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Watering Tips for Container Gardens

Some garden planters will need watering every day, others only once a week. Learning how much and when to water and—how to tell if your plant is in distress—will make all the difference to your success in growing healthy plants in your container garden.

A general rule is to wait until the top layer (1 inch) of the soil in the garden planter is slightly dry—lighter in color and texture—then water deeply, until water runs out of the drainage holes. If the water seems to run quickly through the plant soil, place a tray or saucer underneath the planter and empty any water remaining in the saucer the next day.This often indicates that the soil has dried out too much between watering.

watering outdoor planters Hanging planters, terracotta and clay pots, small planters and windowboxes tend to dry out quickly, sometimes requiring watering twice a day in the hottest part of summer. Be extra careful if a hot spell comes on suddenly and make sure you provide extra water to avoid stress to your plants.

If disaster strikes and the planter dries out completely and your plants are drooping sadly, you may still be able to save them. Place the planter inside a bucket or larger container full of water and let it soak for an hour or two. You can often save a plant once or twice with this technique, but eventually the stress will be too much for the plant. Pay extra attention to any plants that have been stressed to prevent re-occurence.

For those gardeners who are very busy or perhaps a little ‘forgetful’ when it comes to watering their pots and planters, taking a look at the great variety of self-watering planters might be a good idea. Although you can’t walk away from these planters and have them look after all of your planters’ watering requirements all season, they do help reduce frequency of watering tasks for you.

Tips and techniques for successful watering:

  • Water with tepid, not cold, water to avoid shocking roots.
  • If your water is chlorinated, let it stand in a pan overnight before using it. This will allow the chlorine to evaporate.
  • Avoid using “softened” water on plants. The sodium that softeners use will eventually kill a plant.
  • Water only in the morning to avoid fungal problems (from night watering) or evaporation (mid-day watering).
  • Water deeply—until the entire soil mass is wet—to encourage healthy root formation.
  • Using clay or terracotta planters—water more often. Clay loses up to three times the amount of water to evaporation than other materials do.
  • Group plants with similar watering needs.
  • Use a long-necked spout if watering plants from the top. You’ll avoid splashing the leaves, which can lead to spotting and disease in some plants, and you’ll be able to direct the water more carefully to all areas of the pot’s surface.

Watering Techniques for Garden Planters

Most experts recommend a combination of at least the first two as the best approach:

Top Watering

This technique is very good at flushing away any excess fertilizer salts that collect in the plant, but it can be an ineffective watering method. If the soil pulls away from the sides of the pot, water will run right through. Some fragile plants are also very susceptible to damage when water gets on them. A much better method for plants such as this is:

Bottom Watering

To ensure thorough watering, this method is best. Fill the saucer that the pot rests on, letting the plant drink as much as it wants. Remember to empty the saucer after 30 minutes to avoid letting the plant set too long in water, which can lead to root rot.

Total Immersion

A bit drastic, but it does insure that water reaches the entire plant. Place the plant into a sink or container so that water is one inch over the top of the pot. After all the bubbles have disappeared, take the pot out and let it drip dry.

Watering Problems

Under-watering causes leaves to wilt and start to turn brown around the edges. A little water will bring them back to life if they’re mature, younger plants may not survive. This will not get rid of the already brown leaf edges.

A plant suffering from over-watering may appear to actually need water. The leaves will wilt and turn yellow, sometimes dropping off—suspiciously similar to the signs of under-watering. Feeling the soil in the planter is the best way to avoid adding to the problem by watering an already over-watered plant.

Trying to water on a schedule will only lead to frustration—plants rarely co-operate with this approach. The variations in weather make schedules irrelevant. Use the ‘touch’ and water when soil is dry technique and you’ll have much better results.

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