AMES, Iowa – Gardens are potentially excellent sources for fresh produce which can be harvested, enjoyed and saved for year-round use. However, they need special care and watering to create a bountiful harvest of vegetables, especially in the hot summer months.
ISU Extension and Outreach horticulturists can help figure out questions about how to maximize a garden’s potential through watering.
How often should I water my garden?
The frequency of watering is determined by soil characteristics, weather conditions, type of plant material, and other factors. In general, however, a deep watering once a week in dry weather should be adequate for most fruit, vegetable and flower gardens. When watering gardens, water slowly and deeply.
When is the best time to water the garden?
Early morning (5 to 9 a.m.) is the best time to water the garden when using a sprinkler, garden hose or any other device that wets the plant foliage. When watering is completed, the plant foliage dries quickly. The rapid drying of plant foliage helps guard against the development of fungal diseases. Additionally, a morning application allows the water to soak deeply into the soil with little water lost to evaporation.
Watering at midday is less efficient because of rapid evaporation. When using a sprinkler, midday watering can also be wasteful as strong winds may carry water onto the driveway, patio or other nearby areas.
Watering in the evening with a sprinkler or garden hose can lead to greater disease problems as the plant foliage will likely remain wet throughout the night.
Mornings and evenings are excellent times to water gardens when using a drip irrigation system or soaker hose. Watering in the evening isn’t a problem as these methods don’t wet plant foliage.
Are there ways to reduce water use in the garden?
Apply a mulch around landscape plantings and garden areas to conserve soil moisture. Mulching reduces the rate of evaporation from the soil surface and also limits weed competition. Organic materials, such as grass clippings, clean weed-free straw and shredded leaves, are excellent mulches for the vegetable garden. Wood chips and shredded bark are good choices for trees, shrubs, and perennials.
The depth of the mulch depends on the type of mulching material and site. Apply wood chips and shredded bark to a depth of three to four inches around trees and shrubs. Optimum depth in the vegetable garden ranges from two to three inches for fine materials, such as grass clippings, to six to eight inches for straw.