How to Keep Outdoor Plants Alive During a Drought

August 17, 2021 5 min read 0 Comments

Grow bag planted with flowers and mulched

How do I keep my plants thriving?

During times of drought there are things you can do to keep your outdoor plants in grow bags alive even with water restrictions put into place. Watering grow bags and container pots during a drought can be challenging. When water must be conserved, here are some ways to keep your plants alive in grow bags.

Grow bags

Ways to keep plants alive in a drought

  1. Mulch Your Containers
  2. Implement Watering Schedules
  3. Reservoir Watering 
  4. Quit Fertilizing or Feed Lightly
  5. Avoid Pruning
  6. Use Drip Irrigation
  7. Select Soils with Water-Holding qualities
  8. Plant Hardy Varieties


Signs that Your Grow Bag Plants are Water Stressed

If you are noticing that your plants’ leaves are curling, wilting or appearing to lack their luster- they might be water stressed. Intense heat and UV rays can take a lot out of your plant. If you notice these things, you may want to adjust your water methods and schedule to ensure your plant is receiving enough water to thrive.


Mulching Potted Plants and Grow Bags

You will want to mulch the top of the container and if using grow bags, we recommend burying them in a little mulch as grow bags tend to dry out quicker. Surface mulch helps to keep the moisture in and prevent soil crusting. Soil crusting can occur from water pressure during overhead watering or from intense sun. When the soil crusts over, water will not absorb evenly on the surface and will tend to run to the edges of the bag where it does not have the chance to saturate deep into the soil. Using 2-3 inches of organic matter on top of your soil will prevent crusting, evaporation, and keep the underlying soil healthier. The mulch used will depend on the availability in your growing region as well as personal preference. 

Best Mulches to use in containers and grow bags:

  • Wheat Straw - Commonly available in many areas. Has far fewer seeds than hay.
  • Rice Straw - Super absorbent and typically seed free.
  • Rice Hulls - A byproduct of the rice industry, hulls are great for preventing evaporation. They are sold in bags and are easier to manage than bales of straw.  
  • Shredded Bark / Shavings - Can be purchased in bags or truck loads depending on the size of your operation. Allows more water to percolate through than the above types if you are overhead watering.
  • Wood Chip - A good choice for larger grow bags. Often available free or inexpensively from landscape supply stores. 
  • Pebbles - Can be used decoratively in smaller grow bags. Allows for excellent percolation of water. Darker colors can increase heat so stick with lighter colors.

What time of day is best for watering gardens?

The best time of day to water is early morning. Try to be done before the breezes pick up and the sun heats the soil surface increasing evaporation. If you cannot water in the mornings the next best time is just before dusk. If watering in the evening be sure to avoid wetting the leaves to prevent issues like downy mildew and sunburn caused by water droplets. 

How often should I water my plants in grow bags?

Plants need more frequent watering when they are small as the roots are shallower and have less absorption power. 2-3 times per week should be plenty to keep shallow rooted crops happy. Mature plants that are well mulched should do well with one deep watering per week. High temperatures and high winds can dry out plants and necessitate adding an additional watering session during the week. 

How to make easy water reservoirs for bottom-watering outdoor plants.

What is a reservoir? A reservoir is a container used to hold water that can be filled at any time to be used later. It is a great way to supply a constant supply to plants in need of extra support during dry times. Setting up a water reservoir system allows you to have water accessible during restricted times. They also supply your plants with a constant source of water available for bottom watering during the hottest, most vulnerable times for dryout. Many items can be used for this process. 


What to Use for Bottom-Watering Outdoor Plants?

  • 1020 Deep Trays - Smaller grow bags can be grouped together in trays for convenience, both in watering and carrying. 
  • Saucers - Some garden supply stores carry a range of pot saucers that will hold an inch or two of water. Choose one that is a few inches wider than your grow bag.
  • Lids - The lids from large plastic totes work well as shallow reservoirs for larger numbers of small bags. Particularly the yellow lids that come with black construction totes.
  • Wading Pools - The smaller pools made for little kids to enjoy in hot weather make easy and inexpensive solutions for holding water.
  • Grow Rack Trays - Made of far thicker plastic than wading pools, rack trays are a long lasting, heavy-duty solution for watering multiple grow bags. 
  • Pond Liner - Building a frame to fit your growing space and lining it will allow you to make a reservoir of any shape and size you need. 

The best drip irrigation system optimized for grow bags

What is a drip irrigation system? A drip system is a type of micro-irrigation that consists of a series of tubes and emitters that deliver water directly to plants on grids or rows. The speed of application with drip systems is ideal for maximum soil absorption. Grow bags can be arranged in rows to take advantage of drip tape emitter spacing. A spacing of 6” between emitters will allow for one drip per smaller bags and two for larger bags. If your bags are arranged differently or you are using 100-200 gallon bags, soaker hose or drip tape with 12” spacing works well.

Solid ½” poly hose with smaller ¼” tubing attached with individual emitters works well when plants on the same system have different water needs as emitters can have different flow rates. 


Overhead watering as a last resort for grow bags

Watering using a watering can or hose can be problematic as the speed of application can cause runoff. Using mulch and a water reservoir will make overhead watering far less wasteful as any runoff will collect in the reservoir for plants to use later. If you have a number of pots or fabric grow bags, try watering each a few times in a circuit to increase absorption. It is also important to avoid wetting the leaves too much as this leads to fungal issues and sun damage. Sun damage occurs when the water droplets magnify the sun’s ray on the plant. This type of damage often leads to weaker, more pest vulnerable plants.  

What soil should be used in grow bags?

When selecting soil for use in grow bags the ideal choice will depend on the size of your bag and what you are planning to grow. Because grow bags have built in drainage it is better to choose a soil that retains more water than traditional potting mixes. This can easily be done by mixing water retentive material like coco coir or clay into your potting mix. Many soil suppliers also carry a “raised bed mix” that has more organic material and less perlite or stone. Organic material works as a sponge and allows the plants to absorb water over time as they need it.

Watering plants in grow bags.

Keeping your plants carefully watered during a drought can require a little extra effort but the rewards are worth it. Following these tips and tricks will help you get the most out of every drop. You will see healthier plants, less water waste, lower water bills and increased harvests. Many of the techniques discussed here work well in raised beds, plastic pots, and other types of containers.



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