When to Water Your Vegetable Garden | Watering Chart

Watering Chart for Vegetables

August 13, 2021
Water Hose

How much water do you really need? When is the best time to water your vegetables? See the Almanac’s Guide to Watering Vegetables with a very helpful chart on how much water each vegetable needs and critical times to water.

According to some experts, less is often more when it comes to watering your vegetable crops. In areas without drought, a common mistake new gardeners make is watering too much! 

Before we talk about water, we must start with the soil which must retain that water. Healthy soil is the basis of healthy plants. If your soil is amended with organic matter (such as compost), you are well on your way to healthy soil. Regular applications of modest amounts of compost—one-quarter inch per season—will dramatically improve your soil’s water retention and help suppress disease. See our articles on soil types, soil testing, and the basics on amending your soil with NPK fertiliers and organic amendments,

When to Water

If your plants in the ground (versus a pot), the general rule is that plants need one inch of water per week. However, this does NOT mean watering one time per week. That doesn’t usually do the job. Plants do best when watered about three times a week, factoring in the rain. If the plants are seedlings, water twice a day until established.

But don’t just water without thinking. Feel your soil! When the soil sticks in your hand and you can form it into a ball, it is moist enough. But, if it barely holds together in the palm of your hand, or if the surface looks hard, baked, or cracked, it is probably dry and it’s time to water. See if the soil is dry an inch below the surface; that suggests it needs water. 

It’s best to water early in the day while dew is still on the leaves so the foliage dries off by evening. However, if you can not water in the morning, watering in the evening is fine, too. Just avoid the middle of the day to avoid water loss to evaporation.

Believe it or not, sometimes the best time to water is during or immediately after a rainfall, especially if the rain shower amounts only to a half-inch or so of water. The reason for this is that you want to add sufficient water at the same time to ensure penetration down to 5 or 6 inches. If you wait another day or two to water, you will be adding only surface water, which evaporates rapidly. Light rain showers do not build up a reserve of water in the soil.

Lose Your Guilt About Wilt

Another sign is that the plants may wilt and look especially droopy. However, temporary wilting during the heat of midday does not mean that it’s time to water. Some plants go through an obvious midday slump, especially on very hot days, which is an indication of the plant’s natural adaptation to its environment. Visit your garden again in the early evening and see if the wilted plants have regained some turgidity. If they have come back—that is, if they look perkier—do not water.

How to Measure One Inch of Water

So what is one inch of water per week? First, an inch of water is defined as a one-inch deep layer of water over the entire soil surfact that needs watering.

To measure one inch of water, you can either purchase an inexpensive rain gauge or try this DIY trick: Place 4 or 5 small containers (straight-sided) around the garden while the water during the rainfall. A tuna can is a good container to use. Mark 1 inch up from the bottom on the can. When 1 inch of water from rain or irrigation collects in the containers, that indicates that 1 inch of water was applied to the garden. 

Again, don’t just rely on the “one inch” guideline. If the soil is dry an inch beneath the surface, your garden probably needs watering.

How to Water

What you want in a healthy plant is deep root penetration, and the only way that you’re going to get deep roots is if there is water down deep.

Start at the very beginning: Saturate each plant hole when you transplant seedlings. When you do water, make sure that you get the soil saturated enough that the moisture percolates at least several inches down.

Water at the soil level if you can; watering from above causes leaf disease. The disadvantage of using a sprinkler is that foliage is wetted by water dispersed via overhead application. This could lead to foliar diseases since the foliage remains wet for extended periods of time.

  • For a small garden, it’s fine to use a watering can, a watering wand, or a hose with a good nozzle that allows you to water right at the soil level near the plant. 
  • If you have more dense plantings or larger plants, lay your hose directly on the ground near the plant so the water goes where it is needed. A board or rock placed under the water flow will prevent the water from eroding the soil. A good way to direct the water to the plants is to dig a little trench around the plants and allow water to flow into it.
  • If you have a larger garden with plants spaced one foot or more apart, consider investing in “drip irrigation.” This is is done mainly with hoses or plastic tubes with small holes in them that deliver a relatively small amount of water directly to the root zone; by supplying optimum moisture, periods of water stress can be avoided. The hoses or tubes are placed down the rows and water slowly trickles out. 

Don’t Forget to Mulch!

Mulching is perhaps the #1 water-conserving technique for areas that receive less than 40 inches of rainfall annually. Organic mulches reduce evaporative moisture losses from the soil surface, and because the soil stays cooler, they also reduce transpiration water losses. Lay a thick layer of mulch down on top of soil. (Do not mix with soil.) Renew mulches that are in place for the entire growing season.

See our Mulching Guide for more information.

Watering Guide: Critical Times to Water and Gallons Needed

We recognize that folks with small mixed vegetable gardens aren’t going to water each vegetable differently. However, it’s very helpful to understand which vegetables are water lovers and the critical times when vegetables need water to thrive. If you plant vegetables in separate beds as we do (or in separate crop fields), it’s critical to give certain vegetables water at certain times.  

