Garden Myths: Watering

April showers bring May flowers and an abundance of gardening information! Everywhere you turn, new techniques, tips, and tricks offer advice to help with the new growing season.

While some of the information we find is scientific and based on evidence found in research, other items can contain misinformation and derail our efforts.

Watering is one of the most frequent tasks we perform as gardeners. We often misjudge a plant’s need for water, either dehydrating them through neglect or drowning them with love. Plants can’t say when they need a good “drink” but we can observe them to get that balance right to help with the growing process. When we are able to get this balance correct, we can grow healthy, productive plants and minimize disease. In this article, we take a closer look at some common misconceptions about watering.
Watering each day is best to keep plants hydrated.

Soil moisture is essential for proper plant growth. A healthy plant can contain up to 90 percent water which is used for essential functions such as the movement of nutrients and photosynthesis. Every plant is different in its requirements. New seedlings and established trees will have different requirements for water consumption. Frequent light watering can cause the development of a shallow root system close to the surface leading to a vulnerability during times of drought for new plants. More established plants with deep root systems may benefit from infrequent deep watering. The amount of water needed by each plant is dependent on multiple factors: weather and time of year, type of soil, type of plant, stage of growth, and location.

Consider investing in a soaker hose to place water at the root area for better absorption and mulching to preserve the water where it is needed and reduce evaporation. If possible, avoid watering at the foliage of the plant which can lead to disease.

Drought-tolerant plants do not need to be watered.

Xeriscape is a style of landscape design in which the plants and shrubs are selected based on their requirement of needed little irrigation. While the moisture requirements may be lower for this type of planting, all plants need water! These low-moisture plants may be better equipped to take up and store water for times of drought by slowing their growth and shedding their leaves to accommodate the lack of water. However, all new plants will require frequent watering to establish their root system, and the plants used in a xeriscape are no exception. If available, these drought-tolerant plants may utilize additional water and store it for later use.

Sunlight-focused water droplets will burn leaves.

Leaf damage can occur due to many causes: too much or too little moisture, insect damage, disease, over-fertilization, and weather conditions such as wind or frost, not sun scorching. Usually, the rate of evaporation is quick, especially on the hottest, most intense, sunny day. For example, a mid-day rain can actually cool off foliage during a summer day. The best time for watering plants is in the early morning to avoid evaporation and reduce the potential for disease.

It rained; therefore, I do not have to water today!

A downpour of rain can be deceiving! Storms tend to lead to water running off more than soaking into the ground where it can be utilized by our plants, leaving the soil surprisingly dry despite puddles on your patio and drops of water on plant leaves. Consider using a moisture meter, a finger, or even a stick to assess your soil for the required moisture for successful growing.

Watering can be confusing for even the most experienced gardeners, especially with the vast amount of information available at our fingertips. Watering plants correctly is vital for maintaining the health and longevity of our gardens. Using the tips above for utilizing proper watering techniques, we can preserve the health of our plants, protect water resources wasted by runoff and evaporation, and minimize disease. Knowing the “what” and “when” of watering in your garden is the key to growing healthy plants and conserving this precious resource.


This educational blog is a series of informative articles from the Penn State Master Gardeners volunteers plus news concerning the group and their activities. For more information, click here.