How to Water Bulbs (And Your Favorite Plants)
When it comes to watering, it’s easy to get confused. Some plants are water lovers, while others need a drink only once or twice a month. And what about watering after planting, or after blooming? Or before the winter? Don’t let your confusion lead to overwhelm, because that’s when well-meaning gardeners like you tend to either water their plants to death or pull back and do nothing.
Our advice? Don’t do either — read this watering guide instead! Get smart about how to water some of your favorite plants, so your garden is a source of joy instead of confusion and overwhelm.
But water is good, right?
Yes. All living things need water to survive. But how you water and how much you water is the key to helping your plants thrive, bloom, and light up your garden. The #1 cause of plant death (both out in the garden and inside your home) is overwatering — probably because people assume that if a little water is good, then a lot of water is even better, right? That’s not necessarily true, and we’re here to help you understand that better.
For a great general watering primer, be sure to check out our article “Watering: Too Much of a Good Thing?” here — then refer to this guide for more specific information. Ready? Let’s go!
How to Water Your Favorite Bulbs & Plants
Once you understand that peonies love soil that has average moisture — but never waterlogged — you’re on your way to Peony Heaven. So, be sure to choose a garden site where the soil is well-drained and amended with organic matter.
- Water in generously after planting, soaking the soil to settle the roots.
- There’s usually enough soil moisture in the spring to make peonies happy without you having to add to it — but once they start blooming, be sure they get adequate, regular irrigation (see next tip).
- Water regularly during the growing season, aiming for about 1” per week, remembering that younger plants need a bit more water to get established. When your peony plant is in its third or fourth year (or beyond), they are more drought tolerant.
- Don't water your Dahlias right after planting. Overwatering can cause them to rot. Start watering once you see new growth.
- Dahlias need more water as they grow larger — so water once a week as the plant is sprouting, then as it blooms, you’ll be watering 2-3 per week.
- Dahlias grown in containers need more consistent watering so they don’t dry out.
Spring Blooming Bulbs
Spring bloomers are planted in the fall — follow these watering tips to keep your tulips, daffodils, alliums, crocus (and many others!) blooming their best.
- Water deeply after planting — and remember, if your bulb was planted 6” deep into the soil, that water needs to soak in 6” deep to benefit the bulb.
- Water again before the ground freezes — the wintertime is when they are developing roots.
- Gardeners in southern locations can water again in late December or early January if it’s been an unusually dry winter.
- Once bulbs start growing in the spring, water once a week (if you haven’t had any measurable rain) — this is especially important while they’re flowering.
- Water once a week until foliage dies back.
- Do not water spring blooming bulbs in the summer when they are dormant.
Summer Blooming Bulbs
Summer bloomers like iris, freesia, crocosmia, and gladiolus are planted in the spring for heat-busting flower power — and here’s how to keep them hydrated:
- Just like the spring bloomers, plan to thoroughly water in at the time of planting in the spring.
- Water again when the new foliage appears.
- Once they begin blooming, plan to continue watering once a week unless you’ve had some recent rainfall.
- When they’re done blooming, you’ll continue watering once a week unless — you guessed it! — you’ve had recent rain.
- Once the foliage dies back, you can stop watering.
Do you love your amaryllis and paperwhites? Here’s what you need to know about watering them to not only keep them alive, but thriving and blooming.
Amaryllis: After planting the bulb, water very sparingly until you see the new sprouts. Then you’ll want to water regularly without overwatering — the soil should feel as moist as a wrung-out sponge.
Paperwhites: Water the bulb right after planting it, until the soil has the same wrung-out sponge moistness as the amaryllis, then keep the soil at that level of moistness.
Gardeners everywhere love these yearly visitors to the garden — all they need is a good winter’s nap and they come back for another year of flowering. Watering requirements do vary depending upon the specific plant, so after reading these general guidelines, we encourage you to consult your area’s experts on the best way to grow and water perennials in your garden.
- Water your newly planted perennial thoroughly to help get those roots established.
- Plan to water regularly during the growing season — 1” a week is a good rule of thumb — unless you receive adequate rainfall.
- Older plants with established roots typically need significantly less water than newly planted perennials.
- After the first frost, you’ll cut back the perennial and let it rest for the winter — you don’t normally need to water them during this time unless you’re having a particularly dry winter, but in most cases, you’re good until the spring.
Succulents store water in cells located in their stems, roots, and leaves, so their need for water is not as great as that of bulbs and perennials. They survive extreme drought better than nearly any other plant — but they do still need water. Here’s how much:
- When in doubt, water less. The quickest way to kill a succulent is by overwatering it.
- If your succulent’s leaves are wilted or shriveled looking, it needs water.
- Water deeply, but infrequently. Look for water running out of the drainage holes in containers — a few light sprinkles isn’t anywhere near enough.
- Let the soil dry out in between waterings.
- Never let your succulent sit in water.
By knowing and understand each of your plants’ watering needs, you're better equipped to keep them happy, healthy, and thriving. Keep in mind that water needs to get to the plants’ roots — so the general watering guideline is to water more deeply but less frequently, allowing the roots to grow, and leading to a stronger, more vigorous plant. Happy watering!
- Katie Elzer-Peters