Many of the biggest problems vegetable gardeners have stem from watering problems. I get it, there is a lot to learn and worry about when you are learning how to grow your own food. But learning when is the best time to water plants in your garden is key to your success.
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The Best Time to Water Plants in a Vegetable Garden
Morning is the best time to water plants
Early morning is the best time for you to water your plants in your vegetable garden. In the summertime the few hours before and after sunrise are the prime time for watering, usually between 5 am and 9 am. There are several reasons for this:
- Watering in the morning when the temperatures are cool allows the water time to soak deeply into the soil before the heat of the day causes it to evaporate
- Early morning watering also means any water that gets on the leaves will evaporate quickly once the sun comes out. This helps prevent rot and fungal diseases
- A good drink of water in the morning will prepare your vegetable plants for the upcoming heat of the day.
Is it OK to water plants in the evening?
I understand, some of us just don’t have the time to get out in the garden and water in the mornings. Morning can be a busy time for many of us and watering the vegetable garden just isn’t going to happen. If you can’t water your garden in the morning, early evening, before the sun goes down, is the second best time to water.
- Watering in the early evening avoids the heat of the day so the cooler temperatures allow more water to soak deeply into the root zone without evaporating
- The less intense sun means there will be less evaporation
- Be careful to keep water off the leaves, wet leaves won’t dry for a long time if you water in the evening, opening up the possibility for rot and fungal diseases like powdery mildew
Do not water in the middle of the day!
For years we were told not to water in the middle of the day because water sitting on the leaves of plants could magnify the rays of the sun and burn the leaves. Science has long since proven this to just be a myth. But there are still good reasons to avoid watering in the middle of the day and they all have to do with water conservation.
In the heat of the day water is going to evaporate much faster. This will prevent the water from penetrating deeply into the soil and will promote shallow root growth on your plants. Shallow roots will cause your plants to be much more susceptible to heat damage and the drying effects of the sun on your soil.
Also in many areas of the world winds will be more intense during the day and if you are watering using overhead sprinklers more water will be lost to wind drift.
Watering late at night is also bad timing
Watering your garden at night is much better for water conservation with no sun to cause evaporation and less wind.
But watering at night has its own set of problems. Night time watering will cause your leaves to be wet and without the sun to dry them the chances of rot, fungal problems, and other disease issues are greatly increased.
This is especially true if you live in a more humid climate, you don’t want leaves being wet for extended periods of time.
Is it better to water at night or in the morning?
So to summarize the best time to water is a few hours before or after sunrise and the second best time is early evening before sunset. Try to avoid watering at midday or at night.
How often should I water my vegetable garden?
The next biggest watering question is, how often should I water my vegetable garden?
Conventional wisdom says most plants need 1 inch of water per week.
I’ve always found this a bit problematic. How do we measure 1 inch of water?
Water demands are also very different from plant to plant, and at different times of the year. I have found the finger test to be a better measure of how often to water your vegetable garden.
The Finger Test
This test is so simple it will seem silly, but it really does work. Here’s how the test works:
- Stick your pointer finger into the soil as far as you can (hopefully to the second knuckle)
- Do you feel moisture at the tip of your finger? Did soil stick to your finger when you pulled it out?
- If you felt moisture or the soil stuck to your finger, then you don’t need to water.
- If your finger is dry it’s time to water.
Other Garden Watering Tips
Your vegetable and fruit plants will appreciate consistency. Get on a schedule and stick to it. It is also important to realize that you will need to be flexible, especially in the heat of the summer. If a big heatwave arrives, then you may need to water more often. In the spring and fall, you will likely water less.
Containers are a whole different beast (or veggie)
Containers can be a great way to grow vegetables, especially if you don’t have a lot of space for a conventional garden. But remember that containers will require a lot more attention than in ground or even raised bed gardens.
In the heat of the summer, containers will often need to be watered twice a day, morning and evening. Your plant health will tell you if you are watering enough. Plants that are lush and thriving are getting enough water, but container-grown plants that seem to look healthy but also seem to have stalled in their growth probably need an extra watering each day.
The age of the plant matters
Newly transplanted vegetables will need to be watered more often than established plants. The same applies to perennial berry plants and fruit trees. They will need more water until the plants have had time to establish their root systems.
Water your vegetable garden deeply
A good long soaking of water once every few days will put moisture deep into the soil. This will promote deep root growth and stronger, more heat resistant plants.
The best way to water deeply is with a drip irrigation system. Drip irrigation systems save water and put the water soaking deeply right at the base of the plants. You can read more about the advantages of a drip system here.
Drip irrigation systems come in 3 different methods:
Learning the Best Time to Water Plants is Important
I once read that as much as 80% of all gardening problems are related to watering, and I believe it. Figuring out when to water your plants and how often to water your vegetable garden will make all the difference in your garden.
You are the key to making it all work. In order to have a successful garden, you need to be outside in your garden EVERY day! Check on those plants, stick your fingers in the soil and you will be 80% there already!!