The Q&A Archives: Watering Container Vegetables in the Desert

Question: I live in a very hot and dry climate and I am growing tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers for the first time here in pots. How often do they need to be watered?

Answer: There are numerous variables involved for watering schedules, such as type of soil, how fast or slow it drains, sun and wind exposure at your site, temperature, age and condition of the plants and much more. Containers generally dry out faster than soil in the ground. Desert soil and water both contain salts, which can accumulate in the root zone over time. This salt buildup forms where the water stops penetrating. If you sprinkle plants lightly and frequently, salts will build up in the top layers of soil and damage or kill your plant. Deep watering, or leaching, prevents this by flushing the salts past the root zone.

Roots also need oxygen to survive and soil that is continually wet doesn't provide it. Use a soil probe (any long, pointed piece of metal or wood to poke into the soil) to check how far water has penetrated. The probe moves easily through moist soil, but stops when it hits hard dry soil. For mature veggies, water should reach about 10-12 inches deep. Use the information above to determine how moist the soil is before automatically applying more water. Basically, you want to maintain moist, but not wet soil, throughout the root zone. Also, container grown veggies generally need more frequent fertilizing, since the fertilizer is leached out with the frequent watering! Good luck!

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