While it seems like a simple thing, knowing how to properly water your plants is one of the biggest determining factors on whether you can achieve good results or not in your grow. Water too often and you’ll suffocate your plant’s roots and suffer from issues with mold growth. Water too infrequently and your brittle plants won’t grow as they should. That’s why it’s so important to learn proper watering techniques and how to recognize when your plant is getting too much or too little water. Master plant watering and you’ll be amazed at the impact it has on the success of your grows.
Maintaining a Healthy Wet to Dry Cycle
The healthiest plants follow a cycle from wet to dry over and over again as they grow. As the soil dries out, plants stretch their roots searching for additional moisture and have a chance to breathe. When they get wet again they hydrate, take in nutrients and grow. It’s up to you to maintain this cycle by providing the right amount of water at intervals spaced out long enough for the plants to dry out once again. To do this you need to give enough water to each plant that water is pooling at the top, but is absorbed into the soil when you finish. Then you need to wait until the soil dries out to about one inch or to your knuckle deep into the soil. Once it’s that dry you can water once again. To really be careful to avoid overwatering your plants (which is the more dangerous issue) wait until you see slight signs of under watering in your plants at first and water them immediately. This will help you learn an effective watering schedule initially.
How to Spot and Fix Issues with Overwatering
Overwatering is one of the most common problems that novice growers face. It’s easy to assume that the growing plants need a dose of water every single day, but most often that’s not true.
Plants Need Air Too
On top of taking in water with their roots to stay hydrated, plants rely on the roots to take in air as well. When they’re constantly saturated with water they will actually begin to drown.
- Droopy leaves – The leaves become so full of water that they curl inward and become firm.
- Slowed growth – growth will slow and even stop due to the lack of regular oxygen exposure.
- Yellow leaves – Too much watering creates a nutrient imbalance that leads to yellowing leaves.
If you’ve been watering your crops on a daily basis and they’re suffering from any of the above symptoms, the best step you can take is to cut back on how frequently you water. Stop watering every day and start feeling the soil before watering instead. Put your fingers into the top layer of the soil and only water your crops when the soil feels dry up to your knuckles. Making this one change will give the roots of your plants a chance to breathe and should correct most over watering problems. It will also teach you about how often you should be watering your plants, which varies depending on your climate.
How to Spot Issues with Under Watering
While under watering your plants is a less serious issue, it can still prevent optimal growth and lead to serious problems over time. To avoid this issue water your plants closely and check the soil for a dry feel daily.
Signs of Under Watering
When plants aren’t getting enough water you can see it clearly. Become aware of the signs and you’ll know when your plants are thirsty.
- Wilting leaves
- Brittle and papery leaves
- Lifeless or dull looking plant
- Very dry soil
Correcting the Issue
If you’re plants aren’t getting enough water, water them more heavily or more frequently than you currently are. Test the soil regularly to feel when it becomes dry again to decide how often to water your plants. Also, put your plant in a properly-sized container. Large plants in a too-small container will make it difficult for the small root system to keep up with the demands of a growing plant unless watered frequently, maybe multiple times a day.
Your plants will be healthiest when you use high-quality water. To achieve this you need to monitor and adjust pH and PPM in your water source.
The water’s pH should be kept around 6.5 when possible, making it slightly acidic. Use pH Up and pH Down to maintain the proper pH when watering. The PPM of your nutrient solution should be adjusted carefully as well. Try and keep the PPM to between 700 and 1000 during the vegetative stage and closer to 1,250 during flowering. Less nutrients is usually (always) better than too much. Use a TDS meter to monitor this and adjust your nutrients appropriately. It’s important to note, there are different measurements for TDS, and not all meters (or nutrient companies) use the same measurement. It’s kind of like feet vs meters. They both measure distance, but 1 meter is much larger than 1 foot. We’re using the TDS / PPM 700 scale here, but there is also the 500 scale which tends to have lower numbers.
These containers full of coco coir are ready for some plants!
Setting up Your Grow for Healthier Hydration
Understanding how to maintain the fine balance of just enough moisture in your plant’s soil doesn’t matter if you don’t have the proper setup. That’s why you need to start by optimizing your grow environment. Install drip lines, use a watering timer and choose your containers and soil carefully for more reliable results over time.
Drip Lines are Very Helpful
Serious growers should be relying on drip lines rather than hand watering, sprinklers or anything like that. Drip lines make it easy to distribute water evenly through containers or grow beds. Install drip lines around each of your plants and you will evenly water each one for more reliable results. We like to use small, slow flow drippers or drip lines, as opposed to big hoses with lots of flow. When you pour a bunch of water really quickly onto the media, it tends to shoot down one part of the container, or the edges of the container, without soaking in correctly. The slower drip allows the water to evenly absorb into the media in the container.
Why You Need a Water Timer
To keep your plants healthy you must monitor how much water the pump is sending to them every time. A water timer is the most accurate way to do this. By using a water timer you can precisely adjust how much water the plants are receiving to increase or decrease the amount. If your plants still looked dry and thirst after the last watering, you can add another watering for the day. If they showed symptoms of overwatering, you can drop the frequency or quantity by adjusting the timer. Eventually the timer will help you keep your plants at healthy hydration levels all the time.
Choose Containers and Soil with Care
Canvas containers are an optimal choice for good water management and plant health for three reasons. Canvas material is breathable and gives plant roots access to air whenever they need it. It’s also porous and allows water to drain out. Finally, a good canvas container won’t trap heat, which helps keep plants at healthy temperatures even in hot climates.
It’s also vital to size up containers over time to keep plants housed in the right size at all times. Start off each seedling in a 1” x 1” cube, then a 1 gallon, and finally 5 gallon containers over time. Usually, the plants grow too quickly to have too many intermediary steps, but oversized containers are a waste of space, time, and energy. The moment your plant’s root system fills all the soil in the container it is ready to move on to the next container size up. Too large containers leave behind stagnant water and promote fungus and mold, but containers that are too small stunt growth by trapping the roots.
In a closely monitored grow good drainage is more beneficial than water retention is. That’s why you must adjust your soil composition with care to make sure excess water can be drained effectively. Soil composition is arguably even more important than the container it’s held in though. Perlite is a vital soil addition that will allow your plant roots to breathe and allow excess water to drain reliably.
It’s up to you to maintain proper growing conditions and ideal watering practices to keep your plants healthy. A good watering schedule is one of the most crucial factors to healthy growth, so take the task seriously and make changes where necessary in your grow operation for best results.