Watering your plants may seem like a simple task, but it’s also the most overdone. Heck, overwatering is a common cause of plant death for both beginners and veterans! If you want to get your watering basics right, you can read all about it here.
But in this article, I’d like to touch on a specific factor, namely when you should not water your plants:
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Table of contents
1. During Midday, when the Sun is at its Peak
You’ve probably seen your plants during this time of day. They look like they’re half dying in the sun, wilting like there’s nothing left for them to keep going like people who miss shopping at Kmarts. I can assure you that this is a normal phenomenon. It is part of the plant’s natural mechanism to avoid losing too much water in the day’s heat.
In that sense, there’s a risk of actually overwatering them at this time. Not to mention, it is also less efficient. Because water will evaporate rapidly under the sunlight, not giving it enough time to soak into the ground to where the roots are.
You may have been surprised that I didn’t mention water droplets… If you’ve ever heard of the ‘lens-effect’ water droplets can create, where it concentrates the sun’s rays to scorch the leaves, don’t believe it. This was disproven a while back. Simply because the droplet will dissipate long before turning into a tiny magnifying glass and burning your plants’ foliage.
Should we not water plants during the night?
Nightly plant watering is fine, as long as it’s directly at the soil and not overhead. It’s advisable to use a soaker hose or drip irrigation system. This is primarily to avoid damp leaves, which are a potential gateway for pathogens to develop diseases on the plant.
2. When The Temperature Outside is Below Freezing Point
This one is a little on the nose, but it still has to be said. Water will instantly freeze below 32°F (0°C). With the ground frozen, water won’t penetrate the soil as needed. And if the water does make it to the roots in liquid form, you risk overwatering your plants too because they are most likely dormant.
During wintertime, it’s typically only necessary to water your in-ground and outdoor plants twice a month. It may even be less for indoor potted plants. But it’s better to err on the side of caution and use a soil probe (Amazon link) or do the knuckle test weekly to check.
Here are a few tips to remember when watering your plants during the cold season:
- Only water when the ground isn’t frozen and ideally 40°F or above before watering.
- Cover the soil around the plant with mulch. Ensure a 2-3 inch distance between the mulch pile and the stem/trunk to allow adequate air circulation and prevent diseases from developing.
- Don’t water with drip irrigation or a soaker hose system; use a watering can. This is to prevent your pipes from freeze damage. If you’re using a hose, ensure to disconnect it from the faucet and shake off any excess water once you’re done.
However, sometimes your plants start dying for no reason when the weather finally perks up, which can be disheartening. It can’t be helped since cold damaged parts are hard to spot during winter. If you’d like to learn how to protect your plants better during winter, you can read these articles here, here, and here.
3. When The Soil is Still Moist At 1-2 Inches
I’ll preface this by stating that moisture-loving plants such as Calatheas are exempted from this rule. They’ll typically start to sulk once they detect a hint of dryness in their pots. However, most plants are best watered after the soil has moderately dried out. If you’re used to having a fixed watering schedule, do the knuckle test every time beforehand to check the dampness or dryness of the soil. This applies to all potted and in-ground plants.
As for trees, unless they are newly established, they may go without water for a few days to weeks due to their deep and extensive roots. Using a soil probe is much better for checking, provided the ground is soft.
Alternatively, you can dig a hole about 6-8 inches deep, about 3-4 inches away from the trunk:
- If the soil feels dry, it may be time to water your tree. Note: This method is merely an estimate and doesn’t always mean the plant is dehydrated. The roots may have just gone deeper in search of water. However, it doesn’t hurt to water the tree either way.
- If the soil is wet, hold off on watering for a couple of days and check again. It may be laborious to dig a hole each time, so it’s alright if you depend on a soil probe instead, as mentioned earlier. But still, be wary to not overwater your tree.
4. When Potted Plants Are Suffering From Fungus Gnats
Not watering your plant is a beneficial way of killing fungus gnats. They LOVE wet soil and will lay their eggs and feed there. Apart from using sticky traps (Amazon link) to catch them, making the plant bone dry and uninhabitable for them to live in is a sure-fire way of getting rid of them.
Fungus gnats don’t necessarily damage your plants, but it is a nuisance to have them around. If you really need to water your plant, it’s best to bottom water instead. However, ensure that it only saturates ¾ of the soil and not all the way to the top. Remember, you’re trying to shoo the fungus gnats away, not get them to stay. Here’s an article on how to top and bottom water your plants.
Does this method work on other pests? Not really. If anything, the gnats are likely present due to rot caused by overwatering, they aren’t a plant eater like aphids. You need to investigate the matter further if you have gnats, don’t just stop watering, inspect the roots also and make sure there is no root rot. If your plant has root rot you will need to handle that ASAP. Here’s an article on handling pests and diseases issues with your plants.
Your watering schedule will only become more natural and intuitive the longer you bask in the plant life. I hope this article nudges you one step closer to a more satisfactory care for your plants 😀 Happy planting!