Watering in the Vegetable Garden

While a little drought toughens ornamental plants and makes them better able to withstand hardships, it makes vegetables taste bad. Vegetables taste best when they’re raised without stress, with all the water they want and no periods of drought.

The most essential time to water is right after you sow seeds or plant seedlings. Without moisture, seeds will not germinate. A transplant plunked down into dry soil droops very quickly, even if its root-ball is moist. The surrounding dry soil wicks the water away from the root-ball. Without a thorough watering right after planting, the seedling wilts immediately and dies in a few hours. Watch transplants carefully for a few days, until growth begins again.

Watering Established Plants

The best way to judge when plants need water is to feel the soil an inch or so under the surface. When it feels cool and damp to the touch, but doesn’t moisten your finger, it’s time to water. If it feels dry, you’ve waited too long, and if it wets or muddies your finger, it’s too soon to water.

Each time you water, wet the soil about a foot deep. For average soils, this is about an inch of water. Clay soils might need 2 inches, and sandy soils only half an inch.

Surviving a Heat Wave

Healthy plants growing sturdily in well-prepared soil can go without water for a time. But when the thermometer hits 90 degrees, or the wind is strong and hot, you may need to water daily. Water cools the plants as well as nourishes them. Leaves can scorch in a couple of hours if they can’t draw up all the water they need to keep cool. Be especially vigilant during heat waves.

It also helps to shade the plants in the afternoon, if you can do that without reducing air circulation. Shade further protects them from overheating.

Feeding With Watering

If you like, you can feed your plants as you water, using a water-soluble plant food, mixed in your watering can or hose-end feeder. It will save you time and work and reward you with big, beautiful, delicious vegetables.

Critical Periods For Watering

Lack of water checks the growth of vegetables, and they do not easily recover. Make sure these vegetables receive all the water they need during these critical periods.


VegetableCritical Watering Period
AsparagusAs ferns begin to form
BroccoliWhen heads begin to develop
Cabbage WhenHeads begin to develop
 CarrotAs roots begin to enlarge
CauliflowerDuring head development
CornAs ear silk develops and tassels become apparent
CucumberDuring flowering and fruit development
EggplantDuring flowering and fruit development
LettuceAs heads begin to develop
Lima BeansBeginning at pollination and continuing through pod development
MelonDuring flowering and fruit development
OnionWhen bulbs begin to enlarge