Any responsible grower knows the foundational rule of gardening: that plants need consistent irrigation. But many struggle to gauge how much water their vegetation needs not just to survive, but to thrive.
Here’s the secret to keeping your plants healthy, all while saving tons of money on your water bill: adjust your watering needs based on the specific type of plants you’re treating. The overlooked truth is that plants have a diverse list of requirements based on their species, from nutrients to irrigation. And since plants are about 80 to 95% water, you bet the right watering practices go a long way.
I’ll explain why watering properly is essential, why different plants have different watering needs, how to determine if your vegetation type actually calls for less water, how to make the most of the water you do use in your garden, why and how to avoid overwatering, and how to get irrigation right for your specific plants, every single time.
Watering Properly Is Essential for Your Garden and Lawn
You already know that plants need water to grow. But why?
The answer isn’t that simple, because water drives a few different plant processes. A plant needs water to transport and absorb minerals and nutrients from the soil, create nutrients from sunlight, and cool itself down.
This need has created high demand globally. Agriculture is the world’s greatest consumer of water, with about 70% of human water use utilized for the irrigation of crops. And it’s no wonder, considering the vegetables we rely on—just like the plants in our garden—depending on the right amount of water to execute a series of functions. Specifically, that means they can absorb nutrients using an evaporative process called transpiration, transform sunlight into nutrients using photosynthesis, and keep themselves alive and alleviate stress through the use of cooling.
The sufficient amount of water for these processes varies by plant—and you don’t want to go overboard and risk overwatering. In order to effectively water your plants, it’s important to get to know the species you have, and what they require.
Different Plants, Different Water Needs
Plants can usually be assigned to one of three categories: those with low water needs, mid-level water needs, and high-water needs.
Low Water Needs
Often called drought-tolerant, plants that require low levels of water are able to thrive in hot and dry conditions with little water. Usually, they need water only when they are first planted. This category includes both perennials and annuals, and certain trees, such as the red cedar, live oak, crape myrtle, and citrus trees.
Mid-Level Water Needs
Most plants have mid-level water needs, meaning that they don’t need to be watered every day, but more typically when the soil has been dry for over a week. Some popular plants with mid-level water needs are geraniums, roses, wisteria, sunflowers, spring flowering bulbs, and most flowering perennial shrubs.
High-Level Water Needs
Plants with high-level water needs require large amounts of water, and are typically grown in marshy areas or along the banks of bodies of water. For these plants, their soil should never dry out, and should always be kept fairly moist. They’re also less likely to experience root rot. Some of these plants include iris plants, cannas, and ferns.
When Your Vegetation Type Calls for Less Water
Ready to save a lot of time, and not a small amount of cash? This section introduces vegetation types that require less water, in addition to the low water level, a drought-tolerant category we just covered. If you have any of these plant types in your yard, there’s a chance you’ve been giving them too much water to drink.
More Native, Less Irrigation
This is a major factor that goes largely unacknowledged: whether or not your plants are native. Keep in mind the water needs of your plant species, whether that be low, mid, or high—but if the plants in question are also native, you can take their water intake down a notch. Plants that are native to your area are generally better adapted to local conditions, and thus require less water than non-native plants.
Low-Maintenance Shade-Makers: Trees and Shrubs
Remember when we talked about plants with low water needs? Generally, your trees and shrubs fit into a liminal category: low to mid-water needs. While you will need to give them more water when they’re first planted, you can then give them less frequent watering from that point on. You can certainly give them less water than you would, for example, give annuals and perennials.
The Deeper the Root System, the Less the Soak
When determining how much water your specific plant species need, one tip is to check for how long their roots grow. That’s because plants that have deep root systems can usually survive on less water than plants with more shallow roots. The deeper the root, the more moisture plants can pull out of the soil.
How to Make the Water You Use Last
Let’s say that you have a few more plants with mid-level or even high-level water needs than you expected. That’s totally okay! You can still save yourself money and cash by changing the time of day you water your plants.
Here’s a great rule of thumb: Never water your plants during the heat of the day. The best way to ensure the most amount of water you give them gets to their roots (that is, doesn’t evaporate in the baking sun) is to water your plants at dusk or before dawn.
Want a second line of defense? The use of mulch can help reduce evaporation and contribute to a consistent level of soil moisture. Mulch is the process of covering the soil with organic material such as leaves, grass clippings, or wood chips. Not only does it help to retain moisture, but it also breaks down nutrients into your soil over time.
Be Wary of Overwatering!
Ready to give your plants the amount of water they need, and no more? You’re on the right track, and could actually be preventing disaster for your garden. Overwatering is an extremely harmful practice for your plants because it deprives your plants of oxygen. This leads to the death of roots and root rot, nutrient loss, and even the death of the plants. You might be able to recognize early signs of overwatering if your plant is showing stunted growth and yellowing leaves. If this is happening to your garden, take action now—it might not be too late to bring their health back.
How to Consider Vegetation Type, Automatically
Looking for the easiest, most intelligent way to water your plants perfectly, every single time? Introducing the OtO device, an automated lawn treatment system that adjusts the amount of water it applies based on the vegetation types in your garden. But its smart technology doesn’t end there: it also factors in local weather conditions, including recent rains, and regulates optimal soil moisture levels to eliminate the possibility of overwatering.
Now that you know how to adjust your irrigation practices based on vegetation type, you’re ready for healthy, happy plants—a sure result of being watered just right.