~ Welcome back to our Miniature Garden Series of tutorials to get you started in this wonderful hobby! If you missed it, Miniature Gardening 101 was about soil, Miniature Gardening 102 is all about indoor vs. outdoor plants. Today we are discussing how to know how much water your miniature garden will need.

A Miniature Garden for dry, full-sun conditions.
Woolly Thyme on the left, Blue Star Juniper in the middle and Capo Blanco Sedum on the right. This combination will do well in hot sun, and by letting the soil dry out to barely damp in between watering sessions. If this miniature garden gets too dry from time to time, the plants in this arrangement can handle it – but never let a miniature garden go dry for too long.

What?? There are Different Types of Watering?

Water is a big factor to consider when choosing plants for your miniature garden, especially for a miniature garden in a container.  Different plants have different watering needs, so plants in the same miniature garden should all tolerate the same watering needs.

Some plants like their root zone to dry out between watering sessions, others like to have a moist root zone at all times and most like the soil to dry out to barely damp before you need to water it again.  Planting-up different plants with different watering schedules in the same container can be done if you know what you are doing, otherwise it might result in disaster if you are not paying attention. Choose plants with the same light, temperature and water needs for the best and easiest success!

Miniature Garden with Custom Pool
My very first miniature pond made back in 2004/5 was from a take-out container painted with marine paint.

Our Water Chart

Use the following chart to help familiarize yourself with the watering terms usually found on the plant tag, or in the plant’s description:

WetFor plants that love to have “their feet wet.” The plant pot sits in shallow dish of water, or is in a container without drainage (called a cache pot), and the soil is kept constantly wet. Very few miniature garden plants fit this description.African Violets, Miniature Sweet Flag
MoistPot has a drainage hole, but is watered often to keep up the moisture level of the soil. Not many miniature gardens plants like moist soil. While our favorite Baby Tears likes moist soil, it doesn’t need it and can easily fit into the “damp” category.Begonias, Baby Tears, Cryptomeria
DampRegular water (see below,) but let the soil almost dry-out in between watering sessions. Stick your finger at least an inch down into the soil, you’re looking for the dampness of a wrung-sponge. If it’s too wet, wait a day or three and test again. If it’s dry or barely damp, water.Lawson Cypress, English Boxwood, Hinoki Cypress
DryLet the soil dry out completely between watering. This avoids over-watering plants that like their roots on the dry-side. Plants of this type are often called “drought tolerant” but know that even if it has that label, it’s still going to need to be watered during the hottest months or during a heatwave.Succulents, Sedum, Jade, Cacti, Juniper, Pine

But, How Do I Know When to Water?

1.) Stick your finger in it. (The BEST way.)

The only way to really test a plant’s thirst is to put your finger down at least 1” into the soil to feel the level of moisture in the soil – some recommend doing down 2 inches.

There are many types of water meters available that you poke into the soil to get a reading from, but I have found them to be not too reliable and each one tends to register the degree of moisture differently – I’m just not convinced that they work at all. All the ones that I’ve tested eventually end up in the Goodwill box. But your finger is free and very convenient – you always have it with you! :o)

2.) Look at it. (With experience.)

Another good indicator is how the soil looks. As you become more familiar with your miniature garden, you will be able to actually see the difference between moist soil and dry soil. Dry soil is lighter in color and will eventually pull away from the sides of the pot. Moist soil is deep in color and looks full and rich. Too-wet soil will look very dark and flat, it will start to breed moss and eventually attract bugs.

Water is the one thing that you need to stay on top of when growing any kind of plant. Light can be added or taken away and most soils can be amended to accommodate different types of plants, but watering isn’t negotiable as far as the plant is concerned. Watering too much, and that plant can rot, not enough and, well, you know. Your best judge is still your finger.

What is “Regular Water?”

Isn’t all water “regular?” As opposed to irregular water?? Huh???

Regular water means to water on a regular basis. I’m not sure how this term came to be in the garden world because water needs change throughout the years as the outdoor temperatures and rainfall are important considerations. Indoors, the needs change as well. You need to back-off the watering in the winter months when our indoor plants / houseplants are dormant, and increase the watering in the springtime as the plants wake up. Perhaps it means to water on a schedule – but that doesn’t work either as the temperatures and light changes throughout the seasons.

So “regular water” needs some redefining.

