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How to save water in your vegetable garden

Magazine

Having a vegetable garden is fun, rewarding and good for the environment - but it can also use a lot of water. Whether you live in a dry region or not, saving water is important for both environmental reasons and the good of your finances. Efficient watering is also great for another reason – it leads to healthier plants.

Give them a good start

In general, vegetables need a lot of water, and the amount of moisture they get affects the size and quality of the yield. But their requirements vary between different phases of the growth cycle, with moisture being especially important for young plants.

Before planting seeds, water the soil thoroughly, allowing the moisture to sink in enough for the top layer to dry out, and then water again before sowing. This will help the seeds to germinate and give them the opportunity for deeper root development, as their roots will follow the moisture further into the soil. While your plants are still seedlings, the soil should be kept permanently moist (though not soaking wet).

When the time comes to move seedlings to a new container or bed, prepare the soil in the same way by watering it, letting it drain, and then watering again. After transplanting your vegetables into their new home, continue to give them extra water for around a month until they’re fully established.

Water deeply

What matters for the success of your plants isn’t how wet the surface of the ground is, it’s how much water is available to their roots. It’s important to give them enough water in one sitting for the moisture to soak into the ground deeply enough to be of use to them. If you just water the surface lightly, most of the water will evaporate.

Worse still, surface watering encourages plants to form their roots close to the surface, rather than extending them deeper into the soil. This can leave them dependent on regular watering or rainfall, instead of having access to a more reliable moisture supply deeper underground. Watering deeply encourages deeper root growth, resulting in more self-sufficient plants with greater resilience to dry patches.

You can’t always tell from the surface whether your vegetable garden needs water, so dig down around eight inches to see how moist the soil is at each level and whether water is needed.

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Tailor watering

Not all vegetables need the same amount of water. Leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, cabbage and cauliflower should be watered regularly to produce a good crop. But in a moderate climate when there isn’t a drought, others, like broccoli, carrots, onions and parsnips, can do fairly well without frequent watering once established.

Certain vegetables also need extra water when they are developing fruit. Peas and beans, for example, should be given extra water when they are flowering and forming pods, as well as when you pick them. Tomatoes also need more water when producing flowers and fruit, and potatoes should get more once they are about the size of marbles.

Keeping the moisture in your vegetable garden

Compost and other organic matter can be used to keep moisture in the soil. Mixing these into any soil type will help it to retain moisture, while draining at a good rate. This is especially important if your vegetable garden has sandy soil, which would otherwise drain too quickly, or clay soil, which doesn’t drain well unless mixed with crumblier matter.

Keeping your vegetable garden weed-free is also important, as weeds compete with your vegetables for water. Using a deep watering technique will also encourage less weeds and slugs than having a wet top layer of soil.

Rainwater harvesting

Using rainwater on your vegetable garden doesn’t just reduce the amount of tap water you need, it’s also better for your plants. Plants prefer rainwater because it is better oxidised and doesn’t contain the chemicals that are added to drinking water.

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Harvest rainwater from your drainpipes, collecting it in butts with taps. You can then connect these to your watering system when you need it most. Although rainwater is great for plants, remember that there could be bird waste in your drainpipes, so water the bases of plants, rather than the parts you eat, and wash all vegetables thoroughly before use.

Drip Irrigation

If you are really serious about saving water, consider investing in a drip irrigation system like GARDENA’s Micro-Drip-System. When you water your vegetable garden from above, a lot of the water is caught by leaves and quickly lost to evaporation. Drip irrigation systems like this are able to deliver a steady drip of moisture to the soil directly next to each plant, sending water right down to the roots where it is needed.

Collect rainwater when you can, water less frequently but deeply, and deliver moisture straight to your plant’s roots. By thinking about how your plants get their water from the soil and when they need it most, you can water your vegetable garden as effectively as possible, saving water and helping your plants to thrive.