Best Practices for Watering Plants

7 Tips for Watering Plants - Longfield Gardens

Experienced gardeners know that there’s much more to watering plants than turning on a sprinkler or filling up a watering can. Plants need water, but they also need the right amount of water — not too much and not too little.

As the great American horticulturist Liberty Hyde Bailey, wrote in 1917, “the watering of plants usually exhibits the skill of the gardener or the lack of it. It is a practice that cannot be well explained in print.” 

Experience and skill are very important, but watering correctly is also about slowing down and paying attention. On any given day, there are always several different factors at play. These include the type of plant and how mature it is, the soil, the weather, the sun exposure and the time of year. Here are some best practices to guide you when watering plants:

7 Tips for Watering Plants - Longfield Gardens

Best Practices for Watering Plants

1. Check the Soil Before Watering
The best moisture meter is at the end of your hand. If the soil surface looks dry, use your finger to check. Dig down 1-2″ and see if the soil feels dry. If so, it’s time to water. If not, wait a day.

2. Water Where the Roots Are
Focus on watering the soil rather than the leaves. As you are doing so, imagine the roots underground. They are usually about the same width as the plant and may be about half as deep as the plant is tall. Keep applying water until you think the entire root ball has been thoroughly soaked.


3. Water Slowly
If the soil surface is very dry, water may puddle or run off and not be absorbed. To break the “surface tension,” start with a sprinkle and gradually build up to a thorough soak. Once the top few inches are moist, the water will be absorbed more readily.

4. Make Every Drop Count
Use a watering can, watering wand, drip irrigation or soaker hoses to direct water right to the root zone. Water early or late in the day so the water you apply will soak into the soil rather than evaporate. Shielding plants from wind will also reduce moisture loss.

5. Don’t Overwater

Plants need oxygen as much as they need water. For most plants, it’s best to let the soil surface dry out a bit between waterings. This is especially important with container plants. As a general rule, it’s best to water deeply and less frequently. Note that in the heat of the day, some plants wilt to conserve moisture. Before rushing to water, wait to see if they perk up again when evening comes.


6. Avoid Periods of Drought
When the soil becomes very dry, it can kill the fine, hair-like projections on the ends of the roots. These root hairs are responsible for absorbing most of the water and nutrients that plants require. Though they can regrow these roots, doing so saps energy that would otherwise be used to produce fruit and flowers.

7. Use Mulch to Conserve Moisture
Covering the soil with a 1-2″ layer of organic mulch such as compost, shredded leaves or bark, or pine needles, can help reduce evaporation and minimize runoff. Don’t over do it. A thick application of mulch can work against you by absorbing moisture and preventing it from reaching plant roots.

To learn more about caring for your garden, you may also be interested in reading: How and Why to Fertilize Your Plants.