Q: How often should I water my vegetable garden?

A: Many experts suggest that once vegetable garden plants are established they should be watered deeply once per week – about an inch. Two inches if it’s been really hot.

I don’t know about you, but I have no way of knowing how many “inches” of water I am spraying on my veggie plants. There are many factors that, even if you found a way to know that you were applying 1 or 2 inches of water, would alter the amount that actually reaches the roots of your plants.

These are:

Runoff. We water our garden with a hose and a sprinkler. As far as I can tell, this is a hit-or-miss application. Sometimes the wind is blowing, and the water droplets end up spraying the lawn instead of the garden beds. If we were smart, we’d invest in a drip irrigation system, which is what friends of ours have – and they even set it on a timer which is even more proactive and a great way to be sure their garden plants are receiving even moisture at the roots.

Heat. Sometimes it’s hot – really hot. I have gone out there and blasted my garden with a huge drink of water from the sprinkler… only to go out there the next day to see them looking parched and droopy all over again.

Rainy spells. I would think this is obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. Keep track of the amount of rain that’s fallen over the prior week, as well as the rain that’s in the coming week’s forecast, to determine how much to water your garden. Again, although some experts make it nice and easy with the “1 or 2 inches per week” rule of thumb, you really will have to do some guesstimating as to how many inches Mother Nature may have supplied to your plants on her own.

So: here is how I personally determine how much and how often to water our garden:

Look at the actual garden plants. Are they standing tall and proud, reaching for the sun, with dark green leaves that are not saggy or droopy? Or, are the leaves hanging down, pale green in color, maybe even showing some signs of fungus or disease (typically occurring from too much rain/watering).

Look at/feel the dirt. If your garden soil is dry and parched, and crumbles in your hand when you grab a clumpful, then it needs watering. You should be able to dig a small hole with a spade and discover moisture below the ground where the plants’ roots can reach it.

So, I realize that knowing how much water your garden plants need is not always an easy thing to explain. However, once you’ve been gardening for a while, you will begin to see the signs of over- or under-watering.

We go with the general claim that deep watering, once or twice per week, is best for the health of your garden plants.

However,  we also go by the old fashioned method: just use your gut. If it’s been really hot, drench your plants twice per week. Stand there with the hose (if that’s what you use), give it a good, rain-like spray, for at least ten minutes on each garden bed.

Be a smart gardener. Water when your little plants are thirsty!