How Dry Should Soil Be Before Watering? (Answered)

Plants, as we all know, need water to live, as it supports all their systems and bioprocesses.

However, this doesn’t mean that you should just add water to the soil whenever you feel like it.

The level of moisture in the soil will dictate the growth of your plant both in a positive and negative way.

The lack of water can cause dehydration, weakening the plant’s health and stunting its growth.

On the other hand, too much water can cause other issues, such as root rot which can lead to many other serious problems and, eventually, kill the plant.

Striking the right balance is the key, so your plant can have enough water to be healthy, but not get flooded.

This is why it’s important to water the plant at the right time.

To be able to do this you’ll need to learn how dry should soil be before watering.

How Dry Should Soil Be Before Watering?

Each plant is different and has specific, individual needs, including how much water it needs to thrive.

So, the ‘one size fits all” approach is not applicable when it comes to watering plants and determining if the soil is dry enough before adding more water.

In general, a potted plant will need watering when the top level of soil (1 to 3 inches) is dry.

However, some plants are more resistant to drought and need a lower level of moisture for healthy growth.

Those plants should be watered only when the soil is completely dried out.

Plus, established shrubs and trees will handle the dry soil better than young plants. So, they should be watered only when the top 6 to 9 inches of soil feel dry.

Therefore, learning what your plant needs and how to establish the level of soil dryness is the key to proper plant watering.

How to Check if the Soil is Dry?

Potted plant with dry soil.

To ensure that your plants have enough water to grow properly, you first need to establish whether the soil is dry and needs watering.

There are a couple of ways to do this, some more precise than others.

Which one you use will mostly depend on the type of plant and how resistant it is to spending longer periods in dry soil.

Visual Observation

The eye test is the easiest way to monitor how dry the soil is. But, it’s also the least reliable method as you can observe only the soil surface.

However, an occasional quick glance will often be enough to indicate that your plant needs watering.

Dry soil will appear to be more compact and light-colored than the soil that is still wet.

Nevertheless, be aware that the appearance of certain types of soil is naturally light, so it may look dry even though it’s still fairly moist.

Visual observation works best with plants that need abundant and frequent watering, as this leaves less room for error and potential overwatering.

On the other hand, drought-resistant plants, such as Cacti, commonly have enough water to thrive even when the topsoil level is dry, so you’ll have to go deeper to inspect the soil and determine whether to add more water.

Using a Soil Moisture Meter

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A moisture probe or meter is a pretty handy tool when you need to precisely establish how dry the soil is.

These instruments offer more accurate information on the amount of moisture and are simple to use and fairly cheap.

A [amazon link=”B014MJ8J2U” title=”moisture meter” link_icon=”amazon” /] uses electrical current to establish the soil moisture level and provides results in only a couple of seconds.

When checking the moisture around the potted plants, you simply need to stick the probe around 3/4 of its length into the soil and read the results.

Depending on the moisture meter type, the results can be shown by a number on a scale indicator or by a certain color, where each color indicates a certain level of moisture.

When checking the soil around outdoor plants, you will probably need to probe at various spots, due to the larger area from where the plants get their water.

Finger Test

Sticking your finger into the soil can give you a pretty good indication of how dry it is, especially with potted plants.

Another great thing about this is that you don’t need any particular instruments other than your own finger.

To check how dry the soil is, you should push your finger 2 or 3 inches into the soil and feel around a bit to check how dry or moist it is.

As you will only have limited reach to test for dryness of the soil, this method works best for plants in small or medium-sized pots.

Alternatively, if the pot is too large and deep, or you don’t like to get your fingers dirty, you can use a pale wooden chopstick.

You simply push the chopstick into the soil and if it comes out stained, with chunks of soil stuck on it, the soil is likely still moist enough.

Why Does the Soil Dry Out?

Potted plant with dry soil outside.

If you don’t water the plant’s soil, it will, naturally, dry out over time.

However, there are several factors that influence this process and determine how fast the soil will dry.

Below is a short rundown of everything that affects the rate at which the soil dries out.

Soil Type and Potting Mix

Not every type of soil will dry out at the same speed, as different types of soil, with different compositions, have distinct water-retention properties, determining how quickly the water will drain.

Clay, sandy, or loamy soil has different textures, structures, and densities, which impacts how retentive a certain type of soil is.

The soil around the potted plants is not different, as various potting mixes may contain different levels of aerating materials to improve drainage, causing them to dry more or less quickly.

Growth Stage

As I already explained, plants at different stages of their growth will need different amounts of water to grow and develop in a proper and healthy way.

As young and still developing plants need more water, the soil they’re planted in will dry out more quickly and require more frequent watering.

On the other hand, with mature and established plants, the situation is the opposite, they need less water and the soil won’t dry out that fast.

Type of Plant

Larger plants, that are mostly grown outdoors, are planted in the ground in the garden or yard.

This means that they can rely on other water resources from environmental elements besides relying on humans for watering.

Because of this, the soil around them will dry out at a slower rate.

Potted plants have only a limited soil environment as they’re bound by the size of their pot.

Plus, as they’re commonly kept indoors, they can’t rely on extra watering from rain or similar sources.

Therefore, the soil they’re potted in will dry rather quickly.

Type of the Pot

When it comes to potted plants, how fast the soil will dry will also depend on the type of pot they’re planted in.

Certain materials are more porous and, therefore, the water will evaporate faster, causing the soil to dry out quickly.

This is mostly the case with pots made of terracotta and fabric pots or grow bags.

Pots made of plastic and similar non-porous materials will retain water much better and the soil will not dry out as quickly.

Both types of pots have their uses and it will depend on the certain plant which one is better.

Climate Conditions and Season of the Year

As you may expect, the weather conditions also have a great impact on how quickly the soil dries.

Logically, scorching heat during the summer will cause the water from the soil to evaporate more quickly and level the ground dry.

Wind can also accelerate evaporation, thus drying out the soil.

Of course, during rainy months of the year, in spring and fall, the soil will be wetter and not so quick to dry out.

The area where you live and the local climate also plays a role. In areas with low humidity and a warmer climate, the water from the soil will evaporate faster, leaving the plants struggling to get the water they need.


Watering may seem like the easiest part of taking care of your plant, but it’s actually rather nuanced.

Paying close attention to the level of moisture in the soil will do wonders for the health of your plant and its proper growth.

Knowing how dry should soil be before watering will prevent numerous issues that can hinder the plant’s development.

Regular monitoring of soil moisture levels is of the utmost importance, and you can use several methods to do it.

However, over time as you get to know your plant and its needs, you’ll get a feel of how much dryness it can handle and be able to act accordingly.

Timely reaction and adequate watering when you notice that the soil so too dry will keep the plant happy and healthy, minimizing the risk of serious damage.

Melissa Johnson
Melissa Johnson

Hello, I'm Melissa, owner and author of this website. I hope my article was able to help answer your questions. If you want to learn more about me, click the home icon above.

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