Plants vary widely in their water requirements and the amount of water needed depends on a number of factors: the type of plant, the stage of growth, if it is established or a recent transplant, soil type, weather and time of year. The first thing most of us do when we see our plants drooping, is to rush out and give them a drink. However, a thirsty plant and one that is suffering from overwatering both droop, wilt, and look generally unhappy. How to tell the difference? It all comes down to roots and soil.
The roots of your plant take up the oxygen and nutrients it needs to survive. Unless your plant is a bog or aquatic variety, overwatering will drown your plants by filling the spaces between the particles of soil with water instead of oxygen. Unable to take up the oxygen they need, your plants will start to wilt, their leaves will yellow or have brown tips, and they’ll drop their leaves. Giving your plants more water just exacerbates the problem and can lead to root rot. Once root rot sets in, bringing your plants back to health becomes much more difficult, if not impossible. Letting the soil drain and dry out between waterings allows roots to breathe.
The other side of the coin is underwatering. Roots need consistent moisture to keep from drying out, develop a deep root system, and move nutrients from the soil up into the plant. A plant that is not watered regularly will have a weak and shallow root system that is more susceptible to drying out as they are closer to the surface. Even drought tolerant plants need time for their root systems to develop so that they can draw moisture from deeper in the soil and withstand periods of drought. Regular, deep watering is crucial in developing a healthy root system.
When to Water
If a wilting plant doesn’t necessarily mean it needs water, how to you know when it does? Check the soil moisture. Simply stick your finger into the soil and if it’s dry a couple of inches down, then it’s time to give your plants a good soaking. Try to avoid overhead watering during the middle of the day if it’s hot out as you can scorch your plants. Also, keep an eye on the weather forecast. You don’t want to give your plants a good soaking and then have it rain later that day or evening. If the soil is wet, hold off on the water and check again the following day.
Take a minute or two to check your soil’s moisture while you’re out enjoying your garden and use that as a guide for watering. Don’t rely on schedules or the “inch-per-week” rule of thumb that is often quoted. Plants and gardens are changing, living, unique spaces with so many varying factors that trying to apply a specific watering rule just won’t work. Let your plants and soil be your guide.