Tips on conserving water for the vegetable garden

Water conservation is critical to ensure a continuous supply of fresh water. Home gardeners should consider the future of the water sources in their area by carefully choosing what vegetables to plant and by watering plants conservatively.

High water content of vegetables

"Vegetables are 80 to 95 percent water," reports D. C. Sanders in the article "Vegetable Crop Irrigation" for the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension Service. Plant growth, productivity, and quality of vegetables are enhanced with sufficient soil moisture. That moisture-rich soil equates to about 3/4 inch of water per week. Demand for water increases to about 1 1/2 inches during periods of high heat. Water may come as rainfall or irrigation methods.

Conserving water in home gardens

Sprinkler, or overhead watering, may seem like a good approach to water vegetables in the garden. Using a sprinkler, however, increases the potential of plant disease. In addition, some of the water evaporates before reaching the ground. Though sprinklers are frowned on from a water conservation standpoint, the water hitting the plants does help to cool the plant and may provide moisture to beneficial bugs. For best results when using overhead watering, turn the water on in the morning so water landing on the plants has sufficient time to evaporate before evening when disease problems are more likely to start.

The best option for watering garden plants is to direct the water at ground level to reduce the water evaporation problem. Use the garden hose to manually water plants in a small garden. For a large garden, set out soaker hoses or drip irrigation systems.

Use thick layers of mulch to help retain moisture and to block sunshine from hitting the ground. An excellent and free source of mulch is fallen leaves from deciduous trees. Spreading plastic mulch is also an option.

Lastly, reconsider what you plant to lower water usage. For instance, pole beans and snap beans have a short growing season meaning less water is used. Some plants, like tomatoes and squash, have a deeper root system to reach moisture even when the surface soil is dry. Skip planting low-yield plants like peas or sweet corn.

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