Subtle Signs Your Garden Needs More Water

Subtle Signs Your Garden Needs More Water

Aug 12, 2021

Plants are remarkable living organisms, capable of producing some of Mother Nature's most beautiful works of art. Maintaining a garden can be a very rewarding experience as you watch the plants you planted responding to your care. It is important to strike a balance between fussing or tinkering with the elements in your garden and then leaving the plants alone to work their magic. Part of that balance involves watching for signs and changes in the plants themselves.

Plants have to have a few essential needs met in order to engage in photosynthesis and grow - they need light, water, and nutrients. Light is the 'photo' part of photosynthesis, which is how plants create energy for themselves. Plants need nutrients in a similar way we do - nutrients are needed in order to help cells function properly. But plants need water for a multitude of reasons.

Why Do Plants Need Water?

  • Plants are made of 85% - 90% water.
  • Through transpiration (breathing water out from their foliage), plants then pull water from the roots and fill each cell with water. This is how they maintain their structure and stay upright.
  • Water is what moves nutrients in the soil to the roots
  • Water is a key component of photosynthesis - light alone won't finish the equation.

Plants need water and they need balance. Overwatering and underwatering both cause health issues for plants, but overwatering can sometimes be very difficult to recover from. Root rot is one of the main issues that can arise from overwatering plants - this is a bacterial infection that kills away roots, and it can be very difficult to recover from if not treated quickly. Other fungal infections thrive in wet conditions, such as black spot on roses. Too much water can suffocate the roots. With all of these concerns, it can be easy to lean towards caution and water your plants less.

Seedling example of turgidity in plants from the water they need

Underwatering can pose major issues, especially in the summer. Why does heat and hot weather affect a plant's ability to stay hydrated? It goes back to the process of transpiration we discussed earlier. Transpiration is how plants keep water flowing up and out to their leaves constantly. It is also how they cool off - plants sweat just like we do! So, in the heat, the water leaving the leaves through transpiration will evaporate faster, meaning they need more water than usual to keep up.

Knowing which plants need what and when is a challenge that can make gardening feel exciting or immensely frustrating. Water can be especially tricky for outdoor gardens since you have to consider natural water resources in addition to your own watering schedule. Once you know what to look for, you can begin to develop a routine that's perfect for your plants and you.

Signs Your Plants Need More Water

  • The ground is cracked and dry. Check the soil with a trowel, at least 2 or so inches below the soil to be sure, not just the top.
  • Stunted growth.
  • Small leaves.
  • They're producing less flowers / less fruit than usual, or no flowers. This and slow growth are signs that plants are conserving energy.
  • Their flowers become spent sooner, or they've gone to seed early.
  • Poor leaf color or leaf structure. Leaves could turn brown, even if just at the tips, become papery, and start to curl inwards. Yellow leaves can mean underwatering, overwatering, or poor nutrition, so compare yellow leaves with other signs.
  • Your tree or shrub has started to drop leaves.
  • Wilting. This one needs context, since they can also wilt from overwatering and from the heat. Is the soil very dry to the touch at least an inch or two below the surface? Are they still wilting even after the weather cools in the evening? If so, you probably need to water more frequently.

How To Help Plants Recover From Underwatering

First, give the area a good, deep watering in the morning. Watering in the morning helps prevent water from evaporating away but allows time for the leaves to dry. We recommend letting your hose run for enough time to let the water soak into the deeper parts of the soil. Typically, you'd want to water each plant for 5 seconds for its approximate root-ball size. A smaller plant that has a root ball that could fit into a 1-gallon nursery pot only needs 5 or so seconds of water. A larger plant with a root ball that would fit into a 7-gallon nursery container will need 35 seconds of water.

Tree branch wilting with leaves that are too small signs of underwatering

This is a rule of thumb for routine watering, so you'll want to extend this slightly if you are re-hydrating an area. You can leave the hose out and slowly move it down the line a few minutes at a time for larger gardens. Your plants should respond to being re-hydrated within 24 to 48 hours. If not, look into potential issues that may also be affecting the health of your plants.

Next, determine how you should adjust your watering schedule. On average (and this is a generalization), gardens thrive with 1 inch of water per week. In the summer, especially in areas with hot summer and arid temperatures, this can go up to 1 1/2 to 2 inches per week. Imagine your entire garden is a 2-inch shallow swimming pool. How long would it take to fill it all the way up? Now, what if a good amount of that water evaporated away? Hopefully, you can see how quickly a garden can dry out in the summer. Sandy soils will lose water even faster, but clay soil won't allow water to flow and carry nutrients properly.

We will rarely ever tell someone to water every day, as you can easily run the risk of overwatering. If you are used to watering once a week, then going up to twice a week should do the trick. If you already water twice a week and you're still seeing signs of dry plants, go up to three waterings and check your mulch. Mulch is a great way to prevent water from evaporating from the ground in the heat. If you have established plants that you don't usually need to water or worry about, but it is especially dry, then water them once a week until the rain comes or the weather cools.

some plants needs twice as much water in the summer lady with watering can

Helpful Tools & Tricks for Watering Your Garden

Drip-line watering, irrigation soaker hoses, or Water Gator bags can help with the chore of extra watering. These home irrigation systems allow a tiny bit of water into the ground all the time, so the plant stays evenly hydrated. If you have planted a new garden and there are a lot of thirsty trees and shrubs, these tools can come in very handy!

If you have regular rain in your area, you may still need to water your garden. Light showers won't always saturate far enough into your garden soil. To see if enough rain fell to skip a watering, invest in a rain gauge or try this great DIY trick: leave a few empty cans with flat sides outside next to your garden, like an old tomato paste can or pet food can. Mark the inches on the inside with a waterproof marker. Next time it rains, see how high the rainwater made it in the cans. That's how much water blanketed your garden, and you may be surprised to learn it's less (or more) than you thought.

rain gauge is helpful to determine how much water your plants need

Try and plan your garden in such a way where plants with similar water needs are planted together. Native perennials and native shrubs (like Black-Eyed-Susans and Black Haw Viburnum) won't need as much water as hybrids since they evolved in this environment. Roses and Skip Cherry Laurels both prefer to be watered at ground level, they don't respond well to wet leaves in the summer. Plants that need less water can be further away, and plants that will need more water like Hostas should all be grouped closer to your house to make the watering chore that much easier.

Make sure to peruse all of the great tools and fertilizers Garden Goods Direct offers: these can help your plants get exactly the right amount of water they need to thrive with big, beautiful blooms and thick, healthy foliage. You can also read our collections, product pages, and plant guides for all the information you need about how to water each and every plant we offer.

three hoses along perennials soaking soil relieving chore of watering in summer