How often to water new shrubs?

Shrubs planted within the last 2 seasons are considered newly planted. It takes roughly 3 winters to establish a plant.

Following are some general guidelines for ensuring success with newly planted shrubs. Extreme weather conditions or unusual drainage situations may require some adjustments.

Watering Instructions for new shrubs:


1. Water 2 to 3 times per week depending on temperature. (windy and 90’s 3 times a week)

2. Take the hose to the base of the shrub place it on the ground so the water will soak the whole root ball.

3. Turn hose on ¼ open so the water will slowly soak the root ball. If the water is running off close the valve more. If the shrub is on a slope start on the high side.

4. Leave the water run for approximately 5-7 minutes.

5. Repeat this from April to the end of September

6. October through March water once a month for a total of 30 minutes for a nice deep soaking. Unless there is 4 inches of snow on the ground, this rarely happens.

7. Please note: Some shrubs will show shock quickly do not panic, if the leaves burn simply adjust your watering (i.e. If currently watering 2 times a week move to 3 times per week…3 times per week move to 4). Approximately 2 weeks later new foliage will grow.

Watering Instructions for new shrubs


1. Water 2 to 3 times per week depending on temperature. (windy and 90’s 3 times a week)

2. Use 2-3 drippers and place them at the base of the shrub so the water will soak the whole root ball.

3. The shrub will need 5-7 gallons of water a week. (supplement by hand if needed)

4. April through September deep soakings are the key 10 minutes every day does not work for shrubs.

5. October through March. Turn the hose on ¼ open so the water will slowly soak the root ball. If the water is running off close the valve more.

6. If the shrub is on a slope start on the high side.

7. Leave the water run for approximately 5-7 minutes.

Please note: Some shrubs will show shock quickly do not panic, if the leaves burn simply adjust your watering (i.e. if currently watering 2 times a week then move to 3 times per week…3 times per week move to 4). Approximately 2 weeks later new foliage will grow.

Proper watering is a necessary requirement immediately after transplanting
any plant. Including a root stimulator with the initial watering will help lessen transplant shock and encourage new root growth.
Your trees and shrubs will need individual attention until they become established.
Keep in mind that it takes one year per inch of tree diameter for a tree to get established.
As a rule of thumb all plants need at least 1″ of water per week through rain or irrigation. The best way to water trees and shrubs is to place a hose by the base of the plant and set at a slow trickle. If set at the proper rate, water will be absorbed and not run off the root ball. A slow soaking is the goal. Use the following chart as a guideline for watering trees.
Over-watering can be as much of a problem as under-watering. Unfortunately, symptoms of both problems are similar. Signs of over-watering may include yellowing of leaves and an overall limp appearance. Additional watering will not revive plant. Under-watered plants will also wilt and may brown around leaf edges. However, under-watered plants will respond with additional water.
The best way to determine a plant’s watering needs is to physically check the soil 4” deep around the root ball. If the soil is wet, don’t water. If the soil is
dry, the plant needs watered.
Sprinklers may be used to water lawns, small shrubs, flowers, and vegetables.
Take a pie plate and set it 6 – 7 feet from your sprinkler. See how long it
takes to catch 1/2 inch of water. Double that time, and water your lawn and gardens that length of time.
Infrequent deep watering encourages deep root growth and discourages mildew, fungi, and disease.

Watering New Plants: What Does It Mean To Water Well When Planting

“Be sure to water it well when planting it.” I say this phrase several times a day to my garden center customers. But what does it mean to water well when planting? Many plants don’t get a chance to develop the deep vigorous roots they’ll need, because of insufficient watering. Continue reading to learn how to water new garden plants.

What Does it Mean to Water Well When Planting?

Before planting, it is a good idea to observe the drainage of the planting site or do a soil drainage test. Ideally, you want your planting site’s soil to drain at a rate of about 1-6” per hour. If the area drains too quickly, you’ll need to amend the soil with organic material or plant only drought tolerant plants. If the area drains too slowly, or water stays pooled up, you’ll need to amend the soil with organic materials or use plants that tolerate wet soil only.

