During my Container Garden Workshops, held in May every season, I go over watering tips. It is a science and an art – and folks get a little concerned about how to water. One of the best tips is to stick your finger into the soil a few inches down or up to your knuckle, and if it is moist AND the plants look fine, you are probably okay. If the soil is dry and it’s a very hot summer day, it is time to water.
However, we are now in the month of August, and the soil in your patio pots may be a little harder/firmer, the plants may have consumed the soil mass somewhat, and this month can be one of the hottest points of the season, thus our watering routine becomes a little trickier.
To make your plants last well into autumn, it is important to remember to water appropriately when we experience “very hot days” that are well into the 90’s – such as the past two days we just experienced.
Here are 10 tips for those types of hot days at the end of the season:
Join the Early Birds – Get up early to water, if possible. As soon as it is light enough outside to see (providing you are an early riser like the birds) – water your plants before the sun fully rises. On hot days, like we just had which were up to 90 degrees outside, as soon as the sun was above the tree tops, it got hot quickly. So out I went in my PJs to water. There are so many woods around my property, the neighbors did not get frightened, thankfully. If you are able to do the watering routine early, it will keep you cool, plus watering in the morning is usually best for the plants too. It enables the plants to take up what they need before the soil moisture evaporates as the day warms up.
Skip the Heavy Watering Can – Attach a watering wand to your garden hose and drag it to your container garden locations. It is way easier than using a watering can which requires constant refilling and carrying. Also, while you are at it, if you have any extra watering cans or water bottles, place them near your pots and fill them with water at the same time for the next day’s watering to save a step or water on the fly. Another good choice is installing a rain barrel on your deck or patio to capitalize on rain water harvesting to use for watering your plants. I like to recycle the big cat litter jugs as containers to hold water when I need to water container gardens not reachable by the garden hose. They are large and easily washed out before the first use.
Relocate the Plants to Shade – I actually did this on Tuesday; I moved a couple of my big pots to a shadier location because it was that hot out. It helps with water loss from the soil and the shade will cool the leaves of the plants. Use a hand-truck if you have one to do the moving of the pot in order to avoid injury to yourself. It may be a pain to consider moving your pots, but in my case, it was worth it for one or two.
Use Your Eyes – Look for any plants which are potentially distressed, as in weeping, leaning over, or have leaves which are dropping or wilting. They may be experiencing drought or lack of moisture in the soil. Treat those plants like 911 candidates. When we have high heat like this – go water them first because when moisture in the soil has reached a point where it cannot meet a plant’s need, the plant may die. In these situations, the plants cannot easily recover from their water loss. In the trade, this is known as a ‘permanent wilting point’.
Dip in the Pool – Not the plants but YOU if possible. Okay, perhaps this a luxury because you may not have a pool or the time before heading to work, but if you have a lot of patio pots and container gardens, make sure to take a break to cool yourself off too if you start to sweat profusely out there – I know I did even early on Tuesday morning. Make sure you are hydrated first, or take a break by going inside if you get too hot after visiting all your plants.
Capitalize on Patio Umbrellas – Open a few up if you have them near your patio pots to cast some shade above them. Even the most heat and sun loving plants will appreciate this on hot days like we’ve just had. Especially if it is very sunny out too. While most sun loving plants can take it – if we have a super heat wave, the shade of the umbrellas doesn’t hurt for a day or two.
Snip Off Scorched Leaves – If you have some leaves with dry brown brittle areas, or leaf scorch on the edges, use your “clean” sharp pruners and snip them off. No sense in having a plant expend energy on a bad looking leaf with damage. Plus, around this time of year, August, many plants may look a little tattered anyways, so do some cleanup if you can at the same time as watering.
Water Your Feet – If the sun is so hot, the surface of the deck or paved area where you may have placed some of your patio pots and container gardens is too hot to handle barefoot, water your feet as you walk around – it may not help the plants but it will help you stay cool and feels good. Kind of like your own watering treat!
Water the Soil, not the Leaves – One of the most important tips is to direct your watering wand or watering can to the soil, not the leaves. Sometimes if the hot sun hits a leaf surface with water droplets sitting upon them, it can magnify the situation and cause brown spots on your leaves from burning/magnification. Also, water sitting on leaves on humid days can lead to fungal problems or diseases. Showering the tops of your plants will not get the moisture penetrated into the soil mass where it is most needed.
Watch Out for Glass Décor – A gazing ball cracked in one of my container gardens when the cool water hit the hot glass surface on a very hot day while watering recently, and it, unfortunately, cracked. This was a first for me so maybe a bit of caution there for any glass décor on an extremely hot sunny days in your patio pots and container gardens.
By the way, if the soil is shrinking away from the sides of your pots – you may be under watering in general; the soil is too dry, or if you are watering a pot which has held the plants for several years (as done with many house plants), maybe it is time to re-pot it with new fresh potting mix soil for potted plants.
Old Potting Soil Is Hard to Rewet
Potting mixes cannot hold moisture well after several years and are difficult to get moist (rehydrate) again over time. If you see crust on the top of your soil, this is usually a sign it is time for an updated soil environment for the plants. The soil has become like an unusable sponge that just won’t retain water anymore, it is exhausted. Take the time to repot it – you will be impressed with the results.
Yellowing Leaves on the Bottom of the Plant Can Be From Ovewatering
Conversely, if the bottom leaves of your plants are turning yellow, this can be a sign of over watering. Overwatering is not better, there needs to be a balance. And if your plants are in a shady cool location, they may require less watering routines, such as every other day instead of every day for those in hot sunny locations. And of course, the type of pot can make a difference in rate of evaporation (e.g., clay is very porous and dries out faster, black pots heat up faster in the sun, glazed pots can get hot too, etc.)
Watering Draining From the Bottom for Hanging Baskets
Many references will say to water your pots until the water drains from the bottom, but I don’t agree on this necessarily for really BIG pots (approximately 25” or over in diameter with about a 2 ft. depth or deeper.) Big pots hold a lot of soil mass, it won’t drain from the bottom immediately as you are watering, like you would see with a hanging basket.
When watering your hanging baskets, watering until it drains from the bottom is needed because they dry out fast. For really big pots, you want sufficient moisture but drowning them is not the answer.
Allow the Soil to Dry Somewhat Between Watering – Let it Breathe
Also, another important note is you should allow the soil to dry between watering routines. There needs to be a balance because the plant’s roots need both water and oxygen. If the soil is constantly wet all day long, this can lead to problems, even root rot over time. Think wet feet in sneakers, not a good situation. Good soil mix specifically for container gardens and patio pots helps to provided the balance in the root area from the start of the season, which is one of the “Cathy T’s 5 MUST DO’s for Success“.
Bottom line, there is a ‘yin and yang’ to watering plants, but you will get it sooner or later – and more of this is covered every year in my workshops because it is something of utmost importance to my attendees and the plants in their beautiful container gardens.
As the fall approaches when the days start to cool and are shorter, the watering routine is reduced and eventually subsides. You won’t need to water every day as you have been doing in the summer months. Things will calm down and soon it will be the time to take down your container gardens.
Storing Tropical Plants Demo in October
By the way, my demo day on how to take down plants for winter storage is posted under the “Nature with Art Class Programs” on this blog’s menu bar. It will be held Saturday, October 17th, at 10:30 am to 11:30 am in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor, CT. You may sign up via the links above where you will find the “contact form” or by visiting my business Facebook page. Private sessions at your home are available also. The session is listed under the EVENTS. Just click to sign up.
P.S. Watch out for spiders – They seem to be hanging around quite a bit lately!