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Wednesday, May 30, 2007 01:20 am

Watering tips for vegetable gardens

Know your plants critical watering periods

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Untitled Document Each vegetable has a critical time during its growth when lack of adequate moisture can be a serious problem. 
“Hot, dry weather leads to high moisture deficiency in vegetable gardens,” says Maurice Ogutu, a horticulture educator with the University of Illinois. Unless vegetables get adequate moisture throughout the growing season, he says, gardeners will experience serious yield loss.
 Different kinds of vegetables have different water needs. Here are Ogutu’s guidelines for when common homegrown vegetables experience critical watering periods:
Beans, including lima and snap: during pollination, pod development, and pod enlargement. Broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower: during head development. Tomato, eggplant, and pepper: from flowering to harvest. Dry onions: during bulb enlargement. Cucumbers, muskmelons, and watermelons: during flowering and fruit development. Carrots, radish, and turnips: during root enlargement. Potato: during tuber set and when the tuber is enlarging. Sweet corn: during silking, tasseling, and ear development. Ogutu recommends that gardeners improve water efficiency by taking steps to increase the soil’s water-holding capacity, such as applying plenty of compost or manure before planting.  
Other steps he recommends: “Have a small garden that will not require a lot of water. Plant early so that Mother Nature can provide most of the garden’s water needs. Space vegetable seedlings so that the ground is well-covered in early summer; effective spacing will decrease water loss through evaporation.”
It is important to water your vegetable garden once a week, Ogutu says, when less than 1 inch of rainfall is received in a given week. Soak the soil thoroughly with 6 to 8 inches of water to ensure that it is available in the root zone for uptake by the vegetables. “Water in the morning so that the leaves dry during the day,” he says. “Do not water vegetables at midday, because much of the water will be lost through evaporation — and avoid frequent, light watering and turning the sprinklers on for a whole day.”
  
For more information about the University of Illinois Extension’s Sangamon-Menard unit, go to www.extension.uiuc.edu/Sangamon.
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