Guide written by:
John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge
Vegetable gardens can be watered using a watering can, hose, sprinklers or a drip irrigation system. If you're hoping to save water, you can use rainwater or water from a natural source. Looking for the best way to water your crops? Read on to find the perfect irrigation system to keep your vegetable garden hydrated!
- Type of water
- Type of watering
- Time of the day
What's the best type of water for a vegetable garden?
It is unrealistic to expect your vegetable patch to thrive without watering on a regular basis. Fortunately, watering techniques have come on leaps and bounds in the past few decades and gardeners can now choose from a range of different methods to ensure vegetable crops won't be hit by summer droughts. Depending on the possibilities at hand, you can water your vegetable patch using:
- water from streams, ponds or lakes;
- tap water.
The most expensive, least effective and least environmentally friendly option to water a garden is tap water. The most economical and environmentally friendly solution is rainwater. Groundwater and water from rivers or lakes can be good options as long as you collect water in accordance with local legislation.
Rainwater: the best option for watering
Rainwater is the best option for vegetable gardens and it's completely free to boot! Rainwater harvesting has grown in popularity in recent years. If you want to collect your own water, you'll need a rainwater harvesting system. These tanks are designed to be connected to your gutters via rainwater diverters and can be set up on land or buried underground.
Groundwater: requires storage
Groundwater is essentially composed of well and spring water. The quality of groundwater can vary but this type of water tends to be very cold. It's therefore best to store the water for several hours at surface level before using it to water your plants. You will need a manual pump, surface pump or submersible pump to collect the water.
River or pond water: legislation applies
Once again, the quality of the water can vary depending on the types of crops and livestock near the water source. In addition, removing water from a natural source is often prohibited or subject to strict regulations. It's best to acquaint yourself with any local legislation before getting started. Just like collecting water from a well, you will need a water pump.
Tap water: expensive and varies in quality
The amount of chlorine contained in tap water does vary, but simply leaving it out for 24 hours will significantly reduce chlorine content. It can then generally transferred to a watering can or fed into an automated irrigation system or through a lance or spray gun.
Wherever possible, it is advisable to avoid overburdening the mains water supply. This water is expensive and using too much depletes natural water sources.
Automatic irrigation systems
Different watering methods
It's possible to water your garden by hand or using an automated system. Your choice will depend on the size of the area you need to water and the amount of spare time you have. The best option will usually be to combine a couple of different methods to match the needs of various plants and their position in the garden.
In terms of equipment, you've got a lot of options so you're sure to find one to match your needs. Of course, a collection of raised beds won't have the same watering requirements as a large vegetable garden. Similarly, tomatoes indoors are going to need a lot more water than other crops planted outside. Another deciding factor will be the size of your vegetable patch.
Watering a small vegetable garden
Manual watering is the most basic option. This can involve a watering can (with or without a watering can rose) or a garden hose fitted with an adjustable spray gun or lance. If you go for a hose, be sure to buy a kink-proof one!
These types of equipment can be used to water right at the base of your plants which offers three advantages: you will save water, keep the foliage dry and prevent weed growth around the plant. That said, some crops, such as salad or cabbages, prefer a sprinkling of water. This is also the only way to water seedlings.
Watering on a larger scale
Sprinkler heads are designed to be connected to a network of pipes. Various models are available but oscillating sprinklers tend to be the best option for a vegetable garden. Alternatively, low pressure sprinklers are designed to let out finer droplets.
Drip irrigation feeds low pressure water in one of two ways: either through a soaker hose placed on the ground next to your plants or through drip emitters which let out water drip by drip. This type of system targets your plants quite accurately and supplies a slow and steady stream of water which can help to save water.
Both of these watering systems can be linked to a controller which is really practical if you want to water in the evening when you're not around. It can also be set to work while you're on holiday. Watering controllers come in all kinds of designs and can feature a range of technology from rain gauges to smartphone apps. However, automated irrigation can be expensive especially if you go for an underground system.
When and how to water your vegetable garden
The amount you have to water your vegetable garden will of course depend on the weather. But it also depends on the type of crops you are growing and the type of soil you have. Generally speaking, sandy soils have to be watered more often than clay soils which are better at retaining water.
However, watering your vegetable patch too often will accomplish nothing even in the height of summer. Excessive watering can cause disease, soil leaching and can even make your vegetables less tasty.
With the exception of seedlings, it's generally best to water less often but provide a fair amount of water each time. This way the water penetrates deeper into the earth, which encourages the roots to dig down further into the soil. Deeper plant roots help the plant to cope better with drier conditions as drought will affect the surface of the soil first.
When to water your vegetable garden
It's best to water your plants in the evening as less water will evaporate from the soil overnight. That said, if there is any risk of frost, it's better to provide your plants with water early in the day. No matter what time you choose, try to avoid watering your vegetable garden while it is being hit by direct sunlight.
Guide written by:
John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge, 82 guides
When I was young, I was already working in the family garden. Perhaps that is where my interest in plants and gardening came from. So, it was logical for me to study both plant biology and agronomy. At the request of various publishers I have, over twenty-five years, written many books on the subject of plants and mushrooms (a subject that is close to my heart).They were mostly identification guides at first, but shortly after they were about gardening, thus renewing the first passion of my childhood. I have also regularly collaborated with several magazines specializing in the field of gardening or more generally in nature. There is no gardener without a garden, I have cultivated mine in a small corner of Cambridge for the last thirty years and this is where I put into practice the methods of cultivation that will I advise you in as well.