Watering depends on several key factors like:

  • What kind of plant you are planting
  • What type of soil you have
  • Weather conditions

Drought tolerant plants, like succulents, require less water to establish and grow; over watering these plants can lead to root and crown rot. If your soil is too sandy or is mostly clay, you will have to adjust your soil or watering habits to give the plants the water they need. If you are planting in a rainy season, you will need to water less. Likewise, if you are planting during the dry season, you will need to water more.

With all these factors in mind, you will generally need to water all new plants (even drought tolerant plants) deeply every time you water. Wetting the soil 6-12” deep encourages roots to grow deeply. Allowing the soil and roots to slightly dry out between waterings encourages the roots to reach out, seeking water on their own. Plants that are watered deeply but infrequently will have vigorous, strong roots while plants that are watered lightly and often have shallow, weak roots.

Watering Tips for New Plants

It is best to water new plants right at the plant base. This can be done for a group of new plants with a soaker hose laid out so it runs by the base of all the new plants. If you have just added one or two new plants to the garden, it’s best to just water those few new plants individually with a regular hose, so that the already established plants in the garden will not receive too much water.

Water a plant immediately when you plant it. Whether you’re watering a group of plants with a soaker hose or just one plant with the end of a regular hose, water with a slow steady trickle for 15-20 minutes. Never blast water on the base of the plant, as this causes erosion of the soil and just wastes all the water that the plant doesn’t get the chance to soak up.

  • For the first week, continue to water plants with regular watering needs every day with a slow steady trickle for 15-20 minutes. For succulents, water the same way, only every other day. If there is more than one inch of rainfall in your area, you do not need to water that day.
  • The second week, you can wean the plant by watering every other day with a slow steady trickle for about 15-20 mins. With succulents, by the second week, you can water them only about 2-3 times.
  • The third week you can wean your plants even more by watering them only 2-3 times a week with a slow, steady trickle for 15-20 minutes. At this point, succulents can be weaned to one watering a week.
  • After the third week, continue watering new plants 2-3 times a week for the rest of their first growing season. Adjust watering for the weather; if you’re getting a lot of rain, water less. If it is hot and dry, water more.

Container plants will need to be watered every day or every other day throughout the growing season, as they dry out faster. When in doubt, simply stick your fingers in the soil. If it is dry, water it; if it is wet, give it time to absorb the water in the soil.

If watered properly the first growing season, your plants should be well established the following growing season. Their roots should be deep and tough enough to seek out water on their own. You will only have to water these established plants on hot, dry days or if they are showing signs of distress.

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Getting your garden plants established is not as simple as you might think. However, doing it properly can make the difference between life and death for your plants, so read on to learn how!

How to Get Your Young Garden Plants Established With Proper Irrigation

What are the #1 and #2 reasons that people unintentionally kill their seed starts or seedling transplants? Too much watering or too little watering.

Like Goldilocks, plants prefer things just right. (Nope, plants don’t like porridge.)

If you only remember one thing from this article, let it be this: whether you’re starting seeds, transplanting seedlings, or getting your plants “established” in their final spots in the garden, their soil should feel like a well wrung out sponge: damp but not wet.

Burn this image into your brain. This is a wrung out sponge that just had the water squeezed out of it. You might wonder, “what should my seed starts’ or seed transplants’ soil feel like?” When you do, we want you to remember this image! Your soil should feel like a well wrung out sponge: not sopping wet, not dry.

Now, let’s dig a little deeper to help you become a better gardener…

What Does It Mean to Get a Plant “Established”?

Have you ever moved to a new place? At first, it doesn’t quite feel like home. You don’t have your routine down. You don’t know where to eat out, shop for groceries, hang out, etc..

But after a while, your once-foreign environment starts feeling comfortable and normal. You’ve got your route to work; you’ve got a favorite restaurant; you’ve got friends. You’re “established.”

