By now, you know the ins and outs of watering your indoor plants in order to help them thrive. You even have tricks up your sleeve (like the dirt test!) that never fail to keep them healthy. But what’s the protocol for keeping your outdoor plants happy and hydrated, too? Nick Cutsumpas, the plant coach and urban farmer behind Farmer Nick, is here with all the answers.
When is the best time to water plants?
According to Cutsumpas, there really is a right time to water your outdoor plants, whether you’re taking care of potted plants or a vegetable garden. “Do so in the morning a few hours before or after sunrise,” he says. And there’s a reason for that very specific timing. “Watering in the morning allows your plants to absorb more because less water is evaporated in the cooler temperatures. Watering at night may seem like a good alternative, but without the sun to warm the plants and soil, excess and standing water may lead to rot and fungus issues.” Two things you definitely don’t want.
What about watering during a heatwave?
Unlike indoor plants where the temperature is better controlled, you can’t do much about summer heatwaves. During those situations, your plants’ watering needs will change, and Cutsumpas says the key is striking a balance between conserving as much water as you can while still giving enough to your plants. “The best way to do this is delivering water straight down to the soil as opposed to top watering—aka standing with a hose and spraying the foliage on your plants,” he says. “Not all of the water reaches the soil, and water on the leaves can lead to fungal issues like powdery mildew.”
While there are certain container gardens—like the EarthBox ($33)—that have a built-in water tube that makes it easy to water plants from the soil, you can also automate the process if you have a bigger garden. “I set up a drip irrigation system, which runs throughout my garden. Each drip can be adjusted to release more or less water depending on the plant in question, and I set up a timer so that it goes off every morning automatically,” he says. “It’s the most efficient way to deliver the exact amount of water directly to the base of the plant.”
A smart way to preserve water during these heatwaves is to set up rain barrels. “They’re a great way to collect water that can be stockpiled for climates where drought is prevalent,” says Cutsumpas. There are many different options available online that range from collapsible and portable rain barrels ($43) to beautiful options that can collect rain straight from your gutter ($218). In times where running the hose isn’t an option, having rain water stockpiled and ready to go can save your garden.
How often should you be watering your outdoor plants?
As far as how often you should be watering your outdoor plants, Cutsumpas says it totally depends on the plant, the soil, and the weather. “A tomato is a heavy feeder and will require water nearly every day, where a hardy ground cover like sedum can go days without water,” he says. “Soil quality can also impact the water retention, and mulch can be applied to keep the soil moist. But in general, I water every day.”
Since you’re dealing with outdoor plants, you’ll also want to pay close attention to the weekly forecast. “A savvy gardener also monitors the weather to make sure they aren’t overwatering on rainy days,” he says. “Some automated irrigation systems can tap into your WiFi and control the water based on the rain forecast.”
While Cutsumpas says the finger test—where you stick your finger an inch or two into the soil and see if it’s moist or not—can apply to outdoor plants as well, there’s another way you can figure out when it’s time to water, too. “You’ll notice leaves shriveling and drooping,” he says. With that being said, there’s more room for error when it comes to watering. “I notice my outdoor plants are a bit less dramatic than my indoor plants, and more well-established outdoor plants can handle periods of drought.”
When you’re used to dealing with indoor plants, taking your plant mom skills to the outside world can be an adjustment. It won’t be long before you get the hang of it and have an outdoor garden that’s thriving just as much as all your other plant babies.
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