Gardening Articles

Water-Wise Cucurbits

The root systems of this family are far more extensive than most people realize. Usually a taproot goes down several feet and then, soil conditions permitting, thickly occupies a large area, ultimately reaching down 5 to 8 feet. Shallow feeder roots also extend laterally

as far as or farther than the vines reach at their greatest extent. Dry gardeners can do several things to assist cucurbits. First, make sure there is absolutely no competition in their root zone. This means[i]one plant per hill, with the hills separated in all directions a little farther than the greatest possible extent of the variety's ultimate growth.[i] Common garden lore states that squashes droop their leaves in midsummer heat and that this trait cannot be avoided and does no harm. But if they've grown as described above, on deep, open soil, capillarity and surface moisture reserves ensure there usually will be no midday wilting, even if there is no watering. Two plants per hill do compete and make each other wilt. Second, double dig and fertilize the entire lateral root zone. Third, as much as possible, avoid walking where the vines will ultimately reach to avoid compaction. Finally, [i]do not transplant them.[i] This breaks the taproot and makes the plant more dependent on lateral roots seeking moisture in the top 18 inches of soil.

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