Watering plants: The seven signs your garden plants or flowers need more water

Alan Titchmarsh offers tips on watering tomato plants

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Watering in the mornings, if possible, is best as this is when the sun comes up and the plants will begin to use water. The foliage and soil surface is also likely to stay dry for longer than evening watering, discouraging slugs, snails and mildew diseases at the same time. Plants start sweating in sunlight, drawing water from their soil, through the roots, up the stems and out through tiny pores on the leaves called stomata. Evening watering is fine as well because the cooler conditions mean less water is lost to evaporation.

How often should you water?

Gardeners and plant keepers are often advised to keep plants well watered, but what does that exactly mean?

Well to put it simply, there’s no single rule of thumb for watering as every plant variety has different needs.

For example, a container plant in hot, sunny weather could need a daily glass of water, while some house plants don’t need any for days at a time.

One good thing to note is that plants will use up more water if more is made available to them, so you can allow them to dry out a little between watering.

The size, species and growth stage of the plant is going to have a big impact on how much water it needs.

The bigger and more leaves a plant has, the more water it’s likely to lose and the more nutrients are needed to help it thrive.

As these are normally taken up through the roots dissolved in water, more is generally needed to produce fruit and flowers.

The texture, structure and compaction of the soil and its organic matter content are also big variables.

Plants can’t extract every drop of water from soil and some different kinds can still feel damp even though plants have started to wilt.

This is most often found when dealing with clay soil.

While a clay soil can hold more water than its sandy counterpart, plants are able to extract much more water from sand than clay.

In contrast, sandy soil can feel dry even though there is often still moisture available for the plants to extract.

Whether the plant is growing in a border, container or with root restriction – for example next to a wall – can be a big factor in knowing when to water as well.

A large plant in a big pot will need to be watered more often than one planted in a border.

In a border, the roots are able to grow wherever there is soil, enabling them to draw moisture from a much bigger mass of soil than if the roots are stuck in a pot.

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Plants that live in a pot (i.e. have more roots than compost in the pot) dry out particularly quickly.

The seven signs your plants need more water are:

  • Less than expected growth of foliage, or production of fruit or flowers
  • Leaves or stems that look dull or have lost their shine, sometimes darker or paler than normal
  • Change in the position of leaves – they may angle down or start curling up
  • Wilting (take care, though, as this can also indicate overwatering)
  • Pots become lighter in weight
  • Pots blowing over in the wind
  • Showing symptoms of powdery mildew

If the surface of the soil or compost is dry, that does not necessarily mean the plant needs more water.

Water is needed at the root tips, so moisture along the top isn’t always the best indicator.

If you’re using the touch test, push your finger down into the compost or soil at least up to you knuckle to see if it’s damp, rather than just feeling the surface.

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