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Garden Help Desk: Water bills and watering habits

By Usu Extension - | May 15, 2021
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Tubing with built-in emitters work well for irrigating vegetables in the garden.

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Individual drip emitters put the water right where it's needed for individual plants.

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Even an inexpensive soaker hose can work as drip irrigation in the garden.

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A few small vegetables like short carrots or green onions can be grown in small containers like these 6" pots.

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Lettuce does well in almost any sized container.

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Large vegetable plants like cucumbers, squash or tall, indeterminate tomatoes need a larger, heavier container like a half-whiskey barrel so that they'll have room for their roots and stability in the wind.

Last week we looked at how to reduce your water bill by reducing water use in your lawn. This week we’ll look at watering your garden.

Overwatering is responsible for many of the problems in vegetable gardens and contributes to higher water bills. Do you water your garden more than twice a week? For example, every day or every other day for just a few minutes? Watering more deeply, but less often will give you healthier, more productive plants and lower your water bill.

The method you choose for watering your garden will make a difference in how much water goes to your plants and how much water gets wasted. There are several options to choose from. The most common methods for watering your garden in our area are:

A hose, individually hand watering each plant by filling a shallow basin or by letting a hose trickle at the base of each plant.

Sprinklers, either hose-end sprinklers or in-ground sprinklers.

Furrows.

Drip irrigation.

Each option has its pros and cons:

Watering with a hose, either as a trickle or by filling a basin around the base of the plant is very low cost but it can result in underwatered plants because of the inconvenience and length of time it takes to apply enough water to let it all soak in. Or it can cause overwatering and wasted water if you forget and leave the hose trickling.

Sprinklers can give your garden a deep soak without a lot of time and effort and a hose-end sprinkler is simple to set up and very low-cost. But while a sprinkler is watering your vegetables it’s also giving all the weed seeds in your garden a nice soak, too. That water gets wasted because the sprinkler waters everything, including the soil where nothing should be growing.

Furrow irrigation doesn’t require lots of special equipment, but it does require preparation and maintenance. It can also water unevenly from one end of the row to the other end. Furrow irrigation is more common with secondary or pressurized irrigation water, but some gardeners choose to use potable water.

Drip irrigation is the most expensive option for watering your garden and requires maintenance every year, but it’s also the most time and water efficient way to water. Drip irrigation is also a healthier option for your garden because it keeps the foliage on your plants dry, reducing the risk of fungal and bacterial diseases.

Using mulch in your garden can also reduce water use. Mulch slows down evaporation, keeps the soil a little cooler and reduces the number of weeds you’ll have to deal with. You can use black plastic, grass clippings, newspaper, or compost. Using grass clippings or compost will save you work at the end of the season because you can turn them under instead of having to remove them.

Question: I’m not growing a regular garden this year, but I want to grow something. Can you recommend one or two vegetables that I can grow in pots instead?

Answer: You can grow just about any vegetable in a container if it’s the right size for the vegetable plant. If you have room for a half whisky barrel you could grow a full-sized squash plant or an indeterminate tomato variety, but there are many smaller vegetables that can be productive in smaller containers, even containers as small as 6 inches or 8 inches wide.

You won’t have any trouble finding vegetable varieties that do well in a container. Container gardening has become more popular as more of us live in condos, townhomes, or single homes with smaller yards. Veggies like lettuce, green onions, spinach, beets, determinate tomatoes and shorter carrots have always done well in the right sized containers. So have herbs like basil, but in the last several years plant breeders have introduced smaller versions of cucumbers, tomatoes, corn and other traditionally larger varieties. These specialty varieties aren’t always available as transplants at local nurseries, but if you’re willing to start your plants from seed, you’ll have lots of veggie options to choose from with just a little internet searching.

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