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An overwhelming amount of information is available about the correct water methods, the right amount, and how often to water. This information might be all well and good as general information. Still, as temperatures, water, and other climatic conditions around Australia differ depending on where you live, the rules might not apply to you and your garden or even different sections.

When watering, you’ll have to consider the type of plant, the climate, the soil condition and the different times and seasons of the year – all of which will influence your watering regime.

These are the main factors that will impact your watering:

Plant Type

The type of plant you’re dealing with will dictate how much water they need. Succulents and other drought-tolerant plants that have extensive root systems and store water and moisture naturally retain water better and do not require much water to survive. Other plants that are not so drought tolerant will need more significant quantities of water on a much more frequent basis, particularly in hotter conditions. The needs work both ways, as there’s no better way of killing a succulent than over-watering, which will rot the root system. More people kill cacti with the “kindness” of over-watering than for any other reason.

Large or newly planted plants will also require more water as they need plenty of moisture and nutrients to establish themselves and grow. Plants with shallow root systems, such as vegetables or most perennials, will also need more frequent watering because they don’t have the reservoirs of water storage nor the deep roots through which they can obtain water from deep within the soil.

Australia’s climate can differ vastly depending on where you live.
Marble Bar, WA, holds the record for the longest-running heatwave in Australia with 161 consecutive days over 37.8.C and is known for reaching 42 degrees by 9 am! By comparison, on the cooler and rather frostier side is Liawenee, Tasmania, where, on average, there are 142 days a year below freezing and only 0.7 days a year reach above 30 degrees! The difference is impressive, but that’s what you get when you have a country the size of a continent, albeit the world’s most miniature. As you can imagine, if the same plants were planted in both areas, different amounts of water and care would be required to help them survive.

Soil Condition
If you live in coastal areas or regions affected by sandy soils, your plants will need more watering. It’s difficult for sandy soils to retain water, so they’ll quickly dry out, and the nutrients can drain from the soil relatively quickly, slowing starving your plants of food. In cases of sandy soil, it is always advisable to apply mulch over the garden beds. This will help sandy soils retain moisture and inhibit nutrients lost to the air.

The general rule is that no matter what the time of the year, in hot temperatures, you will need to water more, as the sun will suck all the moisture from the ground and plants, leaving them thirsty and prone to heat stroke and sun damage. On cold days, the soil will better retain its moisture, as the sun will evaporate less liquid. Frequent rainfall and dew also help watering to be kept at a minimum.
But the seasons have an impact on us as well. We all know that each of the four seasons has different conditions and weather patterns – from summer’s scorching heat to winter’s regular frosts. Don’t seem to drink as much when it’s cold and wet as when it’s hot and humid.
Nevertheless, some people thrive in heat, while others wilt. Some people love the cold, while others want to hibernate. The same variations in character apply to our plants.
Consider also that summers aren’t always dry, and winters aren’t always wet, even though these are the conditions that most Australians are used to. There are climatic zones where the summers are damp or monsoonal, and the winters are dry. “Hot” and “dry” aren’t synonyms, nor are “cold” and “wet”.

With all the different conditions that impact our gardens, watering can become confusing and devising an optimal watering strategy can be overwhelming. You might now be desperately trying to wrack your mind, thinking, “When on earth was the last time I watered?” or feeling guilty with thoughts of “Am I watering too often or not enough?”

So before you whip out the hose or make a mad dash for your watering can – stop, wait, take a breather and go out and look at your plants and the soil! There’s no use watering if it is already moist enough for those particular plants in question, and you don’t want to over-water your plants as this can cause many problems – cacti aren’t the only plants that can be overwatered!


Plants need a relatively constant supply of water, so if they don’t have enough, they will start to show the following signs of water deprivation, which include:

  • Yellowing or drying of leaves
  • Wilting of leaves and foliage
  • Plant roots growing close to the surface of the soil
  • Dry, hard or cracked ground around the plant


Still not sure you are watering correctly? The surest and easiest way to test if your soil is moist and is retaining enough water for the plants is by doing a few simple tests.

