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How to tell if your plant needs watering


Water is an important part of plant growth. Water is the cornerstone of plant life activities, it is not only a necessary substance for photosynthesis but also involved in the transportation of nutrients in the plant and the maintenance of cell structure. The right amount of water ensures healthy plant growth, enhances its resilience, and prevents wilting and collapse. Therefore, proper watering techniques, such as watering in the right amount and at the right time, maintaining good ventilation and drainage, and adjusting the frequency of watering according to the seasons and stages of growth, are essential for plants to thrive.

Correctly judging the timing of watering is important for plants, as it not only promotes healthy growth and nutrient uptake, but also reduces water loss through evaporation, prevents plant diseases and root rot, adapts to the plant’s growth cycle and seasonal variations, and avoids unnecessary damage to the plant.


  1. Understanding the Water Requirement Characteristics of Plants

1.1 Succulents: Moisture Requirement: Succulents usually have thick leaves or stems that can store a lot of water, and are therefore highly drought-tolerant. Watering strategy: During the growing period (spring and summer), water once a week and keep the soil moist but not too wet; during the dormant period (winter), water less frequently and control the humidity to prevent root rot. . Note: It is recommended to avoid watering directly on the surface of the plant; instead, fill the bottom of the pot with water and allow the soil to absorb the water from the bottom up.



1.2 Tropical Plants Moisture Requirements: Tropical plants generally grow in hot and humid environments with high water requirements.

Here’s the revised text :

Watering strategy: Keep the soil moist, but do not let water stand. During the hot season, you may need to water daily and increase humidity by misting. Caution: Make sure plants are grown in a well-ventilated environment to prevent diseases caused by high humidity.


1.3 Indoor Ornamental Plants Moisture Requirements: Most indoor ornamentals need to keep the soil moist daily. Watering strategy: In general, water about 100-200ml per day, but the exact amount needs to be adjusted according to plant species, pot size, and soil quality. Precautions: Pay attention to the time and frequency of watering, avoid watering directly on the surface of the plants, and make sure the pots have good drainage.


1.4 Horticultural Plants Water Requirements: The water requirements of horticultural plants vary depending on the type and use. For example, lawn and bedding plants require more water to maintain their growth and aesthetics; while trees and shrubs are relatively drought tolerant. Watering strategy: Water according to the specific needs of the plant. In general, lawns need 2-4 kg of water per square meter per day, flowerbeds need 1-2 kg of water per square meter per day, and trees need about 1 kg of water per square meter per day. Note: Scientific water and fertilizer management can not only reduce the amount of water and fertilizer used, but also maintain the good effect of landscaping, improve the drought-resistant plants, and prevent the waste of water and fertilizer.


The water demand of different plants varies according to their growing environment, physiological characteristics and uses. When watering, we need to develop appropriate watering strategies based on the specific needs of plants and environmental conditions to ensure healthy plant growth.

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Ⅱ、Effect of growth period on water requirement

2.1 Seed germination period Characteristics: this is the initial stage of plant growth where the plant begins to sprout from the seed and grows roots and stems. Water demand: Plants have a high demand for water during the germination period. Taking apple trees as an example, the soil water content during the germination period should reach 70-80% of the water holding capacity of the field, in order to ensure the smooth germination of the seeds and the healthy growth of the root system.


2.2 Growth period Characteristics: Plants grow rapidly at this stage, with stems, leaves and root systems expanding. Water Requirement: As the plant grows, its water requirement gradually increases. Although the specific water requirements of different plants vary during the growth phase, generally speaking, keeping the soil moist is key to ensuring healthy plant growth. For example, during the growth period of an apple tree, proper irrigation helps its branches and leaves flourish and its root system expand.


2.3 Flowering period Characteristics: Plants begin to flower and undergo reproductive growth at this stage. Water demand: The flowering stage is a period when plants are more sensitive to water demand. Too much water may cause the flowers to wither, while too little water may affect flower opening and pollination. In the case of apple trees, for example, the soil moisture content during the flowering period should reach 60-70% of the water holding capacity of the field in order to maintain the health of the flowers and the success of pollination.