I’m going to say, regular watering means to check your plants regularly – to see wether you need to water or not. Eventually this will become intuitive as you and your miniature garden continue to grow together and get used to how the seasons change the needs of the plants.

A Miniature Cactus Garden
Match the plant’s light and water requirements to make it easy peasy. This miniature cactus garden needs bright light, it’s indoors and needs to dry out in between watering sessions. That’s a miniature Aloe Vera in the middle.
An indoor Miniature Garden
We’ve matched all the plant’s light and water requirements in this one pot. Variegated Boxwood trees, with Dwarf Mondo Grass, Corsican Mint and two young Serissas are on the trellis in the bottom, left. This garden can be left outside in bright shade for the summer, and brought indoors for the winter.

So, How Do I Decide Which Kind of Plants to Use?

First and foremost, decide on where your garden will live. Indoors? Outdoors? What kind of light does that area get? Then you can start to narrow-down the choices. THEN choose the plants that go with your lifestyle for the best results.

~> If you are not home very often and your mini garden to be just as independent, go with succulents and plants that can handle a little dryness from time to time.

~> Are home all the time and love to pamper and play with your miniature garden? Choose plants that like to be watered often.

~> A happy medium is using regular miniature garden plants that like regular water – like almost all our plants that we recommend for gardening in miniature up in our online Miniature Garden Center store.

We wrote the primer for the hobby! It has all the
basics you need to get started with this wonderful
hobby PLUS a few yummy projects to get your
hands dirty. :o)

Controlling Water Run-Off

For places where you can’t let the water flow, like balconies, indoor locations and wooden decks, one thing to consider is how are you going to collect the water as it drains out of the bottom of the pot?

If the pot doesn’t come with a saucer, your local garden center has clear, plastic saucers which aren’t very noticeable, but note that they fail in about a year’s time. And they eventually break if the pot is too heavy because the plastic gets more-brittle as it ages. So, in other words, they are cheap and handy, but they aren’t very reliable.

About Those Pot Saucers…

What I like to do is to go to my local Sally-Ann, aka thrift shop, and get a pretty porcelain plate to match or compliment the pot’s colors. Stay away from earthenware or any plate that is NOT glazed on BOTH sides as the clay will collect moisture from the pot and unknowingly ruin the surface underneath it.

If the pot does come with a saucer, again, be careful of the saucer wicking moisture on your wood surfaces if it’s not glazed on both sides.

Your local garden center will have a variety of plant coasters or “pot feet” to use underneath the saucer to protect the wood. Some coasters are plastic-backed felt and others are cork which I never understood because cork absorbs moisture too. Just make sure the plant coaster is waterproof.

And if anyone tells you the pot’s saucer is waterproof because it’s glazed on the topside, please don’t believe them, I have the water marks on my wood tables to prove it. It needs to glazed on BOTH sides for it to be impermeable to water.

And Those Pot Feet…

For larger pots, consider using pot feet. Pot feet raise the pot up an inch or two to let the water drain freely out of the drainage hole. But be aware that any consistent watering will still stain or mar any deck or patio surface. Usually the pot feet are tall enough so you can slide a saucer underneath the pot to catch any run-off, but check it on occasion to see if the saucer has filled-up with water.

For water-loving gardens, or gardens that need a little extra watering in the hottest months, use a saucer WITH the pot feet. This will let the pot absorb the water run-off back into the container, the pot won’t dry out so fast and it’ll be safer for the plants. Just make sure to remove the saucer in the fall, before the rains come back so the pot isn’t sitting in water over the winter, rotting the roots.

Your Miniature Garden Center

Where to Begin

Understanding the basics of light, soil and water requirements will help you make the right choice when selecting plants for your miniature garden design. Designing your miniature gardening with plant care needs in mind will make tending your mini garden rewarding and satisfying for you, and keep your plants happy and healthy for a long time.

By asking yourself the questions, “Where is the garden going to be placed? How am I going to maintain it?”  and it will narrow down your choices to the plants that will work best for you. “Right plant in the right place” is the golden garden rule and no, you can’t fool Mother Nature.

Got any questions? Leave them below!

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Stay tuned! ‘Miniature Gardening 104: How to Find the Plants ‘ is next!

In case you missed it: Miniature Gardening 102: Indoor vs. Outdoor Plants is here.

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