However, both can deteriorate over time if left exposed to the sun, so mulching is probably the better option.
Disadvantages to drip irrigation:
- It takes time and effort to set up and to take down the equipment and hoses.
- The tubing can be easily punctured by a rake or hoe.
- It can become very costly if you have a large garden area; however, the equipment will last for a long time if handled properly.
Water: How Much Is Enough?
The plants’ stems absorb water that brings along with it nutrients found in the soil. That is why water is so important for plants to grow. Every garden site has different needs and every gardener may have a slightly different outlook on watering. Some like to do it; others find it a chore. Most gardeners utilize a few different watering techniques like hand watering or a sprinkler or drip (seeping or soaker) system. The most important part of watering is to make sure your veggie plants are not getting too much or too little water. So what is just right, you ask?
Plants need approximately 1 inch of water a week to grow well. A once-a-week, deep watering of your vegetable garden is much better for the plants and more effective than frequent light watering. When plant roots seek out water and moisture found in the earth, they are encouraged to grow deeper roots, which give the plant access to even more nutrients.
When choosing to purchase new watering products, choose one brand, and stick with it. That way you will know that all the parts will fit together. Metal or plastic ends and accessories are okay; just stick to the one brand.
Most gardeners get out and spray their garden every day or so, and that can work for some gardens. But often you are just giving water to the top inch or so of soil and never even reaching the plant roots. Most plant roots are at least 3 inches into the ground, so you want the water to reach at least that far down. Before and after watering, stick your finger into the ground up to your knuckle: if the soil is wet to that depth, your plants have enough water. If the soil is dry, give them some more. If you are growing your veggies in a container, a quick way to check is to lift the container up: if it feels light, it needs some water; if it is still quite heavy, it does not. If the pot is too heavy to lift, dig down a few inches to see if the soil is still damp (the top inch or so will dry out first). If it is still damp, the plant still has enough water.
Signs of Too Much or Too Little
The plant roots must continually grow for the plant to stay healthy and produce its fruit, seeds, or buds. The roots draw the nutrients from the soil up into the plant to make it grow. Water allows the nutrients in the soil to be absorbed into the plant, so if there is too little water the roots cannot draw in the nutrients.
That means the plant will not grow and mature as it should. You can be watering the surface or even the top several inches of your soil, but the plant roots have already absorbed the nutrients in the surface soil and need to go deeper to get more. This is why it is essential for you to provide regular, deep watering when growing vegetables.
Signs of Under Watering
One easy-to-spot sign that your plants may not be getting enough water is wilt. If the plant can draw enough water to replace the amount that evaporated from its leaves, it will remain upright and strong. If the plant is not getting the water it needs, the lack will cause severe stress and the plant will quickly collapse and often die. If a plant gets wilted, it is important to water it as soon as possible.
If you have to ration water because of drought conditions, it is important to know which plants have the deepest roots, making them more tolerant to drought conditions. Beets, asparagus, tomatoes, and Brassicas can do with a bit less water. Never stop watering celery, lettuce, cucumber, squash, and peppers as they are very sensitive to drought conditions.
It is important to take time every day to observe your plants. That way you can quickly fix what could be wrong. If you have young transplants, they will need a drink of water every day if there is no rain, as their roots are very shallow and the top few inches of your soil can dry out very quickly. Once your vegetable plants have begun to mature, watering them once a week is usually sufficient. For some plants, such as onions and potatoes, it is best to stop watering them altogether once they are nearly mature.
Here are some signs that your plants need more water:
- The plants appear small and very slow-growing.
- The vegetable plants are not producing very many fruits, seeds, or buds, and the ones being produced are often misshapen.
- Your plants are diseased.
- The plants are yellowish or pale in color rather than having a bright green color.
- Your plants are wilting. Some natural wilting may occur in the heat of the day; however, if plants do not perk up by late afternoon, you have a problem.
Too little water can lead to poor root development, which will make for an unhealthy plant. Take the time to walk through your veggie garden at different times of the day to make sure your plants appear strong, have a bright color, and look healthy.
Signs of Over Watering
There are some clear signs that your plants are not getting enough water. But overwatering your vegetable garden can also be a concern. Most gardeners go to great lengths to make sure there are enough nutrients added to their garden beds in the form of amendments and fertilizers. When the soil is moist the water helps to hold the nutrients to rock particles in the soil so the plant roots can absorb them. If there is too much water in the soil it drains lower into the soil taking a lot of the nutrients with it. This is called leaching.
One way to conserve water is to install a rain barrel to capture water from your eaves troughs; another is to recycle water from dehumidifiers, air conditioners, and household greywater to use to water your vegetable garden and containers.
Along with moisture in the soil, plants need good air circulation for the plant to have access to oxygen and to release carbon dioxide. If the soil is saturated, the water is filling up all the space in the soil, leaving no room for air circulation. If the air supply is cut off for any length of time the plant roots will rot, killing the plant.
The bottom line is gardeners need to know their own soil conditions. When it comes to moisture, it is good to keep a record of rainfall and regularly check the moisture in your soil with either a moisture meter (a small tool that can be purchased at your local garden center) or by digging into the soil with your hands or a small shovel to see how far down the moisture is. Then water when needed.
If you are a beginner gardener it can take time to get to know your soil and climate. Especially at first, it is important to observe and jot down some notes so you can refer back to them the following season.