The same thing is true with plants, except to “put down roots,” plants literally have to put down roots. Plants get established in their new homes via their roots growing into the surrounding soil and by forming symbiotic relationships with various microorganisms in the soil which feed and protect them and get fed via the plants’ root exudates in return.

These small squash seedlings were just transplanted into the garden. They’re not established yet. Immediately after transplanting, they received a deep watering around the base of the plant, and will require regular watering (supplemented by rainfall) for the next 6 weeks until their roots are well-established.

How long does it take for a plant to get established?

It depends, but under ideal conditions, here are some general guidelines:

Perennial Plants

Definition: plants that live for 2+ years.

Perennials are like the tortoise versus the hare. They’re in no rush. They’re slow to get established, but once they do, they might well outlive you.

Perennial plants’ roots are established after about one year. After that, you might not ever have to water a perennial plant again if you live in an area that gets regular rainfall.

Annual Plants

Definition: Plants that don’t live past one year.

Annual plants are fast-growing and get established much more quickly than perennials, since they have to grow and reproduce very quickly.

Annual plants’ roots can get established in as little as 6 weeks. Once established, you don’t have to be as concerned about tending to their watering needs, but this doesn’t mean you should neglect the plants at this point, especially during periods of extreme heat or drought.

This chard plant is well-established and requires no additional irrigation beyond the rainfall we’re getting every 1-3 weeks.

What Can Keep Your Plants From Getting Established?

Here are four factors that can keep your plants from getting established or even kill them:

1. Too much water

Plants are not fish. Unlike aquatic plants, garden plants need aerobic soil conditions (e.g. oxygen to be present). They also need relationships with aerobic bacteria, aerobic fungi, and other oxygen-dependent microbes to live.

When you overwater plants, the soil gets soggy, which creates anaerobic conditions. This means that oxygen can’t reach the plants’ roots, aerobic microorganisms start dying, and anaerobic bacteria start proliferating.

Eventually, this causes the plant’s roots to rot and your plant to die. (*In hydroponic systems, plants form “water roots,” which are a different type of root than soil roots. Also, hydroponic systems keep the water in motion in order to maintain oxygen flow and nutrient flow over the water roots.)

2. Too little water

Again, the ideal soil moisture level for plants feels like a well wrung-out sponge. This is the moisture level you want to have whether you’re starting seeds indoors, direct sowing them outdoors, transplanting seedlings, or trying to get your young plants established.

Your finger is a great tool to use here. With a bit of experience, you’ll know exactly what your soil should feel like. (Wrung out sponge, wrung out sponge!)

Just stick your index finger about 2″ down into the soil near your plants.

3. Not “watering in” your seedlings immediately after transplanting

Immediately after you put your transplants into their final spots in your garden, water them heavily in order to:

  • Make sure their roots are making contact with the soil they were just transplanted into, and
  • Be sure that both the roots and the soil are nice and moist to encourage the roots to grow into the new soil.

Also, be sure the root ball of your seedlings isn’t sticking out from the soil or they will wick moisture up and out of the soil, and quickly dry out. Generally speaking, you want your transplants to be buried in their new soil up to the same level they were in your seed trays.

*Exception to the rule above: In the case of plants like tomatoes that have adventitious roots, you can even bury the stems. (Warning: burying the stems of plants that do NOT have adventitious roots will kill them.)

4. Poor Irrigation Maintenance

You’ve put your nice healthy seedlings into your garden and watered them in. Yay!

But then you don’t get any rain for the next two weeks and it’s hot and windy outside. No!!

That means you’ll need to continue watering your seedlings at least several times per week until the plant is established (or perhaps daily if you till your soil, which decreases its moisture retention properties). If you get good 1/2″ or heavier rains a couple times each week, you might not need to do any extra watering.

