How to water your vegetable garden

watered garden
(Sara Welch photo)

I planted my vegetable garden May 15. Two days later some of my transplanted seedlings started looking wilted, dried out and the foliage started looking a bit sun-scorched.

It didn’t make any sense to me at first. I was watering the entire garden thoroughly every night after 6 p.m. using the shower setting on my hose nozzle. Some plants appeared to be in better shape than the others. The tomatoes, peppers and eggplants seemed to be relatively unphased. However, the squash, zucchini, melons, cucumbers, cabbage and broccoli were looking worse each day. Some plants shriveled up and dried out entirely.

wilted cucumber
(Sara Welch photo)

It also seemed odd these plants were doing so poorly in the large garden that I give the most attention to because the melon plans planted near the creek, the pumpkins and royal queen squash in the pumpkin patch and broccoli and cabbage planted on the hill in the overflow garden were looking healthier and gaining more mature leaves every day.

So what was the problem? That’s when it dawned on me — the way I was watering the large garden. In every other location, I was bucket watering each seedling individually. In the large garden, I was soaking it with the hose.

It never occurred to me that different vegetable plants might have different watering preferences.

Watering your vegetable garden

The first thing to note about watering your garden is the time of day. Watering plants before 10 a.m. will allow the water to seep into the ground around their root systems rather than being evaporated and help them withstand the heat of the day. Watering plants after 6 p.m. also reduces evaporation and helps your plants cool down and soak up water overnight. 

Leafy vegetables

Lettuce – Without rainfall lettuce needs to be watered thoroughly at least once a week, but ideally, once every four or five days (about 2 inches of water per week). Lettuce is most productive when water is constantly supplied. You can ensure the soil retains moisture with a layer of compost or straw. Providing enough water will keep your lettuce leaves tasting sweet. Avoid overhead watering to keep moisture off the leaves.

Spinach – Spinach plants prefer 1-1.5 inches of water per week dispersed in three or four light waterings. Avoid overhead watering to keep moisture off leaves.

Broccoli – Broccoli plants like consistent soil moisture, requiring 1-1.5 inches of water per week. Avoid overhead watering to avoid rot. Water three or four times a week and use a layer of mulch or straw to help the soil retain moisture.

Cauliflower – Cauliflower requires 2 inches of water per week and constantly moist soil. Avoid overhead watering, saturating soil a couple of times a week. Ensure soil retains moisture with a layer of straw or mulch.

Cabbage – Cabbage requires constantly moist soil to produce leafy heads. Water at least once a week, applying 1.5 inches of water to soil and more frequently in dry conditions.

Root Vegetables

Beets – Beets require several moderate watering sessions a week to ensure optimal growth. The soil should be moist at least three inches deep.

Radishes – Radishes grow best when they are watered gently and regularly. They don’t like to sit in water, but like constantly moist soil. Water several times a week.

Onions – Onions need to be watered once a week, soaking the soil to at least an inch deep.

Carrots – Carrots need a minimum of 1 inch of water a week. When seeds are planted less water should be applied more frequently. As carrots mature, water more infrequently but make sure the ground is soaked up to four inches deep.

Fruit-bearing vegetables

Beans – Beans need to be watered so that the soil remains moist at four to six inches deep to allow them to develop deep root systems. However, beans only require about ½- 1 inch of water per week. Rather than scheduling waterings, check the soil periodically to determine when to water.

Peas – Peas only need to be watered once a week with a deep soak; however, the soil should never dry out totally. Pea plants may require more frequent watering during dry conditions.

Melons – Water melons deeply and infrequently at a rate of about one to two inches per week. Melons grow best when the soil is soaked but the leaves remain dry. As fruits are ripening reduce watering to prevent the fruits from splitting.

Squash – Squash needs to be watered deeply (so that the soil is moist at least four inches down) once a week. Squash plants require at least 1 inch of water per week. Avoid getting water on the foliage or water in the morning, rather than the evening to ensure it dries quickly.

Pumpkins – Pumpkins require 1 inch of water per week. The soil should be soaked so that it is evenly moist. Additionally, keep the foliage dry or water in the morning rather than the evening so that it dries quickly.

Tomatoes – Tomatoes require 1-2 inches of water per week. Water thoroughly, soaking the ground as needed. Early in the growing season, tomato plants may need to be watered in the morning and at night. As the plants mature, reduce watering to only when the soil is dry.

Peppers – Peppers require 1 inch of water a week. They should be watered deeply as needed, so that soil stays evenly moist.

Eggplants – Eggplants need 1 inch of water a week. Water deeply as needed. Young plants will require more frequent waterings. Mature plants should be watered infrequently. Avoid getting the foliage wet to avoid disease.

Potatoes – Potatoes require 1-2 inches of water a week. Soak the soil once or twice a week to water potato plants. Avoid overwatering right after planting to prevent seed potatoes from rotting.

Corn – Corn requires about an inch of water a week, thriving in soil that is consistently moist. Corn can be watered daily to keep the soil moist. The preferred method is soaking the soil at the base of the plant to leave the pollen above undisturbed.

Cucumber – Cucumbers need 1-1.5 inches of water a week. Soak the soil as needed. Cucumbers prefer soil that is consistently moist. Use mulch or straw to help the soil retain moisture. Use a soaker hose to soak the soil and keep the foliage dry.


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Sara is Farm and Dairy’s managing editor. Raised in Portage County, Ohio, she earned a magazine journalism degree from Kent State University. She enjoys spending time with her daughter, traveling, writing, reading and being outdoors.



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