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If I had to choose, the number one thing that all plant owners struggle with at times is watering their plants. Watering is not just about the type of plant you have, but other environmental factors, too. One accidental overwatering session and BOOM—unhappy plant. For new plant owners, especially those who are excited or nervous about taking care of their new plant, it’s very easy to overwater. In this post, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about watering your plants.
How to Tell If Your Houseplant Needs to Be Watered
There are a few tried-and-true ways to tell if your plant needs to be water. Let’s start with the easiest first:
- The easiest way to tell if your plants need to be watered is by using your finger to feel if the soil is wet or dry. Most houseplants need to be watered when the soil is dry one to two inches down. However, keep in mind some plants like to completely dry out or remain moist, so make sure to do a quick search on your specific plants’ watering requirements.
- Next, houseplant leaves also tend to droop or curl if your plants are dry and need water. Once your plant is watered, the leaves should perk back up.
- Yellow or brown and crispy leaves can also be a sign. However, this is a little harder to diagnose because this can be caused by underwatering OR overwatering. If you’re not sure, refer back to the first method and use your finger to feel the soil.
- The weight of your pot can help alert you to a dry plant. Try picking up a pot. Does it feel very lightweight, almost like if you bumped into the table it could be easily knocked over? If so, the soil is most likely dry. This method is trickier and will require you to really get to know your plants first.
- That brings me to my next point, getting to know your plants. The best thing you can do for overall plant care and health is to start understanding your plants—what they like or dislike, how they respond to different environmental factors. Once you know how they look when they’re healthy, then you’ll have a better understanding of when they need to be watered.
- You can also use a moisture meter to help you figure out the moisture level in the soil.
How Often to Water Houseplants
Most houseplants will need to be watered every one to two weeks (however, as I mentioned before, there are some exceptions). There is no set schedule for how often to water plants. Now, of course, you can have a schedule where you check your plants every Saturday morning, but does that mean that you actually water all plants every Saturday? No!
You should always water your plants by observing the signs we discussed above and determining whether or not your plant needs to be watered. I know, I know. I’m sounding really stern right now. But if you take nothing else away from this post, I want THIS to be what’s burned into your brain!
If you’re watering your plants based solely on the day of the week and not based on what your plant is telling you, there’s a good chance you’re either overwatering or underwatering them. I recommend setting two days a week when you do a quick check of your plants to see who needs to be watered.
Also, keep in mind that plants will need to be watered less in humid environments (like if you keep your plants in a greenhouse, for example) and if they receive lower amounts of light. They will also need less water in the winter since they’re not in the active growth stages.
I like to track how often I water my plants. This helps me notice patterns and better understand my plants and if they need to be watered.
When to Water Houseplants
The best time to water plants is in the morning. This will allow the plant the most time to dry, rather than sitting in a wet, dark pot all night if you water in the evening. It will also allow the plant to soak up more of the moisture, as opposed to watering in the afternoon (the hottest part of the day) when the moisture would evaporate quicker.
You should always water your plants after repotting them.
How to Water Houseplants
There are a few general rules to keep in mind when it comes to how to water your houseplants:
- Make sure to water the whole root ball, not just one spot in the soil.
- A cup of water in a small plant is very different than a cup of water in a large plant. Large plants need more water, so water them for longer!
- Water the soil, not the leaves (except for air plants) – use a long-spout watering can to get in past leaves in order to be able to water the soil. Allowing water to sit in crevices of the leaves can cause rot. If you get some water in leaf crevices, just take a paper towel or cotton swab to gently pat it dry.
- Normally, you should make sure to see water coming out of the bottom drain hole. However, when your plant is very dry, water will run right through the dry soil and come out of the drain hole almost immediately. In this case, you’ll need to water longer to make sure it’s actually getting to the roots.
- Normally, you’ll want to get rid of the excess water in the plant tray after you’re done. However, if your plant is very dry, you can have your plant sit in the tray for a while to allow the roots can soak up more water from the bottom. Don’t leave the water in the tray permanently, though.
- You can also use the bottom-watering method, which doesn’t involve watering from the top of the soil at all. Bottom watering can be beneficial for plants because it allows them to soak up the amount of water that they need without getting their leaves wet and helping the roots to grow down towards the moisture, making them stronger. However, this method does take a little longer.