The Squeeze Test
If you’re not afraid of getting your hands dirty, all you will need to do is dig around in your garden and pull out a palm full of soil. Don’t just get the top layer, but dig a little deeper and get some of the underlayer that is an inch or two under. Once you have the soil – squeeze your hand shut and open your fingers.

You’re generally looking for the soil to hold together and form a rough ball shape. This ball will be neither compact nor dense. Some small grains of soil might break away from the ball, but your hand will remain free of any traces of water. This shows that you have a good level of moisture content in your soil. You know that your plants are getting the right amount of water because the water in the soil is what the water has left behind, not too much but not too little either.

If this isn’t what happened, then your soil will either be too dry or too wet:

If it’s too dry, the soil will crumble in your hand and break apart.
Wet soil will form a dense ball shape and will leave residue on your fingers and fingerprint marks on the soil.
If the soil is too wet, it will be soft and squishy, and your fingers will be coated in moist dirt. When you squeeze the ball, water will be visible on the soil’s surface.

Finger Test:
Another quick test is the Finger Test. As suggested, you use your finger (which is less messy so that it may appeal more to the ‘tentative green thumb’ gardener. Stick your finger deep into the soil. The top layers will be a bit drier than the under layers as the sun tends to evaporate moisture from the surface, but the deeper you go in the soil, the more moist it should become. If your soil is damp but not wet a couple of inches down, this is a good sign that your soil can absorb and drain in the right proportion and give the required water to your plant’s roots.

Now that you have established the moisture content of your soil, you can adjust it accordingly. If your soil is dry – Water it deeply. Suppose it is wet or saturated – back off the watering to dry up a little.


Before watering, check the local weather forecasts to see if any rain is due. Being an intelligent gardener and using nature’s supply of free water to help water your garden will save you time and cost you less on your next water bill!

Water in the morning
The best time of day to water is always in the morning. An early morning watering gives the plants time to absorb the moisture from the soil before it is evaporated by the sun. Early watering also distributes nutrients and energy throughout the soil so that plants can absorb them and prepare themselves for the heat or coldness of the day.

If you don’t have the time in the morning, you can always give watering a go in the afternoon or early evening (especially in the warmer months). We would encourage caution, however, as you need to leave enough time for leaves to dry before it gets dark. Leaving foliage wet overnight can lead to fungal diseases in your plants.

Water the Roots
Fungal diseases can be a big issue with plants, so we always recommend avoiding wetting foliage and leaves directly, as this can aggravate the problem.
It’s the roots that need the water, not the leaves.
Watering directly on the foliage can also spread infected spores to other plants by splashing water. This is a big problem, especially with roses and black spots, and care should be taken to remove all infected leaves to prevent further infestation.
Watering leaves in full sun can also cause water droplets on the leaves to act like lenses, concentrating heat and damaging the leaves.
Watering plants directly at the root or use a drip irrigation system to prevent the spreading of fungal diseases.
For more information on designing irrigation systems, go here.

Water deeply
Some plants grow their roots deep into the earth, where it’s more relaxed, and they can retain and obtain moisture from the deeper layers of the soil, enabling them to be firmly established to combat excessive heat and cold snaps.

Plants grow from the roots up. So, they need water deep enough to reach the root system. Most roots for annuals – plants that only live for one year before dying as they seed – are in the top 6 inches of soil.
Perennials are plants that live over many years, and shrubs and trees have roots that penetrate at least to the top 12 inches. This makes sense; imagine how deep a root system must hold up a plant that rises many feet above the ground. This is why a deep soaking is necessary. This does not mean you drench the plant until it floats in a water pool! It just means you give each plant a steady amount of water so that you can see it absorbing into the soil. Don’t get carried away. Flooding is never suitable for your plants!

A drip irrigation system is probably the best way of watering your gardens as it preserves the water from evaporation and directs the water straight to where it is needed – to the roots!

