Much of the summer gardening time can be taken up with watering the vegetable garden. Here are some tips on how to reduce the need for watering and how to best do it for maximum benefit for your plants.
We just experienced a really dry spell of weather which caused a hosepipe ban in many areas in Ireland! This is so unusual for this country and we are not really prepared for it! So how do you keep your vegetable garden thriving and producing during a time of drought?
Before you even think about dragging around garden hoses or carrying heavy watering cans you should try and minimize the need for watering. The best way to do this is by mulching the soil with a thick layer of organic mulch. Mulching has many benefits for soil health and above all, it helps to keep the moisture in the soil. Not only does it help to prevent the soil from drying out quickly again after watering but it also helps to increase organic matter content. Soils with a high content of organic matter are able to hold more water.
You can use grass clippings, wood chips, leaves or straw to create a permanent cover for the soil.
Mulching also helps to improve soil structure so the soil acts more like a sponge. Water can percolate into the soil now instead of just running over a caked up surface which is common with uncovered soil.
I often see people water a little bit here and a little bit there. This is not doing much for your plants! You have to ensure that the water gets down deep into the soil and reaches the root zone. Shallow watering also leads to roots that are close to the surface which makes plants more vulnerable to drought conditions. If you water less frequently but thoroughly the plants will develop a deep root system which will be able to cope better in hot weather.
A good exercise is to check how deep the water got down after you think you have watered enough. Dig the soil a bit and see...you might be surprised to find that the soil is bone dry half an inch down!
Bury pierced plastic bottles or flower pots around your plants. This really helps to make watering the vegetable garden easier! Fill them with water to stop the water from running away over the surface. This method helps to get the water down to the root zone. It works really well around plants like tomatoes, courgettes or cucumbers.
My favorite time to water the vegetable garden during the hot summer months is in the evening. Watering in the evening ensures that the water gets a chance to soak in instead of evaporating again within minutes. It also avoids scorching of the foliage from the sun shining on wet leaves.
The second best time is early in the morning. But don't hesitate to water your plants if they need it and it is the middle of the day! If the plants are drooping and are in obvious stress from dehydration ...water them! This is particularly important for container gardens. Try to avoid splashing water on the leaves to avoid burning if you have to water in hot weather. You can also place a tray under the pots and fill them up with water.
Are you just too busy to spend your time with watering? Maybe an automated watering system is the answer for you. They can be set on a timer so all you have to do is check it from time to time. There are different systems available. Drip-systems are very efficient and need less water than overhead sprinklers.
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