Top Tips for Properly Watering Your Plants

No matter what color of your thumb is, you already know that plants need water to survive and reach their full potential. This common and basic knowledge goes back to elementary science class. But what you might not know is that there is a right and wrong way to water your plants. When given improperly to plants, water can do more harm than good – it may put plants at risk for disease and may even kill them.

Poor watering habits can wreak havoc on your plants. Water for too long, and you create an invitation for fungus. Water too little, and the roots can become shallow. Water at day under the sun and the moisture will be lost to evaporation. Water in the evening, and pests may come out to feast.

Watering is a responsibility not to take for granted for a gardener who wants healthy, strong, blooming, and fruitful plants. It seems easy, but it’s actually a challenge.

Here are some of the most helpful tips for properly watering your plants:

Choose the right soil.

To ensure success with your gardening endeavors, always choose the right kind of soil. You may water a plant just right but not get the right results because the problem lies in the ground. When gardening outdoors, fertile soil will be enough to make your plant grow and thrive. You may only need fertilizers or compost for a bountiful harvest and great foliage. But when it comes to potted gardening and indoor gardening, simply taking out soil from your yard and putting it in a pot is not enough. In fact, it’s not a good idea – outdoor garden soil may contain insects, pathogens, and fungi that you may not see, which can result from planting diseases and even filling the house with an infestation of gnats.

Potting soil manufacturers offer different kinds of soil formulas to simplify things for you. Products labeled as “general potting soil” can provide the proper moisture but well-drained quality that most plants prefer. There are potting soils labeled for succulents and cactus because it contains sand and drains faster to provide an ideal environment for plants that prefer dry conditions. Other potting soil mixtures are advertised as suitable for growing vegetables designed to absorb and hold water better than general potting soils.

Meanwhile, there are soils labeled with “moisture control,” which comes with a higher percentage of peat moss, coconut coir, and other moisture-retaining agents. These soils are known to be formulated to prevent overwatering and under-watering, but the truth is, they are best suited for plants that need moist soil.

It’s always best to use a potting mix that’s not overly water-retentive. When looking for potting soil for a houseplant, look for products that contain a draining ingredient, like vermiculite, perlite, or coir. All these ingredients help aerate the soil and encourage draining. For best results, use a potting mix containing more than 1 part of peat moss.

So, when planting your houseplant, succulent, or vegetable– make sure you pick the right kind of soil for them to thrive.

Use the right kind of containers.

While the type of soil is essential, the right kind of container matters, too. Many garden containers are porous, causing the soil to dry out quickly – case in point: terra cotta containers and coir hanging baskets. Metal containers can also increase soil temperatures in containers, which causes the soil to dry out quickly. You can use them, but it’s best to monitor them closely and water them more often than you would water plants in plastic or glazed ceramic containers.

When it comes to size, the general rule of thumb is to buy the largest container you can that is appropriate to the area where you will place them. Outdoor containers and pots must not be smaller than ten inches in diameter, as any smaller can cause the plant to dry out more quickly.

Make sure that you do not put your houseplants in pots without drainage holes. If the water cannot drain out through the bottom of the pot, the roots can rot because of sitting in water for a long time. And when you do, make sure that you don’t forget the empty the water collection tray once in a while. Don’t do it immediately after you water as the plant may reabsorb some of the water there within the next 30 minutes. After that, go ahead and dump the excess.

Check the soil moisture.

Before watering a plant, make sure that it needs water. Over-watering is just as damaging to the plants as under-watering. The soil at the surface might look and feel dry, but the soil might be moist just an inch or two below. Therefore, it’s essential to perform a quick check beneath the ground to ensure you don’t overwater. Keep a wooden dowel handy and insert it a few inches into the soil and pull it out to check.

You can even use a soil moisture gauge to insert directly into the soil so you can find out whether it’s dry, moist, or wet. Large houseplants in small pots can absorb water more quickly than small plants in large pots. When you use a moisture gauge, you can easily decide whether or not to water.

Water the soil, not the foliage.

Plants absorb their much-needed water through the roots, not through leaves, stems, and flowers. So, to properly water your containers, water the soil to reach and be absorbed by the roots. Wetting the foliage can risk fungal diseases, and it wastes water. Another reason to keep the leaves dry is that some plants, especially those with hairy leaves, can be susceptible to sunburn in the hot sun. Droplets can act as mini-magnifying glasses. Sunburn in plants doesn’t happen on smooth-surfaced leaves.

Water deeply.

One of the essential things when watering containers is to water deeply, which means you must see water running out of the drainage holes at the bottom. If it does not, you have not watered enough. Healthy root systems can quickly grow and branch out towards the bottom of the container. It would be best to water enough to ensure that the plant develops strong roots and provides better nutrition for the plants. Frequent shallow waterings discourage the development of deep roots. It keeps the root stay near the surface, where they are susceptible to heat and less able to absorb nutrients that are available deeper in the soil.

But the issue with water deeply is you may tend to overwater. Overwatering increases the risk of root rot or fungal disease. If you see wilting leaves, droopy stems, or a whitish coating at your home, it’s a sign that you’re overwatering your plants. This is why it’s important to use the proper watering tools (which will be discussed next), so you won’t end up giving your plant too much water in order to water deeply.

Use the right kind of watering tools.

For your outdoor garden, do not use broadcast sprinklers. These might seem the easy way to go because they will water the plants for you, but they are simply inefficient. It soaks up the plant’s foliage, plus it causes the water to evaporate even before it reaches the plant on a hot or windy day. A broadcast sprinkler is best used for keeping the grass green but not for use for plants.

Instead, use a watering wand and connect it to your hose – it extends the reach of your arm, allowing you to water directly at soil level without having to stretch or stoop. Then, with the help of a watering wand, you can direct the water to the base of the plant – conserving water and saving yourself from back pain in the process. A watering can also serve the same purpose, but you have to manually refill water, unlike when using a hose.  

Never use a jet-type spray nozzle for watering your plants. These pressurized nozzles are great for washing off dirty driveways, sidewalks, and walls, but the powerful force can damage foliage and blossoms. It also disturbs the soil around the roots of a plant.

For your houseplants, do use a watering can. Trying to water you leafy houseplant using a drinking glass, a mug, or a carafe lets your water spill out over the rim and onto your windowsill or table. The long spout of a watering can help eliminate spills, and it also allows you to water directly at the base of the plant easier.

Hydrate your plants in the morning.

The most efficient time for watering outdoor plants is in the morning, before the heat of the day when the soil is cool, and the water has the best chance of seeping down the soil to be absorbed by the roots. In addition, watering plants early in the morning will ensure that they have enough store of moisture to withstand the heat.

Don’t rely on rain for water.

Even if it rained and you think the rain shower has watered your container plants, don’t be so sure because it’s usually not true. The foliage on the plants usually acts as an umbrella and actually prevents the water from reaching the soil. Rainfall, even those from a heavy storm, may not be enough to saturate the container soil from top to bottom fully.

Don’t let the soil dry out completely.

Most potting mixes can become hard and tough if you let it all dry out. If it happens, it will stop absorbing water. Dried-out potting mixes can also pull away from the sides of the containers, so while you think you’re watering enough, the water may only be flowing down the sides and out the bottom of your container.