It’s been weeks now since we had any sustained drenching rain here on the Central Coast. We’ve noticed that because of the past two years of more abundant rain falls, we’ve forgotten just how hard the climate can be on plants particularly our veggies. We have to re-program ourselves to get into the habit of frequent watering.
Most plants are composed of up to 90% water. Water is requisite for cell structure, stability and growth. Water is vital from the germination to harvest.
Plants need water to hold themselves up. If the cells don’t have enough water in them, the plant will wilt. At worst it will kill them. You can see that happen on a really hot day once the temperature gets over 30 or we get drying hot winds many plants will begin to wilt and it takes them a lot of energy to recover so adequate protection is necessary ( i.e. such as shade cloth or an umbrella)
Water is also essential to carry nutrients to the different parts of the plant, particularly fruits. But too much water can be just as bad, leading to leaf diseases or root rot, a lack of oxygen or having your nutrients leach out of the soil. Irregular watering can stress your plants leading to low productivity or bolting. Therefore, if you want your garden to thrive you’re going to have to pay a good amount of attention to how and how often you water your vegetables.
When to Water the Vegetable Garden
The best time to water your vegetables is in the early morning hours. This is peak growth time for plants and it gives the soil and roots time to absorb the water fully before the heat of the sun evaporates moisture from the soil. Watering in the heat of the day is wasteful and damaging to the plant. You lose much more water to evaporation (meaning much less water for the plant and thus more frequent and irregular watering) and cold water can shock plants.
Evening watering can lead to mildews, rusts and other diseases because the water will sit over night on your plants or the roots.
How to water
Most people think watering is a simple matter of hold the hose and turning it on. Watering is an art and there’s quite a lot to remember.
Ideally, water for plants comes from rain or from underground sources. In reality, but you’ll often have to do extra watering by hand or through an irrigation system.
Be careful not to splash soil and fertiliser up onto your veggies particularly green leafy veg like spinach, chinese greens and lettuces. Be extra cautious if you’ve recently fertilised and the weather has dried out the soil and fertiliser.
Elsewhere in the Adams Garden blog [here] we have talked about the importance of mulch in retaining water and giving the soil itself insulation from extreme temperatures. Keep your mulch levels up especially at this time of year.
Some other factors to think of:
Create a basin or “tree well” around the base of fruit trees and berry bearing bushes. The young plant requires a basin just outside the root ball. Water slowly. Let the water run into the basin and soak the soil. You cannot water trees too much at one time; however, you can water too often. Generally, it is best to water newly-planted trees at least three times weekly for the first month and once every two or three weeks for the remainder of the year.
All trees take special care in watering the first 2-3 years to become established.
Sometimes water is not what a wilting plant needs. When plants are growing fast, the leaves sometimes get ahead of the roots’ ability to provide them with water. If the day is hot and the plants wilt in the afternoon, don’t worry about them; they will regain their balance overnight. But if plants are wilting early in the morning, water them immediately.
When you water, be sure to water thoroughly and deeply. A shallow watering or sprinkling will drive the plants roots up instead of down and a shallow root system leaves you doing more watering than you’ll want to do and will leave the plants unable to withstand wind blow, particularly when we get those hot dry westerlies.
When watering focus on the soil! Look to water your soil so that the water gets down a good foot at least. The amount of water you put on your garden is going to depend on the soil type, available sun and stage of growth…not to mention if it’s been raining or not.
The best way to avoid overwatering is by sticking your finger in the ground. Ideally, it will feel damp but if it feels soggy, don’t water anymore!. Give the garden time to dry out a little bit. If your plants are starting to suffer consider taking a pitchfork and punching holes in the soil to let the water drain right in. This seems to work rather well. If you’re crops are wilting and appear dried out give them water right away (never mind the time of day) and, if possible, get them in the shade.
Critical Periods for Vegetables.
While most vegetables require adequate moisture from the time they are seeded or transplanted into the garden, there are critical times when they definitely require MORE water.
- Beans: Pollination and pod development
- Bean, snap: Pod enlargement
- Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower: Head development
- Carrot: enlargement
- Corn, sweet: Silk tasseling and ear development
- Cucumber: Flowering and fruit development
- Eggplant: Flowering through harvest
- Lettuce, chard, spinach and choys and all leafy greens: Seedling to harvest
- Melons: Fruit set and early development
- Onion, dry: Bulb enlargement
- Peas: Flowering and seed enlargement
- Capsicum: Flowering through harvest
- Potato: Tuber set and tuber enlargement
- Radish & Beetroot: Root enlargement
- Zucchinis: Bud development and flowering
- Tomato: Flowering through to harvest