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The Two Things Every Gardener Must Know

I often get asked questions along the lines of the following:

  • "Why has my plant started wilting?" or
  • "My plant was ok at first but now it looks like it is dying - what have I done wrong?"

The answer to these problems and many other gardening problems are often down to one of two simple mistakes:

  1. Too Much or Too Little Water or
  2. Too Much or Too Little Heat and Sunlight

Too Much/ Too Little Water

I often see plants that are struggling to grow - especially in pots. When I stick my finger in the soil I invariably find that it is either bone dry or is soaking wet.

  • Over-watering is the leading cause of plant death. Roots are vital to a plant because they are its main source of water and food. But a lot of people do not know that the roots also take in oxygen. The roots of the plant take up water but they also need air to breathe. Simply put over-watering drowns your plant
  • On the other hand too little water will cause the plant to wilt and die.

How Much Water?

If the plant is in a container then add about 10% of the container volume at each watering. Water slowly so that the water soaks into the soil and does not drain out of the bottom. For garden plants, water slowly, taking pauses to wait while any surface water soaks in. The aim is to get the water to soak deep down into the roots where it is needed and not to just wet the surface.

When to Water

It is best to water in the early morning. As the sun comes up plants begin to draw water from the soil through their roots, up their stems and out through tiny pores on their leaves. Watering in the evening is also ok, as the lower temperature mean less water is lost through evaporation.

Watering in the heat of the day is not a good idea as a lot of water will evaporate from the surface of the soil. Plants use water more efficiently if watered in the cooler parts of the day.

How Often to Water

There is no simple rule of thumb for watering as each plant has different needs - for example, a plant that comes from a hot dry climate will require less water than one from a cool wet climate.

As a general guide if the top inch of soil is dry, then water is needed. During hot, dry days potted plants must be watered every day.

How to Water

Plants take in water through their roots from the soil or compost. They do not take in water through their leaves. So water needs to get to the tip of the roots. Wet leaves will encourage fungal problems and predators such as slugs.

Water thoroughly to get the water down to the deeper root tips. Do not make the mistake of just wetting the soil surface and think the job is done as a lot of that water will evaporate and not get deep down into the roots.

Too Much or Too Little Sunlight

Plants come a variety of climates arround the world. Hot humid rainforests, hot dry deserts and cold alpine mountains to name but a few. Each plant will have its own sun requirements depending on where it originates from. There are generally 4 sun classifications, Full Sun, Partial Sun, Partial Shade and Full Shade. It is important that you find out what your plant expects or else it will never grow properly.

Full sun - a plant used to growing in the heat of the desert will need a lot of sunlight to grow well. Full sun is defined as at least 6 hours of sun per day but some plants will require 10 or more hours.

Partial sun - a plant needing Partial sun is defined as between 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. The plant will be able to withstand more heat than one requiring Partial Shade.

Partial shade is defined as between 2 to 4 hours of direct sunlight per day. The plant will not be able to withstand much heat. I always thinks of these plants as growing in a sunny climate but under the shade of a larger plant where the sun breaks through gaps every now and again. In other words the sun is dappled.

Full shade  is defined as less than 2 hours of direct sunlight per day.