June 30, 2000 | By: Aimee D. Heald

Most people believe vegetables will be the best quality only if they are given adequate water throughout the growing season.

While it’s important that vegetables be well-watered while they are being established and during flowering, UK Horticulture Specialist, Rick Durham, suggests that sometimes the best quality garden produce results when water is somewhat limited. Durham has some suggestions for summer watering in the vegetable garden.

“All vegetables need a good supply of soil moisture before and during flowering and during fruit development,” he said. “For crops such as cabbage and broccoli, this period is during establishment and head development."

One to two inches of water per week, in the form of natural rainfall or supplemental irrigation should be sufficient for most vegetables during this time. For vegetables that are harvested continually, like eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, summer squash and green beans, it’s important to keep an adequate supply of water to the plant. This ensures fairly even soil moisture throughout the growing season.

“This will keep plants productive for a longer period of time,” Durham said. “Consistent soil moisture on tomatoes will also help prevent blossom end rot and cracking of fruit.”

Durham said water should be withheld from potatoes once the vines have begun to die down. The tubers under the soil are entering dormancy at that time and excess water or fertilizer may cause regrowth or cracking of the potatoes, which makes them less suitable for storage.

Cucumbers will become bitter without a good supply of moisture throughout the entire growing season. On the other hand, melons will produce a sweeter fruit when they are kept drier once the fruit has reached about half of it’s expected final size.

“For melons, don’t cut off water completely. Continue to provide .5. to 1 inch of water per week,” Durham said. “Heavy rain or irrigation when the melons are nearly mature will dilute the fruits sugar. Watermelons will reconcentrate the sugar if left on the vine a little longer. Muskmelons, however, are less apt to do this.”

Okra tends to produce more leaves than pods when it’s over watered, so try to keep these drought-tolerant plants on the dry side.

A layer of mulch in the vegetable row will help conserve moisture, reduce weed growth, and keep produce cleaner. Using black plastic film as a mulch has become standard in commericial vegetable production, but most backyard growers still prefer organic mulches such as straw, wood chips, composted leaves or grass clippings.

“Remember to keep most vegetable well-watered throughout the summer,” Durham added. “But for things like potatoes, melons and okra, keep them a little drier, especially late in the season to get higher quality products.”


Richard Durham 859-257-3249