Did you know that you can kill some plants just as easily from too much water as not enough water?

The confusing thing is that a plant that is being overwatered even looks like a plant that does not have enough water – wilting, brown leaf tips, yellow leaves, and leaves that fall off the plant. 

Factors that can cause overwatering

Soil type makes a huge difference in the frequency that additional water may need to be added. 

  • In sandier soils, you will need to water your plants more frequently, as the rain or irrigation drains away from the soil quickly. 
  • Heavier clay soils will not allow the water to percolate as quickly and will hold the water in place for a longer time.  Adding water to clay soils too frequently can cause big problems. 
  • Plants grown in containers depend upon you to supply the proper amount of water.  Make sure the pots you use have holes in the bottom, so excess water can drain away from the soil if too much water has been applied. 

Why don’t plants like lots of water? 

Well, some plants will grow in water or at the water’s edge. However, most of the plants you are using around your home are not water plants. 

Roots are not dumb - they will grow to wherever they find food, oxygen, and water. Roots do not always just grow out in all directions all the same distance from the plant like you might think. 

If the roots are waterlogged, they will not have enough oxygen. This can lead to stress or root rot, which will weaken the plant, or cause it to die. The plant roots may respond by growing closer to the surface and away from the areas that remain wet. 

Ironically, if roots grow close to the surface to escape negative effects of overwatering, your plant will be more vulnerable to times of drought. You want your plants to firmly establish themselves in your garden with deeper root systems.

New plants versus established plants

Newly planted plant materials need you! Don’t install new plants and go on vacation. You need to be there for them. Newly planted bare root or container grown plants will need extra water the day you plant, and more frequent watering’s to keep the plant moist enough to start making new roots into YOUR soil they were planted into. That is the key! 

Plants all respond a bit differently, and timing will depend upon the temperature and weather at planting time – but being attentive to the water needs is crucial for the first couple of weeks. 

How do you know if your newly planted plants need water?

Use your finger by sticking it into the soil up to the 2nd knuckle at the roots.  Feel the soil.  If moist – skip watering that day.  If dry – then give a good drink that day. 

After a couple of weeks, you will notice that your newly planted plants are needing less frequent watering. That’s because the plants have established some by growing new roots into your soil finding their own food, oxygen, and water on their own. Yay!  After they have established, your plants become less dependent upon you to supply any additional water. 

How often do you water older and established plants in your yards? 

It is almost impossible to make a blanket statement about watering with so many variables like soil types climate, and temperatures. Most older and established trees will not need you for a lot of help. With that in mind, watch your weather patterns and if you are not seeing rainfall for longer periods of time that is normal for your area – it would be worth your while for dropping a hose under your Birch tree or other Genus of plant that might needs some additional soil moisture in your area.

Use the finger method for feeling the soil at the roots to feel if plants are needing water. Use mulch over the top of the roots around your plants without mounding any mulch up against the plant stems or the trunks of your trees. Mulch will help to maintain and hold better moisture where it is needed. 

It’s better to water your established plants longer and less frequently, rather than for short, frequent “sprinkles.” Again, you don’t want your roots to grow shallowly near the surface where they can dry out quicker.  A larger volume of water applied to the roots will allow more roots to continue to grow down deep into the soil, where moisture may be more readily available.

Also, water the roots of your plants, and not the leaves or flowers. You’ll keep your plants cleaner and less susceptible to foliage problems. 

The finger test…don’t forget!  It works on house plants too. It’s so simple.