 Needs a lot of water during dry spells.  Needs water at critical stages of development.  Does not need frequent watering.
Vegetable Critical time(s) to water for a 5-foot row Number of gallons of water needed
Beans When flowers form and during pod development 2 gallons per week depending on rainfall
Beets Before soil gets bone-dry 1 at early stage; 2 gallons every 2 weeks
Broccoli Don’t let dry 4 weeks after transplanting. Head development.  1 to 1 ½ gallons per week
Brussels sprouts Don’t let soil dry out for 4 weeks after transplanting. 1 to 1 ½ gallons per week
Cabbage Head development. Water frequently in dry weather.  2 gallons per week
Carrots Early root enlargement. Before soil gets bone-dry 1 at early stage; 2 every 2 weeks as roots mature
Cauliflower Head development. Water frequently for best crop. 2 per week
Celery Water frequently for best crop. 2 per week
Corn When tassels form and when cobs swell 2 at important stages (see left column)
Cucumbers Flowering and fruit development. Water frequently. 1 per week
Lettuce/Spinach     Water frequently for best crop. 2 per week
Onions In dry weather, water in early stage to get plants going. ½ to 1 per week if soil is very dry
Parsnips Before soil gets bone-dry 1 per week in early stages
Peas When flowers form and during pod-forming and picking 2 per week
  Peppers Steady supply from flowering through harvest 2 per week
Potatoes Tuber set and enlargement when the size of marbles 2 per week
 Radishes Plentiful, consistent moisture for root enlargement 2 per week
Squash Water frequently for best crop. 1 per week
Tomatoes For 3 to 4 weeks after transplanting and when flowers and fruit form 1 gallon twice a week or more

In Conclusion…

Don’t baby your crops; plants are incredibly adaptable. They have the ability to draw water from deep in the soil. Periodically, take a trowel and dig down several inches into the zone where the roots are most active. If the soil there is still moist, there would be no benefit from watering.

For more on watering the garden, especially in drought, read our article on “The Water-Wise Garden.”

See our video in which we will demonstrate the 10 smart watering tips for a healthier garden.

Free Online Gardening Guides

We’ve gathered all of our best beginner gardening guides into a step-by-step series designed to help you learn how to garden! Visit our complete Gardening for Everyone hub, where you’ll find a series of guides—all free! From selecting the right gardening spot to choosing the best vegetables to grow, our Almanac gardening experts are excited to teach gardening to everyone—whether it’s your 1st or 40th garden.

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Reader Comments

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Disappearing Aticle

Unfortunately, the link to the article about the three sisters no longer works.


This list is nice but I know VERY few gardeners that plant vegetables according to how they will be watered. Many (like myself) have small gardens and mix plantings. The "three sisters" Beans Corn and squash, have two that don't need heavy watering and one that does! So am I to no longer grow these three together? My peas have carrots and lettuce between them, so which do I pick for watering advice? I pretty much water when they look thirsty and when the soil is dry an inch or two below the mulch.


The Editors's picture

The advice on this page should apply to any type of garden in terms of ensuring 1 inch of water per week from rainfall or a hose, and how to tell if your soil is too dry. The vegetable chart is geared to the majority of gardeners who tend to plant rows of a single vegetable or even separate beds or crop fields.

In terms of Three Sisters, see our page on how to plant with this technique: https://www.almanac.com/content/three-sisters-corn-bean-and-squash

Note: The Three Sisters relies on the original native plant varieties; many farmers today who plant modern sweet corn state that the corn variety is very different; the stalks are not as as sturdy(to support another plant) and the plant’s height shades the squash too much. Learn more in the article referenced.



When I wrote promotional materials for Peters Professional Potting Soil and Plant Food, I discovered 30% of water is lost when irrigating by spraying water as opposed to using irrigation hoses.
I also find it interesting when experts suggest not to water a garden just before dusk, which supposedly can cause disease on wet plants. If this was true, then it had better not rain after 5 PM ever again in my garden! Plants seem to weather evening rain just fine.


If I use drip or trickle irrigation can I lay the lines and mulch on top of them?

Watering a pallet garden

How often should a person water a pallet garden and how much at a time?

watering pallet garden

The Editors's picture

Because this garden is above ground, it will dry out more quickly. Like other containers, daily watering is likely. And your set-up should drain excess water to prevent root rot.

unwanted mushrooms

The last two years or so, we have been plagued with mushrooms coming up between the sidewalks and the lawn and in-between planted pots. The varieties are unknown to us (one is the common looking white button-top and the other is an elongated pink, pointy-top one). We have two young dogs who seem very curious and we are afraid they might eat them and become sick. How can we rid ourselves of the "schrooms" once and for all. We have tried soap, salt, weed killer, and shovel to no avail. We live in Albuquerque, NM so no overmoisture here!

