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When to Water Vegetable Plants

Take the right approach to watering garden vegetables to maximize crop production. In general, most vegetable plants use about 1 inch of water per week (1 to 2 inches in hot, windy, dry climates). If you don’t get water from rainfall, you have to supply it. Here are some general guidelines for determining when your plants need water:

  • Your finger is the best indicator of when the soil has dried sufficiently to rewater: Dig down several inches into the soil; if the soil is dry to your touch 3 to 4 inches down, it’s time to water.

  • Wilting plants can be a sign that your soil needs water: Wilting is when the leaves or stems of a plant droop, bend over, and look limp. These symptoms, however, can be misleading at times. Some plants, like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, tend to droop slightly during the heat of the day, even if the soil has enough moisture. If your plants don’t stand tall and proud and the soil feels dry, add water and watch them perk up fast.

    Overwatering also causes plants to wilt, so check the soil before watering. If the soil is waterlogged, roots die from lack of air. With fewer roots, plants can no longer take up the water they need from the soil, and so they wilt. Damage from insects and disease also cause wilting.

  • Each vegetable has a critical period when you need to be especially careful about watering: If you slack off during these times, your crop may be ruined. The following table shows the important watering periods for different types of vegetables.

Critical Watering Periods for Vegetables
Vegetable Important Watering Stage
Bean, lima When flowering and forming pods
Bean, snap When flowering and forming pods
Broccoli When forming a head
Brussels sprouts When forming sprouts
Cabbage When forming a head
Carrots When forming roots
Cauliflower When forming a head
Corn, sweet When silking, tasseling, and forming ears
Cucumber When flowering and developing fruit
Eggplant Give uniform supply of water from flowering through harvest
Lettuce When true leaves form
Melon During fruit set and early development
Onion, dry During bulb enlargement
Pea When flowering and during seed enlargement
Pepper Give uniform supply of water from flowering through harvest
Potato When tubers set and enlarge
Pumpkin When fruits form
Radish When forming roots
Spinach When true leaves form
Squash, summer When forming buds and flowering
Swiss chard When true leaves form
Tomato Give uniform supply of water from flowering through harvest
Turnip When forming roots
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