Skip to content

How to WATER your Native Plants

You will be watering less, you will be watering deeply and you will have a beautiful garden!

When making the switch to natives from more thirsty plant palettes there are some things to keep in mind to get the best results:

  • Soil type
  • Location
  • Microclimate

Get to know how long your soil holds moisture by checking six to eight inches below the surface between waterings. Allow the excess moisture in the soil to drain completely, but irrigate again before it becomes fully dry! California native plants are perfectly adapted to our arid climate and can withstand extended periods of heat and drought. However, like all nursery stock, container grown California native plants need careful attention and regular water during their establishment period in the landscape. After about three months of regular water, you can begin to taper the watering regime. Your microclimate and plant choice will ultimately determine your final supplemental irrigation needs.

For a 1 gallon plant, a very general guideline to follow would be:

First 1-3 months1x per week
3-24 months1-2 per month (some water loving species will require 4x
24 + monthsSome plants will naturalize (no supplemental water), others will need occasional irrigation if they are planted outside their natural habitat.

Here is a more in-depth overview of watering natives.


Picture your soil as the bank and water as the currency. Plants make withdrawals as needed. Your job, especially during the dry season, is to make sure the account is replenished so plants can find water 14 – 20” deep in the soil, where the feeder roots are. The layers between the deep root zone and the surface should stay moist as well, especially for perennials and flowering groundcovers that have shallow roots. 

Utilize the method called “Occasional Deep Soak Plus Frequent Refreshing Sprinkles.”

Give a “Deep Soak” when the soil is dry to the touch 4” down. 

Do “Refreshing Sprinkles” anytime.


1. “Deep Soak.” Put water deep in the soil. Apply the equivalent of a 1.5 – 2” rain event to the entire planted area every 3 – 4 weeks. Use the “pulse irrigation” technique to apply approx .5 – .75” per day, in early mornings, for 2 – 3 consecutive days. For most sprinkler systems you would run the sprinklers approx 40 minutes each day. You won’t need to do this again for around 3 weeks, though the interval could be between 2 and 4 weeks depending on weather, soil, garden maturity, exposure, and many factors. The point is to infrequently but thoroughly soak the soil to a depth of 14 – 20”. Try to water in anticipation of extreme heat events. Best to water on early mornings on days with cooler summer overcast conditions. This puts moisture where roots will find it when they need it. Do not water in the heat of the day.

2. “Refreshing Sprinkle.” Put water on the plants and soil surface only. Best done by hand (it’s fun) or with the irrigation system, Refreshing Sprinkles take the stress off the plants during hot weather. It’s simple. Go out at the end of the day, in summer, around 7:30 pm and wet the entire garden with a spray nozzle from your garden hose. Wash the leaves, and wet the soil surface. Spend no more than 5-10 minutes. Turn the hose straight up overhead and take a quick garden shower so you can feel the instant cooling your plants are getting. Watch for hummingbirds who may slip in for a quick bath. You can do Refreshing Sprinkles 2 – 3 times a week or more, always at the end of the day. This moisture refreshes the leaves and cools the entire site so the garden has a restful “sleep” and can start the next hot day with no stress. Virtually no moisture soaks into the root zone, but the new moisture on the surface helps lock in the valuable moisture from your Deep Soaks. Also plants can absorb water through their leaves, especially in late afternoon, early evening.

Water by hand as needed. This cannot be overemphasized. Use a hose-end watering wand or set a mini sprinkler to water sections of the garden. Start and stop your irrigation controller manually for best results. The finest natural gardens only use the automatic sprinklers as a backup system. Hand watering is best, especially on new plantings.

Here are some more tips to keep in mind.


  • water in the early morning when the soil is coolest thoroughly soak the soil, do so with lower application rates over a longer durations
  • water in anticipation of heat events not during, watch the forecast
  • check your irrigation system’s accuracy and effectiveness more than once
  • plant in fall when establishing and watering  plants is easier, if summer is a must see our summer water handout
  • for established plants every 3 weeks in the summer (dependent on soil type) can help refresh plantings as well as an occasional quick rinse early in the day
  • choose plants that can tolerate your soil type and microclimate and watering will be easier


  • water in the heat of the day
  • water frequently for short durations

Hand Watering Video:

How To Water Native Plants Video: