Watering Your Plants Properly

Getting new plants is always exciting. Whether they’re decorative ones or veggie plants in a garden, you want to take care of them as best as possible especially when it comes to water. Plant “babies” are like human ones in that they require a lot of attention and care in the beginning.

Water is a key ingredient that is essential for healthy growth. But, too much water can cause issues. Not enough water can also cause damage. How do you find a happy medium?watering can

To help you keep your plants happy and healthy, we’ve put together this guide on how to properly water your plants, whether well-established or new. We’ll cover basics for everything from flowers to trees, signs of under and overwatering, what to do during droughts, and lots of other helpful tips!

Common Practices for Watering New Plants, Shrubs, and Trees

Proper watering can cause a surprising amount of difference in the short and long-term health of your new plants. Water them too little and they’re slow to grow. Water them too much and they will become prone to disease and insect infestations.

Of course, all plants have different water requirements. Native plants that are already drought-resistant are far less fussy than many imported ones. In general, though, here are some rules of thumb to follow when it comes to watering your new additions.

First Year (Plants)

  • New plants should be watered as soon as they are in the ground. Once the soil seems nice and damp, wait a few minutes. Allow this water to seep in before watering again, ensuring the soil is wet.
  • Depending on the weather and the moisture of your soil, water plants daily or every other day for the first week.
  • Again, depending on the weather or how your plants are faring, decrease watering to a few times per week after the second week.
  • If there has been little rainfall, water your plants as needed.

Second & Third Year

  • Give “adolescent” plants a deep watering once or twice each week during the growing season.


  • Like small plants, be sure to water trees or shrubs as soon as they are planted.
  • For the first two weeks after planting, they should be watered daily.
  • For weeks 3 through 12, water every two to three days.
  • Beyond 12 weeks, be sure to water at least once a week.
  • During droughts, water at least once a week at the very least.

Trees become more established as their roots grow deeper and wider. Check out this great chart from the University of Minnesota to determine how long it will take your tree to become established based on the size of its trunk and water requirements for varying sizes.


  • As with all plants, water immediately upon planting.
  • Don’t throw your shrub’s disposable pot away! It’s recommended to water shrubs with ¼ to 1/3 the amount (volume) of the container it came in.

Established Plants

By three years, your plants should be well-established. These plants will require much fewer watering from here on out. Depending on the type of plant, you may not need to water it at all, even during dry spells. Some plants will still need to be watered weekly during droughts. Yet others, such as trees and shrubs, may only need to be watered once or twice a month, even during dry weather.

How to Water Plants

Most people tend to set their sprayer nozzle on a mist or shower setting to cover a larger area of plants more quickly. However, it’s best to water plants “deeply.” In a nutshell, put your hose on a slow trickle and leave it near the main body of a plant near its roots. This should be slow enough that soil isn’t washing away and has time to soak up the water. By doing this, you’re encouraging plant roots to grow deeper and spread out. This helps with overall growth and sturdiness. Plus, by watering in this way, you won’t have to do it as often, maybe once or twice a week when needed.

More Tips on Proper Watering

  • It helps to create a raised water reservoir around the base of a tree or shrub. This allows water to seep in slowly. If watering seems like a chore, there are also products called Treegator bags that will slowly water your new trees and shrubs for you.
  • Avoid planting during hot, dry weather. If you can’t, plant in the morning before it gets too hot and the sun too high. Again, new plants of any type need to be watered as soon as they are in the ground. Water droplets on delicate leaves act as a magnifying glass during hot and sunny weather, leading to burn marks and damage on your plants.
  • Early morning is the best time to water plants. While you don’t want your leaves to be too dry, you also don’t want them to stay damp for an extended time. Wet leaves are more likely to become diseased and grow mold.
  • Even drought-resistant plants still need regular watering until they become established.
  • Potted plants dry out quicker, thus more frequent watering will likely be needed. As a rule of thumb, if the soil is dry up to the first knuckle on your index finger, it needs water.
  • Checking plants sown directly in the ground is similar. You can use a spade or trowel for this. Do not water again until the soil is dry to about one to two inches down. It’s also wise to recheck the soil an hour (or two, if you have clay-like soil) after watering to ensure more isn’t needed and is reaching the roots of your plants.

Common Signs of Under or Overwatering

Between Indiana’s dry summers and clay-like soil, both overwatering and underwatering can be common issues for gardeners. Other than doing regular soil checks as mentioned above, it can be a bit tricky at first glance to distinguish between the signs of the two because they are so similar. However, there are a few key differences that should give you a better idea of whether your precious plants need more or less water if they’re looking less than healthy.


