It’s the time in the growing season when that spectacular hanging basket you got for Mother’s Day or the bedding plants you put in a few weeks ago begin to look a little weary and watering problems are often the cause. Watering for success takes some practice but it’s easy once you learn a few basic techniques.
There are many variables when watering and the first thing to consider is what kind of pot your plants are in. Plants in clay pots will dry out more quickly than plastic pots do because the clay breathes and allows water to evaporate. If you have hanging baskets planted with coco fiber liners, these will dry out the most quickly of all. Soil is another important factor in watering. Some potting mixes are quite heavy and dense and these will hold more water than a light mix containing a lot of perlite. Weather conditions are the third variable. A hot, windy day when the humidity is low will suck the moisture right out of your plants and watering several times a day is often necessary. The final variable is, of course, which plants you have selected. A succulent like portulaca will require far less water than a marigold.
Plants will perform best when they are kept evenly moist but not soggy. Remember- plants are like people and neither like wet feet! However, allowing them to dry out too much between waterings stresses them out and isn’t good either so the trick is to water on a regular basis. Depending on your conditions this could be daily or just a couple of times a week.
So how do you determine if it’s time to water or not? The good news is that you already have the perfect moisture meter because your finger is the best gardening tool you have. Simply feel down into the soil a few inches to see if the soil is still moist. When it begins to dry or your plants begin to droop, it’s time to water.
Water early in the day if at all possible. This allows the foliage to dry off and lessens the chance for rot or other diseases like mildew to form if leaves stay wet overnight. Watering early in the day also hydrates the plants to help them to survive the heat of the day.
Water long enough to make sure that the container or ground area is thoroughly soaked. For pots and hanging baskets, this means watering until it runs through the bottom. If you don’t water deeply enough, only the top layer of soil will be wet with the roots remaining dry. This deep, through watering is what promotes deep root growth which is what you want for healthy plants.
Avoid overwatering. If you suspect you are overwatering, you can check by removing a plant from your container, or pulling one out of the ground. If the roots are white and healthy looking, then you’re watering correctly. If they are brown or non-existent, then you are overwatering and have rotted the roots. Of all the watering problems, this is one of the most common, especially this year since the ground has remained so wet from the winter.
Proper watering is an art, but it isn’t rocket science and plants can be very forgiving. With a little practice, you’ll be a pro at it with happy, healthy plants throughout the summer season.