Home & Garden

New plantings, containers need careful watering

Lots of new planting gets done every spring. Proper watering can make the difference between life and death to newly planted lawns, trees, shrubs, ground covers, and bedding and vegetable transplants during summer. Because their roots have not had time to grow out into the surrounding soil, these plants do not yet have well-established root systems. With their root systems still limited to a relatively small area of soil, they are especially vulnerable to drought stress.


The first summer after planting is the most critical time for newly planted trees, and proper watering plays a major role in whether or how well they survive. Here are some effective watering techniques.

One good method is to turn a hose on trickle, lay the end on top of the ground about 6 inches from the trunk, and let the water run for about 20 to 30 minutes. Another method is to build a 4-inch-high levee out of soil around the edge of the area where the tree was planted, then fill this area with water and let it slowly seep into the root zone.

I’ve found an excellent method is to use a heated metal skewer or ice pick to pierce five or 10 holes through the bottom of a 5-gallon plastic paint bucket or similar container. Make all the holes to one side. Place the bucket next to the tree with the holes closest to the trunk. Fill the container, and the water will slowly seep through the holes, providing excellent irrigation without losing water to runoff. You can spray paint the outside of the bucket dark green to make it less noticeable. Tree watering bags work in a similar way, such as Treegator, available online.

Use any of these techniques during hot weather whenever seven to 10 days pass without substantial rainfall. Continue to water twice a week until a good rain occurs. Drought-stressed trees may experience wilting, leaf drop, yellow or brown leaves, scorched leaf edges or even death.


Newly planted shrubs will need to be monitored more carefully and watered more frequently than established shrubs. Water with soaker hoses or sprinklers left on long enough for the water to penetrate at least 4 to 6 inches into the soil.

Keep in mind that all of a newly planted shrub’s roots are in a small area about the size of the pot the shrub was growing in before planting. This is especially true for shrubs planted after March because they have had little time to grow roots into the surrounding soil. A shrub can use up all the water in its root ball and become drought stressed even though the soil in the bed outside of the root ball is moist. So when checking the soil moisture in the bed, always be sure to stick your fingers right around the shrubs themselves.


Now is a great time to lay sod to install a new lawn or repair an established one. Newly laid sod needs special attention to watering. Water the newly laid sod for about 15 to 20 minutes every day for the first seven to 10 days. Then, water for about 30 minutes every other day for another seven to 10 days. After that, irrigate the lawn thoroughly once or twice a week, as needed, to encourage the roots to grow deep into the soil. Do not water every day for more than 10 days, or you may encourage fungus diseases. There is no need to water if adequate rainfall occurs.


Water seeded areas (vegetable seeds, flower seeds or lawn seeds) lightly by hand or with sprinklers every day until the seeds germinate and start to grow. It is critical for the soil to stay moist during germination. Once the seeds come up, water more thoroughly but less often to encourage the roots to grow deep into the soil. As the seedlings become established, water normally as needed.


Watering plants in outside containers is a constant job during the summer. It is typical to water every day, even twice a day, when weather is hot and dry. Keep this in mind when considering how many outside container plants you can maintain. How often you have to water is influenced by temperature, pot size, the type of potting mix, the drought tolerance of a plant, whether a plant is in sun or shade and how pot-bound a plant is. Plants need to be watered more frequently when weather is hot, if the containers are small, if a lightweight potting mix is used, when plants are in a sunny location and when plants are pot-bound. Clay pots tend to dry out more quickly than plastic or glazed ceramic pots.

To reduce container watering, consider the following: use larger rather than smaller pots, choose a potting mix that retains more water (it must still be fast-draining), repot pot-bound plants into larger containers, use plastic pots, and, if practical, move the plants into somewhat shadier conditions.

Potting mixes will retain more water with the addition of hydrophilic polymers. These gelatin-like particles hold large amounts of water without creating a waterlogged soil condition. Look for these polymer products or potting mixes that contain them where garden supplies are sold.

About the author

Dan Gil

Dan Gil

Dan Gill is an Associate Professor in Consumer Horticulture with the LSU AgCenter, a position he has held since 2001. He earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in horticulture from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

Before moving to Baton Rouge to take on statewide responsibilities, he was headquartered in New Orleans as an extension horticulturist from 1980 to 2001. While there, he became established as a reliable source of helpful, useful advice on lawn and garden topics through his media work.

He is the spokesperson for the LSU AgCenter’s Get It Growing project, a statewide educational effort in home horticulture utilizing radio, Internet, TV and newsprint. Gardeners throughout Louisiana read his columns in local newspapers watch his gardening segments on local TV stations, listen to him on local radio and access content on the Internet.

In the New Orleans area, Dan appears weekly on the Channel 4 Morning News, writes a weekly gardening column for The Times-Picayune and hosts the Saturday morning Garden Show on WWL 870-AM, a live call-in radio program that reaches southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.

Dan is author of Month-by-Month Gardening in Louisiana and co-author of the Louisiana Gardener’s Guide, Month-by-Month Gardening in Texas and Texas Gardener’s Resource. His “Only in Louisiana” column appears monthly in the Louisiana Gardener Magazine, and his articles have also appeared nationally in Fine Gardening Magazine.

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