AMES, Iowa -- Well maintained vegetable gardens will reward gardeners with a bountiful crop. Two important maintenance chores are weeding and watering. For more information on gardening and other horticulture topics, contact Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulture specialists at 515-294-3108, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cultivation, hand pulling and mulches are the primary means to control weeds in the vegetable garden.
Cultivation and hand pulling effectively control most annual weeds. Perennial weeds are often more difficult to control and may require repeated cultivation. When cultivating the garden, avoid deep tillage. The roots of many vegetables grow near the soil surface. Deep cultivation will cut off some of these roots. Also, deep cultivation will bring deeply buried weed seeds to the soil surface where they can germinate.
How should I till?
Hoe or till around plants or between rows and pull weeds close to plants. To effectively control weeds, cultivation and hand pulling must be done on a regular basis through the growing season. Small weeds are much easier to control than large weeds. It’s also important to destroy weeds before they have a chance to go to seed.
Mulches control weeds by preventing the germination of weed seeds. Established weeds should be destroyed prior to the application of the mulch. In addition to weed control, mulches help conserve soil moisture, reduce soil erosion, prevent crusting of the soil surface, keep vegetables clean, and may reduce disease problems.
Grass clippings, shredded leaves and weed-free straw are excellent mulches for vegetable gardens. Apply several inches of these materials in early June after the soil has warmed sufficiently. Plant growth may be slowed if these materials are applied when soil temperatures are still cool in early spring. Grass clippings, shredded leaves, and similar materials break down relatively quickly and can be tilled into the soil in fall.
Vegetables perform best when they receive 1 to 1½ inches of water per week (either from rain or irrigation). Watering during dry periods ensures continued plant growth and optimal yields.
The frequency of watering is determined by soil characteristics, weather conditions and other factors. In general, however, a deep watering once a week in dry weather should be adequate for most vegetable gardens. When watering gardens, water slowly and deeply.
When to water?
Early morning (6-9 a.m.) is the best time to water gardens 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 the water onto the lawn or other nearby areas.
Watering in the evening with a sprinkler or garden hose can lead to greater disease problems, as plant foliage will likely remain wet throughout the night.
To conserve soil moisture, apply a mulch to the vegetable garden. Mulching reduces the rate of evaporation from the soil surface.
For more information on weeding in the garden, check out Weed Management in the Home Garden.
Original photo: Watering a garden.