If you’ve direct-sown seedlings in your garden, some varieties may need daily watering until they’re about 2″ tall. (Smaller seeds like kale and lettuce come to mind, whereas larger seeds like beans and squash aren’t as needy.) Check the soil with your finger to find out!

If possible, try to use drip irrigation rather than overhead sprinklers to prevent water evaporation/loss and reduce the likelihood of plant foliar diseases.

If your plants are established and you get good rainfall every week or so, you might not have to do any additional watering. If you want to maximize your soil’s ability to absorb and retain water, read our article How to prepare your garden beds for spring!

Happy gardening

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Start new plants off right!

Deeper, infrequent watering helps plants grow healthy extensive roots, that stand up better to drought stress. Smart watering makes a big difference in the health of new plants!

Year 1

Spring through fall, when weather is dry.

  • When planting: Water plants as soon as you get them in the ground. Allow the water to soak in, then water again until the soil is thoroughly moistened.
  • Week one: Water plants daily or every other day. Recently planted roots will absorb moisture from a small area until they begin to grow.
  • Week two onward: Unless the weather is extremely hot and dry, you may be able to decrease watering frequency to two or three times per week until the fall rains begin.

Years 2 & 3

Water deeply once or twice per week. How often and how long you water depend on your soil texture..

After year 3

Plants should be established, and thrive with less watering. Drought-tolerant plants may need no supplemental water, whereas shallow-rooted plants or plants with greater water needs may need water weekly. Many plants may need watering only once or twice a month in dry weather.

Other tips

  • Use water wisely! Water plants when they need it, and apply water according to your soil type and the weather. Do not apply water faster than the soil can absorb it.
  • Water in the morning, so less water is lost to evaporation.
  • Choose the right watering method. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation apply water directly to the soil and reduces evaporation. If you are planting a few plants in an existing planting bed, hand watering can get the new plants the water they need while not overwatering the rest of the plants.
  • Know your soil because it affects watering frequency and duration.
  • Check soil moisture before watering. Probe soil with a spade or trowel. Generally, you want the soil to be dry an inch or two below the surface before you water.
  • Recheck soil after watering. At least an hour after you water (or two hours with clay soil), probe soil to see how deeply the water penetrated. If it didn’t reach the root zone, you may need to increase your watering. If the area is soggy, try cutting back on watering.
  • Encourage deep roots by allowing the top inch or two of soil to dry before watering again.
  • Pick the right plant for the right place. Choose plants that are pest-resistant, require less water, and match the sun, shade, and soil in your yard.
  • Avoid planting in hot, dry weather which can easily stress plants. If you must plant in summer, plant in the cool of the morning when less water is lost to evaporation.
  • Mulch retains moisture. Mulching the surface of the soil reduces evaporation so you can water less often.

Special considerations

  • Drought-tolerant plants need regular water until they are established.
  • Planted containers tend to dry out quickly, particularly unglazed clay pots. Check them daily during the summer by sticking your finger into the soil. If it’s dry down to the first knuckle on your index finger, add water. Always apply enough water so that some drips out of the bottom drain hole.
  • Shallow-rooted plants such as rhododendrons, azaleas, heathers, and bedding plants may need more frequent watering than other plants.
  • Young trees need deep regular watering. During times of little or no rain, water deeply once a week until trees become established.

More Information

How to Water New Plants (pdf)
Choosing the Right Plants guide (pdf)
Right Plant Right Place (pdf)
The Plant List (pdf)

Questions? Call the Garden Hotline at (206) 633-0224 or email [email protected]

Even though it has rained the last few days here in Southern California we are in a drought.

With all the weather changes of late, no matter where you live you could find yourself in drought conditions.

Declared drought or not, saving water is a great idea for the planet & your wallet.

Gardening with drought tolerant plants is a perfect way to do just that. Read on to get my comprehensive list.

Drought Tolerant Gardening

First let’s talk about what it means for a plant to be drought tolerant.

Plants that are drought tolerant are just that – tolerant of drought conditions.