2.4 Fruiting period Characteristics: Plants begin to bear fruit at this stage, and the fruits gradually mature. Water requirement: The fruiting stage is an important period for the plant’s water requirement. Adequate water helps the fruit to expand and ripen, improving yield and quality. However, too much water may also lead to fruit cracking or rotting. In the case of apple trees, for example, the soil moisture content during the fruit expansion period should reach 80% of the field water holding capacity to ensure healthy fruit growth and ripening.


To ensure healthy growth and high yield, we need to develop a reasonable irrigation program based on the growth cycle and specific needs of plants.


III. Methods of Judging Soil Moisture 3.1 How to Perceive Soil Moisture through Fingers Selecting the Right Time: It is best to check soil moisture in the morning or evening, because at this time the temperature of the soil is lower and the evaporation of water is slower, which can more accurately reflect the moisture status of the soil.


Choosing the checking location: Check at different soil depths and locations as soil moisture may vary depending on the depth and location. In general, soil moisture should be checked at the root of the plant, as this is the main area where the plant absorbs water. Clean Fingers: Make sure your fingers are clean before checking to avoid contaminating the soil or impairing judgment.


Insert Finger: Gently insert your finger into the soil. The depth of insertion should match the depth of the plant roots.. Usually, the depth of insertion into the soil is about 5-10 centimeters.


Sense moisture: After inserting your finger, feel the moisture of the soil.


Record observations: Based on your perception, record the moisture condition of the soil. This helps you to understand the trend of soil moisture and to irrigate or drain as needed.


3.2 Using a soil moisture meter


If your sense of control is not particularly accurate you can use a soil moisture meter.


Remove obstacles: in the soil to be measured, remove all obstacles that may interfere with the measurement, such as glass, leaves, stones and so on. Adjust the soil: If the soil is too dry or has too much fertilizer, you can sprinkle the soil with some water appropriately and wait for 20-30 minutes before starting the measurement. Clean the probe: Use a cloth to wipe the surface of the metal probe of the soil moisture meter thoroughly to make sure there is no grease or impurities to affect the accuracy of the measurement.


Insert the Soil Moisture Meter Choose the location: Choose a representative soil location for measurement, usually the soil at the root of the plant. Insertion Depth: Insert the probe of the soil moisture meter into the soil, making sure that the probe enters the soil completely, usually at least 2 cm into the soil for long probes. Make sure the probe is in close contact with the surrounding soil.


Waiting and reading data Waiting time: After inserting into the soil, wait for about 10 minutes to allow the soil moisture meter to fully sense the soil moisture. Read data: Depending on the model of the soil moisture meter, the soil moisture value can be read from either the dial or the digital display. Generally, the numbers 1-10 on the dial represent a gradual increase in humidity, while a digital soil moisture meter may directly display the percentage of humidity.


Precautions Avoid interference: Do not leave the soil moisture meter in the soil for a long time (usually no more than one hour) to avoid damaging the measuring pen. Environment selection: Do not use the soil moisture meter near substances with magnetic properties and keep it away from other metal objects to prevent interference with the measurement. Do not measure liquids: The Soil Moisture Meter is designed to measure soil moisture, do not use it to measure liquids as this may damage the device. CLEANING AND CARE: After use, wipe the probe clean and keep it dry.Please make sure the probe is clean and dry if you need to store it. Soil moisture can differ based on soil conditions, location, and time of measurement, so it’s recommended to take multiple measurements and calculate the average for more accurate soil moisture data. By following these steps and taking precautions, you can accurately use the soil moisture meter to obtain reliable soil moisture readings to support plant growth and irrigation management.


3.3 Changes in Soil Color and Texture Moisture and Shades of Soil Color: The moisture content of the soil has a direct effect on soil color. Usually, soil is darker in color when it is wet and lighter in color when it is dry. This is because water and pigmented material in the soil are more readily absorbed and diffused in a moist state, resulting in a deeper color. Soil moisture also affects the condition of the soil’s structural body, which in turn affects soil color. In cohesive soils, the color of the bright gelatinous film on the soil surface due to the oriented arrangement of the clay particles may be different from the color of the interior of the structural body.


