Birds are chirping, bees are buzzing, and the sun is shining. Summer has arrived! During the colder months, all we wish for are long, warm summer days - and in many cases, so do our plants. But it’s no surprise that seasonal changes bring challenges to maintaining the health of your plants, both indoors and outdoors. Of course with the heat comes the danger of your beloved plants drying out, but many people overlook the severity of overwatering their plants. In order to better understand how to help your plants stay hydrated all year long, we have to start with what type of plant you have.
How to keep your Houseplants Hydrated
Indoor houseplants are not exposed to the fluctuating changes of an outdoor environment, thus making it easier to regulate their watering schedule. An effective watering schedule is still dependent on the plants you have and the location they are in. Plants in small pots will require more frequent watering due to the lack of soil to retain water. So will foliage plants located in full sun or that have large leaves. Succulents require very little water to thrive. A good rule of thumb is to check them weekly and if you see signs of underwatering like dry leaves or wilt, you will need to increase your frequency.
How to keep your Trees, Shrubs, and Outdoor Plants Hydrated
Outdoor plants, potted or not, are exposed to all of the elements of the outside world, both good and bad. In spring & fall, natural rain typically provides adequate water to outdoor plants. During summer months, outdoor plants are likely to dry out quicker because of the heat, wind, and sun exposure each day. Established plants (meaning those that have been planted in excess of 5 years) can usually sustain themselves on naturally occurring water, but younger or newly planted plants will need supplemental watering. And what about winter? Many people overlook the winter season as a time to monitor plants for water. Cool, biting winds dehydrate evergreen plants quickly, and with little natural moisture, they can actually dry out completely in winter. Check your evergreens at least once per month in winter and make sure the soil is damp. They don’t need much help, but a little drink now and then will get them through the season.
When to water
Early morning has long been touted as the best time to water plants. Leaves have time to dry out during the day, resulting in less fungal infestations. Plants also transpire, or move water from the roots to the leaves, during the day. This means that when water is present in the soil during the day as opposed to overnight, it is more useful to the plant.
Now, I’m not saying that I’ve never watered in the evening. In fact, I’ve had some plants - like Petunias, that require water more than once a day. The trick to evening watering is to make sure that you get as little moisture on the leaves as possible and concentrate water at the root zone.
The golden rule of plant watering is water as much as necessary and as little as possible. What that means is water less frequently, but water thoroughly. You want to apply enough water to soak the soil but not saturate it. Roots must have water available to them, but if they are sitting in water, they will suffocate. There is no magic amount to apply because each plant is different.
The best way to determine if it’s time to water is to do the finger test. Soil should be damp to a depth of 2”. That’s about the same as the distance between the tip of your finger and your second knuckle. If you test the soil using your index finger and it feels damp 2” below the surface - no need to water. If it’s dry - apply water and test again. Soil should be damp but not soggy.
Remember, underwatered plants and overwatered plants can exhibit very similar symptoms. Leaves can wilt, yellow, or drop off entirely. For this reason, it is important to observe the soil conditions.
Watering plants may seem confusing, but it’s absolutely necessary to ensure your plant is happy and healthy. If you want them to add color and vibrancy to your life year round, keeping them sufficiently watered is the least we can do!