Tips For Watering Your Plants
By Danica Dodson, Arlington Parks & Recreation
Posted on May 13, 2020, May 13, 2020

watering the lawn

When it comes to watering, many new gardeners have questions about how to properly hydrate their plants without going overboard. When and how often should I water? Does watering depend on plant type? What about weather and time of year? APRD’s Urban Forestry Land Manager Wendy Pappas answers these questions with some tips on how to best care for your plants through watering.

When should you water your plants? The answer to this question is more complicated than you might think, because it differs depending on plant type as well as the time of year. Trees, shrubs, and flowers all require different watering practices for healthy growth. It’s important to remember that watering is not one-size-fits-all! This means you should not simply set your sprinkler schedule and forget about it; proper watering will require your sprinkler system to be continually adjusted based on the time of year, rainfall, and plant type.

Water According to Plant Type

Different plants need various amounts of water at different times throughout the year, and grass is a great example of this. Turf grass requires specific watering depending on if it falls into the category of warm season or cool season turf grass. For instance, Bermuda grass is a warm season turf grass that thrives during the hot summer months. If you want your cool season grass green during warmer months, it will need more water than Bermuda grass would need at the same time of year. This same idea goes for growing Bermuda grass during cooler months.

When to Water Trees 

 Trees usually only need to be watered for their first few years of growing. After this, they should be able to grow well with only rainwater and no extra watering should be needed. During the first few years of watering, trees should be watered deeply but not every day. Reserve watering only for when the soil beneath the tree has dried out; this will allow for deeper root growth. Throughout winter, trees should not really need extra water except if the soil gets very dry. Use your best judgment for watering trees based on how moist the soil feels. 

When to Water Shrubs 

Shrubs are very similar to trees in the amount and frequency of watering they require. They should be watered deeply a few times a week, particularly during the hot summer months when the soil becomes dry. In cooler months, shrubs require very little water or may not need any extra water at all depending on rainfall.

When to Water Flowers

Flowers need more water during the time that they are actively growing. Wildflowers can often survive with only rainwater, while other flowers will require occasional watering. For example, annuals will need some extra water but be careful not to drown them. Again, you can use the rule of thumb to water your flowers when the soil feels dry. If the soil still feels quite moist, no extra water is needed.

Watering Technique

The best technique for watering is to water your plants until there is a little bit of water running off, and make sure to water deeply. During the hot and dry months, the soak and cycle method works best – this technique mimics natural rainfall by soaking the soil then allowing the water to penetrate into the ground. Simply soak your plants until you see a little water running off, wait around ten minutes for the water to soak in, and then water until runoff once more. This type of deep watering helps with deep root growth so you will not have to water as often.

How Often Should I Water?

The simplest answer to this question is to water when needed. There are several observations you can make in order to tell if your plants are in need of water. As mentioned, one important indicator is the wetness of the soil. Do the first few inches of soil still feel moist? If so, there is no need to water. Wait until the first few inches feel more on the dry side.

In addition to the soil, you can often tell if your plants need water by looking at the leaves. Many plants will let you know when they need water by curling their leaves. For example, hydrangeas have huge leaves that develop an obvious curl when it’s time to water. Likewise, Bermuda grass will curl when it needs water, although it may be harder to tell with grass. If your lawn is looking thin instead of full, this means the grass is curling and needs water. Interestingly, Bermuda grass will also develop a blue hue when it begins to dry out, so keep an eye out for any changes in color as this could indicate a need for hydration.

We hope these watering tips help you determine when and how often to water your beautiful plants and help them thrive. Check back in next week for more gardening tips from APRD’s Forestry and Beautification team!

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