July Fourth Miniature Garden
A pond in a pot is a pretty simple – and simply pretty way to get a wee garden feature in your miniature garden. See more about this idea here.

Whoa Nelly! Heatwaves in June? I normally don’t talk about these dry topics until mid-summer, but here are some tips for keeping your miniature garden, and your full-sized garden, healthy during heat waves. You may be in an area with a water ban as well so it is even more critical to optimize your watering techniques. With proper techniques and knowing what to look for, you can get the most out of your watering, even in extreme temperatures.

Tips For Watering Containers or In-ground

Test First, Water Second

1. Test: Only water if needed. Stick your finger down into the soil at least one-full-inch deep. If the soil is still moist or wet, you can put-off the watering for a day or so and test again. If it’s dry, then water.

For smaller pots, lift them up to feel how heavy, or light, they are. Dry soil will be much lighter than moist soil.

IF you find your potted plants or garden is way too dry, consider soaking it, pot and all, in a tub of water for an hour or so. This will allow the roots and soil to get a good, long drink. You’ll know the soil is saturated when the air bubbles stop and the pot sinks – instead of floats.

Mary’s Miniature Pond Garden with a Jean’s Dilly Spruce. She’s hid the edges of the pond with the rocks. Sweetness!
(Submitted in a contest from 2008)

How Often to Water

2. Frequency: Water your in-ground gardens deeply and infrequently. This will teach the roots of the plants to look for water on their own, and grow deeper into the soil.

For containers, water according to the plants’ needs, not just because it is a new day. The best way to tell is the finger test, mentioned above. If you have your containers on an automatic drip, monitor it to make sure the water is getting to the plant’s roots AND that the soil is able to dry out a bit in between watering sessions. (<~ I repeat this bc it’s important.)

If you’re growing annuals or vegetables, these can be put on a regular watering schedule easily.

When to Water

3. Timing: Water in the early morning or in the evening after the direct sun no longer heating up your garden. There are two schools of thought as to the best time to water.

I usually like watering in the evening because it cools down the garden and we can sit and enjoy the dampness – but I find the mosquitoes come out when it’s so damp. BUT the plants can recover during the cooler nighttime temperatures and it is better for the plants. Watering in the evening can also cool-down the air for us humans too and it feels so good after a hot day.

**NOTE that some plants don’t like to be damp all night, like the Ice Plants or Delosperma. So if you’re seeing some mold or the beginnings of rotted foliage, back off the evening-watering completely and start watering in the mornings instead.

Watering in the morning is best for me, because the garden can dry-out and we get less mosquito-action at night. If you can water in the really early mornings, around 6am, it’s better because the plants will have a couple/few hours of cool-dampness to recover before the heat of the day.

“Spot-watering” means random acts of watering whenever and wherever it’s needed – but only if it’s an emergency and you see a plant crashing, or notice the soil it getting too dry. Otherwise, group your watering into one or two sessions a day to make it easy on yourself AND to make sure everything is getting a good soak.

Our Make a Real Fairy Pond Kit – another exclusive product from Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center

Where & What to Water

4. What to water: Water the soil, not the plant.

For containers, make sure the water gets down to the roots by waiting to see any run-off drain out the bottom of the pot. If the pot is drying out too quickly or too often, get a saucer – see #7 on this list.

For in-ground gardens, get a trowel to check how-far-down your watering has penetrated for the best results, especially if you are using a sprinkler or irrigation system. Always do random checks to make sure you’re staying on top of things.

What to Water With

5. What to use: You can conserve water by hand-watering each plant individually if you don’t have a lot of plants or a big garden, but do get in a good soaking, a watering wand on the shower setting is my favorite. The spray is gentle on the plants and that “shower-flow” can deliver a good watering where it’s needed.

Sprinklers and sprays of water don’t direct the water straight to the plant’s roots where it is needed so it may be more useful to use a direct approach with a watering wand. But always put a small container out where your sprinkler is so you know exactly how much water the garden is receiving.

Directing the Water

6. Corral the water: For in-ground gardens, build a trough around the base of each plant to direct the water straight down to the roots. Fill-up the trough with water and let it drain down a couple of times for deep watering. This is a critical technique if your garden is planted on a hill, adjust the trough so it catches the water flowing down the hill and redirects it to the plant’s roots.

For container gardens, you can put a saucer underneath the pot to help corral the excess water. This will let the water soak back into the pot through the drainage holes. As long as the garden isn’t sitting in water all the time, it’s safe to keep the pot in the saucer. Just remove the saucer after the dry months, so the water can drain freely again for the rainy season.

Miniature Gardening in Large Containers
Another Pond in a Pot idea for a display at the big Northwest Flower & Garden Show. The tiny plants floating in the pond is duckweed – a perfect miniature but an invasive plant that should be kept from any of our natural waterways. (From the Archives, 2004)

Mulch to Slow Down Evaporation

7. To mulch, or not to mulch: For full-sized gardening, mulching means to put a 2″ to 5″ layer of (usually) organic matter on top of the soil to help keep the moisture from evaporating.

Organic mulch can be bark, wood chips, straw, cocoa beans, pine needles, nut shells, shredded leaves, compost or cut grass. (I may be missing something.) To get miniature mulch, sift your full-sized mulch for a finer-grain, so to speak. Put a shovel-full through half-inch screen mesh or similar to miniaturize it. You can also mulch with any gentle compost, like a mushroom compost.

For our miniature gardens, we can’t exactly bury our wee gardens in 2″ of mulch – that would be 2 feet in miniature for most of us! (Say it ain’t so!) Instead, use a fine compost on you miniature beds and keep the layer spread evenly throughout and not in clumps. Cover all the bare soil and gently work around your ground-covers so they don’t get buried.