  1. Observing the State of Plants

4.1 Implications of Curling, Yellowing or Fading of Leaves Leaf curling is often caused by water problems. When a plant absorbs too much water, its roots may suffocate due to lack of oxygen, affecting the normal absorption of water and transfer of nutrients, thus leading to curling of leaves. On the contrary, if the plant is in a dehydrated state, the leaves will lose their normal swelling state, become dry and curl up due to the lack of water. It is crucial to effectively manage the plant’s water supply to prevent both overwatering and underwatering, in order to support healthy leaf growth. When a plant lacks water, its root system may appear dry, dark, fragile, and may shrink, due to the impact of insufficient water on normal root function. Additionally, inadequate water supply can also slow down stem growth, causing them to become thin and potentially wilt under severe water scarcity.

Please take note of the following text:

4.2 Condition of Plant Stems and Roots
When plants are deprived of water, their root systems display dryness, darkening of color, fragility, and possible shrinkage due to the lack of water affecting the normal functioning of the roots. Additionally, the stems are affected by the lack of water, resulting in slowed growth, thinning, and possible wilting during severe water deprivation.

deprivation. 4.3 Overall Plant Growth Rate and Vigor Growth slowdown: Long-term water shortage slows down the growth rate of plants, leading to a reduction in size and volume and the development of stunted growth. Short-term water shortage can also cause temporary inhibition of plant growth, directly affecting the growth rate and growth cycle. Reduced Vigor: Lack of water can limit the normal growth and development of plant leaves, resulting in a lack of luster, dull color, and an overall lack of vigor. Leaves may appear wrinkled, curled phenomenon, commonly known as “wilting”, which is a visual manifestation of plants in the state of water shortage. Physiological metabolism is blocked: insufficient water will lead to plant cell metabolism, respiration, photosynthesis and other physiological activities are affected, thus disrupting the normal metabolic process, or even metabolic disorders. Lack of water may also increase respiration, but the P/O ratio decreases, oxidative phosphorylation uncoupling, further affecting plant growth and vigor. Decreased nutrient uptake: Water deficit can prevent the plant root system from obtaining the necessary water and nutrients underground, resulting in the inability of the plant to grow properly. Nutrient levels in the leaves are also significantly reduced, causing the plant to go from a normal physiological state to an unhealthy one. Leaf wilting and withering: When water shortage is severe, plant leaves may lose water, turn yellow, or even wilt and wither, which may lead to plant death in severe cases. Leaf wilting is also an adaptive response of plants under water deficit to reduce water consumption by transpiration.


Ⅴthe impact of environmental factors

5.1 spring, summer, fall and winter watering needs Spring Watering needs: spring temperatures rise, plants are beginning to enter the growth period, the amount of water demand gradually increased. At this time should be timely watering enough “green water” to promote the rapid greening and sprouting of garden plants.


Precautions: Early spring watering can effectively reduce the ground temperature, delay the germination of trees to prevent late frost and the harm of spring cold. Watering should be early rather than late, when the temperature stabilizes at 3-5 ℃ can start watering. The amount of watering should reach 60-80% of the water holding capacity of the soil, and should be increased appropriately in periods of drought or in areas with poor soil quality.

Summer Watering needs: Summer temperatures are high, plants have high transpiration and need a lot of water. Watering time: It is best to water in the morning and evening when the temperature is low, such as before 10:00 a.m. and after 4:00 p.m., in order to avoid damage to the plant caused by watering during hot periods. Precautions: Special attention should be paid to replenishing water for lawn and flower plants with shallow root systems, as well as newly replanted or newly planted plants in the spring. The frequency of watering should be based on the weather and soil moisture deficit, with sunny days and shallow-rooted, water-loving plants receiving more frequent watering.


Fall Watering Requirements: As the weather dries out in the fall, the intensity of sunlight decreases and plants need less water. Precautions: Water in moderation to avoid over-watering and root rot. Use a smart sprinkler system to save water by controlling the amount of water according to the plant’s needs.

