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 Efficient Water Use in the Garden


Story:
The cost of water can be a major expense for a home vegetable garden, especially if you’re using city or municipal water.    There are several tips and tricks that you can follow to keep the cost of water to a minimum and use water efficiently in your garden.
 
By far the most efficient way to water in a home vegetable garden is by using a drip system.  A drip system places water right where it needs to be, at the roots of the vegetables.  And, you lose very little water to evaporation, even in the heat of summer because the water goes right into the soil. 
 
It also allows you to water very slowly so that the water can soak in rather than running off.  Unfortunately, a drip system is sometimes an investment that a gardener can’t afford in their first year or two of gardening.  It’s a great investment to make over time. 
 
But, if you can’t water with a drip system and if you have to water by hand, then there are some other things that you can do to make sure that you use your water efficiently, that you’re watering thoroughly and keeping your plants healthy.
 
Generally, the best time to water your vegetable garden is in the early morning, before it gets too hot and hopefully less windy.  That allows the water to soak into the soil with minimal evaporation.  If you’re watering appropriately, or with a drip system, you can water almost anytime of day.  We do encourage you to be careful if you need to water in the evening to not get the foliage or leaves on your plants wet as that can cause disease. 
 
If you’re watering efficiently and being careful with your watering, you should not need to water your garden every day.  The best thing you can do if you’re not sure if you need to water is to take a trowel and dig down in your soil 3 – 6 inches deep and see if your soil has a good amount of moisture.  You can’t judge based on the top of your soil.  You need to get down to see where the roots are and if that soil is moist.  If the top 3-4 inches of soil is dry, then you’ll definitely want to water and make sure you thoroughly water that garden.  Then, depending on the weather, it should be 2 to 3 days to a week before you need to water again.
 
Some other ways to conserve water in a home garden are to use mulches.  Mulches are great things for vegetable gardens because they help keep the soil cooler and they also keep the soil evenly moist.  So, you can use a straw mulch around some of your larger plants.  You can also use a finished compost to topdress or mulch your plants to help keep that soil cooler and to help keep it evenly moist.  It keeps some of the water in the soil rather than evaporating.
 
If you’re hand watering your garden or if you’re using a sprinkler system, you’ll want to make sure that you’re putting water on with enough volume so that it’s saturating the soil and the soil will be moist.  It can be easy when you’re hand watering to just water so that the top inch of the soil is moist – but then the lower parts of the soil are still dry.  So, when you’re hand watering, you may need to go over your garden 2 or 3 times and let that water soak in in between each watering rather than just watering one time and putting the water on very quickly.
 
After you’ve hand watered, you may also want to check your soil moisture several inches deep to make sure you’ve put enough water on and then re-water if you still have dry spots in your soil.
 
With a vegetable garden, it depends on your soil to know when to stop watering.  If you have a heavier soil, often water will pool on the surface as it tries to soak in.  Once you’re seeing water pooling, you’ll need to stop and let the water soak into the soil before you judge if you need to continue watering. 
 
This feature story prepared with Rebecca McMahon, Kansas State University Research and Extension Horticulture Agent, Sedgwick County. For more information, visit your local county extension office or visit our website at KansasGreenYards.org.