The 3 main things plants need to survive and grow are water, sunlight and nutrients. Once you find the correct location so the plant gets enough sunlight, then the main thing you will need to provide for your plants is water. Many beginning gardeners are tempted to water their plants too often (more on that below). Keep reading to learn the correct way to water plants to ensure the plants survive and thrive for many years to come!
How To Tell If A Plant Needs Water
The best way to tell if a plant needs water is by sticking your finger in the soil. If the soil is dry 1-2 inches below the surface, the plant needs to be water more than likely. This method works for plants growing in containers or outside in the ground.
Plants that really need water will also start to have leaves and branches that droop, start to turn brown and eventually die off. Typically, if the plant has droopy leaves then you’ve waited too long to water the plant.
There are also moisture meters available to gardeners. But we’ve found that they don’t work any better than just sticking your finger into the soil to determine if it needs water.
How Often To Water Plants
Most gardeners like to be on a set schedule for when they water their plants. It helps them remember when to water the plants each week. This isn’t the best method as different conditions will require different watering schedules. However, it can be effective so you don’t forget to water all-together and to help the plants get consistent moisture.
Typically, once per week is enough water for plants. Some plants growing indoors will require even less than that. If the plants are growing outside in the middle of the summer, then they will require more water than just once per week. Especially thirsty plants like hydrangeas. During the middle of the summer, you may need to water every other day.
In the winter months, plants may not need to be watered more than once a month as the plants are dormant.
Lastly, newly planted plants will require more water than established plants. The additional moisture helps plant roots get established in the ground or new container.
Three main things to consider when determining how often to water:
Is the plant established or newly planted?
Is the soil drying out completely before you water the plants?
What is the season, spring, summer, fall or winter?
The most important thing is to make sure the soil is drying out completely between watering (unless it’s newly planted). If the soil isn’t drying out completely and remaining “wet”, the roots will eventually rot and the plant will die.
Typically plants that are being watered too often will start to have it’s leaves turn yellow. This is the main thing to look for in an overwatered plant.
Another sign is black/purple/brown spots growing on the leaves. This typically means the leaves aren’t drying out well enough and its a fungus growing on the leaves.
Plants in containers should always have drainage holes, so the soil dries completely out between watering.
The Correct Way To Water Plants
The first step is ensuring the soil is dry and the plant needs water. Once you have determined that, then get your watering can, bucket, hose or drip irrigation line ready to go.
We always recommend watering at the base of the plant, underneath the leaves. Try to keep the leaves dry so fungus doesn’t grow on them.
Apply enough water so the soil is completely saturated. It is better to water less often with more water, than really often without a lot of soil. Long and deep watering is what is best for plants.
Bottom Watering Plants
In containers, you can also bottom water your plants if your container is designed to do that. This helps draw the roots down to the bottom of the pot, and encourages healthy root production. It also helps reduce any pests like fungus gnats.
Watering Plants Indoors
When growing plants in pots indoors, the container should always have drainage. It will be an uphill battle to have consistent moisture in the soil if the container does not have drainage.
Also, be aware of any air ducts or vents. This will typically dry the soil out faster than normal. Also, houseplants typically like high humidity. Vents will reduce the amount of humidity in the air, so you may need to add additional humidity with a humidifier.
Watering Plants Outdoors
When watering plants growing in the ground outside, you should water at the base of the plants while keeping the leaves as dry as possible. Sometimes this is not possible if using sprinkler systems or watering a large amount of plants at once. Proper spacing between plants will help ensure there is enough airflow between the plants so the leaves dry out as much as possible.
Water deep and wide around each plant. Sometimes you will need to water slowly so the water can seep in deep enough. Watering slowly or in phases will help allow the water to seep in and prevent a bunch of runoff. Some soil will drain faster than other soil (clay versus sand). So make sure the soil is completely dry before watering again.
We recommend watering in the early morning if possible. This gives the plant all day to dry the leaves off, and also prevents the water from evaporating. The morning is the best water-saving time.
You will also need to adjust how often to water based on how much rain you've received. In the spring, plants will rarely need to be watered. In the middle of the summer and early fall, the plants will need to be watered more often as the heat rises and rain is less frequent.
Tips For Watering Plants
- Ensure the soil moisture level is dry before watering.
- Be as consistent as possible with soil moisture levels.
- Water less often with more water. Water should reach deep roots.
- Water at the base of the plants to keep leaves dry.
- Make sure the soil drains well.
- Apply water slowly and in the morning if possible.
How Often To Water Plants On Drip Irrigation
It depends on what plants you are watering and the weather conditions. But in general twice per week is sufficient. Maybe 3 times a week in very hot and dry locations. When programming the drip irrigation, test the soil each time. You may need to adjust throughout the year as the weather changes.
A good rule of thumb is to feel the dirt before watering. It should be completely dry before watering again. You can also pay close attention to the leaves of the plants. If they start to wilt and droop then they are thirsty and if the leaves start to turn yellow, that is a good indication of being watered too much.
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