88 Degrees

DSC_2414Though our summer has been mostly moderate and regularly rainy, we are in the throes of a hot spell. It is hot enough to make working in the garden a sweat fest. Oh yes, the hot days have gone on for a while.  If I can’t be outside at 6am, I would rather wait until 6pm. Do the tropical/seasonal plants in my pots mind an 88 degree day?  Not at all. Many of them originate in very hot climates.  They have been waiting for this heat since late May. It is important to differentiate between what you would like on a hot day, and what your container plants would like. I do not water my containers when it is hot. I might like a cool shower after a hot day outdoors, but tropical plants thrive in the hot heat. I only water them when they are dry, or in imminent danger of becoming dry. I water dry plants, not hot plants.

watering pots August 2015 (3)I have no scientific evidence to support the following-just my experience and instinct.  On an 88 degree sunny day, I do not water my pots from the top.  I would rather keep the foliage dry.  Wet and heat put together is a reliably good recipe for disease. Mildew in a container – what gardener needs that? I use one hand to raise up the trailing plants on the edge, and the other to direct water to the surface of the dirt. No matter the size of the pot, I move the wand to different locations on the edge of the pot, so I am sure all the soil gets watered evenly. All around. Watering in one spot will invariably leave some other spot dry. I water the soil, all around, in hot weather.

watering pots August 2015 (17)When plants get large, it is not always so easy to see where the interior of the pot actually is.  There’s no sense to watering outside the pot.

watering pots August 2015 (8)This chocolate soldier plectranthus has gotten so large that it takes my whole arm to to flip up the trailing portion, and direct water to the soil. As this pot is located in the corner of my deck, it isn’t feasible to go all the way around it with my wand. The best part for this plant – no water goes on the foliage.  The water need to go to the roots.

watering pots August 2015 (10)Watering a seasonal container properly takes a little finesse. This container needs water at the center.  A rim watering is not enough.  My left hand has located the surface of the soil in the middle, while my right hand delivers the water. How do I know how this pot needs water?  I touch the soil.  If it is hard and crusty,  (as soil tends to get towards the end of the growing season, when the plants are heavily rooted) I water until that soil softens, and feels spongy to the touch.  This pot I may need to water twice, to get it sufficiently soaked.  I will not water again until the soil has dried out.

watering pots August 2015 (14)Flipping the leaves up in a container gives me a look at the soil below, and helps me to direct the water horizontally across the surface of the soil.  Plants are more forgiving of their leaves being handled as a group. Handling a single leaf can result in breakage. Water directed to the roots of plants in need is life giving.

watering pots August 2015 (11)The German ivy at the lower left in this picture is trailing just about to the ground now. As the vines are very juicy, heavy, and brittle, I move the leaves just above the rootball as gently as possible, and water from the top. I wouldn’t want to risk breaking an entire branch.  I would not flip up German ivy trailers in search of the soil surface.  I shine that water down on its root ball, as best I can. Every plant in a container needs to be watered differently.

watering pots August 2015 (15)Dichondra, on the other hand, is a light weight and pliable vine.  The round leaves do a decent job of repelling water, should I water from the top. The best way to get the water to the roots of a dichondra is to get the leaves out of the way. Once I have watered those roots,  I set the vines back down.  Gently.

watering pots August 2015 (6)This pot full of belamcanda lilies is thoroughly rooted.  All of the growth is upright, so watering at the bottom is easy.  On an 88 degree day, I flood the soil until the water comes up to the rim. After the water drains,  I will refill the pot until I see evidence of water draining all of the way out the bottom.

watering pots August 2015 (1)The rush in this pot is very fond of water. The Cuban oregano-it is happy to be dryer.  Some pots need selective watering.  I make the time to do this. I pour the water to the rush, and water the oregano every so often.

watering pots August 2015 (4)This pot planted with a rose scented geranium and a number of phormiums-I water it from the top. I cannot really explain why. The rose scented geranium does not bend much.  The phormium is vulnerable to breakage at the crown.  Why all this talk about watering?  Container plantings need regular and thoughtful watering.  People regularly ask me why my pots look good so late in the season, and during really hot weather. It’s the watering.







