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Tips on How Much and How Often You Should Water Your Garden

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Not all plants should be watered equally.

Gain a little garden mastery by discovering the finer aspects on how much and how often you really should water your garden.

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The Most Common Gardening Failure

Probably the most common reason for a plant to fail to thrive in the garden is either from too much water, too little water, or not adjusting a plant’s watering based on its needs during differing stages of growth.

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While the general rule of thumb is to add enough water to soak the top 2 inches of water once or twice a week depending on the amount of sun and average daily temperature, this is just a very general guideline and will not provide optimal growth results for many plants. Good gardening practice takes into consideration 3 factors: soil type, plant type, and growth stage.

Soil Type—Your first consideration is about your soil type. Is it Clay-like, sandy or loamy?

Soil type is an important factor because in spite of how many view root growth, it does not just take place in the soil, but more accurately, in the spaces between soil particles. Those spaces between particles is where root respiration—the exchange of the oxygen and carbon dioxide—take place that is vital to plant growth. At the same time, those spaces also provide the roots with needed moisture. It’s a balancing act.

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If too much water is provided too long, the gases are driven away from the roots and the plant suffers. If too little water is provided, those spaces are totally air-filled with no moisture and the plant suffers. But, get the balance just right, and the plant thrives.

Clay-like Soil: Clay-like soil is too compact for ideal root growth. It holds a lot of moisture and drains poorly. Add too much water and you literally drown the plant by depriving it of its gas exchange needs.

Sandy Soil: Opposite from clay-like soil, sandy soil is too loose for ideal plant growth. It does not hold onto moisture very well and it drains water too quickly, necessitating additional watering to keep the plant alive. In fact, when a plant senses too little moisture is available, in some cases it will lead to early flowering and seed development. This in turn stops or retards plant growth that will resume much-delayed upon watering; or, will wilt and die without the resumed watering.

Loamy Soil: Loamy soil is the best of both the clay-like and sandy soil worlds, with the addition of plenty of organic matter to act as a sponge to hold in and store moisture.

However, even the best loamy soil can be ruined by making it too compact by constantly walking over it. This is why many resources warn against walking near your plants while gardening. Another way to ruin loamy soil is too water it so heavily that the loamy soil collapses on itself and cannot re-form once dried.

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Plant Type—Your second consideration is your plant type. More specifically, it’s root type of developing either shallow or deep roots.

Plants with shallow root systems grow best under constant. even, moisture soil conditions; and therefore, require watering fairly often, as long as it is not too much water at each instance. These plants include all of the root, leaf and head produce such as lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, radishes, carrots and beets. If the soil is allowed to dry-out within the top 6-12 inches, the plants will become stressed and will either not thrive very well or will die. In the case of lettuce, the leaves may develop a bitter taste from repeated dry stressing.

Plants with deeper root systems grow best under less frequent watering, but at greater amounts of water that is allowed to sink deeper into the soil. Examples of these types of plants include tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, melons, peppers, squash and corn. However, a sign that too much watering is going on is when a plant develops lots of leaves and bushy tops, but little fruit in the end.

Growth Stage—Your third consideration is your plant’s growth stage. In other words, it is a seedling, a transplant, or later-developed plant.

Newly-planted seedlings typically require frequent (up to twice daily during hot weather) watering that should be applied as a mist over barely covered seeds; or, gentle spray/droplets if planted a little deeper into the seed starter media. The key here is to ensure that the topmost layer is kept constantly moist so that germination can occur.

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Transplants need constant moisture too to help the plant cope with transplant shock, but not so much that you are drowning it based on the type of soil it is in. A good practice is to allow the seedling media to remain on the delicate new roots and add a little extra seedling media to the transplant hole to help control the moisture as it develops a stronger root system and begins to dig into the soil spaces.

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Another good practice is to give the transplants some shade as they adjust to the transplant stress and to prevent the young leaves from dying out too fast if hot or windy conditions prevail during transplanting.

Once the transplant has taken to the new soil and is beginning to grow, watering can occur in a more relaxed, state and adjusted to match the weather, the soil and the plant’s needs. For a more detailed idea of how much water to expect that will be needed, visit The Farmer’s Almanac “Watering Chart for Vegetables” guide referenced below.

If you have any additional advice on watering your garden or plant, please let us know in the comments section below.

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with a background in farming and an avid home gardener, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on the connection between plant biology and gardening for healthy living. For continual updates about plants and health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Reference: Watering Chart for Vegetables” by Catherine Boeckmann. The Old Farmer’s Almanac May 29, 2019

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