It's true. Not only do I water too frequently, but I also water too briefly. Only recently have I come to terms with my over-watering habit and resolved to change.
I think my obsession with watering comes from two sources: (1) the arid Southern California climate means that topsoil dries very quickly (2) I am a nervous and impatient gardener. Instead of giving my garden a deep soak every 5 to 7 days, I would give it a short spray-down every other night. This, as you might imagine, lead to some problems.
Here's one tell-tale sign of my watering problem: a deformed pepper leaf.
Pepper plants--even ones in containers--don't need to be watered very often. If you give them too much water, the leaves get all bumpy and twisty and the plants don't set fruit. Since I stopped overwatering, my pepper plants have made nice, symmetrical leaves and started flowering profusely.
I think my over-watering is also the reason why my corn stalks can sometimes be unstable and my squash often die on the plant before they even bloom. I'm hoping that new, better watering habits will provide me with a bigger crop this summer. According to my research, it should.
The other day, I was talking to my dad about my debilitating overwatering addiction, and he gave me a very helpful tip. As you probably know, many gardening books, including my favorite--Burpee's The Complete Vegetable & Herb Gardener--tell you to water a crop a certain number of inches per week. I wondered aloud to my dad about how I could know when I'd watered my squash an inch, since I'm using a hose with a spray nozzle. And he said, "Use a tuna can."
"What does a tuna can have to do with anything?" You might ask. Well, here's the deal: You place a tuna can in your garden alongside your vegetables. Then, if you need to give your crop an inch of water, you water it until the tuna can is full. Since the side of a tuna can is about an inch high, it's a simple way to measure how much you've watered. Nice, huh? (By the way, my dad attributes his knowledge of this method to Texas gardening expert Jerry Parsons.)
I didn't have an empty tuna can available at the time I needed one, so I used an empty hummus container instead. It worked just as well. If you want to be really precise, you can use a rain gauge or a sprinkler gauge. (But a tuna can or hummus container is free.) It's likely I am not the first person to hear about this tuna can method, but I wanted to pass it on in case it might help someone else.
For the last couple of weeks, I've been pretty good about watering deeply and infrequently, and that's not just because I had a business trip last week. I think I am seeing the results of my restraint in heartier, greener plants. Hopefully, I can keep my addiction in check, although the dry, hot month of August will be a challenge.
The first step is admitting you have a problem.