How to water your outdoor plants

How to water your outdoor plants

Written by: Cherry Lyn Hoffner
June 19, 2018


It can be enormously frustrating to spend money on plants only to find them gasping for life two weeks later. I know this from experience. Before I took the Purdue Master Gardener course, I lost nearly all the bulbs I planted in one of my first gardens. I didn’t know yet how to properly amend my soil. So instead of mixing good garden soil with my thick clay soil, I removed all the clay (about 6 inches deep!) in my sidewalk-enclosed garden and dumped in the good soil. I thought this was genius. Instead, because clay soil tends to hold onto water, I created a bathtub that rotted $50 worth of beautiful bulbs. So, now I strive to help others avoid gardening mistakes, so their gardens can be gorgeous! Here are some quick tips for watering your plants properly this summer.

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It can be enormously frustrating to spend money on plants only to find them gasping for life two weeks later. I know this from experience. Before I took the Purdue Master Gardener course, I lost nearly all the bulbs I planted in one of my first gardens. I didn’t know yet how to properly amend my soil. So instead of mixing good garden soil with my thick clay soil, I removed all the clay (about 6 inches deep!) in my sidewalk-enclosed garden and dumped in the good soil. I thought this was genius. Instead, because clay soil tends to hold onto water, I created a bathtub that rotted $50 worth of beautiful bulbs. So, now I strive to help others avoid gardening mistakes, so their gardens can be gorgeous! Here are some quick tips for watering your plants properly this summer.

Watering

How much water do my plants need? Generally, most plants need about 1 inch of water a week (including rain water!). So, if you don’t have a rain gauge, buy one and always empty it after a rain so you know how much water your plants have received. Before you water, stick your finger about an inch down into the soil. Is the soil moist? Don’t water. Is it bone dry? Water it. Most people tend to overwater their plants. Did you know that plants will wilt whether they are overwatered or underwatered? Is your plant wilting even though the soil is still wet? Then they don’t need more water. Allow your plant to dry out a bit.

When is the best time to water my plants? It’s generally best to water in the early morning (before 8 a.m.). This helps prevent evaporation and fungal growth (this includes your lawn!). If you must water in the middle of the day, be sure to water near the crown of the plant so you’re not burning the leaves.

How frequently should I water my plants? Water for a longer period of time once or twice a week rather than lightly and more frequently. This allows the water to really get down to the roots, where they most need it.

Does it matter where I water my plants? Even though rain water comes from above, it’s best to water plants closer to the roots whenever possible. A soaker hose works well and allows water to penetrate deep into the soil. Watering near the roots also helps prevent fungal spores from traveling to other leaves and plants.

Photo Credit: Andrew Spencer via Unsplash
Photo Credit: Andrew Spencer via Unsplash

Watering

How much water do my plants need? Generally, most plants need about 1 inch of water a week (including rain water!). So, if you don’t have a rain gauge, buy one and always empty it after a rain so you know how much water your plants have received. Before you water, stick your finger about an inch down into the soil. Is the soil moist? Don’t water. Is it bone dry? Water it. Most people tend to overwater their plants. Did you know that plants will wilt whether they are overwatered or underwatered? Is your plant wilting even though the soil is still wet? Then they don’t need more water. Allow your plant to dry out a bit.

When is the best time to water my plants? It’s generally best to water in the early morning (before 8 a.m.). This helps prevent evaporation and fungal growth (this includes your lawn!). If you must water in the middle of the day, be sure to water near the crown of the plant so you’re not burning the leaves.

How frequently should I water my plants? Water for a longer period of time once or twice a week rather than lightly and more frequently. This allows the water to really get down to the roots, where they most need it.

Does it matter where I water my plants? Even though rain water comes from above, it’s best to water plants closer to the roots whenever possible. A soaker hose works well and allows water to penetrate deep into the soil. Watering near the roots also helps prevent fungal spores from traveling to other leaves and plants.

Should I mulch around my plants? Mulching your plants will help plants hold in moisture, shade out the weeds, and keep the roots cooler in summer (and warmer in winter). But don’t overdo the mulch! Don’t place more than two to three inches of mulch around your plants or you’ll suffocate them. Also, you don’t want the mulch to touch the plant crown as this can rot them and they may die. Leave a good inch or two around each plant.

Do potted plants need more water? Plants in containers generally dry out more quickly than plants in the ground. The smaller the container, the faster it will dry out. Rosie Lerner, the Extension Consumer Horticulture Specialist at Purdue University, says, “Container plants on the patio will really be stressed during extreme heat, since their soil temps are going to be considerably higher than those in a garden bed. In addition to watering more frequently in hot weather, provide afternoon shade to help keep them a bit cooler.”

I hope this helps eliminate some of the confusion around watering your plants. It’s always a good idea to read your plant tags, though (and keep them!) to know if they are drought-tolerant (they will want less water) or like “wet feet” (they will want more water). Be sure to plant them with other plants that have similar watering requirements.

Happy gardening!

Cherry Lyn Hoffner is a freelance writer and garden enthusiast who’s been studying gardening and dabbling in her own garden for 12 years in various locations around Northwest Indiana.