Avoid Light Watering
If you think light watering is a safe method of watering. Think again! Light and frequent watering only wet the top layer of soil. This encourages the roots to seek out the moisture only on the ground’s surface because that’s where the plant “learns” that the water is. This leads to weak and shallow root systems. As the sun evaporates the remaining water, drying out the soil, the roots will be left in hot, dry soil lacking the required water. If left unwatered, this can result in the plant dying. So don’t water lightly and frequently, or you’ll condemn yourself and your plants to daily light watering forever.

Don’t Overwater!
If your plants start to look unhealthy, it may be tempting to think this is a sign that they need more water. However, if you water regularly and the soil around the plants is wet, it can also be a sign that you give your plants too much water.

If you are overwatering your plants and saturating them with more water than they can cope with, you may see your plants giving you the following signs:

  • Sagging, drooping and wilting of the leaves
  • Leaves falling off the plant.
  • Decreased and faded colour and browning or yellowing of foliage
  • Stunted growth and lack of vigour. This happens because over-watering has diluted the nutrients in the soil to the point where the plants are starving.
  • Seeds rotting before germinating, or seedlings rotting at the soil line and falling over. This is called “damping off” and is caused by various soil-borne fungi. You can avoid damping off by keeping the soil moist but not waterlogged and using compost to add vital nutrients to the soil to keep it healthy and fight fungi.

Hot Weather Watering
Your plants will need more water in summer and spring, and you’ll need to be more diligent with watering than in the cooler months of winter and autumn.

In hotter weather, your plants depend on water for survival, and you will need to employ methods to drought-proof your garden so your plants have the best chance possible to stay alive and healthy.

This might involve watering plants daily or, in extreme cases, a couple of times a day when they are visibly wilting and suffering from heat stress. Plants in containers should be moved out of the sun and soaked with water until the water starts to come out of the bottom of the drainage holes.

Whatever the season, look out for the telltale signs of over or under-watering and adjust the watering to suit.

So, in summary, it is vital to water properly with it all coming down to:

  • Changing the amount of water depends upon your plant type, climate, soil condition and season.
  • Check that your soil has adequate moisture content and adjust accordingly.
  • Deep watering in the early morning
  • Watering the roots and not the foliage and avoid over-watering


If you do all of these, you should be able to have happy and growing plants in your garden.

One final note:

It’s much easier to plant and water according to the soil and climate type than to treat the soil and compensate for the climate. However, if you’re determined to have an “English Country Garden” in a hot, sandy coastal location, then be prepared to spend years building up the organic elements in the soil until you achieve the right balance of nutrition, drainage and pH. It has been done, and some people love the results.

Some people like high-maintenance gardens and watering regimes, while others like to have the best possible garden with minimal work. Regardless of your extreme, you might consider using Fox Mowing and Gardening to help you make the most out of your unique garden situation. And while we’re there watering your garden or designing a system that suits you and your garden’s needs, we can do a lot of other stuff to get your garden looking and feeling its best.


Ahhh, the Australian Summer …
Blistering 40-degree days, where you could fry an egg on your driveway, boil water without a kettle, and be dripping wet without stepping foot near water, and that’s just in the shade!

Although not every summer’s day is this extreme, and not everywhere in Australia is like this in the summer (southern Tasmania, anyone?), no matter where you live across our magnificent continent, you are, at least occasionally, bound to come across temperatures well above 30 degrees with hot, dry winds.
The Bureau of Meteorology defines drought as when rainfall is at its lowest 10% over three months. But you plant couldn’t care less.

We define drought as any period over which heat and lack of water stress your garden beyond its capacity to adapt and recover.

However it comes, and however you reasonably define it, drought is drought, which can be unrelenting in its drying effect!

As humans living in the age of modern technology and air conditioners, when the temperatures soar, we can wallow comfortably indoors in 21-degree bliss. We can even bring the pets inside, keeping them out of the sun and giving them plenty of water. That’s all good for us, but do we spare a thought for our gardens?
Our plants and gardens don’t have the option of uprooting themselves, walking inside and lying down like couch potatoes under a stream of air-conditioned air.
No matter what the conditions are, your plants are outside 24/7.
Now, they have, over time, come up with some impressive strategies for dealing with temperature and water supply extremes, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing that we can do to give them some support.