  1. Jean Guest says

    Thank you for this detailed explanation of watering ….very helpful as always.

  2. Julia Hofley says

    Good Morning Deborah~Looks like I may be overwatering…I’m doing it daily and that may be necessary for some but not all. Thanks for the friendly reminder about how to properly water! This heat is getting to me, I’m glad there is rain in the forecast~

  3. Similar weather here; sweat fest indeed. Thanks for a great lesson on watering and for the idea of putting blackberry lily in a pot. Do you heel it in in soil for the winter or put it in a cold garage?

  4. Rare is the person understanding how important proper watering is. Too rare.

    Seems simple, but it’s not.


  5. This was a really fascinating post.
    I can’t tell you how many plants I’ve damaged over the years because of incorrect watering. Most frustrating is snapping off a long trailing vine during watering because of the brittleness and weight of it — and mishandling it during the watering process.
    Thanks, Deborah!

  6. Wondering how often you fertilize and with what?

  7. debra phillips says

    fascinating deborah, thank you again

  8. Jennifer in KS says

    Great post on watering. It is amazing how plants respond to watering, isn’t it? My rule is, if it doesn’t look stressed, leave it alone. Not to say ignore it …I always check the soil – but I don’t water if it isn’t warranted. Your pots are gorgeous!
    Jennifer in KS

  9. 88 degrees is a cool spell in Texas! Hoping our 100+ degree weather is behind us. It is 84 right now, before noon, and feels like fall! Your potted plants are lovely – these would fry in Texas but so nice to look at the lush photos!

  10. The best looking plants in pots here are also the tropicals. They thumb their noses at the heat, humidity and lack of rain.

  11. Ruth Wolery says

    Thank you for the watering tips and the names of the plants. You are most helpful.

  12. Your containers look lush. How often do you fertilize, and what type of wand are you using?

  13. Carolyn Neiman says

    This is such good information. I have been guilty of watering from the top and will try to do better going forward. Your 88 degree heat wave is a cool spell here in Alabama!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Carolyn, your heat is all the more reason to put the water to the soil, and not to the leaves. Deborah

  14. Thank you for this great information. I planted this year Big Blue Lirope in urns and they turned brown and died. I watered them when the soil on top was dry. Should I have not watered them as mentioned? I am trying to figure out why they died. The urns have one hole in center of urn. These are cast iron urns. I have always had a green thumb so this is puzzling me. Thank you for any information.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Nancy, I could not comment on your problem without seeing where you have them. Experiment. You will figure it out. The plants are very clear about what they do not like. It is a matter of learning their language. best, Deborah

  15. Hi Deborah,
    As you detail so well, watering of containers is indeed an art. Unlike you, it’s an art I’ve not yet mastered!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Alan, the watering is key. Take some time with it. The time you take with it will prove very relaxing. all the best, Deborah

  16. Mary Sue Ewing says

    Dear Deborah,
    Thank you so much for the wonderful pictures of your beautifully planted pots, and how to water them. We are paying attention!
    Also thanks for your last post with the Birds’ Nest Ferns, we wish ours were not developing a faded color and crispy brown edges. Moving them into a sunnier space this year was not a good idea. The only one doing well is in deep shade with other ferns. Lessons learned!
    Mary Sue Ewing

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mary Sue, those birds nest ferns will tolerate a placing on a shy edge of the sun. Any more than that, they protest. Sun singed ferns-ouch. best to you, Deborah

  17. Gorgeous containers! What is the name of the green/lemon colored plant in the first pic?

  18. Deborah, thank for such a thorough and thoughtful discussion of an important topic. Something as simple as watering is not so simple at all if we want to do our garden justice.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Marti, watering is simple. But an understanding of how to water is entirely intuitive.I do not ever go to a discussion of justice with a client. The time any gardener spends watering is a special pleasure. I work the pleasure angle. Best, Deborah

  19. It’s the watering:).

  20. Ruth Wolery says

    I am having some trouble with Mexican Heather on how much water for them and how often?
    Thank you.
    Ruth Wolery

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