Miniature Gardening 103: The Water

Miniature Garden with Custom Pool
A custom, double-sided Miniature Garden made for a favorite customer, 2005. This side was an Hawaiian theme, the other side was a Northwest theme.

Miniature Gardening 103: The Water

~ 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.
A Miniature Garden for dry, full-sun conditions. From left to right, Wooley Thyme, Blue Star Juniper and Sedum Cape Blanco – can be grown with success in the same container.

Huh? 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 schedule.

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 result in disaster if you are not paying attention.

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

Our Water Chart

WetThe 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.African Violets, Miniature Sweet Flag
MoistPot has a drainage hole, but is watered often to keep up the moisture level of the soil.Begonias, Baby Tears
DampRegular water, but let the soil almost dry out in between, like the dampness of wrung-sponge.Lawson Cypress, English Boxwood
DryLet the soil dry out completely between watering. This avoids over-watering plants that like dry soil.Succulents, Sedum, Jade, Cacti

But, How Do I Know When to Water?

A Miniature Cactus Garden
A Miniature Cactus/Aloe Garden, all the plants like the same soil and water conditions – which is to dry out completely in between watering sessions.

Stick your finger in it.

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.

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.

An indoor Miniature Garden
An indoor Miniature Garden. All the plants in the garden like bright, indirect light and regular watering, letting the soil dry out to damp in between watering sessions.

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

Choose the plants that go with your lifestyle for the best results. If you are not home very often and don’t want to dote on your mini garden, go with succulents and plants that like to dry out in between watering.

If you are home all the time and love to pamper 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.

Controlling Water Run-Off

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)

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.

What I like to do is to go to my local Sally-Ann, aka thrift shop, and get a porcelain or glazed ceramic 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 to use underneath the saucer to protect the wood. Some 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 tables from years ago to prove it. It needs to glazed on BOTH sides for it to be impermeable to water.

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 surface.

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!

Want more? Join our email list here – just scroll down a bit.

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.

Your Miniature Garden Center

5 thoughts on “Miniature Gardening 103: The Water

  1. I love my miniature garden. It is nowhere as fancy as yours, but it is still a work in progress. I change it out for the seasons and holidays.

    Liked by 1 person

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