Hot Topics     Home and Family    

Are your plants are getting enough water?



Crazy weather matches what’s going on in the world

plants, water, roots

This year, the sun will reach its maximum distance from the equator on June 20th, marking our summer solstice in the Northern hemisphere. There are more sunlit hours on this day than on any other day of the year. In some traditions, the midpoint between sowing and harvesting, or “Midsummer” as it’s known, is a good time to do a little feasting and dancing (the fireflies seem to think so too). After all, the demands of spring have lifted somewhat and, like fledglings catching their own worms, young plants begin to show off their vigor and self-reliance.

At this midpoint of the growing season—when crops are past the time for tilling, but not yet ready for threshing—perhaps all that your plants want now is a bit of water.

At every stage of their lifecycle, plants use water. Water signals to seeds that it is safe to germinate, and once the first set of leaves emerge from the soil, water becomes fundamental to photosynthesis (the process by which a plant manufactures food for further growth). Plants use transpiration to “sweat” water through their stomata, which helps to cool them when they get too hot. And water allows nutrients from the soil to be drawn up through the roots to nourish other parts of the plant. 

With the mists (and snows) of May now in full retreat, we are well-advised to adopt a watering schedule for our flowers and vegetables. How much to water will generally depend on the weather, the soil conditions, and the drought-tolerance of individual species. We can determine whether our plants are parched or succumbing to sogginess by getting out in the garden to make a few simple observations. 

Some Visible Signs of a Watering Problem:

Both underwatering and overwatering can cause yellow or brown leaves, so look more closely, and examine the texture:

  • Are the leaves brittle and crispy? If so, you may be underwatering.
  • Wilted and limp leaves, despite moisture in the soil, point to overwatering.

Examine the soil:

  • Dusty, crusty, or cracked soil suggest underwatering.
  • Soil that drains poorly and remains slick and slippery might mean overwatering.

Ideally, your garden soil will drain well and maintain a loamy texture that will hold both moisture and oxygen. Sandy soils can drain too quickly and do a poor job at retaining water, leaving your plants perpetually thirsty, whereas the fine particles of clay can adhere too closely when moistened, making it difficult for roots to access oxygen. Soil can be improved by adding organic matter like compost and mulch; with time, these amendments will incorporate into the soil and help strike a balance between moisture retention and drainage.

Other considerations:

  • Seedlings and new plantings will generally want more frequent watering than established plants. Until they’ve matured, emerging root systems won’t be able to reach the moisture held in deep soil, so give them a little extra attention with the hose.
  • Read up on your plants to learn which conditions they prefer! For instance, lettuce might be stressed by the same dry, sandy conditions that sustain an herb like lavender or thyme.
  • Also, make a habit of checking the local weather forecast—and don’t expect a light shower to quench your crops. Flower and vegetable gardens will generally need at least one inch of precipitation per week. If temps are high and humidity levels are low, your plants are likely losing moisture.

The Rule of Thumb

With consideration to the above, a good rule of thumb for most flower and vegetable gardens is 1-2 good soakings from the hose per week. The idea is to water deeply enough that it attracts young root systems downward where they are more likely to find moisture during dry spells. You’ll want your weekly watering to seep 8-12 inches below the soil’s surface.

A rain gauge in the garden can also help you track weekly precipitations levels. No rain gauge? Check moisture levels the old-fashioned way: dig an index finger as far down into the soil as it will go. If it feels bone dry, then your plants are probably thirsty.

A few more essentials to keep mind:

  • If you have a large garden, break up the task by watering different sections on different days of the week. This way you are less likely to succumb to the urge to sprinkle rather than soak.
  • Unless your plants stay wilted through the afternoon heat and well into the evening, they can wait to be watered until the following morning. If plant leaves are wet through the night, you’re more likely to incur damage from fungus and slugs.
  • Water the roots—not the leaves! Sure, you’ll get some leaves wet while you water, but it’s best to aim toward the base of the plant to get that water into the soil rather than evaporating into the air.
  • Weeding and mulching keeps weeds from competing for water, so continue to mulch and weed through the season.

As “primary producers” in our ecosystem, terrestrial plants are well adapted to the conditions in which they typically find themselves and need no help from us. But most gardens are a combination of introduced and native species at different stages of development, and some introduced plants may be unsuited for survival beyond the growing season. This is why, like good hosts of Midsummer festivities, we gardeners provide our invited guests with well-prepared beds, protection from pests, good food—and, of course, enough to drink. Happy Solstice!

This article comes to you from the Hudson Valley Seed Company: your source for heirloom and open-pollinated garden seeds and beautiful garden-themed contemporary art. On our site, you'll find photos and artwork that stoke your horticultural imagination—along with tips to make your garden dreams a reality.




Other articles by HVP News Reporters


  • Simple tips for mindful eating

    How to incorporate foods your family loves

    Mindful eating doesn’t have to be restrictive and you don’t have to give up your favorite foods. read more »
  • Safe entertaining tips in a COVID-19 world

    Precautions to protect your physical health and your guests

    After an extended period without social contact, it’s only natural to crave some interaction, and there’s evidence that doing so can be advantageous for your mental health. However, taking precautions to protect your physical health, along with your guests’, can make for a more enjoyable event. read more »
  • Keeping pets safe in the garden

    Hazards that can impact the well-being of your furry friends

    If you have pets that enjoy spending time outdoors, it’s important to make sure your yard is a safe place for them to be. read more »
  • How to raise kind and caring children

    3 tips from experts

    At some point, many parents will likely find themselves encouraging their children to “be kind” or “be friendly.” read more »
  • Safety tips for a safe 4th of July

    Celebrate safely and use extreme caution with fireworks and family gatherings

    The New York State Division of Consumer Protection (DCP) reminds New Yorkers to keep safe while celebrating Independence Day. As we celebrate this annual tradition with festivities ranging from fireworks, picnics, parades, family gatherings and barbecues, let’s also remember basic safety tips that apply to everyone. read more »
  • What women need to know about stroke risks

    Women face unique risk factors for stroke throughout their lifetime

    It may not be widely known that women face unique risk factors for stroke throughout their lifetime. Things like pregnancy, preeclampsia and chronic stress can increase the risk for high blood pressure, a leading cause of stroke. read more »
  • The mental health crisis of moms: What you need to know

    The mental health of American moms is going largely unattended

    A new survey reveals that the mental health of American moms is going largely unattended, with many living under a near-constant state of stress and few seeking support to ease the burden. read more »
  • 5 ways to get kids excited about STEM learning

    The country needs more good scientists

    The events of the past couple of years have shown how important scientists are to making the world a better and safer place. read more »
  • How to make an impact through volunteering and civic engagement

    Be a force for good

    If you’re like many people right now, you’re feeling a particular sense of urgency to roll up your sleeves and be a force for good. read more »
  • Weeklong FAIR Film Festival 2022

    The Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism (FAIR) Hosts a Film Screening Plus Q&A

    The Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism (FAIR) will kick off the FAIR Film Festival 2022 with an in-person screening of the documentary film I Am A Victor plus a selection of short films on Sunday, June 12 at 1:00pm EDT at Caveat on the lower east side in Manhattan. read more »