Wednesday, July 11, 2012

More about watering

Watering Tips from Madison FarmWorks

I just received some great watering tips from Megan Cain of Madison FarmWorks. She asked people to forward to gardeners, and while I did just write about watering, this is a bit more comprehensive and comes from a true "expert" from the field.

Most plants need only 1 inch of water per week

I am still watering my garden like I always do - once per week very deeply. In more typical weather, if it rains during the week I will skip watering if my rain gauge says it rained close to an inch. The exception to this rule is newly seeded crops - depending on the crop I water seeds every 1-3 days. I have also noticed that new transplants are suffering from the excessively dry soil - so they might need more watering until their root systems get established.

Many plants will suffer from being overwatered

There is no reason to water already established plants more than once per week unless there are visible signs of distress. This is not good for them! You can cause disease to spread in your garden by overwatering. Many vegetables like tomatoes and squash like drier conditions. Mature plans prefer the soil to dry out a bit between watering.

Water less frequently and more deeply

Frequent and shallow watering will cause your plants' roots to stay at the surface of the soil. You want deeply rooted plants - so water less often and for a longer duration. Deeply rooted plants will be more equipped to handle dry conditions because they will be able to access the moisture deep in the soil. 

Water at the base of the plants

Overhead watering is inefficient and can be damaging to plants because it is more likely to spread disease. I like to use a wand and hold it at the base of each plant for 20-30 seconds. Yes, this takes a long time - but you're only watering once a week now that you've read this message! Drip hoses or tape are also a good option for watering at soil level.

Water early in the morning or in the evening

Much more water is lost to evaporation when you water in the middle of the afternoon.

Mulch, mulch, mulch

Bare soil is not advisable for the vegetable garden. Mulching thickly with hay or straw retains moisture in the soil. It also will keep down weeds, help with disease issues and break down and add organic matter to your soil.

Please forward to all of the gardeners you know! If you have any questions, contact Megan at Madison FarmWorks at

And don't forget your daily rain dance!


  1. How long should we water for it to be considered deep watering? 30 minutes? 10?

  2. Thanks for the article. I have one zone in my garden that is difficult to isolate and it gets hit twice when I water. Those plants are suffering and I think I'm going to lose a red currant bush. Too much water can be as bad as too little especially in that low lying part of the yard. Gardening is all about learning and I've learned that my soil really holds the water well. If I dig down six inches, there is still quite a bit of moisture even after 10 days so I've slowed down the watering and everything seems to be doing OK so far.

  3. I got the following email from Elaine:
    "Does this also go for raised beds?"
    I don't have anything scientific about this, but I'm guessing that in terms of water and drying out, raised beds lie somewhere between plants in the ground and plants in pots (which dry out quickly). That said, I haven't noticed my beds drying out quickly (mind you, I have heavy mulch on all my beds).

  4. In response to Samanthix:
    If you have a rain gauge, or can even imagine one sitting next to your plant, you want to water an inch. For example, when I water my tomatoes, I water close to the base of the plant (so not to wet the leaves) and water back and forth to allow water to soak in. If I were to have a rain gauge on the ground by my plant, I'm guessing it would take 20 "passes" over the gauge to get to an inch.

    I think the main idea is to really water the plant well and then not water for a week. The plant needs the water, but also needs time to dry out and breath.

  5. Nice to see another gardener form Wisconsin. My gardening is here on the shores of Lake Michigan, many flowers and some edible things too. I often use the lake as a background to the thirteen garden rooms when I post photos. It is really the life of this place. NIce to stumble upon you blog. Jack

  6. Jack,
    Thank you very much for contacting me, I'm now following your blog.
    Wondering how you came across my blog - good to know what's working :)

  7. Hi Folks! Great questions. I watered all of my tomatoes and peppers last night (over 90 plants) and used two hoses to speed up the process. I left each hose on a plant for about a minute to a minute and a half. When I pulled the hose away the water was still getting sucked up very quickly by the soil - not much pooling or running off. I feel like I could have watered each plant for at least double the time - but I had to get home for dinner! Use your judgement and pay attention to how fast the water is infiltrating and also how long your soil holds the moisture.

    1. Hey Megan, thanks for all the great watering info. It's been very sweet getting to know you, and Claire, this year.