Frequently the term “drought tolerant” is thought of as being “dry or desert-like,” but this is a limited and inaccurate description.

Drought tolerant refers to the degree to which a plant is adapted to arid conditions.

Plants naturally adapted to arid conditions are called Xerophytes. But there are many more plants that adapt well in dry conditions.

You’ve probably have heard the term “native plants” along with the inference that native plants are all water wise, well not necessarily.

Drought tolerant does not always mean native and native doesn’t always mean drought tolerant.

Knowing what drought tolerant is, how to care for drought tolerant plants & how to help a plant become drought tolerant will allow you to make water wise choices in the garden.

How to Care for Drought Tolerant Plants

Now that we are clear on the term “drought tolerant plant”.

Let’s learn how to care for them.

Even drought tolerant plants need water to become established.

Once established, drought tolerant plants are able to withstand long periods of dryness. Going several weeks, or in some cases an entire season, between deep watering. Thriving on far less water than we are accustomed to providing.

Factors such as, soil conditioning, mulches and weed control also help drought tolerant plants thrive.

Water drought tolerant plants deeply for the first season or two – then step back the amount of water significantly.

Make sure the soil is in good condition, mulch and weed when needed. (weeds are usually thirsty & soak up the water first – nasty weeds!)

If you do these few things your drought tolerant plants should fare beautifully. Love a low maintenance garden!

How to Help a Plant Become Drought Tolerant

If plants are watered frequently, such as during lawn watering, they become shallow rooted and therefore dependent upon frequent irrigation. Hence, NOT drought tolerant.

On the other hand, less frequent, but deeper watering in the first year or so, will promote deep rooting. This type of watering will help a plant not necessarily drought tolerant become so.

Deep roots help a plant become drought tolerant as they allow the plant to reach deeper into the earth to get the water it needs. Making for a healthier plant & a water wise garden.

Shallow rooted plants cannot do this, therefore must rely on the water available near the surface of the soil. This soil is of course much dryer. See the cycle that frequent light watering produces? Not good for the plant or the planet!

What Plants are or can be Trained to be Drought Tolerant

I think you will be surprised at the number & variety of drought tolerant plants. I made you a list ~ see it here. Have a look I bet some of your favorites made the list.

Aside from plants declared as drought tolerant, a large majority of landscape plants, once established, are relatively drought tolerant.

The following gardening practices will help plants achieve drought tolerant status or in the very least thrive on less water:

  • Using organic materials and/or water holding polymers at time of planting
  • Installing drip or soaker hose irrigation systems
  • Using organic mulch on top of ground where plants are growing
  • Controlling water-robbing weeds adjacent to landscape plants.

Frankly, most people water more than necessary.

This is particularly true when there is an automatic sprinkler system at a home providing water for a thirsty lawn & surrounding landscape. The shrubs, trees, bushes really do not need that amount of constant water.

If you have an automatic sprinkler system re-think the days & amount of time of watering and number of heads in use, Chances are very good that your landscape would thrive with less water.

As an experiment, I challenge you to decrease the number of days by two & increase the length of time of the watering by 5 minutes.

So fewer days but deeper watering. Then see how it goes. If everything looks good after a week or two, perhaps you can reduce the water use even more.

Let me know if you try this & how it goes!

Don’t forget to visit here to get the list of drought tolerant plants I created just for you!

** Kelly **

5 Reasons Why Your Drought Tolerant, Native Plants Died

After making an effort to conserve water and be environmentally friendly, did you have the unfortunate experience of losing your new drought tolerant, native plants?

Here are five reasons why your drought tolerant, native plants likely died:

A plant with insufficient water will be crispy while the leaf of a plant with too much water will be moist.

Fact: All Plants Need Some Water

Your plants may be drought tolerant, but unless they are petroleum based (plastic), silk, or preserved, they are still going to need some water.

