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Mindful Garden Irrigation

While watering a vegetable garden may not seem particularly daunting on the surface, it actually takes a high level of understanding and commitment to maintain your plants' vigor, while also utilizing the resource with conservation in mind.

Watering Tomato Plant; Photo by Cecilia Nasti

Now that I'm ready to tuck my vegetable transplants in their garden beds, the real work begins: watering. No, really.Watering a vegetable garden may not seem particularly daunting on the surface, but it actually takes a high level of understanding and commitment to maintain your plants' vigor, while utilizing the resource with conservation in mind.

When to Water

How do you know when your garden plants need a drink? You can invest in a soil moisture meter that indicates whether you need to "just add water" when you poke one end of the device into the soil. But why spend money on a gadget when you have a hand full of fingers that are free! Stick your index finger in the soil up to the first knuckle and if the soil feels dry...you know what to do. Water your garden in the mornings when the plants can quench their thirst during the heat of the day. Avoid watering in the evenings, as that sets up your plants for fungal issues when moisture cannot evaporate in the cool, damp, nighttime air.

How Much Water

There isn't a perfect formula for how much water your garden requires, but there are general guidelines. Most vegetable crops can manage on one inch of water a week from rain, or gardener intervention. If you live in an arid climate, one inch of water weekly probably won't cut it. In that case – double it. For every 10 degree increase in ambient air temperature, increase the amount of water by another 1/2 inch. 

Water Ways

There is no single correct method for watering your crops, but there is one worth avoiding. If your schedule permits, hand watering with a water wand has distinct advantages. This method is not only relaxing, but it puts you in the garden with your plants a couple of times a week where you can monitor their growth and catch pest or disease issues that may arise. Because you can easily direct water at the root zone, you do the most good with the least waste.

Water Wand; Photo by Cecilia Nasti

Soaker hoses offer the time-stretched gardeners another opportunity to get water to the root zone of plants without waste. A soaker hose is made of porous material that allows water to slowly ooze from it. Just wind it through your garden beds, attach to the faucet, turn on the water and let it run for at least an hour ­– remembering to turn it off before you leave for the day.If you're time-strapped and forgetful, then a timed drip irrigation system is for you. It's made up of non-porous tubing into which you insert emitters at various intervals to water your plants at the root zone. Program the timer to water your garden one or more days a week for at least an hour, before shutting off automatically. 

A watering method to avoid is the sprinkler. These are generally inefficient and wasteful. They shoot water into the air, a percentage of which evaporates before reaching your plants. They wet the foliage, which can cause leaves to burn in the summer sun, and if water reaches the root zone, it is only by chance.

Catch as Catch Can

Remember rain barrels? They offer a simple and efficient way to capture rainwater for use in the garden. Place one at every downspout; it's recycling at its best.

When you take the time to understand your garden’s moisture requirements and learn some basic water-saving techniques, you save yourself from having to live life by the drop. 

What are some ways you save water outdoors?

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