Preventing Mushrooms

The Editors's picture

Look in your local garden center or hardware store for a pet-safe and lawn-safe fungicide. These are chemicals specifically formulated to get rid of fungi, such as mold, mildew, and mushrooms.



yield troubles

The Editors's picture

To conserve moisture, make sure you provide a good layer of mulch around your plants. To prevent evaporation from wind, you might set up a windbreak. It could be, too, that it is not your watering but the heat itself that is affecting yield, as some plants slow down production in high heat. Sun screen is good to provide partial shade, especially during the times of strongest daylight. Perhaps next year, also look for heat-tolerant vegetable varieties. Your county’s Cooperative Extension might have further tips. For contact information, see: http://www.almanac.com/content/cooperative-extension-services  (At the California link, select “San Bernardino County”) Hope this helps!

Poor yields

I know this is a year late but also check your soil. I had to add better soil to one part of my garden .

Potted plants

When is water necessary for plants grown exclusively in pots? I live in apt and have several wild flowers that come back each year and also grow vegetables. Broccoli, squash, tomatoes and others. Thanks!

You can use the chart above,

The Editors's picture

You can use the chart above, even if you are gardening in containers.

I live in Fort

I live in Fort Lauderdale,Florida.Some days are really hot.My garden is,all about vegetable containers...do I water them twice a day or once a day? Because my tomatoes `leaves become yellow...do I need to water them until see water tp come out from the botton containers holes ? Thanks

It is easy to overwater when

The Editors's picture

It is easy to overwater when plants look stressed in the heat. Stick your finger in the soil to see how dry the soil actually is before grabbing the hose. Water when it is dry 2-3 inches down from the top. Yellow leaves on tomatoes are often a sign of overwatering or they could signal a soil deficiency.

tomato leaves turnig yellow

my experience tells me clearly having been a been a commercial organic grower of medicinal herbs which I specialize in and vegetable that a deficiency of nitrogen in the soil is usually the problem. If your soil has a high acidity level this disallowes the plant from drawing the nutrients it needs to grow naturally. Regards neil price a commercial organic grower of 20 odd years experience.

What is the best way to water

What is the best way to water Watermelon Plants & what type of feed should be given.I start mine from seed, but they don't seem to be doing well this year. Is there something I'm doing wrong

We planted more vegetables

We planted more vegetables this year. We have yellow pear tomatoes, Fourth of July tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, and a couple pepper plants. On this chart, the tomatoes and cucumbers are mentioned but not the peppers. Last year was our first attempt growing anything and it was cherry tomatoes. We had an over abundance! We just aren't sure how to care for this new garden. We have sandy, clay soil that gets FULL sun all day. Any advice on watering and care?

We'd advise having the soil

The Editors's picture

We'd advise having the soil checked again -- it won’t be both sandy AND clay. If it seems to be somewhere in between, it’s an ideal loamy soil, and full sun is good but in a very hot climate this may mean extra watering is required. The video has tips on watering -- tomatoes and peppers like plenty of water and it’s important not to let tomatoes in particular dry out too much before watering again, as the fruits can crack and it may also contribute to blossom end rot. Mulching is also important to help retain soil moisture.

I have a question about using

I have a question about using painted sticks as garden markers will the paint affect my garden

Hi, Momma: It sort of depends

The Editors's picture

Hi, Momma: It sort of depends on the paint type (should be outdoor), but it is hard for us to imagine much harm arising from this. Good luck!

Great tips! Sometimes when

Great tips!

Sometimes when you suffer from high water bills or dead grass, you might have a problem with your irrigation system. In the long run, installing the right irrigation system saves water and provides a healthy & beautiful landscape for your property :)

Is the "number of gallons per

Is the "number of gallons per week" column meant to list how many gallons per individual plant, or a 5-foot row like the "critical time..." column?

The number of gallons per

The Editors's picture

The number of gallons per week is for the 5-foot row, not the individual plants.

I am working on an article

I am working on an article that correlates plant water consumption and the one-inch of water per week rule of thumb. Runoff, percolation, transpiration, evaporation; plant spacing and that elusive well drained water retaining soil; it should all come together from the “Water Needed” column.

Used to garden big time in

Used to garden big time in Bakersfield, CA: SUN & FREE WATER!! Now I'm in Sacramento with a water meter and I'm at a loss as to how to afford the water. . .

Your best bet is to build a

Your best bet is to build a "reservoir" that will capture rain water. Build it up high, with a valve at the bottom, so that gravity can feed it for you. Otherwise you will need a pump to get it out. You can find out more about doing this online. You can really use this to save HUGE on water bills. Thank God I have a pump and a well where I live. Still pay for electricity though!

Robert Leavitt
Gardening on a shoestring budget