Friday, June 6, 2014

Watering the Vegetable Garden

One of the best pieces of garden-watering advice any of us are likely to come across was written by UGA Extension Horticulturalist Robert Westerfield in the publication "Conserving water in the vegetable garden".  He wrote, "Do not stand in the garden and spray plants lightly every day. This is the worst possible way to water."

What is the alternative? He tells us:  "Instead, soak the soil to a depth of at least 6 to 8 inches to encourage roots to seek water and nutrients deep in the soil. With an extensive, deep root system, plants are better able to withstand dry periods."

His publication includes the information that, for gardens in sandy soils, keeping the soil moist at that depth may require watering every 4-5 days; in clay soils, watering may be required only every 7 to 10 days. To help conserve water in the garden, the publication also recommends the use of mulch, to slow evaporation from the soil.

Westerfield's publication "Mulching vegetables" adds that a good mulch layer will not just conserve water. In addition,, it "suppresses weed growth, reduces fertilizer leaching and cools the soil. Mulch also serves as a barrier between the plant and the soil, helping prevent fruit rots that sometimes occur when vegetables touch the ground." This publication includes a list of mulches and their characteristics. The list can help home gardeners choose an appropriate mulch for their own gardens.

For gardeners who might want to use compost as mulch in the garden, the publication "Composting and mulching" by UGA Extension Horticulturalists Wayne McLauren (retired) and Gary Wade explains home composting in detail.

Making a completely finished compost can take months, but McLauren and Wade note that "Complete decomposition of the compost is not necessary when it is used as mulch." That is good news for gardeners who would like to mulch with compost from their landscape waste this summer!

(For fuller detail about watering, mulching, and composting, read the linked publiations.)