  • Wilting – These will present as dry, brittle leaves that are easily broken. The same can happen to stems.
  • Dry soil – While soil may be obviously dry on the surface, it’s a good idea to do a test with a blunt object, such as a trowel or screwdriver. Depending on the type of soil you have, it should be fairly easy to puncture the ground when the soil is moist. If you find yourself having a harder time pushing it in, your plants could use some extra water.
  • Slow growth – If you find new plant growth has slowed down significantly, consider more supplemental water.
  • Discolored leaves – This usually begins on the lower leaves, turning a sickly yellow or brown color.
  • Leaf or flower loss – Other than drying and discoloration, underwatered plants may also begin to lose leaves or flowers. Some might not even flower at all.


  • Wilting – In the case of overwatering, leaves will be droopy and soft, not dry and brittle.
  • Discoloration – Leaves will also become yellow or brown if overwatered.
  • Surface-level roots appear – When soil becomes too saturated for an extended period, it deprives roots of oxygen. This can cause plants to start growing roots near the surface of the ground so they can “breathe”.
  • Blisters and lesions – When plant cells contain more water than they can use, they will eventually burst and die. This forms blisters and lesions on leaves. These can also erupt, causing brown, tan, or white “warts” to form.
  • Rot – Another tell-tale sign of overwatering is rot near the base of a plant. This can also cause an unpleasant odor.

It’s worth noting that drought-tolerant plants, such as most native species, are more susceptible to overwatering since their water requirements are less. Clay soil is also much more likely to retain water, so frequent watering may be too much if you have this type of soil.

What To Do In Times of Drought

Prevent problems before they begin. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about water restrictions here in central Indiana as people do in the western part of the United States. If you’re able, start supplementing water during the dry months before plant problems arise. Here are some tips on how to help your plants during a drought.

  • Don’t use overhead waterers. You want as much water near the ground so that it is easily absorbed and finds its way to the roots quicker. Plus, you don’t want to lose a bunch of water to evaporation.
  • Mulch around the root zone of plants. This helps retain moisture.
  • Water your permanent plants first. In other words, trees and shrubs. In the grand scheme of things, annuals are expendable. If you have a limited supply of water for your plants, do the ones that will last more than one growing season first.
  • If you’re trying to revive plants after a drought has already been going on for a while, be careful not to water them too much at first. Again, over-saturated soil can lead to just as many problems as parched soil. Keep the surrounding ground moist, but not soaked.

Making Use of Rain Barrels

rain barrel water

I think we can all agree that when it comes to rain, it seems to be “all or nothing” in central Indiana, especially during the summer. It will rain incessantly for two days only to not rain at all for two weeks (or more). Fortunately, this fickle weather makes utilizing a rain barrel a great idea. Why add to more runoff when you can save excess rainwater to use during dry times? Adding a rain barrel near your planting beds is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to use extra water and possibly causing problems elsewhere in your yard. Check out our article all about these wonderful catchments for more benefits on implementing them.

Tips and Tricks for Conserving Water

Utilizing a rain barrel is just one way to conserve water. There are plenty of other ways to save on your water bill and still ensure your plants are getting the water they need!

  • Soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems are a great way to give your plants water in a large area. Even better, some of these systems can be programmed with a timer. You won’t forget to water your plants and you have less work to do!
  • Know your soil type. This can tell you a lot about how often and how much you will need to water your plants.
  • Grow plants in appropriate places. In other words, don’t put a shade-loving plant in full sun and vice versa.
  • Grow plants in close groups and by water needs.
  • Choose native plants. They are naturally drought (and pest) resistant.
  • Mulch around your plants. Mulch retains moisture, reduces evaporation, and prevents runoff, keeping your plants well-hydrated for longer.
  • Use a moisture meter to help keep an eye on the dampness of your soil. A rain gauge also comes in handy.
  • Make sure your soil is well-aerated, allowing water and air to get down to the roots, making your watering sessions much more efficient.
  • If you have potted plants, choose pots that retain water better, such as glazed terra cotta planters.
  • Recycle household water, such as the cold water while you wait for hot dish-washing water. Do the same for shower water.

We hope this guide helps you out this year as the dry summer months approach. Questions about your plant health? Give us a call or shoot us an email (LINK)! The Greenscape Geeks’ team loves talking plants and are happy to help with any questions or issues that arise with your own.

Greenscape Geeks is a central Indiana landscape architecture and landscape design, construction, and lawn maintenance company, serving Indianapolis (including Meridian Kessler, Herron Morton, Williams Creek, and Irvington), Carmel, Noblesville, Fishers, and Zionsville.

This post is by Alicia Owen