Proper Watering for New Plantings

Posted on May 27, 2016 by Becky Staneruck

By Rob Sculley/Shorty’s Help & Advice


The fastest cause of plant failure is not disease, not pests, not temperature extremes, or even improper planting. The quickest cause of plant failure is insufficient (not enough) or incorrect watering (too much). Of the two, not enough water will show signs first; too much water takes a bit longer to show symptoms.

Newly planted trees, shrubs, or plants can quickly die if their initial watering needs aren’t met. It only takes one day for a plant to fail beyond recovery. It’s heart breaking, but is something that can be avoided.

The best advice I can give you is this; always water your newly planted plant where the root ball is. Water it thoroughly (let the hose trickle on top of the root ball for 15 to 30 min). Let it dry out “slightly” before watering again (this interval will vary plant to plant, condition to condition). Some of the factors that influence the rate of watering will include: types of soil, weather conditions, and the individual plant and the size of its root ball.

Most people are unaware of the fact that water from surrounding soil will not move into the new root ball. Two different types of soils rarely “share” water. The new root ball will actually dry out and shrink, “pulling away” from surrounding soil. Water tends to move down, but not sideways.  So, directly soak each root ball thoroughly and avoid overhead watering. As relaxing as it is to stand in your garden with a hose spraying your new plant, it does little for the plants themselves. Not just because it can lead to foliar disease, but more importantly, the foliage of the new plant will often shed the water and prevent it from contacting the root ball. This is why sprinklers should not be relied on to water new plants or trees.

As I mentioned in a previous article, it is sometimes helpful to create a small moat around the new plant to fill several times when watering. The addition of light mulch can also help maintain even soil moisture, as well. As the plant gets more established this watering zone will widen to the “drip line” (or the distance of the furthest branches).

Roughing up or “scaring” the new root ball will also help break up the interface between the root ball and the surrounding soil; encouraging the water and roots to fuse together better. But continue to water deeply, then allow for a day or so between watering to allow oxygen to the root zone, to return (oxygen is essential to root health!).

How long of an interval between deep watering depends on the plant, it’s soil and weather conditions. Nothing replaces sticking your finger in the root ball and feeling if it is damp or not. If it feels like a squeezed out sponge, that should be moist enough for a day or so. But always check daily. As the plant gets more established, increase the interval between watering. This will ensure that the plant becomes less dependent and more deeply rooted.

Becoming more aware of your soil and how water behaves in it is invaluable information for your future gardening success. I hope these tips and insights will be helpful to you.

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