Water is one of the main parts of caring for a houseplant, and it seems easy enough. Give the plant water when needed, but how do you know when it needs water? Plants have different water needs. Improper watering is one of the biggest issues when caring for plants.
When you understand what your plant needs and how to evaluate the situation, you can make sure the plant is properly hydrated. Here is what you need to know about when to water your houseplants.
Know Your Plant
Houseplants are typically divided into categories regarding how much sunlight and water they need. When shopping, it’s normal to find a plastic tag in the soil indicating what the plant needs. In terms of water, houseplants are classified as having high, medium, or low water needs.
High Water Needs
Houseplants with high water needs need water more often. These are thirsty plants that require frequent watering. Plan to water plants with high water needs weekly or more often, depending on the conditions. Examples of houseplants with high water needs include:
Medium Water Needs
Most houseplants fall into the medium water needs category. These plants are not overly thirsty but do not prefer desert-like conditions. Houseplants with medium water needs are generally easy to maintain but require consistent attention. Houseplants with medium water needs include:
Low Water Needs
Plants that have low water needs thrive in arid or dry environments. These houseplants like dry conditions and prefer to dry out completely before getting a drink. Many, but not all, houseplants with low water needs store water in their foliage or roots so they stay hydrated; they’re just more self-sufficient than other plants. Houseplants with low water needs include:
The plant’s level of thirst impacts how much water it needs, but more issues are at play. Environmental factors influence how quickly water evaporates, so the conditions inside your home should be considered.
The Importance of Soil
Soil is another critical part of plant care; soil impacts how often a plant needs water. You’ll see that soil is sometimes described as damp or well-drained. This is in reference to how much moisture the soil retains or how quickly the soil dries out. Houseplants with high water needs typically do best in moist soil, while plants with low water needs thrive in dry soil. Understanding what your particular plant needs and the type of soil it has will help you successfully water your plant.
Humidity is a measure of the air’s dampness and is also a factor when watering houseplants. Increased humidity levels will keep a houseplant’s soil damp longer. Areas with low humidity will be dry and arid, and soil will dry out much more quickly.
Sunlight is one of the other main components of houseplant care. Sunlight is warm and can dry out damp soil, so plants that receive bright indirect sunlight usually dry out more quickly. Keep the amount of sunlight in mind when checking whether to water a plant.
Plants need more water when they are actively growing. The process of pushing out new leaves or flowers is a lot of work, and houseplants need support in the form of water to keep up with new growth.
Some plants need a dormant period and require less water during this time. Generally, houseplants that flower need time to rest and will also need less water during the dormancy period. Holiday cactuses are houseplants that need time to regroup before a new growing season starts.
Dormancy can be tricky when it comes to houseplants. Plants grown in nature may actively grow during the summer, but when the temperatures turn chilly in the winter, they become dormant. Houseplants do not always experience these seasonal fluctuations. Evaluate your houseplant and pay attention to its growth rate to determine if it is dormant during the winter. Plants that are not actively growing, or pushing out new growth, need less water.
When to Water Houseplants
Don’t wait for the plant to tell you when it needs water. The plant is dehydrated when the foliage starts to wilt or droop. Water a plant immediately if you see signs of dehydration, but ideally, you want to water the plant before things turn desperate.
Some home gardeners like to pick a consistent day to water. For instance, Saturday mornings may be dedicated to watering houseplants. This method creates a routine but is not always best for the plants. Depending on the environment, a plant may need water after five days or not until day 10, so watering every seven days could set the plant up for failure. It’s okay to check your plants on the same day each week, but only water when your plants need it.
Digging in the Dirt
Checking the soil is the easiest and most effective way to determine when to water a houseplant. Place a finger into the soil, at least until the second knuckle. Feel the soil near the container’s edge to avoid disturbing the roots.
- High water needs: water when the top one inch of soil is dry or moist
- Medium water needs: water when the top two to three inches of soil are dry
- Low water needs: water when the soil throughout the entire container is dry
Using a moisture meter eliminates the need to stick your finger in the soil. A moisture meter does precisely what its name implies: measure the soil’s moisture. Turn the device on, stick the metal prongs in the soil, and read the gauge. When using a moisture meter, be aware of how deep the prongs are in the soil and the unique water needs of the plant being tested. It’s best to measure the soil near the edge of the container to prevent damage to the roots.
Moisture meters are most helpful for houseplants with low water needs. Using a moisture meter allows you to test the dampness of the soil at the bottom of the container, so you can ensure the potting mix is dry throughout.
How to Water Houseplants
Water houseplants until excess water drains through the container. It is always best to use a pot with drainage and water over a sink when possible. Saturate the soil until water drains through the pot. Gently apply water to avoid rinsing away soil. Plants with hard-packed soil can get a couple of rounds of water or reverse water to ensure the moisture penetrates the soil and reaches the roots.
Knowing when to water houseplants and how much water to give your plants takes some trial and error, but that is standard for the hobby. There are so many factors in play when watering houseplants, from the needs of the plant, and the soil type, to the sunlight and humidity. Weigh all the elements and use your best judgment to determine the best time to water your plants. If you’re just not sure about whether or not you should water a houseplant – wait. Err on the side of caution and give the plant another day or two before checking again because underwatering is typically less of a problem than overwatering a plant.