Water flowing from a watering can onto the base of a gooseberry plant
Just like people, plants need water to survive. Find advice on when to water outdoors and how to water wisely, making this key activity easier to manage.

Helpful information

Timing: All year around (rarely needed in winter)

Where to do it: Outdoors

Garden space: Small garden, large garden, balcony

  • Watering is a frequent gardening task, particularly in summer, offering regular physical activity
  • Through watering, you can better understand your plants and what they need to survive
  • When you water, you can get an immediate sense of benefitting your plants. Sometimes, you can almost watch a droopy plant pick up before your eyes with a little water!

Essential items

  • Watering tools (see below for guide)

Tools to make it easier

  • Bottle top waterer
  • Water butts
  • Water butt pump
  • Multi-purpose compost / bark (as a mulch)
  • Rain gauge/soil moisture meter
  • Self-watering spike
  • Water retaining granules
  • Plastic to line pots and containers

There are lots of watering tools available online and in garden centres. These are some of the most commonly used ones.

Watering can

A pair of watering cans
A pair of watering cans

One of the best known of all gardening tools! Some designs can be awkward to carry. A lightweight watering can with flat sides should be easier to manage than a round one. They are also available in a variety of sizes, so you can find the right size for you and your garden.

Some watering cans have a rose attachment. This is a round disc on the end that allows water to sprinkle out as a light shower. Without one, the speed of water can upset the soil.

You can find watering cans with a control valve to manage the flow of water. These save tipping and arm strain. Make sure you can comfortably push the button that controls the valve.

Search for watering cans online

Garden hose

A garden hose together with water butt and brooms
A garden hose together with water butt and brooms

For medium or larger gardens, a hose is very useful. An expandable lightweight hose is easier to pull into position and springs back into place.

Various spray gun or sprinkler attachments are available to clip onto the end of your hose. This may be a challenge to do if you have limited manual dexterity or grip. Try before you buy.

Search for hoses online

Watering lance

The lance attachment connects onto your hose. This is useful for watering hanging baskets or wide beds and borders without strain.

Search for watering lances online

Garden sprinkler

A lawn sprinkler delivering a jet of water
A lawn sprinkler delivering a jet of water

In the summer months, a sprinkler attachment for your hose can be set to keep your beds and borders watered. These are sometimes used on lawns too but are not necessary. Even if your lawn goes brown, it will recover in the autumn. It's best to focus on the health of your flower beds instead.

Search for garden sprinklers online

Garden hose trolley

In some of our Thrive gardens, we use a garden hose trolley to make watering easier. This can be moved around on sturdy wheels and comes with a basket at the back, making it helpful for those with any issues with mobility or strength. These can be a little more expensive than a regular hose.

Search for garden hose trolley online

Automatic watering systems

There is a whole range of automatic watering or irrigation systems available.

Drip watering systems can be set up to link to hanging baskets, growbags, or greenhouse plants.

You could also lay seep / soaker hoses in your beds and borders. These deliver water to the plants more slowly.

These systems can be costly and fiddly to set up, but once in place can save time, physical effort and water.

Search for automatic watering systems online

Watering trays

Watering trays are handy for keeping plants both outside and inside well-watered. They come in a variety of sizes to fit different pots.

Search for watering trays online

A person waters their plants outdoors using a watering can
A person waters their plants outdoors using a watering can

Watering is such an essential part of gardening. Too much or too little water is one of the most common reasons plants don’t grow very well.

Knowing the best ways to water can help your plants. You can also make it easier for yourself, avoiding frequent trips with a heavy watering can.

How to tell when your plant needs watering

Try not to wait for plants to wilt.

One way to tell if your plants need watering is to scratch the soil around them. See if the soil feels moist when you poke a finger in as far as the first joint. If it does, you most likely won’t need to water.

Make it easier

A rain gauge can offer a visual guide. You will be able to see if it is empty, which can be a sign you need to water your plants. Or if the gauge has a good amount of water in it, that means there has been some rainfall and you probably don’t need to water.

Moisture meters are also available for outdoor and indoor use. Stick the probe into the soil and it will show you how wet or dry the soil is.

A rain gauge among the plants at Thrive Battersea
A rain gauge among the plants at Thrive Battersea

How to water less

If you are low on time, energy or want to make it physically easier, there are ways to reduce how often you water.

Line wooden raised beds and hanging baskets with plastic so they keep moisture in better. Some hanging baskets come ready lined. You could also use an old compost bag cut to size as a liner.

Adding a layer of mulch to your flower beds and containers in spring will also help keep in water. Multi-purpose compost or bark chippings is ideal.

Water-retaining granules make water last longer in containers and hanging baskets.

In summer, you could place a plant pot tray under smaller pots to hold the water. It’s best to remove these in winter so the plant doesn’t get waterlogged.

You can also reduce watering time by choosing plants that like dry conditions. Try agapanthus, lavender, hardy geranium, geum, rock rose, sedum and grasses.

You could prioritise the plants that desperately need water. Seedlings, recently added plants and containers are most important.

Automatic watering systems can save you having to water yourself (see tools, above). Or, you could use a self-watering spike in small pots and containers. This releases water over a period of time and is helpful if you are going away.

Your tip

I put teabags at the bottom of plant pots over the drainage holes. This helps retain moisture.” – survey respondent, gardening and dementia

Watering tips

It’s easy to forget, but always water the base of the plant where the roots are – don’t water the leaves and flowers.

Water plants really well every two or three days, instead of a little bit every day. This helps the water get to the roots.

It’s best to water early in the morning or in the cool of the evening. If you water in the middle of a sunny day, the water can evaporate before reaching the roots.

As someone with anxiety and depression I can struggle with getting out of bed in the morning. If I know I need to get up early and water my plants, it gives me an extra incentive to go outside.

Jason, The Cloud Gardener & Thrive Ambassador

With small pots where the soil has got very dry, a good way to water is to immerse the pot in a bucket of water. Hold it in the water until bubbles stop rising to the surface – this indicates your plant is now well watered. This is an enjoyable way to get hands on!

Make it easier

Through your choice of watering equipment and position of watering points and plants, you can make watering easier to do

Lighter carrying
For very small containers, or for a balcony garden, a bottle top waterer is a lightweight option. The top screws onto an old plastic bottle.

If you have any issues with strength or grip, or have arthritis, you could try only filling your watering can half way. This will mean a few more trips to water your plants.

A lightweight curly hose can be easier to manage, especially if you have a weak grip. Store at a height within easy reach.
Saving energy
Keep containers in one place. This way you can water them all at the same time.

Place water butts and standpipes (outdoor taps) at convenient spots around the garden. This will reduce how far you have to walk to collect water. A battery powered water butt pump allows you to fix a hose to your water butt.
Avoid straining
A watering can with a control valve can help manage the flow of water without arm strain.

Don’t overstretch when trying to water plants that are out of reach. Watering lances are helpful if you have hanging baskets or harder to reach areas.
Remembering to water
If you find you sometimes forget to water, at the end of the day fill a watering can ready for the next day. The sight of the full can will remind you to do it.

Watering is a lovely ongoing activity that gets you into the garden.

Keep a close watch on your plants, particularly over summer, to see if they need more water than usual.

Top tip

If you’ve forgotten to water and your plants have wilted / completely flopped don’t give up on them! A good water may be enough to revive them.

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