Vegetable gardens grow quickly in early summer and mid-summer. Keeping gardens vigorous during this time with proper maintenance and care will help ensure the best yields possible. Proper watering and side-dressing when needed are two keys to gardening success.
Water enough, not too much
Watering correctly is a key to vegetable success. Most plants need plenty of water to get established, but then differences arise. Plants with shallow roots systems need continually moist soil, while plants that have deeper and dense fibrous roots can be damaged by soil that stays too wet.
Beans are a great example. Beans are more shallow rooted and have the highest water use of any common garden vegetable, using 0.25 to over 0.50 inches of water per day. Beans need water most when they are blooming and setting fruit. When moisture levels are adequate the bean plant is a bright, dark grass green but as plants become water stressed, leaves take on a slight grayish cast. Onions, lettuce, carrots, peas and broccoli are also crops that need consistently moist soil.
Tomatoes in contrast have much more efficient root systems. They also need water when flowering and fruiting, but too much water is detrimental. In fact tomatoes that are watered too much actually taste worse! There is a connection between allowing the tomato plant to experience some water stress and a better tasting tomato. A little stress improves taste. Blossom-end-rot (a black sunken area on the bottom of the fruit) is often another symptom of too much or too little water. When over-watered, tomatoes, peppers, and many vines can be hindered rather than helped.
Side or top dressing vegetables is the practice of applying nitrogen fertilizer as plants are growing to give them an extra boost. If done correctly, side-dressing can improve vegetable, fruit, and flower production. If done incorrectly though, side-dressing with too much nitrogen can actually decrease production in some crops such as tomato. Each garden crop has different side-dressing needs. You can download a guide to side dressing below.
For tomatoes it can be helpful to apply a light side-dressing of nitrogen one to two weeks before the first tomato ripens, and then again two to three weeks after picking the first ripe tomato. Use a high nitrogen fertilizer such as ammonium sulfate (21-0-0). Apply up to 1 tablespoon per plant. Don’t over-apply as this can lead to a large healthy plant that produces very little fruit.
For peppers, eggplant and beans it is recommended to apply one application of side-dressing after the first fruit/pods set on the plant. Again use a high nitrogen fertilizer such as ammonium sulfate at up to 1 tablespoon per plant on peppers or eggplant or 1 cup per 100 feet of row on beans.
For squash and cucumber apply a side-dressing application as listed above as the plants begin blooming and again one month later.
Remember there are some plants that should not be side-dressed as this can lead to less production. Plants like watermelon, sweet potatoes, and many herbs may be less productive if the soil is over-fertilized.