The Q&A Archives: Watering a Vegetable Garden

Question: I have started a raised bed garden and don't know how much and how often I need to water. Some of the plants are from seeds and some of the plants were all ready growing. I have melons, tomatos, carrots, peppers, corn, onions, radishes, and strawberries.

Answer: One of the most challenging aspects of growing vegetables is knowing when, and how much to water. The answer really depends upon soil type and weather. Soils in raised beds drain quickly (which is good), but may need more frequent applications of water. It's better for plants if you water deeply and infrequently rather than applying only a little water on a daily basis. You want the roots of your plants to grow deep down into moist soil. This helps anchor the plants and gives them some resistance to drought. If you water only the top few inches of soil, roots will be shallow and plants will be more prone to wilting in hot summer sunshine.

Start by watering thoroughly and checking to see just how far the moisture has penetrated. You can do this by waiting a half hour after watering and then digging down into the soil to track how far the water has percolated. Your goal is to have the top 12" of soil moistened - this is where most of the roots will be. Wait 3-4 days and then dig another hole. If the soil is still moist 3" beneath the surface, you won't need to water again for a few days; if the soil is dry, it's time to water again. You'll gain some experience over the summer and will be able to tell without digging into the soil when it's time to water. Try to keep the water on the soil and not on the tops of the plants. This will help your plants avoid diseases. Best wishes with your new garden!

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