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How to Water-Get a Moisture Meter!

(You moisture meter is your friend – Matilija Bob)

I don’t know what it is this year, but how to water “correctly” is problem number 1!  The basic instruction is: give your new plants a deep watering, down to the roots.  Then let them go dry, even for a day or two.  It doesn’t mean, turn your sprinklers on daily, or leave the dripper on 3x per week for 8 minutes, or anything like that.

Here’s a little more detail on how you should be watering.  To give your new plants a deep watering down to the roots, how long do you have to water and how often?  If you just look at the top of the soil, it could look wet, but the roots are still dry; or the day after you’ve watered, the top of the soil could look dry when the roots are still wet.  What to do if eyes lie?

It’s now time to whip out your decoder, the moisture meter that will help you answer these questions and put you on the right road to taking care of your new plants.  Ready? Go to your garden or home improvement store with a garden department and buy a moisture meter that looks like the one shown below. The one shown below is the luxury model and measures moisture, light, and ph. It also has a long probe (in this case 2 long probes).  This long probe is what you’re looking for and it should set you back about $8 with tax.

watermeter5gpot 2


Plant your new plant properly, getting things off to a good start. This means dig the hole and fill it up with water and water the plant in the pot too.  Watering the hole makes the whole area damp and watering the plant in the pot tends to reduce transplant shock and lets the plant slide out of the pot more easily, without breaking the roots.  Now take your new plant out of the plastic pot without breaking the roots and place the plant in the hole, cover it in/backfill, and water heavily.

The next day, come out to your new plant in the garden and stick the probe from your new moisture meter all the way into the ground (about 1 FOOT AWAY FROM STEM).  Be careful not to stick the probe through the root ball.

If your moisture meter reads wet the day after you’ve watered, you’re doing the right thing. If it reads moist then you should have watered a bit longer but don’t water again until it reads dry.  So when it reads dry just water a bit longer and go through the process again.  In most cases you’ll be watering between 1x and 2x per week if you plant in the summer.  If you plant in late fall or winter you’ll probably be watering 1x per week and most likely that’s it.  When it rains you’re off the hook but after about a week or so check things out with your moisture meter and if it’s dry then deep water again.

watermetermoist 2

The moisture meter inserted at the “edge” of the pot is reading moist. We’ll check it again in a few days then water again.  This next reading was taken at one of the plants we planted in our butterfly/hummingbird garden.

watermeterdry 2

The plants have been in the ground for a while and the roots are deeper than the probe, still we should deep water in the next couple of days.

If you do this a few times you’ll get the hang of it. The basic idea is that water needs to get to the roots but the roots for native plants can’t be moist all the time and need to dry out.  If they stay “moist” all the time you’ll just rot the roots and your plant and new landscape will just kick the bucket.  Some plants need to go dry for a fairly long period of time in the summer. They’re in somewhat of a dormant state and even a deep watering 1x will not have a good result so if your not sure, check with the nursery on basic watering as a double check.  As an example we water white sage (Salvia apiana) 2x per month when they’re in their pots at the nursery. We do the same with pacific coast irises.

That’s it, now go spend $8 or less and get a moisture meter, use it and it will set you free!

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Featured Plant



Botanical Name

Iris germanica TB 'Victoria Falls' Re

Common Name

Victoria Falls


Flower Color

Light Blue

Mature Size

2-1/2 tall × 2 wide

Climactic Requirements


Full Sun / Filtered Sun


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