It is time to water the garden. Seems like it was just yesterday we were experiencing drenching storms. For many of us spring planting was delayed. But now the rains have stopped and it is time to drag out the hoses. If the edible garden does not receive adequate water, harvest will be limited and maybe not so tasty.
How important is water to fruits and vegetables? Did you know a strawberry fruit is 92% water? Asparagus, beet greens, red cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant and green onions fall into this category. Topping the list are cucumber, butterhead lettuce, crisp and head lettuce. Zucchini is 96% water. If these fruits and vegetables do not get enough water during growing, season they will be small and bitter at harvest. Then again, too much water will make certain fruits and vegetables bland and watery.
So, how much water is enough? Keeping even, consistent moisture levels in the soil is vital for a productive garden. Usually this means coastal gardeners need to apply about an inch of water per week, depending on weather. This averages out to about half a gallon of water per square foot of garden space. Inland gardens, where temperatures typically rise into the 90s and higher, need as much water, but more often.
The main thing to remember is don’t allow soil to get too dry, but not soggy either. Think of the soil always being like a moist sponge during the growing season. This is where summer mulch helps keep soil moisture even.
There are three approaches to determining when to irrigate. The cheapest, easiest way is to get a thin piece of dowel, or a cheap bamboo stake, and poke it into the soil about eight inches down. If the top two inches of soil is dry, but the root zone is still moist, it’s time to irrigate.
Moisture meters are available to determine soil moisture levels. Another test is to dig into the soil a couple of inches down, putting a scoop of soil into the palm of your hand. Squeeze the soil into a little ball. If it forms a ball and then crumbles to the touch, time to water. This is easier to do with clay soils compared to sandy ones.
How much to water and when also depends on soil type. Sandy soils drain quickly and hold less moisture. Clay soils retain water for a longer time. Temperature and humidity also have an effect on irrigation scheduling. The best thing you can do is poke a stick into the soil and check. Then soak the plants deeply to about 12 inches. Check a few days later.
Terry Kramer is the retired site manager for the Humboldt Botanical Garden and a trained horticulturist and journalist. She has been writing a garden column for the Times-Standard since 1982. Contact her at email@example.com.