Please take note of the following information:

Winter Watering Needs: During winter, when the temperature is low and the plants are dormant, they require less water.

Watering Time: It’s best to water around noon to prevent frost damage, which can occur when watering in the morning or evening.

Precautions: It’s advisable to water on sunny days to raise the shed’s temperature beforehand and minimize the impact of watering on the ground temperature. It’s important to reduce the amount of watering and use small amounts of water for each plant to avoid overwatering, which can lower the shed’s temperature. After watering, ensure proper ventilation and humidity control to prevent excessive humidity from causing diseases.


Ⅵ reasonable arrangement of watering time

6.1 The best time of day for watering The best time of day for watering is usually in the morning or evening. These two time periods, the temperature is lower, the sun is weaker, conducive to water penetration into the soil and absorbed by the plant. Midday is the most important time for plants to avoid watering because it is a time of intense sunlight and high temperatures, and watering tends to cause the water to evaporate too quickly, which can harm the plant. Adjusting watering frequency according to plant species

6.2 Herbaceous vs. woody plants Herbaceous plants: require more frequent watering due to their shallow root system, weaker water absorption capacity, and higher evaporation due to more leaves. For example, they may need to be watered every 3-5 days during the spring growth spurt to keep the soil moist.


Woody plants have more roots and foliage, and they transpire more. Despite this, they are typically more tolerant to drought compared to herbaceous plants. As a result, you can water them less frequently, for example every 7-10 days. However, this schedule should also be adjusted according to the specific species and growing conditions.


6.3 Water-loving and drought-tolerant plants Water-loving plants: e.g. ferns, orchids, etc., need to keep the soil moist and even require high air humidity. During the peak growth period, daily watering and frequent spraying of water on the foliage may be required to increase air humidity.


6.4 Drought-tolerant plants: e.g. cacti, nandina, etc. Their root systems are able to store a lot of water, so they can be watered less frequently, e.g. once every 10-15 days or even longer.


6.5 Evergreen and Deciduous Plants Evergreen plants: e.g. pines, cypresses, etc., remain green and grow vigorously throughout the year and therefore require more water. During the growing season, it may be necessary to water the plants every 5-7 days.


Deciduous plants lose their leaves and go dormant in the fall and winter months, requiring reduced watering frequency, e.g. every 1-2 weeks, to prevent root rot caused by stagnant water.


6.6 Flesh root and fibrous root plants Flesh root plants: e.g. orchids, monarchs, etc., have water-rich root systems with high water storage capacity, so avoid stagnant water when watering to prevent root rot. Usually, watering once every 7-10 days is enough.


Whisker-rooted plants: such as hanging orchids and bromeliads have slender root systems that are weak in absorbing water, so they require more frequent watering. During the growing season, it may be necessary to water every 3-5 days and spray water on the foliage frequently to increase air humidity.


6.7 Potting Soil and Pot Material. Potting Soil: Sandy soil has good drainage and dries out easily, so it needs more frequent watering, while clay soil has strong water storage capacity and can be watered slightly less frequently.


Pot Material: Terra cotta and other breathable pots tend to dry out and need more frequent watering, while plastic pots and other non-breathable containers tend to retain moisture and require special attention to avoid overwatering.




The key point in determining whether a plant needs watering is to carefully observe the plant’s growing condition and soil moisture. Firstly, pay attention to the condition of the leaves. If the leaves appear wilted, drooping or dull in color, it may be a sign of water shortage. Secondly, check the moisture level of the soil. A dry surface doesn’t necessarily mean the entire pot is dry. To check, gently insert your finger into the soil. If it feels dry, it needs watering.In addition, different plants have different water needs, some are drought-tolerant while others prefer water, so you need to adjust the watering frequency according to the type of plant and its growth habit.



Gardening blogger

Meet Even, a distinguished collaborator at Green Giant. With over a decade of hands-on experience in the niche of raised garden bed cultivation, she brings an unparalleled depth of knowledge to our team. Her expertise, honed over years of experimental gardening, provides an insightful perspective on the practicalities and nuances of this unique form of horticulture.

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