Drought Protection Is More Than Just Watering

We know we must wear sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, and protective clothing to prevent sunburns. We understand that we need to keep hydrated.
We know that you care about your garden. That’s why you’re even reading this article. You understand you must protect your plants from too much heat, dehydration, and all the resulting wilting, drying up and ultimately dying from over-exposure to heat, sun, and lack of water.

But for many gardeners, the response to heat and dryness is simply to water, water, water. While this might be well-intentioned and sound reasonable, watering is more of an emergency response and is not necessarily the best way to deal with drought, whether it’s an isolated, scorching day or many days in a row. To deal with drought effectively, you need to understand a little about how plants work.

How Plants Make a Living

Like people and other animals, plants get their energy from carbohydrates and fats. But animals get their carbs and fats from plants. As far as plants are concerned, animals are predators, parasites and only occasional business partners. Plants make their food.
Plants eat light. They breathe in carbon dioxide and drink water. From these three inputs, they make carbs and oils through the magic of chlorophyll (the thing that makes so many plants green) and a chemical process called photosynthesis – from the Greek words meaning “putting together with light”. This happens mainly in the plant’s leaves, like lawn grass blades. Plants produce oxygen as a by-product of photosynthesis.

So plants need water not just to drink but to make food. When they release oxygen, they do so through the underside of their leaves along with some water, too, just like we release carbon and water when we breathe out (that’s why on a cold day, you can see the water you breathe out condensing in the chilly air).

On hot days, the photosynthesis speeds up, so the plant has to suck more water out of the soil to keep the process going. This can become a significant challenge. If there isn’t enough water available, the plant will dry out. Too much sun and not enough water will mean leaves drying out. The worst-case scenario from dehydration is, of course, the death of the plant.

Symptoms & Damage

It’s relatively easy to tell if your plants & lawn are suffering from heat exposure or heat stress. You’ll notice one or all of these symptoms:

Wilting: This is the first indicator you will see. Non-woody plants, or the parts of woody plants that aren’t woody, maintain their shape through water pressure. As water is lost, the plant wilts. Some plants are capable of deliberately wilting to retain moisture, and the plant will lower its leaves, making itself more minor and more compact to avoid having its surface area directly in the sun. Some plants are particularly susceptible to wilting and can wilt after exposure to very short periods of hot sun. Even a minimal amount of solar overdose or heat stress can damage the plant so that it cannot recover.

Damage to the leaves: Yellowing and browning of leaves lead to dryness and crustiness.

Dropping leaves, flowers or fruit: Many plants or trees will shed some of their leaves and flowers to keep calm and conserve water by reducing the area water can evaporate from. But there are limits to how far this adaptation can go, too.

As the signs imply, some damage has already been done when you see them.
Watering might come too late, but even if you can water before irreversible damage occurs, the plant still needs to recover. It’s better if the damage is minimal in the first place.

If you live in an area that experiences drought or hot, dry periods, you’ll already know just how bad things can get. But this is Australia, the driest continent on earth and even places not usually known for drought can experience unusual periods of dryness. So, wherever you live, it’s essential to drought-proof your garden.

Prevention is ALWAYS better than a cure or remedy that comes too late.

Tackling the problem head-on before it arises is always the preferred option.



A straightforward strategy to foolproof your garden is to think ahead and predominantly place plants suited to warm, dry environments adapted to low-water periods that don’t require much attention and care. It would be best to have drought-tolerant surviving plants that are hardier than other varieties that will wilt and dye at the first rays of the hot summer sun.

Succulents such as Agave are great drought survivors as they conserve water in their fleshy leaves as a reserve against heat and dryness. Many succulents also have beautiful flowers, so they’re not all just thick leaves and spines.

You can also choose from various drought-tolerant Australian natives that look terrific in the garden and can withstand our harsh climate naturally. Planting tall shrubs or trees can also provide shade and a windbreak against those hot, drying winds that can damage your less hardy plants.

To keep your lawns healthy, particularly in the hotter months, let the grass grow a bit longer than usual – this will help shade the soil and reduce evaporation. Plus, longer, healthier grass has the handy benefit of keeping pesky weeds at bay!


