One of the most frequent questions we get from customers is about watering container gardens. Everyone knows that plants need water to survive, but many people are not sure how to water their gardens properly. How do I water container gardens? Am I watering too much? Not enough?
So, we’ve decided to give you some guidelines for best practices of watering your container garden.
How often should I be watering container gardens?
Plants in containers demand to be watered more often than plants that are in the ground. Think about it, plants in containers are confined to that small space whereas plants in the ground can stretch their roots far. Soil also moves water up towards plant roots via capillary action. I know it’s geeky, but it makes sense once you realize that your container plant is 100% dependent on you.
One of the easiest ways to figure out if a potted plant needs water is by picking it up. The trick is to know the weight of your pot when it’s dry and then when it’s wet. Once you know, you can ask yourself “Does the pot feel heavy”? If so, the plant already has enough water. When the pot feels light, on the other hand, that’s an indication that this pot should be watered. After watering, test the weight of the pot again to make sure the water saturated the soil and didn’t just run out the bottom as it commonly does.
TIP: Rock those large pots you have back and forth to determine if it’s heavy or not. Don’t rely on the “finger poke soil test” as a good indicator of soil moisture. You can’t judge the moisture of the entire pot with your finger.
How much water does it take?
When watering your container garden, a good rule of thumb is to water a one-gallon container for a “LOVE” count, or about one second. A three-gallon container gets an “I LOVE YOU,” or about 3 seconds. Repeat this with several passes until the weight feels right. Over time, you will develop an understanding of how many passes it will take until the soil is saturated. Switch up the words by choosing your own, counting, or playing a song. The point is to apply a consistent amount of water each time. It’s fun and lets the plants know you care about them, give it a try!
Be aware that large plants will dry out faster as their root systems drink up more water. Also, hot days and high wind can dry the soil faster. Small plants, cool days, and no wind can mean that the soil does not dry out from one watering to another. Finally, the larger the pot the more water that can be stored within the soil.
TIP: Most often, soil can hold up to 20 – 25% of its volume by water. If you have a 5 gallon pot, it may need a gallon of water each watering.
When is a good time for watering my container gardens?
It’s important that the plants soil dry down thoroughly before its next watering. A wet to dry process promotes oxygen in the soil and allows plants to grow deep roots. To ensure this, water between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. in the morning and between 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon.
Watering after 3:30 in the winter can prevent the plant to dry off before nightfall which can encourage plant diseases. When in doubt, water early mornings over late evenings
Tip: If your plant seems like it isn’t dry yet, but it will be soon feel free to give it a water during these recommended times.
Wet plants increase plant diseases
Remember that the longer a plant stays wet, the higher the chance for disease to arise. This is another reason why we always advocate to water the soil and not the actual plant when possible. Depending on many factors (the size of the container, location—indoors, outdoors, full sun or shade), you may need to water twice a day, once a day, a couple times per week, or weekly. Our goal is for you to learn to be confident in what your plants need.
Tip: Use a watering can that can let you water the soil without watering the actual foliage of the plant. Additionally, you can place your plant container in a larger pot with no holes. Once you learn how much water you use each time, add it directly to the larger pot allowing the soil to slowly soak it up.
My plant is wilted!
You might be watering on schedule but you notice that your potted plant looks droopy and sad. Maybe you just watered for a really long time, watched the water come pouring out the bottom of the pot and the plant still looks like it’s begging for water.
Here’s something to watch out for: soil in containers can become hydrophobic. Yes, it develops a kind of phobia against water! This means that the potting soil literally repels water rather than absorbing it. The water simply runs down the edges of the soil and out the bottom on the container which is never fun.
Here are 6 tips of what to do (or not do) if your plant won’t absorb water
- Don’t let your soil become bone dry before watering.
- Water lightly and frequently over a period of time to re-hydrate your soil instead of flooding it
- Use an organic wetting agent such as: Yucca Syrup, Jadaam Wetting Agent, or Horticultural Soap to increase the soils absorption of water.
- Fill a solid container with a couple inches of water and place your container inside to soak up the water.
- Re-pot your plant using a coconut coir based potting mix. Don’t use potting mix with a peat as peat is notorious for becoming hydrophobic.
- Increase the size of your container if it is frequently wilting. Your plant may be too large, drinking more water than the soil can hold
TIP: Never use the dish detergent home remedy you see on Pintrest, Facebook, or some random meme ! As a last resort, an unscented Castile soap is better than many household soaps. (We’ll talk more on this later)
See, it’s not so complicated after all! Keep your eyes on your inbox for another blog post about irrigation. Next time we’ll focus on watering your raised garden beds. Stay tuned!