For pots, the fine compost works but technically you wouldn’t have much bare soil in a container so this may not be a consideration.

Ground Covers are Your Friends

8. Cover the ground: We’re in luck because a lot of our most favorite miniature garden plants are ground covers. By covering the bare ground with plants and foliage, it will slow down the water evaporation. Remember the ground-cover rule: The first year they sleep, the second year the creep and the third year they leap. So if you JUST planted your ground covers this spring, it’ll take some time for them to cover the ground.

Miniature Garden and Houseboat
Make a Lake. We made this for the Seattle Miniature Show in 2006 and it won Best of Show. See our Make a Lakeside Hideaway Kit up on our Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center Store

Throw Some Shade

9. Shade: Is your miniature garden in a container? Move it out of the full-sun into a bright shade spot, like the north or east side of the house. If the plants belong in full sun, they will be okay for a few days on the porch or under an awning until the heatwave passes. Shade can come from, or be made from, anywhere: an umbrella, a lawn chair, a larger pot, a bigger plant or a shrub.

If you have new plantings in-ground, use a big golf umbrella to shade them during the hottest hours. Weigh-down the handle of the umbrella so it won’t blow away! For more information in planning and planting a successful miniature in-ground garden, see ever-growing Miniature Garden Society.

Grow Up!

10. Plant more: Well, this is needed a bit of planning ahead to do, but here’s my point: create your own little ecosystem. Have you ever walked or driven-through a forest or park during a heatwave and felt it 10 degrees cooler? It’s because the big trees bring shade and cooler air, and combined with big shrubs, can create a naturally cool place in your garden. So this fall, consider planting more of your full-size garden around your miniature garden. (Or planting a miniature garden IN a full-sized garden.) Planting in fall is one of the best times to get a garden established before the heat of next summer. You’ll use less water next year, because the fall and winter rains will help them get established in their new home.

It is possible to plant during a heat wave – but only the small plants that you can temporarily shelter from the sun with an umbrella until the heat wave ends. The trick is to mimic the “normal” weather so the plant doesn’t stress-out, while trying to establish itself in its new home.

See what miniature garden trees, plants and shrubs we have in stock here.

Let There Be Air

11. Give them air: Make sure you have air circulation all around each plant and/or each pot. If the plants are growing up-against each other, those spots that are touching will die-out and you’ll have a bare spot on your tree, or yellowed foliage. It’s like having a band-aid on your finger for an extended period of time; the skin (the plant’s foliage,) that doesn’t get the light and air will start to suffer. Air helps to keep the plant cool and happy.

In an established miniature garden, wether its in a pot or in-ground, if you have ground covers growing up and around your shrubs, trees and perennials, gently pull-back the ground cover stems from the main plant. At some points you may have to pull-up a clump of the ground cover to get it away from the trunk or base of the plant. (If you want to dig-up the clump, mind the roots of the tree or shrub – and the roots will be shallow, it’s a ground cover.) Allowing this airflow around your miniature garden trees and shrubs will let them breathe easy and keep them cool.

When to Stop Watering

12: Signs of over-watering: If you see the top of the soil start to get slimy and a bit green, or if you are getting those tiny little bugs flying up every time you move the foliage or water, it is a sign of over-watering. It’s often said that over-watering is worst than under-watering.

What is happening is the plant’s roots are not able to breathe and your creating a different environment – one almost terrarium-like – for your plants and they can’t handle it because they don’t like their feet wet all the time. A good potting soil has air-pockets from the perlite or drainage material because roots need air too. This why you see some tree-roots come up to the top of the earth and bust through sidewalks – they are looking for air.

Snail at the Miniature Garden watering hole.
You can lead a snail to water… Random acts of cuteness may appear in your miniature garden at any time. (From the archives, 2008.)

How To Fix Over Watering

12b: To fix overwatering, stop watering. :o) Wait for the top of the soil to dry out to damp, then get a fork to churn up the top of the soil. Poke a longer rod, at least 1/8″ in diameter, right-down into the soil and around each plant to help get air down into the soil to the plant’s roots. Make sure the drainage holes are allowed to drain by tipping the pot over to check them to see if they are blocked. If they are, try unblocking it with a stick or something sharper.

If your pot has been growing for a couple/few years, look into getting it up on pot-feet, so it can drain better. This can be anything that lifts the pot up an inch off the ground, rocks, bricks, scrap wood…

If it’s sitting in a saucer, get rid of the saucer. Let the entire pot dry out to barely damp before you water again – go back to #1 and do that test before each and every watering until you and the miniature garden, are on the same page.

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Water ban? When you turn on your shower or your tap, and you are waiting for the water to get hot, collect that water in a bucket to bring out and water the garden. Better yet, plug the drain and collect your all shower water – if you take baths, use the bath water, (also called gray water.) Make a scoop by cutting out the bottom of a square milk jug or detergent container. You can also put a bucket in every sink to collect the run off every time you turn on any tap. Consider using organic soaps although I’m not sure if it does matter because this is not recommended for edible crops. You can also use the water that you boil any vegetables in too. Note that some areas have certain regulations for grey water usage.

I hope this helps you get through this extreme weather. I know that there are a lot of variables that I may have not considered because most of my experience is based on gardening in the rainy PNW but our summers are now getting really hot and dry. If you have a tip for watering your garden, full-size or in miniature, please help us help others by sharing it below!

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Miniature Garden Tutorial: Understanding Scale in the Miniature Garden

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