Here’s the Right Way to Water Common Houseplants
“When in doubt, feel the soil.”
Sometimes caring for your plants feels like a full time job. There’s so much to remember, from feeding your plants to making sure they get enough sunlight. To make it just a little bit easier for you, I spoke to Christopher Satch, a plant scientist at The Sill, to break down exactly when you should water the most common houseplants. But first, here are a few general rules to remember.
Satch suggests thinking of soil like a dry sponge—it repels water at first rather than immediately absorbing it. “If you’ve ever watered a plant, and the water immediately came through the bottom, then you have not watered that plant. The water went around the soil, not into it, and for many plants, it’s wise to have drainage, because you can soak them to be sure that they are absorbing the water,” he explains.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the amount of water your little green baby needs depends on its size. Smaller plants need more attention and frequent waterings than larger plants. Additionally, plants that get more sunlight also need to be watered more frequently. As a general rule, Satch says, “the amount of water to use is always about ¼ to ⅓ the pot’s volume of water.” And if after all that you’re still confused, he has a few parting words of wisdom for you: “When in doubt, feel the soil!”
Now without further ado, here’s how to water the 15 most popular houseplants.
Keeping a plant alive and thriving isn't always the easiest task. To make it simple, here is a comprehensive guide to watering the 15 most popular houseplants.
How Often Should You Water Houseplants?
Watering houseplants can be a difficult thing to master. I used to try to water my houseplants on a schedule, but this never seemed to work out too well. Thankfully, I’ve learned some great tips that have transformed the health of my houseplants. Read this article to learn exactly how often you should water your houseplants.
How often should you water houseplants? Most houseplants need watered every 1-3 weeks. You should monitor your houseplants and water when they need it, rather than on a schedule. Frequency of watering will depend on the size and type of plant, size and type of pot, temperature, humidity and rate of growth.
Read on and I’ll give you the knowledge you need to always get it right when watering your houseplants. There are some really easy ways to tell when your houseplants need watered, and once you have this knowledge, it’s hard to go wrong
How To Know When To Water Houseplants
- Type of plant – Some plants love wet conditions and others like it dry. Some can tolerate drying out well before a good soaking, where others need steadily moist environment. Check your plant’s water requirements as this will help greatly when assessing whether to water or not.
- Test soil dryness – Use your index finger and poke it into the potting mix around your plant. You will be able to feel whether the top few inches of soil is damp. For many plants, the depth at which the soil is dry to is a good indicator of when to water the plant.
- Monitor the weight of the plant pot – I love using the weight of the plant pot to test how much water remains in the soil. Dry soil is much lighter than wet soil, so there will be a significant weight difference between a potted plant that has been watered and one that is dry. I’m not talking about getting the scales out. With a bit of practice you will know when to water your houseplants just by lifting them.
- Feel the soil through the drainage holes – Use your finger tips to feel the bottom of the potting soil through the drainage holes in the bottom of the plant pot. You will be able to assess the dryness of the soil to help determine whether watering is required.
- Watch for signs of wilting – Wilting or drooping leaves can often indicate that your plants are suffering from lack of water. Be careful to use this in combination with assessing the soil, as there are other things that can cause wilting, including overwatering or disease. It’s really important to treat the right cause of wilting in your plants, rather than making the problem worse.
- Use a moisture meter – If you have a tricky plant, or if you just want to be a bit more exact about the process, you could use a moisture meter to assess whether your plants need water. These are inexpensive and reliable, and can make a big difference if you are having problems.
How To Water Houseplants
Here is a video I made that covers how I water my houseplants to keep them thriving. I also discuss 9 common watering mistakes and how to avoid them.
8 Factors That Impact How Often You Should Water Houseplants
In addition to the type of plants you are growing there are a whole range of factors that dramatically impact the frequency that you will have to water your plants. Variation of these factors is why you should never water on a schedule.
Size Of Plant
Larger plants need more water than smaller ones. With more vegetation, larger plants absorb more through their roots, use more for respiration and lose more through transpiration.
