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COLUMN: Watering know-how keeps plants healthy, hydrated

This guide to watering garden and house plants is designed to help you prevent overwatering, underwatering, and everything in between.
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Columnist Rob Sproule

Proper watering is essential if you want to grow healthy plants. Learning the basics of watering for all types of plants will help you become a much better plant parent.

When it comes to houseplants, one of the most common issues is overwatering. If you water too much and your container doesn’t have drainage holes, that water will collect in the bottom and get funky. This can lead to root rot, fungus gnats, and other nasties that threaten the delicate root system of your plants. Choosing plant pots with drainage holes will always make watering houseplants easier.

When you water your plants, you want to soak the root ball on all sides thoroughly. Water around the base of your plant, from edge to edge of the pot. Depending on your chosen houseplant variety, it will have different preferences for watering frequency.

Watering in the garden is different because you’re working with the outdoor elements, plus a much larger soil reservoir. Ensuring your soil is loose and full of organic matter will help soil drain properly, preventing root rot. Of course, the watering frequency will depend on our weather. If it’s raining a lot, there’s no need for extra water. On the other hand, if we’re going through a hot, dry spell, you’ll need to water more. Spreading a layer of mulch across the soil will reduce the need for frequent watering during the summer, because it blocks the hot sun from heating the ground and evaporating its moisture reserves. 

Most garden beds need about one inch of water per week, but this can depend on what kind of plants you’re growing. Some are more drought-tolerant, and others like things moist. Choosing plants with similar watering requirements will make it much easier to keep your garden healthy and thriving.

For best results, water first thing in the morning before the sun has warmed up the soil. This will protect the plants' roots, enveloping them with cool moisture. If you water when the earth is super hot, that moisture will dry up much quicker, and you run the risk of that moisture heating up in the sun and scalding your plants.

Watering container gardens combines indoor potted plant care and outdoor garden care principles. Again, you’re dealing with the elements, so if it’s rainy, you can hold off on watering. However, the soil in containers will dry up much faster than the soil in a garden bed, so during the hottest summer months, you may need to water as often as every day. Mulch will help maintain moisture reserves for longer.

When watering, use the same technique as with houseplants — water all around the base of the plant, edge-to-edge of the pot, so the root ball is well saturated without being totally waterlogged.

Hopefully, this Alberta watering guide will help you nail down the basics of keeping your plants happy and hydrated.

Rob Sproule is co-owner of St. Albert's local greenhouse, Salisbury at Enjoy.