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A couple of people have told me that it's a bad for plants to be watered in the middle of a sunny day, i.e. it's not just that you waste more water due to evaporation, but that there are actually bad effects on the plants itself. I've heard this claim specifically for watering grass.

The explanation I heard is that it causes the plants to open up pores or otherwise behave as if it were raining, but the fact that the sun is actually shining leads to burning or other damage. But there are certainly other possible explanations.

Can it cause harm to plants to water them under a hot sun?

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I've broadened the scope of the question to include all plants, not just grass. –  Mad Scientist May 5 '11 at 8:23
I've heard that too. But, I've read (and through my own gardening experience) that the alternatives are worse since watering after sundown or in early in the morning lets the water sit on the leaves and ground and promotes the growth of harmful molds & fungus. –  Booji Boy May 5 '11 at 13:06
I want to confirm or debunk the idea that I shouldn't water the grass in the middle of the day. Ideally there'd be a study answering it definitively, but also just debunking all the known theories would do. –  Ganesh Sittampalam May 5 '11 at 14:36
@Garnesh: The "don't water in the middle of the day" thing is often pushed to save water rather than to protect the plants. The logic goes that a larger fraction of the water is lost to evaporation if applied during the hot, sunny part of the day than if applied during the cool of the morning or night; and consequently less total water has to be applied to maintain the health of the plants. –  dmckee May 6 '11 at 21:42
@dmckee: I appreciate that's one argument against doing it, but I deliberately excluded that in my question as I don't personally care about it. –  Ganesh Sittampalam May 6 '11 at 21:44

4 Answers 4

up vote 21 down vote accepted

The argument as I know it goes somewhere along the lines of "water drops act like lenses that focus sunbeams so that they burn the plant". Several experiments have failed to reproduce this, though (link in German, sorry) - a drop of water, even a perfect half-sphere simply doesn't act as a lens. However, there are circumstances where it might happen, and that appears to be if the structure of the leaf surface is not flat but irregular or hairy. In that case, water drops might "hover" above the actual leaf surface, and sunbeams might be focused enough to cause damage.

This is not to be expected with grass, though.

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I don't think this is a fully complete answer. You covered the explanation for one of the possible mechanisms of how the effect works; but what I (and possibly the OP) are interested is whether there is an observable (and reported in a study) effect in the first place. E.g did someone actually run a review/experiment on 2 sets of plants, watered at different times, and observed the effects. –  DVK May 5 '11 at 13:53
@DVK: I think we need to call the mythbusters ;) –  Trufa May 5 '11 at 15:06
@DVK: I know, I was hoping for more answers here myself. –  Tim Pietzcker May 5 '11 at 15:13
I agree that a more general answer would be nice, but it's been a few days now so I'll accept this one at least for now. –  Ganesh Sittampalam May 10 '11 at 7:32

Let me pose another process by which the anecdotal "scorching" might occur when watering during sunlight hours that sounds plausible:

Let's say the water has a significant amount of some compound (e.g. salt or some other chloride) dissolved in it and some of the water sits on the leaf under the blazing sun so evaporates in place on the leaf it leaving behind a residue of undissolved salt. Just like adding salt to other moist things it dehydrates and ultimately kills the cells, leaving a burn mark (and thus weaker plant) behind.

Horticulturist Linda Chalker-Scott takes on the "don't water in the day" myth in an article published on her WSU page and explains that the salt problem is not due to the water being on the leaf, but by it being absorbed normally (i.e. via roots) and by becoming too concentrated inside the plant because it has a deficiency that hampers its ability to deal with the salt.

Apart from this, the article is a good debunker for the whole idea that watering during the day causes leaf scorch.

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applying pure logic: would plants have ever survived climates in which rain and sunshine follow each other quickly if they were so fragile they'd burn/scorch if they were exposed to sunlight when wet? –  jwenting Dec 14 '11 at 8:17
In this case, how did so many cultures develop this myth? –  vsz Nov 27 '12 at 16:26
@jwenting and vsz I think the difference between natural forces and hand watering is the nature of the water. For example, when my rainwater tanks empty in November (as they just have now) I start watering with mains water (pumped 100km from a river after filtering, etc) which almost certainly contains more hard metals and other compounds not typically present in rain water. This could explain the high salt content when growing plants artificially (i.e. gardening) vs allowing nature to take its course. –  Lisa Nov 27 '12 at 23:25
Now I know to water my plants with distilled water! –  Timo Huovinen Jul 19 '13 at 19:02

There was a joint Hungarian-German study on the subject led by Dr. Gábor Horváth at Eötvös University in Budapest, Hungary.

A team of physicists, troubled by the lack of scientific evidence for the phenomenon, set out to test the theory that water droplets on leaves can act like mini magnifying lenses, focusing the sun's rays and leaving a leaf's surface covered in scorch marks. Using computer modelling as well as tests on real leaves, the researchers claim to have disproved the theory. They found that water droplets on a leaf surface were not able to focus the sun's energy sufficiently to damage the leaves before the water evaporated.


It is true that in the perfect circumstances a droplet of water can cause some burn damage but it's only in the case of some tropical plants with hairy leaves and even then it's unlikely to cause too much damage due the hairy leaves tend to shed the water.

However there are other things to keep an eye on as well when you are watering your plants as it is stated on the very same page.

"Drops of acid rain, salty sea or tap water, chlorinated water and concentrated solutions of fertiliser or other chemicals can all cause sunburn-like brown patches. "Plants could also suffer some kinds of physiological stress from putting cold water onto hot leaves."

That all said and done though. It's still not ideal to water during the midday sun because the plants try to retain as much water as possible and they are pretty much resting (midday depression of photosynthesis can also be examined).

There's a few nice tips on watering plants:

  1. Early is best; dawn to direct sun is ideal. "Never in the evening, unless you like disease,"... Watering in the evening can lead to fungal growth that's damaging to your plants.

  2. Water deeply and infrequently...

  3. Don't wet the leaves when watering plants. Always water at the plant's base.

Water when needed. To figure out if your garden needs watering, use a technique similar to the houseplant test: Push your finger into the soil surrounding your plants. According to OrganicGardening.com, you want the top two or three inches of the soil to be dry, with the soil blow that moist.


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Just as the marathon runner needs water at certain intervals, the plant needs water when it's dehydrated. A healthy hydrated plant will be larger and actually require less water as it shades the ground. Water will cool the leaves and in many cases the plants actually does better when they are watered during the heat of the day. Certain plants will drop their flowers and not bear fruit if the temperature rises above 90°. The tomato plant is one example. If the tomato plant is cooled with water during the hot part of the day then the plant will produce more tomatoes. It is also only a myth that we use more water during the heat of the day due to evaporation. The laws of physics will state that the same evaporation will occur during a 24 hour period whether the watering took place at 2AM or 2PM. One way to save water is to water plants when they need it. Keeping them healthy and planting crops closer together will in the long run use less water. Plants absorb sunlight and actually cause the surrounding temperature to drop. They keep the soil from drying out when they are allowed that drink when they are thirsty. Keeping the athlete well hydrated during the marathon allows the Marathon runner to be more efficient. Logic would state the same thing would apply to the plant. It does appear that city officials run with these myths to the detriment of garden owners. City officials are strict with the watering before 10 AM and after 6 PM

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