Having said that, younger plants, which are growing vigorously can sometimes have higher water requirements than larger plants that are not actively growing.
Higher indoor temperatures will increase evaporation and the metabolic rate of your plants, meaning they will dry out faster. There may be considerable variation in the temperature of your house from summer to winter and from one room to the next.
Rooms that get a lot of sun during the day can be considerably warmer, greatly affecting the watering requirements of your plants.
The humidity of the growing conditions will have a big impact on the rate of evaporation of water from the soil and the rate of transpiration from the leaves.
Our homes tend to have lower humidity levels in the winter when windows are shut and the heating is on. Bear this in mind when thinking whether your plant needs watered or not.
Type Of Pot
Porous materials such as terracotta lose water much faster than plastic pots, which prevent any water getting through the sides of the pot. Try to choose pot type based on the type of plants you are growing. Plants that prefer arid conditions and well-draining potting mix will do better in clay pots.
Size Of Pot
I once made the mistake of potting a succulent and cactus arrangement in a large pot with far too much potting mix. Even though the potting mix was well draining, the quantity of soil in the large planter took forever to dry out and my cacti were not impressed.
Pick a pot size suited to the plant. Choose smaller pots for plants that like potting media to dry out rapidly. Choose larger pots for plants that like evenly moist conditions.
Type Of Potting Mix
Potting soil with higher amounts of organic material or small, tightly packed particles will hold onto water more readily. Adding sand, perlite or vermiculite will improve drainage.
You can often get premade potting soil tailored to your plant, but it’s easier and cheaper to make your own and you can tailor it exactly to the needs of your plants.
Moving air will increase evaporation and therefore increase the water requirements of your plants. Moderate ventilation is a great thing for plants, as it can reduce the risk of disease, but it will increase water requirements.
Time Of Year
The time of year will play a significant role in how often you should water your houseplants. Many houseplants grow much more slowly or are dormant in winter, which will dramatically reduce their water requirements.
In addition, less sun, ventilation and cooler temperatures in winter can make a massive difference to water requirements. Your watering habits will need to adjust if you want to keep your plants thriving.
How Long Can Indoor Plants Go Without Water?
Most people have a tendency to water their houseplants too frequently, myself included. Most houseplants can survive quite happily for up to two weeks in most indoor conditions without being watered. They may not survive this neglect on a regular basis, but if you are away for two weeks, most of your plants will do OK.
There are some houseplants that are very fussy about their water requirements, such as calatheas and nerve plants, so if you think you might struggle to water your houseplants regularly, it is best to pick more drought tolerant plants.
Some plants can even go much longer than two weeks without water. Certain types of succulents, including many cacti can easily manage more than a month and often much longer without water while still remaining healthy.
Having said this, if your goal is to keep your plants in perfect health, I usually recommend some supplemental watering with an indoor plant watering system if you are going to be away for longer than one week.
Self-watering pots, capillary mats, watering spikes or watering globes are all good options to keep your plants hydrated while you are away. Read more about watering houseplants while you are on vacation in this article.
How Often Should You Water Houseplants? – Some Examples
Succulents are a large group of plants from multiple species, with adaptations to store water and prevent water loss. As a general rule, let the potting media dry out fully before watering succulents, especially cacti.
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)
Peace Lily’s prefer their soil to dry out fairly well before watering. Ensure that the potting soil is almost dry before watering thoroughly. Peace Lily’s will wilt once the potting soil is fully dry. Try to water just before this happens.
Overwatering is the most common reason why people struggle to care for Phalaenopsis Orchids. Wait till the potting media is dry and the roots are silvery white, then water thoroughly.
The leaves will become wrinkly and droop when they are dehydrated. Try to avoid this from happening as it can significantly impact the health of your orchid.
Nerve Plants (Fittonia)
Nerve Plants require continually moist potting soil. Water regularly once the top of the soil has dried out. They are also prone to root rot due to overwatering. Try to ensure the soil is just lightly moist, not saturated, before watering again.
Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica)
Water Rubber Plants once the top inch of soil is dry. Typically, I water my rubber plants about once per week during the growing season and once every 10-14 days during the winter. As mentioned above, assess your own plant rather than sticking to a schedule.
Kentia Palm (Howea forsteriana)
Kentia Palms are moderately drought tolerant and tend to suffer more with overwatering than underwatering. Water them thoroughly once the top three inches of soil is dry.
Wandering Jew Plant (Tradescantia zebrina)
Water Wandering Jew Plants once the top inch of potting soil is dry. This is another plant which does better when you err on the side of caution with watering, as it is prone to root rot when overwatered.
Prayer Plant (Maranta leuconeura)
Prayer Plants can be more tricky to keep in top condition due to their particular water requirements. They need a well draining potting medium and the soil should be kept constantly moist, but not soggy. The top of the soil should feel lightly damp at all times. Watering regularly until a little water drains out the bottom of the pot is perfect.
Unlike many other plants, Guzmanias are watered by pouring water into the central rosette, rather than adding water to the soil. Guzmanias are epiphytic and primarily use their roots to anchor them in place rather than for absorbing water and nutrients. Fill the central rosette several times per week to ensure it has sufficient water to thrive.
Pinstripe Plant (Calathea ornata)
Calathea ornata requires constant moisture, so regular watering is required. Try to maintain lightly moist soil by watering a moderate amount as soon as the surface of the soil starts to dry out.
Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina)
Water Weeping Figs on a regular basis to keep the soil lightly moist. Weeping figs are quite sensitive to impurities in the water, so using filtered water or rainwater is a good way of preventing problems. Weeping figs are prone to leaf drop for multiple reasons, so the plant will soon let you know if you’re not watering it right.
Indoor Orange Trees
Indoor orange trees have high water requirements, and as long as they are planted in well-draining soil in a pot with plenty of drainage, then it is hard to go wrong. Water thoroughly on a regular basis, maintaining moist soil, and tailor frequency to the needs of your individual plant.
Eternal Flame Plant (Calathea crocata)
Water thoroughly once the top inch of soil is dry. Calathea crocata can be very sensitive about the type of water used, so using rainwater or distilled water is a good idea.
Flamingo Flower (Anthurium)
Water infrequently but thoroughly once the top few inches of the soil is dry. Anthuriums tolerate infrequent watering very well, but they really suffer if overwatered.
Flaming Katy (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana)
A really popular winter flowering succulent that can brighten up your home with winter and springtime blooms that last for months. Being a succulent, avoid overwatering. Water Flaming Katys thoroughly once the top half of the soil is dry.
Arrowhead Plant (Syngonium podophyllum)
Arrowhead plants are fairly drought tolerant and should be watered thoroughly only once the top 1-2 inches of soil is dry. Dormancy in the winter will very significantly reduce its water requirements.
There are hundreds of species of Peperomia with dramatically different appearances, making them really popular with houseplant lovers. Most have succulent characteristics, so it is best to wait until the top two inches of soil is dry, before watering thoroughly. They are fairly drought tolerant, so can cope with a little neglect.
If you want to read more about caring for any of the plants mentioned above, simply click on the links as I have covered each in an in depth care guide.
If you’d like to learn more about caring for houseplants and growing indoors, see here for my most recent articles. If you need a little help looking after your plants, I’ve also put together some resources. My recommended resources section has loads of information, books and suggested tools that can help you grow amazing indoor plants.
Welcome to Smart Garden Guide
Hi, I’m Andrew, and Smart Garden Guide is my website all about indoor gardening and houseplants. I’m here to share my experience and help you have more success and enjoyment growing plants. Enjoy your stay at Smart Garden Guide.
8 great ways to know how often you should water houseplants. General advice and 17 examples. Learn why you shouldn't water your houseplants on a schedule.