In our arid climate, water is essential for a successful vegetable garden. Plants need consistent amounts of water during the growing season in order to grow and develop normally. Too much water at one time washes the nutrients out of the soil and, in clay soils, may drown roots. Too little water prevents plants from growing and developing normally, weakening them and reducing the harvest. It is important to provide the right amount of water at the right time for healthy productive plants.
How much water your plants need is a question of how deeply and how often to water. How deeply you water depends on the depth of the plant roots. Most veggie roots go 6 to 12 inches into the soil. However, some, such as tomatoes, corn, squash and melons can do as deep as 24 inches or more. Provide enough water to wet the soil to the depth at which most of the roots are found. You can check the depth of your irrigation by inserting something long and skinny, such as a screwdriver, into the ground after watering. See how far it goes into the soil before it meets the resistance of dry soil.
How often you water depends on soil texture; whether your soil is sandy, clayey or loamy. Sandy soils have large particles and water moves through very quickly. They need to be watered frequently. Clay soils hold more water and can be watered less often. However, when watering a clay soil, water very slowly so the water can soak in rather than run off. Loam soils are a nice mix of sand and clay. They absorb water easily and make it readily available for plants.
Weather also influences how often you water. Plants take up more water, and water evaporates from the soil surface more quickly in hot, windy and dry weather. On a hot summer day, you may need to water your vegetables every day; but check the soil before you water to see if it needs it. Young plants need more frequent watering until they establish a strong root system.
Container plants have a limited volume of soil, so when the water drains from the pot, it is unavailable to plants. Monitor your container plants closely and water them more frequently than plants growing in the ground.
For more detailed information, ask for Dr. Heidi Kratsch’s publication “Irrigating the Vegetable Garden” at 887-2252, 782-9960 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, find it online at www.unce.unr.edu under publications.