Watering plants: top tips on what to do, when to do it, and which tools to use

This guide on watering plants will help you keep your garden plants (and those in the house) looking their best all year

pink watering can watering plants
(Image credit: Westend61/Getty Images)

Watering plants is a crucial garden task to keep them happy and healthy. Newly planted trees and shrubs plus other freshly planted areas need to be kept well watered, but so do annual flowers, perennials, pots, containers and hanging baskets, plus any vegetables you’re growing. In other words, there could be plenty in your garden that needs frequent attention from a watering can, hose, or sprinkler. 

There's more to it than you might first think. Knowing how much to water, the best ways to do it, how often, and even the optimum time of day are all key factors in getting the job done effectively. Plus, with water supplies under pressure due to climate change, it's important to learn how you can use less mains water and turn to other, more eco-friendly sources to keep plants growing. 

We've got the lowdown on watering your outdoor plants, as well as expert tips on keeping your houseplants healthy, too. And, if you want to make light work of your watering tasks, our best garden hose and best garden sprinkler buying guides are sure to come in handy.

What tool should you use for watering plants?

Using a watering can is – to no surprise – a great approach to watering plants. It makes it easy to direct the water to the roots of your plants where it's needed: wetting the foliage above encourages evaporation and can cause disease problems. Water the stem bases but not the surrounding area. This way, you'll supply maximum water to the roots of the plant you're caring for and avoid providing weeds with a water supply. 

Alternatives to a watering can? You can use a soaker hose. Water can seep through along the length of the hose thanks to its porous layers so that it reaches the roots of the plants you want to water. Or, try a drip irrigation system of a scale that suits your plot, whilst sprinklers can be useful for lawns. You could also consider self-watering pots for your container gardening ideas, which allow the roots of the plants to draw water from a reservoir.

If you have a large amount of watering to do, you might want to use one of the best garden hoses. Make sure you have a spray attachment on the end – an aerated version will cut your water use. Be sure you direct water to the base of the stems, as above.

galvanized watering can from garden trading next to a trowel and fork

This pretty galvanized steel watering can is from Garden Trading

(Image credit: Garden Trading)

How frequently to water your plants

There aren't universal watering rules, unfortunately. Plants have different needs, and the weather will affect what you need to do, too. The fact that you'll have to water more when it's hot and sunny is unlikely to surprise you – in the height of summer most plants will benefit from being watered once a day. But bear in mind that windy weather also means plants need more water. And, even if it rains, pay attention to how good the rainfall is. If we’re talking light showers, they won't do much for your plants' roots.

Flowers and foliage in garden planter ideas need more water than those planted straight into your garden, so give these extra attention with your watering can. New plants also require more water, as do larger plants with more leaves. If you're tending to the best vegetables to grow in raised beds, you'll also need to give them plenty of H2O.

watering roses with hose in garden

Water your garden more frequently in hot and windy weather 

(Image credit: Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy/The Image Bank/Getty Images)

Which times of the year – and day – to water plants

You're most likely to need to water the garden from May to September when the weather is at its warmest, but don't count out the possibility from March onwards. You might have to do it at other times of the year, too, depending on weather conditions.

To check whether your borders need watering, 'look at the soil about a spade-deep down,' says the experts at Hozelock. 'Only water if it's dry – if it's already damp there is no need.'

What time of day to water is a more straightforward issue. 'Water at the start or end of the day when the sun isn't so hot,' says Hozelock. 'Less water will evaporate, and watering in peak sunshine can harm your plants. 

'Make it a morning or evening task,' they continue. Or, invest in an electronic water timer, attached to your watering system, which will sense when the sun comes up and goes down. They're perfect if you're looking for low maintenance garden ideas.

You can find more in-depth detail on when is the best time to water plants in our dedicated feature.

2212 SensorControl from Hozelock in garden

A sensor controller from Hozelock is perfect for low-maintenance watering

(Image credit: Hozelock)

The best water to use for watering plants

Cutting down on the use of mains water for the garden is important in an era of climate change and, if you're on a water meter, it's a costly way to keep plants growing anyway. In the event that you do use tap water, bear in mind that using softened water isn't advisable, so take the water for your garden straight from the mains rather than providing plants with water that's gone through your water-softening unit.

