Where the water comes from
Ideally, water for plants comes from rain or other precipitation and from underground sources. In reality, you'll often have to do extra watering by hand or through an irrigation system. (If you have too much rain about all you can do is pray). How often
you should water depends on how often it rains, how long your soil retains moisture, and how fast water evaporates in your climate. Soil type is an important factor. Clay soils hold water very well—sometimes too well. Sandy soils are like a sieve, letting the water run right through. Both kinds of soil can be improved with the addition of organic matter. Organic matter gives clay soils lightness and air and gives sandy soils something to hold the water.
Other factors may also affect how often you need to water your garden:
- More water evaporates when the temperature is high than when it's low. Plants can rot if they get too much water in cool weather.
- More water evaporates when the relative humidity is low.
- Plants need more water when the days are bright.
- Wind and air movement will increase the loss of water into the atmosphere.
- A smooth unmulched surface will not retain water as well as one that's well cultivated.
- Water needs vary with the type and maturity of the plant. Some vegetable seeds are tolerant of low soil moisture and will sprout in relatively dry soils. These include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, corn, kale, kohlrabi, muskmelon, peppers, radishes, squash (winter and summer), turnips, and watermelon. On the other hand, beets, celery, and lettuce seeds need very moist soil. Herbs generally do better with less water. A large plant that has a lot of leaves and is actively growing uses more water than a young plant or one with small leaves.
- Sometimes water is not what a wilting plant needs. When plants are growing fast, the leaves sometimes get ahead of the roots' ability to provide them with water. If the day is hot and the plants wilt in the afternoon, don't worry about them; the plants will regain their balance overnight. But if the plants are drooping early in the morning, water them right away.
- Mulches cool the roots and cut down on the amount of water needed, increasing the time that plants can go between watering. When the soil dries out, plants slow their growth—or stop growing altogether. Swift, steady growth is important for the best-tasting fruits and vegetables. Mulches keep the soil evenly moist.
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