So how do you know how much water to give your containers? Here are time tested tips for watering plants in pots.
- Check Moisture Level - Before watering plants, check to see if your plant really needs it - the top of the potting mix can look dry, even though just below the potting mix line it is still moist.
- A good way to check to see if your plant needs to be watered is to stick your index finger into the potting mix all the way up to the second knuckle - if you can feel moisture, do not water. If it feels dry at your fingertip, your plants need water.
- Water Deeply- The most important thing when watering plants is to give them a good, long drink - optimally, until water runs out the hole in the bottom of your container. The container has had enough water if, after you have given it a good drink and the water has had a few minutes to settle, you can feel the moisture 2 to 3 inches from the top. You do this because, depending on the size of your pot, many of the plant's roots will be down towards the bottom and you want them to be able to get water too. It will also encourage roots to grow down toward the bottom of the pot, which is better for plants.
- If the container is quite dry, the water will drain quickly out the bottom, leaving very little water to be absorbed in the soil. If this is the case, keep giving the container a drink every few minutes until the water stops draining from the bottom.
- Over-watering is as big of a problem as under-watering, so make sure you check your containers regularly - at least once a day or two times - if the pots are small, and it is a hot day. To help keep the moisture from evaporating from your pot, covering the top of the mix with leaves, or even shredded newspaper can prevent the moisture from evaporating too quickly, especially in hot weather. Mulching also works well when you are growing vegetable plants that prefer a cooler soil like spinach, lettuce, and Brassicas because it will keep the soil a bit cooler as well.
- Away from Home - If you are going away on vacation, especially for an extended period during the summer months, make sure you have someone water your containers while you are gone. Using a drip system on a timer is an option if you are going to be gone for a short period of time. Just make sure the hoses are secured in the containers so they get watered properly. If you only have a few pots, try cutting off the bottom of a pop bottle or plastic milk carton and placing the top of the bottle securely into the soil. Then fill the container with water. If the container is well moistened to begin with, the water will slowly be released as it is needed. This is a great option if you are gone for only a day or two. Do not use a sprinkler when watering your pots as the pot often does not get enough water in it to be effective.
- Know Your Plants - Most plants prefer to live in moist potting mix, not wet, just damp. Fortunately with "MahaGro all purpose premium potting mix", which is designed for good drainage, this is possible. However, different plants have very different moisture needs. Some plants like to be dry, some like to be a bit dry between waterings and then there are those princessy plants that, if they get even a little dry, will swoon and drop all their buds and leaves.
- However, as a rule of thumb, flowering annuals don't like to get too dry. Succulents like to be a bit dry and vegetables - particularly those that are juicy (tomatoes, cucumbers, melons) - like to be kept moist and need a huge amount of water. Some herbs (basil, rosemary, thyme, dill, oregano, cilantro) like to dry a little between watering and the flavor will be stronger if they do. Some herbs like (parsley, sage, chives) like more moisture. One way to keep track of your plants' watering preferences always nearby is to keep the plant tag, either under the pot or buried in the potting mix.
- Water in the Morning - According to Horticulture Magazine, plants' roots are more receptive to watering in the morning and the evening and less so in the midday sun. However, it's not a good idea (if you can prevent it) to water in the evening, because when you let water sit on the leaves overnight, your plant is more likely to contract some plant diseases, like mildew. That said, if you get home from work and your plants are dry, even if it's in the evening, give them a good long drink.
- Water the Soil, Not the Leaves - It turns out that some plants - ones with hairy leaves - are susceptible to sunburn if you get water on their leaves in the sun. Water droplets can act like mini-magnifying glasses and burn your plant. Even if your plant's leaves are smooth, it is still a good idea to water the soil and not the leaves, if you can. Wet leaves can lead to an increased chance of fungus, mildew and other diseases.
- Don't Rely on the Rain - Even if you think that a rain shower has watered your plants, check anyhow. Sometimes a plant's foliage and flowers can act like an umbrella and actually keep water from getting to your potting mix - shedding the moisture right out of the container.
- Don't Let Soil Dry Out Completely - Most potting mixes become tough and won't absorb water efficiently, if you let them completely dry out. Your potting mix can also pull away from the sides of your containers when it gets too dry, so while you may think you are giving your plant a good drink of water, the water may be just flowing over the potting mix, going down the sides of the pot and out the bottom, leaving your plant gasping for a drink. If you do let your potting mix dry out, you have a couple of options. If your pot is relatively small, you can take the whole thing and submerge it in a larger container of water, taking it out when it has stopped bubbling. For a large pot or one that is difficult to move, poke holes in the potting mix with a pencil or skewer, and then give it a good drink, making sure the water is penetrating the potting mix and not just flowing down the sides.
- Don't Assume Once is Enough - Depending on where you live, the size of your pots, and the kind of plant you use, don't be surprised if you end up having to water your potted gardens more than once a day. Heat, wind and dry air can quickly parch your plants. Terra cotta pots, hanging baskets made from coir and metal pots all can dry our ridiculously fast on a hot, windy summer day. Over the season, you will probably get to know which containers need to be checked more than once a day, but when they are first planted, it's a good idea to check your containers in the morning and again in the afternoon.
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