Adding mulch to your garden beds will aid as a natural barrier between the sun and the soil, reducing evaporation and helping to lock in moisture near the plant roots, thus giving your plants plenty of water to draw on. When applying mulch, it is recommended that you first water into the soil deeply and then add a layer of mulch 5cm deep over the top of your garden beds to protect and cool your plants. For more information on mulching, go here.

Shading Plants by Moving Them or Erecting Screens

It might be an option to have your favourite non-drought or sun-tolerant flowers and vegetables in pots and containers with wheels so they can be moved. Such plants can be transferred into shadier and more excellent areas to help prevent heat damage to the plants. Plants in pots and hanging containers that you can’t quickly move should be thoroughly soaked until the water permeates entirely through the soil and comes out of the drainage holes. This watering might need to be repeated once or twice a day.

You could also install shade sails and screens or hang shade cloth over stakes to shade particular areas and plants that receive direct exposure. Shade screens can cover large parts of the garden.

Sprays & Granule

Just like we apply sunscreen before spending any time outdoors, our plants should also be treated with the same care, especially those you know are not very tolerant of heat. There are products available that can aid in the retention of water and protect them from heat and wind:

Drought Shields: can be sprayed onto plants to protect them from heat, water loss, sunburn, drying winds and drought.

Wetting Agents: To keep the soil moist so that water doesn’t run off the surface but instead sinks deep into the ground, apply a soil saturator or wetting agent. These can come in liquid or granular form for ease of application.

Water Storing Crystals: These crystals will act as sponges, retaining and storing the water, releasing the water back into the roots when needed. Mix the crystals thoroughly through the soil in garden beds, pots, and containers.


Water is essential for protecting your plants and lawn from heat stress. All the other drought protection strategies are designed to retain water, but without proper watering, all your other efforts are futile.

Usually, the best time to water is in the early morning or evening when the weather is more relaxed so that the water is not lost to evaporation but sinks deep into the soil. This is still the case for plants in summer when they might even need to be watered daily in hot conditions. You’ll also need to watch for wilting or browning, as this will be your cue to increase the water dosage.
For a more in-depth look at watering your garden, go here.

Lawns are different from other plants as they only require watering when needed.
For more information on when and how much to water your grass, click here. Drought-proofing lawns also requires special techniques, so for more details on drought-proofing your lawns, go here, where we have dedicated articles to proper watering and drought protection of lawns.

One particular challenge of dryer temperatures and lack of water is that with too much neglect, the ground can harden, making it difficult for the water to penetrate more profound levels of soil. This explains why flash flooding occurs after a drought breaks – water tends to run off the dry ground as it runs off tiles. So, if you have just started watering and notice the water pooling on the ground or the lawn, turn off the sprinkler or hose, wait 15 minutes, and then start again. This will give time for the water to permeate through the more complex layers of ground and soften up the soil so that when you next water it, the ground will absorb the water more effectively and reach down to the roots.

Conditions of extreme heat could call for a bit of impromptu action. Extreme heat can damage plants quickly, and you might only have a few hours to play with before they can succumb and die. So if you notice a plant wilting during the day, you should act immediately by giving the plant a good long soak, and depending on how hot it is, the watering might need to be repeated later in the day.

Suppose you’re always busy or are more of the forgetful type of gardener. In that case, investing in an irrigation system or sprinkler with a timer can take the worry out of your hands as your garden plants will be watered regularly, keeping them healthy and, most importantly, alive!

So you see, it all comes down to:

• Choosing the right plants
• Completing regular checks of your garden for signs of heat stress
• Watering properly
• Giving as much protection to your plants as is humanly possible.

If you cover all these bases, your garden and plants will survive, if not thrive, throughout summer and other dry periods.

And, of course, if you want some additional help and advice on creating a drought-tolerant garden or help with mulching, watering or spraying, then the simplest solution is to let Fox Mowing look after it all for you. And while we’re in your garden, we can do a lot of other stuff to get your garden looking and feeling its best.


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