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How much rain do you need?

Rain or water is essential for a successful crop.

Did you know that some plants are composed of up to 95% water? Without it, many will wither away. So, how much water does a typical vegetable garden need?

Answer: about 1 inch of rain (or watering) per week.

But, the answer is not that simple. There are other factors that can determine how much water your garden needs.

Please continue reading to learn more...

Measure it!

rain gauge

It is a good idea to put a rain gauge in your garden, to help you determine the amount of water your garden is actually getting. Make sure you place the rain gauge away from any plants that might drip extra water into the gauge or have leaves that may cover it, blocking the gauge from giving an accurate measurement. Now, you can supplment the rain with watering to reach the typical inch of water per week rule of thumb.



The best time to water is the early morning hours.


The hot mid-day sun can evaporate water almost as fast as you are sprinkling, and if you leave a thirsty plant until late afternoon to water it - it may already be stressed, and its growth impaired. Also, watering during cool evening hours, may not allow the plants foliage to dry properly inviting mold, fungus, & disease to attack the plant.

Beside all the benefits to your garden, what can be more peaceful than spending a summer morning in the garden for you, too?

One last note on watering - a thorough, heavy soaking encourages deep root growth, rather than several light waterings.

Factors that affect water consumption in the garden

garden hose

The inch of water per week is the easy answer, but the truth of the matter is that there are other factors that will determine whether you will need to supplement the rain with watering, or possibly cover your garden with an umbrella (just kidding). So, here is a list of other things that come into play when thinking about water.


  • Has it been very hot?
    (above 85° F)
    Consider extra watering.
  • Has it been cooler?
    (60-65° F range)
    Hold off on watering, plants can rot if they are kept too wet in cooler weather.
  • Has it been dry?
    If the relative humidity is low, more water evaporates, consider an extra watering.
  • Has it been sunny?
    Plants are busy growing on sunny days, and thus, will need more water.
  • Has it been windy?
    (yeah, right, in the windy city)
    Wind strips water from the ground, into the atmosphere - add more water to the garden.
  • Do you have heavy, clay soil?
    Clay soil holds water better, sometimes too well, causing plants to rot - go a bit easier on the watering, and consider improving the soil.
  • Do you have loose, sandy soil?
    Sandy soil acts like a sieve, you will need to water more often, and consider improving the soil.

Water Conservation Strategies

Do you live in an area where you have to pay for your water consumption? Then, if it doesn't rain, watering can be a pricey undertaking. Here are some ideas to help you conserve water in the garden. Besides, conservation is the best practice for our planet, anyway.

  • Easiest: Mulch!
    Yes, consider mulching the vegetable garden. It will help keep the moisture in the soil, and prevent weeds, too! One of the most inexpensive ways to mulch, is to use your own grass clippings. Just be careful to keep the clippings at least 3-4 inches away from the base of the plants, as they will get a bit warm as they decompose. Also, avoid using clippings if your lawn has been recently treated with chemicals for weed prevention (keep the chemicals out of your food supply).
  • Avoid Evaporation
    water in the early morning hours
  • Take up a collection...
    Consider getting a rain barrel to collect water from gutters, to be used on sunny days.
  • Drip, Drip, Drip
    Trickle or drip irrigation systems (using a soaker hose) will supply water to the base of the plants, where the water is needed, and avoid watering the leaf surfaces where the water ends up being evaporated.
  • Hand Watering
    Focus on the base of individual plants, rather than the whole garden area, when watering. This will also help control weeds from growing, too.
  • Out in the open?
    Are you in a newer subdivision, lacking windbreaks? Consider planting some shrubs and trees to prevent the wind from leaving your garden parched (not too close to block out the sunshine).

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web page updated: 02.26.14