- Find a bowl or container large enough for your plant to sit in and fill it up a few inches to halfway with water (depending on how large the plant is). Check the plant after about ten minutes and use your finger to determine if the soil is moist either just at or just under the surface. Let it soak a little longer if needed, but be careful not to forget about it! (Note: Your pot needs a drainage hole for this to work.)
- For full details on bottom watering your plants, visit my post on this.
While not a substitution for watering, humidity is another way to provide your plants with the moisture they need to thrive. Many houseplants are native to tropical regions and like to be kept in humid environments. Creating humidity for your houseplants is easy—check out my post on easy methods to create humidity for your plants!
How to Water Houseplants While On Vacation
To state the obvious, it’s not ideal to own many houseplants if you travel frequently. However, there are some solutions that can help:
- Consider plants that don’t need water often, such as succulents or other houseplants that like to dry out between waterings, like the peperomia.
- If you can, have someone come over to water your plants or bring them to someone’s house. I’ve even brought some of my plants into work before so that my plant-loving coworker could water them for the week.
- Consider using plastic pots, which aren’t porous like terra cotta, and will hold water for a lot longer.
Other methods that can extend the moisture level in your plants’ pots include:
- Using humidity to keep your plants moist for longer. However, this will probably only buy you a little bit of extra time.
- Moving your plants to a lower-lit area to keep them from drying out as quickly, just as long as it’s not completely dark.
- Placing a layer of moss on top of the soil which will help lock in moisture.
You can also try rigging up a watering system that will slowly release water to your plants over a period of time. Two common methods for doing this include:
- A wick watering system – To create a wicking system, take a piece of fabric string (the wick), and bury one end in your plant’s soil. Place the other end in a bowl or bucket of water. Water from the bowl will travel through the wick and into your plant’s soil. The water should stop traveling through the wick once the soil is completely damp.
- A bottle irrigation system – To create a simple irrigation system, take a clean plastic water bottle and drill a few holes into the cap. Cut off the bottom of the bottle and tightly screw the cap back on. Stick the bottle cap side down into the soil and fill the cut-open bottom with water before you leave. Note that this probably won’t work for plants with smaller pots unless you have a very teeny bottle.
Honestly, I would not say that those two methods are completely reliable, but they might work if you’re in a pinch. Be sure to test these out ahead of time to make sure they release water in an appropriate manner.
If you only travel occasionally, you shouldn’t need to worry about all of this. Just remember to water your plants before you leave. Most plants should be fine without water for a week. Some might not be happy, but they should bounce back after a good watering when you get home.
Tips for Overwaterers
- For overwaterers, I’d definitely recommend terra cotta pots which will dry out quickly compared to plastic pots due to their porous nature. Check out this post I wrote on terra cotta vs. plastic vs. glazed ceramic pots.
- Write down how often you water your plants using a tracker in order to better understand your watering habits.
- Get in the habit of ALWAYS checking the soil with your finger before you water. Put a sticky note by your plants if you need to remind yourself to do this.
- As I mentioned earlier, get out of the “schedule mindset” when it comes to watering your plants. Sticking to a strict watering schedule, instead of determining what your plant actually needs, will almost always lead to overwatering it at some point.
- Last, just wait a few extra days if you’re not sure. Your plant might not love you for letting it get a little dry, but that’s generally better than overwatering it. Dry houseplants can almost always be revived (unless they’ve been severely neglected). However, it’s really difficult to overcome a bad case of root rot from a very overwatered plant.
Tips for Underwaterers
- The number one tip I’d suggest for underwaterers is to use plastic pots. They’re not porous, unlike terra cotta, and will hold water for a lot longer. Again, you can check out my post on this for more info on different types of pots.
- I also suggest putting a reminder in your phone. If you’re a chronic underwaterer, there’s a good chance it’s because you’re forgetting to do it altogether. Just telling yourself in your head, “Remember to water my plant on Saturday,” might not be good enough. Set a reminder for when you know you’ll have time to check on your plants, like a weekend morning.
- You can also try lowering the amount of light or raising the humidity levels which will stop plants from drying out as quickly. Just make sure your plant is OK with this. Test it out for a few days and see what happens.