Fact: All Plants Need More Water When They are First Planted

Established plants require less water than newly installed plants and irrigation systems are often “dialed back” for the established plants to conserve water. Since new plants are often added around the current plants, irrigation cycles for existing plants may not provide enough water for the new plants to establish themselves. Before you increase your irrigation, continue reading as too much water can be a problem as well.

Fact: Too Much Water Will Kill a Drought Tolerant, Native Plant

Most people tend to overwater, especially when they see a plant wilting. Did you know a plant will also “wilt” when overwatered? The difference is in the leaf: a plant with insufficient water will be crispy while the leaf of a plant with too much water will be moist. Here are some other ways to find out if you are overwatering your plants.

Fact: Not All Native Plants are Meant to be Planted Wherever

As we say in the landscape business, “Right Plant, Right Place.” Before you place a new native plant, find out where the plant is found in nature. Does it like the sun or shade? Does it prefer moist conditions? Salt tolerance is important if you live near the coast or irrigate with reclaimed water (especially with drip irrigation). The soil type makes a difference as some plants like high organic content, which may not exist in your landscape if your topsoil was removed during construction in the last 10 to 15 years.

Fact: Sometimes Plants Die ― Even Drought Tolerant, Native Plants

Sometimes your plants die, but there is usually a core reason.

Your newly installed plants can have a higher mortality rate due to transplant shock, which is one reason why companies and nurseries have a warranty on their plants.

Once your new plant is established, Mother Nature takes over. Critters (insects, rodents, dogs, etc.) will suck, chew, or urinate on your plants, resulting in its death. Diseases require very specific conditions and can come and go, but when the micro climate is optimal, a disease can become a major problem. The good news is that only specific species are usually victimized.

Some plants will just die of old age. How many years does a plant live? It depends on the plant. As a general rule, trees live longer than shrubs, which live longer than perennials. Annuals are usually just for show or seasonal agriculture.

Often, a combination of reasons will result in your plant’s death. A primary issue may weaken your plant and cause a chain reaction with one problem leading to another.

5 steps for establishing drought-tolerant plants

by Ellen Zagory, Director of Public Horticulture

Plants are curious creatures. Unlike us, they cannot get up and get a drink of water when they are parched. By nature, they are rooted to the spot and rely on Mother Nature or a nearby gardener to supply water.

When any plant—including one labeled “drought tolerant”—is planted, its roots extend only as far as the potting soil in which it came. Over the next few months, new roots will begin to grow into the surrounding soil. During the first winter, any new plant will need regular soil moisture to establish a root system. This requires the gardener to be vigilant in monitoring the young plant, the temperature, the wind, and the amount of rain, and supplying moisture when the plant needs it.

Here are five tips for establishing new plants to make your garden truly drought tolerant:

1. Plant in fall because, as the weather cools and the rains come, evaporation is reduced and soil holds moisture longer. Therefore, your new plants will need to be watered less often. If drought continues, you will need to water just enough to keep the plant from wilting. (Planting in spring is good too, but just expect to use more water to get the plants established.)

2. Water deeply and frequently the first dry summer season. In warm weather, recently planted plants may need to be irrigated as frequently as every other day, especially if it is windy. The roots of a young plant need moisture to grow out into the surrounding native soil. Growing a large root system the first season will help the plant survive the next year as irrigation is reduced.

3. Distribute irrigation water evenly, being sure to wet the soil ball from the container as well as the surrounding few inches of native soil all around the plant. Plants cannot move water from one side to the other. If you water only one side, you will have growth only on one side. Watch for wilting and water if needed.

4. Reduce irrigation frequency the second summer, but apply enough water to wet the top 18 inches. Apply water slowly so that it penetrates into the soil and does not run off. In heavier clay soils, water should be applied slowly, over a long period, to penetrate the entire root zone. If runoff is a problem, run short applications of water, let the water soak in and repeat.

5. Cover the soil with a thick layer of organic mulch, like wood chips, to reduce evaporation, smother weed seedlings, keep the soil cool, and reduce erosion.

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