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Garden Help Desk: Conserving water in your garden

By USU Extension - | May 14, 2022

Courtesy Meredith Seaver

Follow up your transplanting with consistent good care. Water deeply, but not too frequently; about once every 3-7 days depending on the weather, the soil type and the size of the plant.

Here are some tips for conserving water in your vegetable garden.

Keep a good level of organic matter in your soil. Incorporating leaves, grass clippings and other organic material into the soil in the fall and adding compost to the soil in the spring will increase the moisture-holding capacity of your soil while also improving drainage. This gives your plants the moisture they need and makes it easier for air to move into the soil, bringing roots the oxygen they need.

Cover the soil with mulch to reduce evaporation. Black plastic can help conserve moisture and reduce weeds, but an organic mulch can do all that and improve the soil without needing to be removed and disposed of at the end of the season. A one-inch layer of compost or bark fines, a layer of newspaper, thin layers of grass clippings added week after week, and paper grocery bags are all options. Some of them might not be very pretty, but they will all do the trick.

Water deeply, but less frequently. Deeper, less frequent watering encourages deeper rooting. Your watering should be consistent, though — no big swings from wet to very dry.

Use drip irrigation. One zone in a sprinkler system can be converted to drip for large gardens. For smaller gardens a simple drip system is easy to assemble and can connect to a garden hose once or twice a week watering. Even an inexpensive soaker hose can give a slow, deep watering. Drip irrigation can also bring an extra bonus to a garden or flower bed- fewer weeds because you aren’t watering every weed seed in the garden area. When you’re installing drip irrigation every season, remember that emitters and soaker lines goes under mulch, so set up the drip first and add the mulch afterwards.

Courtesy Meredith Seaver

Even though you soaked the planting hole first, you'll need to water-in your transplants right away. Give then another deep soak.

Use a controller or timer for your watering so that you don’t leave a drip line or sprinkler running for hours because you got distracted and forgot you were watering. Using the timer on your smart phone or watch is a great way to keep track of your watering.

Learn what timing works best for your soil and your watering method. Run your drip line, sprinkler, or other method for 15-20 minutes, wait a few hours and then dig down to see how far the water has moved through your soil. You can use that information to do a little math and determine how long you need to water with the method you’re using. Large plants like mature squash, pumpkins, and tomatoes can root as deep as 15 inches into the soil if given the soil depth. Lettuce, basil, onions, and other smaller vegetables may only root eight to ten inches deep.

Be consistent with weed control. Weeds use water too, and you want to keep that water in the soil for your vegetables. Being thorough with your weeding in the spring while weeds are small will reduce your weeding time for the rest of the garden season.

Every year some of my tomato, pepper and squash transplants die after just a few days. What can I do to prevent this?

Transplant time is a high-risk time for plants, but there are some important steps you can take to improve your chances for successful transplanting in your garden.

Courtesy Meredith Seaver

Drip irrigation emitters or lines should be placed under mulch, not over.

First, start with healthy transplants and make sure they’ve had a chance to harden off for at least a couple of days (longer is better) before you move them into the garden. Water your transplants a few hours before getting started.

Next, if you can, do your transplanting in the evening, or on a day that will be relatively cool and cloudy. Avoid transplanting in late morning or afternoon on a sunny day.

Once you take your flat of transplants out in the garden, follow these steps.

  • Dig a hole deep enough for your transplant
  • Fill the hole with water and let it soak in
  • Gently loosen any compacted roots
  • Place your transplant and backfill carefully
  • Water in thoroughly, even though you filled your planting hole with water at the start

If you’ll follow these steps, and follow up with consistent care, including deep, regular watering once every 3-7 days (depending on your soil type, the weather, and the size of your plants) you’ll find that you seldom lose a transplant.


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