Container Vegetable Gardening – Watering

container vegetable gardening - watering

If you are container Vegetable Gardening, watering properly can be one of the most challenging issues you face.

So what is to talk about, you ask?   I water my container garden regularly.  What more do I need to know?  Is there some a mystical deeply esoteric knowledge about watering that has been hidden by the ancients?

Not really.   It’s more common sense than anything else.   The first thing we need to do is consider your container.

Before you planted

Hopefully, before you planted into your container, you made sure that it had adequate drainage and that you added shards or some other material to the bottom so the drain holes would not clog with soil.  Waterlogged soil at the bottom of a container is one of the leading culprits behind diseased plants in containers. 

Soil Selection

Second is the soil you used.   Is it rich in organic matter, and does it have enough mineral content to prevent compaction?  I know you aren’t climbing up into your containers and tromping around but even the simple act of water your containers can lead to soil compaction if the right balance of materials is not in the mix.

Now you can Water

Once you have your plants in place correctly, we can talk about watering.   If you are like most people, your watering routine is to regularly turn on the garden hose and hold the stream of water over the container.  You judge when enough water is applied when one of two things happen; either the water runs over the top of the container, or it runs out the drain holes.  Water running out of the containers is your signal to move on.

Water Behavior

There are some inherent problems with this approach.  The first is how water behaves.  Water will always seek the easiest and fastest way to the lowest point it can find.  In this case, the bottom of your container.  After you have flooded your container a few times, several things happen.   The soil dries out and begins to compact and shrink.  Look around the edges of most of your older containers.  For water, this provides a quick and easy channel to the bottom of your container and out the drain holes.  Little, if any, of that water reaches the root ball of your plant and it certainly doesn’t stay there.

Get the Water in The Right Place

The goal of watering your containers should be to get an even distribution of water throughout the entire soil volume.  Achieving an even moisture content requires the water application to be done slowly so that the water has time to infiltrate the soil deeply and thoroughly. Consistent watering can by hand is possible, but can be tedious.  That is why we prefer drip irrigation for our container gardens.

Water When Needed

Watering should not be a scheduled activity.  Water your containers only when necessary.  Many factors influence how often containers need water.  Air temperature, wind, soil mix, plant type, air humidity can all affect how fast or slow water is depleted in your container.   The only real way to know when your containers need water is to get your hands in the soil.   My simple test is to stick my finger into the soil about two knuckles deep.   If the soil is holding moisture anywhere between the tip of my finger and the first joint, I am satisfied that there is enough water available.   If the soil is dry anywhere below that first joint, it is time to water.

Keep the Water where it Belongs

Don’t forget to mulch your containers.   Just like a raised bed or any other soil garden or landscape, your container plants will benefit in the same ways by having a thick layer of organic mulch.   It will help retain soil moisture as well as protect your soil and plants. 

Links and Resources

For more information about organic gardening, lifestyles, and living, visit our website at West Texas Organic Gardening.

If you found the information here helpful, you might also find these articles on our website of interest.

Organic Growing Myths

Toss Your Tiller


If you have more specific questions or problems, you can contact us using the contact form on our website. You can also post your question to our community forum at this page; West Texas Organic Gardening Community Forum.

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