Water-Wise Winter Vegetable Care
One of the most essential aspects of vegetable plant care is consistent, adequate watering—but this can be difficult when trying to conserve resources! As the temperatures start to cool down, we’re getting ready to plant our winter vegetables, but we’re taking extra measures to ensure we aren’t using more water than we need. Here’s what you can plant now for a winter harvest and how to grow them successfully while being mindful of your water use.
How to Take Care of Winter Vegetables Without Water Waste
Luckily, since the sun isn’t as hot and bright as it is during the summer, water evaporates more slowly from the soil; this means we won’t have to water as often. In fact, the first step in water-conscious vegetable gardening is growing in the winter! Cooler weather and winter rains means that we don’t have to use nearly as much water and can let nature help us out. Of course, there are a few other water-wise habits that are worth sticking to when growing winter vegetables. Here’s what we recommend for Orange County vegetable gardens:
Mulch blocks the sun from heating the soil and drying it out, so it stays moist longer. It also helps block weeds from taking root, so they won’t end up hogging all the moisture and soil nutrients from your vegetable plants.
Avoid Terracotta or Porous Containers
Terracotta is a great container material for drought-tolerant plants like succulents and cacti. Its porous nature allows excess moisture to evaporate more quickly. However, vegetables do best with more consistently moist soil to prevent fruit splitting and cracking.
If you’re planning on growing vegetables in containers, opt for a non-porous material like plastic, glazed ceramic, or metal. Try to stick to lighter-colored containers so they don’t heat up in the sun, which can further evaporate soil moisture. Alternatively, you can double pot your clay and porous containers: plant the container as normal, and then slide it into a second container of exactly the same size. You don’t need to add soil in between, although if you don't have exactly the same size second pot you can use a slightly larger one and fill the space between with more potting soil. The little bit of air (or soil) between the two pots works like insulation, which keeps the roots much cooler and saves water.
Water Late at Night or Early in the Morning
If you water when the sun is already up, and the ground is warm, the water will dry up faster, and your plants won’t have as much time to absorb it. By watering when the sun is down, not only do your plants have more access to moisture, but the water helps insulate their roots from surprise heat waves.
Water Deeply, Less Frequently
Watering a little bit every day won’t do much good. The roots won’t get adequately moistened, and the moisture will dry up too quickly. Instead, you’ll want to thoroughly soak the soil around your plants so their roots become fully moist. Refrain from watering again until the top few inches of soil are dry, but when you do water, do so all the way to the bottom of the roots.
Add Lots of Compost to the Soil
Compost will help retain moisture longer without compromising drainage if your soil is super sandy. In clay soils, compost helps to open the soil, create air in the soil, and improves the ability of water to percolate into the soil. Either way, liberal amounts of compost added to soils where vegetables are growing is a great idea.
How Long to Water Your Plants
“1 inch of water per week” equals about 0.6 gallons per square foot. Multiply the square footage of your garden bed by 0.6 gallons, and that’s how many gallons it needs per week. Once you have this number, you can determine how long to water your plants based on the flow rate of your watering device.
For example, if you have a 10’x10’ bed (100 sqft) and a watering system with a flow rate of 4 GPM (gallons per minute), you’ll need to water your garden for 15 minutes per week.
Garden size: 10’x10’ = 100 sqft
Water required per week: 100 sqft x 0.6 gallons per sqft = 60 gallons
Time to water: 60 gallons / 4 GPM = 15 minutes per week
With conversion guides online, you can determine the flow rate of common sources, such as garden hoses and water faucets.
What Vegetables Can I Plant Now in Orange County?
Here are eight cool-season vegetables to grow through fall and winter in Orange County and some tips for water-wise growing.
Beets: Daily watering can hurt your beets. In cloudy, cool weather, water once per week or as the weather dictates.
Bok Choy: Avoid letting the soil dry out completely, as this can cause premature bolting. Be sure not to overwater, as bok choy hates soggy soil. Watering one inch per week should be fine.
Cabbage: Maintain a consistent routine for watering your cabbage to prevent it from splitting. Water close to the base on a low-pressure setting to avoid washing away the soil and prevent pests and disease. Cabbage typically needs 1.5 inches of water per week.
Carrots: One inch of water per week is all you need during the early stages of development. Once your carrots’ roots start maturing, water a little more frequently—about once every five days.
Cauliflower: Lots of compost is crucial for keeping your cauliflower happy, as it requires consistent moist soil. We recommend one inch of water every week.
Kale: Consistent moisture will improve your kale’s flavor, making it sweeter, not bitter. 1–1.5 inches of water each week is usually enough.
Lettuce: These leafy greens have shallow roots, so you won’t have to water quite as deeply as with root vegetables like carrots. Water every 4–5 days, or when the top inch of soil has dried out.
Radishes: These fast-maturing veggies don’t have very long roots, so you don’t need to use a ton of water. However, they consistently need moist soil. Water every 3–4 days, or when the top inch of soil is dry.
Roger’s Gardens has plenty of winter vegetables for sale in Orange County, whether you’re looking for seeds or starter plants. We’ll be happy to share some care tips and tricks for starting your winter veggies if this is your first foray into food gardening!
For more information, view: How to Prep Your Garden for Fall Vegetable Plantings, Cool Season Vegetable Gardening , and The Best Vegetables to Grow in the Cool Fall Season.