Tips for Watering a Container Garden (Beginners Guide)

watering your containers

Container gardens are an excellent option when you are limited on space or the soil in your area is unsuitable for gardening. Growing flowers and vegetables in containers are similar to growing them in the soil, but there are some things you should be aware of.

Watering your container garden isn’t difficult, but it does take a little more monitoring to get it right.

The key to giving your container gardens the right amount of water is to provide well-draining soil and check the soil’s moisture frequently until you develop a good watering routine.

What does soil have to do with watering your container garden?

Container gardens need organic-rich, well-draining soil to provide your plants with the water and nutrients without causing the soil to become soggy. That means all-purpose potting soil or garden loam alone won’t do the trick.

Both all-purpose potting soil and garden loam are too heavy for containers and often cause issues with compacted soil.

potted plants

What soil is best for container gardens?

There are many recipes for making your soil mix for container gardens. While some contain fertilizer and amendments like lime, it isn’t an exact science. You do need rich soil that provides plenty of aeration for roots and allows water to drain freely through the soil.

A good mixture to start with is equal parts peat moss, compost (or garden soil), and perlite. The Penn State Extension recommends adjusting the mix to the right texture once you have combined the ingredients, especially if you have used garden loam in the mix.

Add more peat moss if the mixture feels too gritty, as it likely has too much sand in the garden loam. If the mixture feels sticky, it needs more perlite and peat moss. Add a little at a time and feel the soil. It should feel light and porous, not dense and sticky.

How do you know if your container garden needs watering?

The quick answer is your container garden needs watering when the soil is dry. There are several easy ways to check the moisture level in your soil.

  1. Do a Finger Test: Insert your finger into the soil to 3 to 4 inches. If your finger comes out dry and clean, it is time to water your container garden. If damp soil clings to your finger, let the soil dry for another day or two before watering it.
  2. Use a Moisture Meter: A moisture meter assesses the amount of moisture in the soil with a long metal probe. Insert the probe into the soil and read the display to determine whether your container garden needs water. Follow the instructions for reading the results of your moisture meter.
  3. Lift the Pot: Dry soil is lightweight and wet soil is heavy. Lifting the pot and assessing its weight can give you a heads up that your container needs to be watered. If the container lifts easily, the soil has dried, and it is time to water your plants.
  4. Visually Examine the Soil: Dry soil looks lighter in color and often pulls away from the side of the container. Dry soil may also look crusty around the edges of the container.

bougainvillea in pot

How often do you need to water container gardens?

How often you need to water your container gardens depends on many factors. The size and rate of growth of the plants, the amount and quality of soil in the container, and the weather can all affect how often you need to water your container garden.

During the heat of summer, when plants are growing rapidly, hanging baskets and window boxes may need to be watered twice a day to make up for water loss to rapid plant growth and evaporation. Larger containers may need to be watered once a day, while large raised beds may be okay for several days.

The key to keeping your container gardens well-watered is to check them frequently and water them when the soil is dry.

How much water should you give container gardens?

You should water your container garden to saturate the soil. This means watering it until water runs freely through the bottom of the pot and then letting the top 2 to 4 inches of the soil dry out before watering it again.

watering containers

What is the best time to water container gardens?

You can water your container gardens any time the soil is dry, but the best time is early morning when the air is cool and still. This prevents water loss to evaporation or winds and ensures your plants are well-hydrated for the day ahead.

Developing a good watering routine for your container garden will keep your plants healthy and happy, but don’t forget to consider the specific plant’s needs. While most vegetables and flowers like soil that is evenly moist and dries out slightly between waterings, some have more particular watering needs. If you are growing either drought-loving (like cacti) or moisture-loving (like cattail or wild iris) plants, be sure to provide them with the moisture level they prefer.