Assess Your Garden Conditions

Assessing Garden Rainfall

At least 90 percent of every plant is water. No plant can live without some moisture, and certain plants use it in amazing ways. Orchids and bromeliads that live on tropical trees absorb rainwater through their foliage. Succulent plants and cacti store reservoirs of water in their swollen stem tissues so they can go for a month or more without rain. Prairie flowers such as butterfly weed store water in their fleshy taproots. And daffodils store water in their bulbs.

Without water, plants wilt and die. But too much water can be as bad for plants as not enough. If land plants are submerged in water for too long -- even if just their roots are submerged -- they may rot or drown from lack of oxygen.

Balancing plants' water needs is like having a healthful diet. Everything should be consumed in moderation. Provide your plants with enough water for good health, but don't flood them with it. Most plants prefer steady moisture in the soil, especially in spring, so they can grow without interruption.

Regional Rainfall Patterns

It is rare for nature to provide exactly the right amount of water, not too much nor too little, for garden plants. You'll probably have to water your plants during dry spells to keep them looking their best. You can also observe your region's normal rainfall patterns and choose plants that are appropriate. For instance, bulbs like tulips and daffodils come from regions with wet winters but dry summers. North American wildflowers such as Virginia bluebell tend to bloom early, during moist weather at a time when tree leaves are just emerging, and then go dormant, sitting out summer in dry shade. For this reason they are referred to as ephemerals. Subtropic areas, such as parts of Florida, have frequent storms in the summer rainy season, bringing floods of rain. During interruptions of the usual pattern, fast-growing plants may need extra water.

To monitor rainfall patterns, set a rain gauge in an open area of the garden. You can purchase one at a garden center or use a topless coffee can. After each rainfall, check the depth of the rain inside. A commercial rain gauge is calibrated and easy to read. To read rain levels in a coffee can, insert a ruler and note how high the water has risen. Then keep this information in mind as you choose your plantings.

Garden soil usually needs some work before it's ready to support plants. On the next page, learn about assessing your garden's soil.

Looking for more information about gardening? Try these:

  • How to Start a Garden: Find out how to get your garden started.
  • Planting a Garden: Once the planning is done and the soil is ready, the next step is planting your flowers or vegetables.
  • Annual Flowers: Learn about annual flowers, which continue to bloom throughout the growing season.
  • Perennial Flowers: Find out about perennial flowers, which return to grace your garden year after year.
  • Gardening: Learn the basics of successful gardening.