How you water your garden is pretty important. Plants need water to grow and thrive, some moreso than others. The amount of water needed to keep your plants healthy and happy will depend on your climate, the soil, and the plants themselves.
As noted in a prior post, cucumbers, and other similar plants, need quite a lot of water. Cucumbers can be very bitter if they don’t get enough water because they are mostly water themselves. Also, cucumbers and other similar plants like zucchini and other squashes don’t like to have their leaves wet and, depending on the climate, may do much better if they are watered by hand, or from underneath, like with a drip system. Wet leaves can lead to powdery mildew which can, in the worst case scenario, kill your plants. I have had powdery mildew here in Southern Oregon, but it has not been bad enough to damage my plants. In climates that are much wetter, or locations with less hot sun, powdery mildew may be more of an issue.
The author of square foot gardening said in his book that each plant needed just a cup of sun warmed water. Maybe in his climate that was sufficient, but here in S. Ore where our summer temps are routinely in the mid 90’s or above, our plants need much more water.
In the early spring when we first put the seeds or starts in the ground we do a good hand watering. I have a watering wand.
I find this to be much easier than just the hose or just a handle nozzle. The watering wand can get in underneath plants and I can stand up when I water so it is easier on my back. During the spring, how often we water is based purely on the soil conditions. If we have had rain and the soil looks good and not too dry (I stick my finger in it) then I don’t water. If it has been dry for a couple days I check the soil and see how things look. If it needs it, I water. As the temperatures get warmer and plants get bigger watering switches to a daily task.
I still water by hand into late spring and early summer, but as our summer starts to warm up I switch to overhead watering. I use a regular lawn sprinkler for my main garden area. In the early summer I still use the “how’s the dirt look” method of watering. Eventually though, it is time for daily watering to commence.
At that point we set up our timer. And this year, because of the additional tomato patch, and the blueberries and raspberries, we have added a drip hose to the watering system. Here’s how it all looks.
A timer like this can be found at your local hardware store for about $25-35. It has multiple settings, so you can water once a day, twice a day, every couple of days, or once a week. It is digital and really easy to program. It also has a manual on/off switch so if you decide your garden needs more water one day but you don’t want to change the schedule you can just hit the button and get more water. It is also programmable for the length of time it waters. As we are in peak hot season here, I am watering twice a day for 40 minutes. The timer is set for every 12 hours starting at 7 AM. After you water you pretty much want to stay out of your garden until the moisture on the leaves has evaporated. Messing around in the garden when plants are wet can spread disease, and on some things, like beans, it can cause “rust” or dark spots on the plants.
Attached to my timer I have a splitter which allows me to have two hoses set up on the timer. The splitter has individual valve shut offs, so if I want to water using both hoses (one for the main garden sprinkler and one for the drip hose) I have both valves open and have the timer on. If I think my tomatoes have had enough water but my garden needs more I can simply shut off the valve to the drip hose, and leave the valve for the sprinkler open, or vice versa. I don’t have to adjust my timer at all. A splitter like this can be found at your local hardware store for about $5.
Last year, as the plants got taller and our sprinkler was on the ground, the effectiveness of the sprinkler decreased because the tall plants blocked the water path. This year our cheap and easy solution was to put our sprinkler on top of our yard debris container. Pretty? Not really. But it is effective and the tall plants are not preventing water from getting to all of the garden.
Miss Roxie is helping to illustrate the path of the second hose over to the tomato garden. The first part is just a regular hose, but at the start of the tomato box the hose is attached to a drip hose.
The drip hose winds its way through the tomatoes, and around the back of the yard through the hosta and around the blueberries and into the raspberries, ending up at our sunflower.
So that’s it. As the weather cools, and stuff in the garden finishes up the process will reverse. The amount of time I water, number of times per day, number of times per week, etc. will all decrease. I do not water at all in the winter, and yes I do have things in the garden during the winter. Last year we had spinach, lettuces and garlic overwintering. I just leave them alone and let them do their thing.
A question I have been asked:
Do I have a high water bill? Well, I don’t think so. At my peak watering season I use about 22000 gallons of water (watering my garden, yard, and regular household use) compared to my average monthly use the rest of the year of about 4-5000 gallons. This costs me about $24 (not including sewer and other fees often added to utility bills). I don’t think that is a lot, in fact I think it is super cheap! Yes we use quite a lot of water during gardening season, but I think it is worth it.
One tidbit about watering your yard (not garden) in a hot climate: water in the middle of the night. The water actually will saturate the earth and you will have significantly less evaporation, which means you don’t need to water as often. Again, use a timer and set your sprinkler up to water automatically.
One other thought, yes you can overwater. Some plants like to dry out and then get a thorough drenching, while others like to have regular watering. At this point, I have been watering in essentially the same manner for three years and have been happy with my results. Could I have better results if I paid more attention to that and was more specific in my watering? Maybe. But at this point the time I save and the peace of mind knowing that if I go out of town unexpectedly (which happens fairly often at casa beebe) my garden will get watered is worth it to me. Watering by hand can be quite time consuming, often taking 30-60 minutes, depending on the size of your garden.
Also, I just want to remind everyone that I am no expert. This is just what I do, based on my own research and trial and error. What works for me in my garden may or may not work for you in yours. Climate and soil conditions have a LOT to do with how much and how often you need to water. That’s my little gardening disclaimer.