VanWisdom: Watering • Moisture • Humidity
Water is one of the most essential needs that plants require for survival. That being said, it is also the source of nightmares for beginner houseplant enthusiasts. Does my plant need more water yet? What is the difference between moist and wet soil? Is my house too dry? Before you know it, you’re making another trip to Home Depot or Lowes to replace your third pothos. But instead of seeking out watering tips from the store that specializes in home improvement, come by Van Wilgen’s, we’ll teach you everything you need to know when it comes to watering your precious plants.
Plants are Living Things
One important rule of thumb when it comes to watering a plant is that it isn’t just a decorative fixture. Plants are living organisms, and they often act just like we do. When we get thirsty or hungry, we need to eat and drink, and the same goes for plants. I might need to drink more water per day than another person my age; that same logic can apply to plants.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy, one size fits all method 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, monitor it for signs of stress, and adjust as needed.
What Water Should I Use?
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. We wouldn’t want to sit in an ice bath, plants don’t either.
How Often Should I Water?
When it comes to planning waterings, plants can be finicky. Some plants prefer to be completely dry, while others want to retain a consistent level of moisture; it is all about learning your specific plant’s needs.
Moisture meters can be helpful to determine moisture levels in small pots, however, they don’t work quite as accurately in large pots and containers. Here at Van Wilgen’s, we have a little trick we like to use, instead.
If you own a wooden dowel or a wooden spoon, insert the handle into the soil, close to the roots. 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.
How Much Water Should I Use?
Because plants have different water requirements, it really depends on the watering trends you’ve noticed. In most cases, we recommend watering evenly with a divided stream until water begins to drain out the bottom of your pot. If you don’t water long enough to allow this to happen, the deeper roots will never receive adequate water, leading to plant illness and dehydration.
Some plants like Calathea require higher levels of moisture that can be harder to maintain through traditional watering methods. In these instances, placing the pot in a pebble tray with water will allow the plant to absorb as much moisture as it needs.
Is my Plant too Dry?
In most circumstances, underwatering a plant is easier to deal with than overwatering. Plants can continue to bounce back through minor periods of drought, however, if you notice these signs, your plant is probably pretty thirsty:
- Wilting brown crispy leaves (especially on the edges)
- drooping leaves
- dusty, dry, porous soil
- lighter pot weight
The simple solution to this is to water your plant thoroughly and allow the roots to take in that hydration. If you continue to underwater over time, the roots can begin to dry and will no longer be able to absorb moisture.
Is my Plant too Wet?
When it comes to over-watering, plants have a more difficult time bouncing back to a state of proper health. the reason this can be a more serious issue for plants is that too much moisture can cause drowning and rot, which can lead to numerous health issues:
- Yellowing, wilting, leaves
- Mushy or rotting leaves
- soggy soil
- fungus gnats
- mold and smelly soil
- pooling water
All of these issues can be life-threatening to a plant, so it is important to ensure you aren’t over-watering, and that your plants have proper drainage. Purchasing pots with holes is always a go-to solution, however, if you can’t, you can always drill holes into the bottom of your pot. You can also put smaller pots inside of larger pots to add height and make sure your plant isn’t getting too close to the moisture at the bottom.
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.
One important fact to remember is that many of the houseplants we love come from areas that are far more tropical than Connecticut. A lot of these plants love moisture and humidity, and the harsh winter air can often lead to the drying of leaves and ultimately diminished health of the plant. To maintain optimal humidity, a humidifier near the plant can be life-saving. If you cant afford a humidifier, mist the leaves several times a week (about 2-3, or more in the winter) to ensure the plant is well humidified.
Breakdown by Plant:
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 spread our VanWisdom!