Water is one of the most essential things a plant needs, and yet it can be one of the most challenging parts of houseplant care. That’s why we’re taking a deep dive into everything you need to know about watering.
Not All Plants Are Created Equal
Before we get started on the nitty-gritty of watering, one BIG disclaimer: like people, all plants are a little bit different and are going to have different needs. So, unfortunately, there’s no easy, one size fits all when it comes to watering. Some plants will want to be kept in consistently moist soil, while others need to dry out in between watering.
One thing to consider is a plant’s native environment. Does it come from tropical rainforest or a dry desert? This may help clue you into how you should water your plant. As you learn about what your plant likes best, keep an eye on it, and monitor it for signs of stress, and measure and adjust as needed.
It’s All About the Water
When watering you might not think twice about what you’re giving your plants. Water is water, right? Not necessarily. Some plants are sensitive to chemicals and minerals that are found in tap or well water. This is especially true for spider plants, dracaenas, and fiddle leaf figs. But really, all houseplants can benefit from the use of filtered, distilled, or rainwater. A charcoal or drinking water filter can also help make water safer for sensitive plants.
Calcium or other minerals can also create water spots on the leaves, which is why it’s best to water as close to the soil as you can. A watering can with a long, thin spout really comes in handy to avoid getting the foliage wet. Of course, if you have large, broad leaves that are prone to collecting dirt and dust (which can actually block sunlight), you may want to occasionally wipe them down with a damp cloth.
Another thing you should be mindful of is the temperature of the water you’re giving your plants. Keep the water at room temperature, since cold or hot water can actually shock the plant. For this reason, you should also avoid watering orchids or other plants with ice cubes.
How Often Should I Water?
To determine how frequently you should water, you’ll want to monitor the soil to see how many days it takes to dry out and use that as a benchmark to determine your watering schedule. Don’t just pick a day of the week to water all of your plants. Instead, get a sense of each plant’s routine, so you can group together plants with similar needs.
What you’ll want to do is poke a hole in the soil with your finger to see if it’s wet, or for larger plants use a wooden dowel, or even the end of an old wooden spoon to get closer to the roots. If the soil feels damp to the touch, or if the wooden dowel shows signs of moisture, you should hold off on watering. Do this every day until you can tell the soil has dried out. The number of days that have passed since you last watered is how frequently you should be watering.
You’ll want to do this process in the summer, and then again in the winter to see if your plants watering needs have changed, as the air may be drier, or your plant may go dormant in the wintertime. Similarly, if you move your plant or change something in the room, you may want to measure and adjust as needed. There are a lot of factors that can affect the amount of water your plant needs. For example, a plant receiving direct sunlight will dry out more quickly than one in low light, and the smaller the container, the more quickly the soil will dry out and vice versa.
So how much should you water? As a general rule, water your plant until you see it draining from the bottom of the container. There are some exceptions to this, including ZZ plants, snake plants, cacti, and succulents, which like to be watered a little less. But for the most part, it’s better to water deeply less frequently than shallowly more frequently. Watering more regularly with small amounts of water means you’re never getting water to the deeper roots that need it, which over time will stress your plant to the point where it can’t be saved. So, keep an eye out for signs of distress as it can often be an indicator of over or under watering (though improper lighting can also cause your plant’s health to decline).
Signs Your Plant Is Thirsty
It’s typically better to underwater than it is to overwater since it’s easier for your plant to bounce back. So, when in doubt, err on the side of caution when watering. That said, if your plant goes too long with insufficient hydration, it can still cause issues.
How can you tell that your plant isn’t getting enough water? Things to watch out for include wilting, brown crispy leaves (especially on the edges), and your plant dropping leaves. If your soil has been dry too long it may also drain improperly, so watch out for gaps between the soil and the side of the pot, which will cause the water to go straight to the bottom of the pot without hydrating the plant.
Luckily, if your plant is thirsty, the solution is simple: just give it a drink! Water your plant thoroughly until you see the water draining from the bottom and consider watering more frequently if the plant shows signs of stress. If the soil is compact and isn’t absorbing water, poke a few holes in the top layer of soil to break it up, and water slowly to give the soil a chance to absorb it. Over time, chronic underwatering can cause drying up, desiccation, and root death, so it’s important you develop an understanding of what your plant needs to help it thrive.
Too Much of a Good Thing
One of the most frequent houseplant mistakes we see is folks overwatering their plants. If you notice wilting, yellowing leaves, mushy or rotting leaves, soggy soil, mold, smelly soil, fungus gnats, a noticeably heavier pot, or water pooling on the top of the pot, these can all be signs of too much water. Frequent overwatering creates a situation where the roots basically drown, then rot, and once this starts to happen it can be tough for your plant to bounce back, so when it comes to overwatering, prevention is key!
One easy way to ensure that your plants aren’t overwatered is to make sure your pots have adequate drainage. Look for pots that have holes in the bottom and combine them with a saucer so excess water can collect away from the roots. If you have a pretty pot without drainage, there’s a couple of things you can do. First, you can add some holes to the bottom with a drill. Heavy ceramic pots may require a diamond drill bit to get through, but your plants will thank you! Your other option is to nest a smaller container with drainage inside of the larger one. If you go this route, add something like a brick to the bottom of the pot to elevate your plant and keep it away from excess water. Choose something with a little height rather than just a few pebbles since excess water can quickly add up and reach your plant’s roots if you’re not careful. We’d also recommend emptying the larger container from time to time to prevent this.
So, what should you do if you’ve overwatered? If the issue is relatively minor, you can simply wait for the soil to dry out before watering again. If the problem is more severe, remove the plant from its container and place it on something absorbent to soak up excess water. If necessary, you can remove some of the soil from around the roots so you can re-pot in new soil. At this time, you should trim back any stems, foliage, or roots that have started to rot. Since root rot is caused by a fungus, you’ll want to clean your clippers in between cuts to prevent it from spreading. You should also treat your plant with a spray-on fungicide before repotting. Avoid fertilizing at this point as it can cause further damage to the roots. You’ll want to wait a week or two before resuming your routine plant care. Unfortunately, even by following these steps, depending on the severity of overwatering, the plant may not survive if it’s too stressed, which is why good drainage is so important.
Right Plant, Right Water
Okay, so you’ve got the watering basics down, but where should you start when you pick up a new plant? We always recommend monitoring and measuring each new plant to see how much and how often your plant should be watered, but to get you started, we’ve compiled a list of plants with similar watering needs. Just keep in mind the frequency may vary from home to home.
Water Approximately Every 3-5 Days
These plants like to be watered all the way through until you see water coming from the bottom of the pot.
- Peace lily
Water Approximately Every 5-7 Days
These plants also like to be watered all the way through, until you see water coming from the bottom of the pot.
- Crown of thorns
- Norfolk Island pine
- Fiddle leaf fig
- African Violet
- Spider Plant
- Cast Iron Plant
- Cast Iron Plant
Water Approximately Every 7-10 Days
These plants generally require less water, so you don’t need to water all the way through.
- Chinese evergreen
- Rubber Tree
- Money Tree
Water Approximately Every 14-21 Days
These plants also generally require less water, so you don’t need to water all the way through.
- Snake plant
- String of pearls
- ZZ plant
When in doubt, talk to us! If you’re having an issue with a plant or are looking for some plant care pointers, we’re always here to help!