The main reason that plants die is because they are either given too much or too little water. With the poor draining, heavy clay soil in our area it is especially important to improve drainage at planting time to prevent moisture problems. The following tips should help to ensure the success of your plants. Remember to always use a plant starter such as Espoma’s Biotone whenever you are planting trees, shrubs, and bedding plants.

How To Water

For most plants, use a hose with a nozzle. You will want a moderate flow of approximately four gallons per minute. A good check is to get the water to fill a gallon container in 13-17 seconds. Put the hose directly at the base of each plant. This method allows water to soak down two feet into the ground where the roots need the water most. Use a sprinkler or a hose with a spray nozzle for ground cover. This method is not recommended for larger plants and trees.

How Much To Water (Use a Hose Without a Nozzle)

General Plant Size / Minutes

  • 1 – 2′ / 2
  • 2 – 3′ / 3
  • 3 – 5′ / 5
  • 6 – 8′ / 6
  • 1.5 – 2″ caliper / 8
  • 2 – 2.5″ caliper / 10
  • 2.5 – 3″ caliper / 12
  • 3″ or larger caliper / 15

In clay soil with poor drainage, you will find that watering will have to be done in 2 to 3 minute intervals; the water will need time to sink in. To save time, water your large plants first, then water the small ones. When that is done you can return to your larger ones for a second round of watering.

When To Water

The more porous the soil, the more you will have to water. You will need to water more in the late spring and summer when temperature begin to climb and rain storms become scarce. Plants in the shade do not need as much water as those in the sun. Foundation plants on the south and west sides of your house will need water more often, as the sun is usually the hottest on these sides. In general, your plants should be watered heavily when first planted, and every other day for their first three weeks in the ground. Afterwards, water when the soil is dry.

Other Watering Tips

Water, water everywhere, but not always where you want it, when you want it there. The legendary kingdom of Camelot had a great rule: “The rain may never fall till after sundown. By eight, the morning fog must disappear.” Unforuntately in our parts we have to deal with what we get. In most cases, established plantings do just fine with what nature furnishes, but it’s a different story when it comes to lawns and newly planted trees and shrubs. Summer often brings hot, dry spells when supplemental watering is a must. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

For Your Lawn

If you have just seeded, don’t let the seeds get dry. Once the sprouting process has begun (even if you can’t see it) if the seed dries out it dies. Make sure you water it daily to keep seeds moist while they’re starting to grow.

Grass can be shallow-rooted and fast, frequent douses of water can cause the roots to stay near the surface where it’s moist. When you water your lawn, water it deeply and thoroughly, which will encourage roots to grow deep, helping the grass prepare for the next dry period. Try for at least an inch of water per week.

Watering your lawn should be done early in the morning so it doesn’t evaporate as quickly and your lawn has something refreshing to sip on all day long.

Trees, Shrubs, and Flowers

Placing mulch around the base of your plants will help to reduce evaporation and protect plant roots from the hot sun. It also reduces weeds, which are additional competition for the available water.

As with your lawn, trees and shrubs should be watered slowly, with water soaking down to the depth of the rootball. If you are using a regular hose, turn it on with very low pressure so that it trickles over and into the roots without running off. You will want to leave it on long enough to have applied a gallon of water for most shrubs, and up to two gallons for larger ones.

IMPORTANT REMINDER – Even if your trees and shrubs get wet from an automatic irrigation system, it is not enough water to replace a thorough soaking. For a row of annuals or perennials, a soaker hose is ideal. This method covers a lot of plants at the same time and delivers water to the roots while you do something else.

Containers and Hanging Baskets

These plants have roots that are restricted and cannot spread out to seek additional water during dry spells. Make sure your containers have drainage holes so roots do not sit in water and rot. You may want to consider a water-grabbing product like Soil Moist to add to your potting medium. These gel crystals expand with water and then release the water into the soil as the soil dries.