Incorrect watering is the number one killer of house plants. If your indoor plants look a little worse for wear, chances are the issue is your watering schedule. However, the good news is that watering house plants is easy once you know how. So read on for our guide on how not to drown or dehydrate your lovely house plants. You can find more house plants at Prickle.
How Much Water Should I Give My Plant?
Just like humans, each individual plant is different and requires a varying level of moisture. The amount of water indoor plants need largely depends on their size and native habitat. Arid plants, such as cacti and succulents, don't need to be watered as often as tropical plants and those native to wetter climates.
As a general rule, aim to keep the potting soil moist but well drained. Keep the water flowing until you see the excess running out through the pot's drainage holes. Free draining water is a sign that your plant's soil has enough moisture and can't hold any more.
Over Watering and Under Watering Popular Houseplants
Water is essential for healthy plants. However, it can also be a killer. Provide too little water, and the plant's roots will dry out, eventually killing the plant. Give your plant too much water, and the root system gets deprived of oxygen, leading to root rot and killing the plant.
If you're unsure how much water your plant needs, err on the side of under-watering, which is quicker and easier to correct than overwatering. Overwatering does more harm to the plant and can be tricky to rectify.
On the other hand, if you've underwatered your plant, adding moisture to bone-dry soil should be enough to rehydrate the plant's roots - as long as you catch the problem early enough. Many houseplants - for example, the peace lily - are not shy in letting you know they need to be watered. You'll notice the leaves and stems start drooping and return to their upright position quickly after a drink.
How to Tell If You're Overwatering Your Houseplants
Unfortunately, the symptoms of over-watering houseplants look a lot like those of under-watering. Droopy, wilting leaves, yellowing foliage, and browning or wrinkling leaves are all signs of under and over-watering.
However, if the plant in question also has an unpleasant odour, mushy roots, or mould growing in the soil, it has likely had a little too much to drink. Prevent overwatering by checking the top inch of soil before tilting the watering can.
Check the Soil Before Watering
One of the most helpful tips for watering plants is to check the soil is dry before watering. Don't just go around the house, topping up plants willy-nilly. Take a little time to examine the soil first. If it feels moist, don't add more water. On the other hand, if the soil feels dry, go ahead and give your plant a drink.
How Do You Find Out if the Soil is Dry?
The quickest and easiest way to find out if the soil is dry is to dip your finger into it. Insert your finger into the soil up to the second knuckle. If your finger comes out dry, then the plant needs to be watered. However, if the soil still feels moist, leave it a day or two before checking again.
If you'd rather keep your hands and fingernails clean, use a chopstick instead. Insert it into the soil, and if it comes out damp with moist soil sticking to it, your plant should be fine without more water for a couple of days.
Should I Set a Watering Schedule?
A watering schedule is a great idea for plants - but use it as a guide rather than a cast iron plan.
Most plants don't need to be watered to an exact schedule, so use it as a reminder to check in on your plants. If the soil is dry, give the plant a drink. If it is still moist, wait a day or two and check again.
Don't be tempted to water all your plants, for example, every Monday, without checking the potting mix first. Doing so can lead to over-watering, which is never a good thing!
What Should I Use For Watering Indoor Plants?
In an ideal world, houseplants would be watered with collected rainfall. However, this isn't always practical, especially during the growing season when frequent watering is needed but the weather is drier. In the United States and UK, tap water is perfectly fine for watering plants. Most indoor plants prefer tepid or warm water over cold water, so let tap water stand out for a few hours before use. Doing this also allows any chemicals, such as fluoride, to evaporate first.
Place your room-temperature water in a basin, sink, or even the bath for bottom-watering houseplants. For top-watering houseplants, a small watering can is ideal, but an old bottle does the job just fine. Wherever possible, use something with a spout-like opening to avoid splashing foliage and flowers.
Do the Seasons Impact How Much Water Plants Need?
Yes! Even though your home is likely to be heated during the colder months, the seasons definitely play a part in how much water indoor plants need.
Most houseplants grow during spring and summer, entering a dormant period in autumn that lasts throughout winter. During the growing season, plants need more water to flourish and grow. Water your plants less frequently during autumn and winter when they aren't using as much energy.
Other Factors That Determine How Often Plants Need Water
Lower light conditions don't dry out soil as quickly as bright sunlight, meaning your shaded plants don't need such frequent waterings as those placed by a window.
As you'd imagine, soil dries out quicker in higher temperatures. For this reason, plants in a cozy room, such as the living room, usually need to be watered more often than those kept in cooler areas of the house.
The moisture level in the room can have an impact on how much water indoor plants need. Plants in humid rooms, like the kitchen or bathroom, need to be watered less frequently but more thoroughly, allowing even the deepest roots to absorb the moisture from the soil.
It goes without saying that larger plants require more moisture than smaller plants. However, smaller pots hold less water, so they need a higher watering frequency than plants in larger pots.
The type of pot also affects how much and often a plant needs to be watered. Terracotta and clay pots allow more air to circulate in the potting mix, meaning the soil dries out faster. Plastic and glazed pots retain moisture, which means you need to water house plants less often.
A plant in well-draining potting soil with lots of perlite and other drainage aids mixed in need regular watering. Heavy, dense potting mixes hold water more effectively, so they don't need to be topped up quite so often.
All good plant pots have adequate drainage holes in the bottom. These let excess water drain away freely, preventing the soil from getting too wet, which can lead to root rot. However, if you're growing a houseplant in a terrarium or other container without a drainage hole, you might want to water your plants a little and often.
Moisten all of the soil around the whole pot. Don't just target the flow only at the base of the plant.
Don't water too shallow. Allow the water to drain freely from the bottom of the pot so the roots don't need to search upwards for moisture.
Place a saucer under the pot to catch excess drainage, and don't let your plant pots sit in water for more than 20 minutes or so.
Plants prefer soil that feels light and moist rather than heavy and wet. Water indoor plants in the morning to prevent them from sitting in soggy soil all night.
If the water runs straight through the soil with no resistance, it may be time to repot your plant with fresh potting soil.
Watering indoor plants is not an exact science, and it is easy to get wrong now and again. Most houseplants need an element of trial and error to get into their watering groove. Don't worry if you get it wrong at first. Bear in mind that under-watering is always easier to correct than over-watering, so if in doubt, leave the plant for another day or two before watering.