The best resource to use for your watering tasks is rainwater, so get yourself a water butt – or more than one. If they have gutters and a downpipe, you could collect water via the runoff from your shed's roof or other garden building as well as from the house. Want to go one step further with sustainable garden ideas? You could also re-use water from cleaning veggies and salad before cooking, or get creative with rain garden features.

If there's a water shortage, you could use grey water: that's water from the shower, bath, wash basins, and washing machine rinse cycles. Soaps and detergents shouldn't cause plants problems, just avoid using grey water for your grow-your-own produce. Also, grey water should always be used quickly and not stored, as bacteria in it will multiply swiftly. Water containing bleach, powerful cleaning products, and from WCs – so-called black water – is always a no-no.

'What about paddling pool water?', you may ask. If it's a small paddling pool that you've recently filled then that should be fine, but in general we don't recommend using paddling pool water on the garden because of the cleaners you'll have used to keep the pool pristine.

pansies being watered by water butt

A water butt is a sustainable way to provide water for your garden

(Image credit: Rosemary Calvert/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images)

Tips for watering indoor plants

When it comes to the best indoor plants, watering is, of course, a year-round task. As with garden plants, individual houseplants have different requirements, so do adapt your routine to the species.

Generally, over-watering is a danger with indoor plants, so let the compost dry a bit before you water. Water until the compost is moist, letting the water drain into a saucer or the sink. 

In winter, most houseplants need less water than they do in the other seasons of the year, so reduce your watering schedule. 

It's a good idea to let water come up to room temperature before using it on your houseplants. Using rainwater is an even better idea and, as with the garden, if it's tap water you’re putting on to plants, avoid softened water.

woman watering houseplants

Houseplants need watering too, but be careful not to overdo it

(Image credit: Carol Yepes/Moment/Getty Images)

Should you mist your houseplants?

Many houseplants originate from tropical regions, where humidity is high. However, the air in our homes, especially once you factor in central heating and air con, tends to be rather dry.

Misting the leaves and soil of your plant every couple of days is a great way to get around this, as it offers houseplants a more suitable growing environment. What's more, it helps to reduce the risk of overwatering them. Ferns, orchids and begonias are just some of the many varieties that will benefit, but avoid misting your succulents and cacti which prefer drier air – doing so can lead to rot.

Looking for more indoor garden ideas? Our feature is full of gorgeous inspo.

young woman misting houseplant

Misting some houseplants can be beneficial

(Image credit: Westend61/Getty Images)

What are the signs that you're not watering your plants enough?

Wondering which signs to look out for to check if you're watering plants enough? These characteristics are a giveaway:

  • The leaves are dry, drooping and curling.
  • The soil beneath feels dry when using the touch test. To do this, push your finger down into the compost or soil to at least knuckle depth to see if it's damp, says the RHS.
  • The plant is wilting or no longer standing upright.
  • Growing speeds have reduced more than expected, or perhaps there are fewer fruits and flowers being produced.
  • Your containers feel lighter in weight.

woman watering tomatoes in greenhouse

Regular watering will help to boost your edible crops' yield

(Image credit: Marnie Burkhart/Corbis/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

More top tips for watering plants:

Looking for more useful advice for watering plants? Try these tips from Hozelock:

  • Place a potted plant under your hanging basket ideas when watering them. That way, the pot can soak up the excess water that falls from the basket.
  • Add a layer of homemade compost or well-rotted manure around your plants – it will help to retain moisture. Our ultimate guide to mulching has all the tips you need.
  • Try to remove as many weeds as you can from your borders, as they will be sapping water from the soil (and from the plants that are meant to be there). Need a hand blitzing those pesky intruders? Our guide on how to get rid of weeds is a great place to start.
  • Watch out for leaky watering systems. Dripping or leaking connectors from a tap to your watering tool can waste a lot of water over time. If your connector seems to be leaking, the O Rings on your watering tool may have perished or become damaged. Replacing the O Rings can quickly fix this issue and is simple to do.

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Sarah Warwick
Sarah Warwick

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor writing for websites, national newspapers, and magazines. She's spent most of her journalistic career specialising in homes and gardens – long enough to see interiors that blur the indoor/outdoor link become a must-have. She loves investigating the benefits, costs and practicalities of home improvement, both indoors and out, and it's no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, so she's a serial house revamper.