Whether you're caring for houseplants or a vegetable garden, understanding how to properly water your plants is an essential step in keeping them happy and healthy.
watering plants with green canister
Credit: Guido Mieth/Getty

When it comes to watering plants, "less" means life, and "more" means death by drowning. "The number one killer of plants is overwatering," says Karen Musgrave, marketing and education specialist at Hicks Nurseries, in Westbury, New York. Don't water your plants on a strict schedule, such as every day or every other day; instead, only water them when they need it. Keep on reading to learn simple ways to keep plants flourishing.

Stick your finger in the soil to gauge watering needs.

No fancy gardening equipment is required to figure out whether or not you should water your houseplants, vegetable garden, or outdoor planters. "Put your finger about two inches into the soil," says Musgrave. "If the soil feels moist, don't water it; if it feels dry or on the verge of being dry, then water it." Roots are the lifeline of the plant, deep in the soil and growing. But if they get waterlogged and rot, they can't absorb water, nutrients, or oxygen-all things a plant needs to grow. "When you overwater, it's like you're drowning the plant," says Musgrave.

Don't be fooled by a dry top layer.

The top layer of soil dries the quickest since it's closest to the surface and sunlight. A visual investigation doesn't work-the finger test described above gives you a much more accurate idea of what's happening to the soil you can't see.

Not watering enough is trouble, too.

If you're stingy with the H2O, that's also bad news. Thirsty plants get stressed and are more prone to pests and disease. Their growth will also slow down.

Think early when planning to water.

You can easily shortchange your plants by watering at the wrong time of day. The most optimal time is early morning evening when temperatures are at their coolest (early evening is okay, too). If you water plants at a time of day when the sun was hot and blazing, the water on leaves will evaporate too quickly, leaving plants parched until the next watering.

Don't water too often.

Avoid frequent watering as most plants don't need it more than once or twice a week. A light, frequent watering harms plants' root systems more than it helps them-roots will grow near the surface of the soil and dry out.

Water deeply.

When you do it, do it thoroughly so water reaches the roots. To water deeply, place a hose or watering can at the base of the plant, avoiding the leaves, which don't need water and could become diseased if wet overnight. Keep the water going until it's steeped into the soil. Distribute water evenly around the entire plant rather than pointing the nozzle towards a single area.


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