Everything You Need to Know About Watering Plants

Water is amazing. Made up of hydrogen and oxygen, it’s literally responsible for all life on Earth. Watering your plant is a no brainer, but how much and how often can be more tricky to tell. Luckily, we have a few ideas on watering for optimum plant health.

Everything You Need to Know About Watering Plants

Words by The Sill

Plants 101 Next Article
Water is amazing. Made up of hydrogen and oxygen, it’s literally responsible for all life on Earth. Watering your plant is a no brainer, but how much and how often can be more tricky to tell. Luckily, we have a few ideas on watering for optimum plant health.
Water Essentials

Here are some golden rules for watering your plants. Keep these on hand when watering:

  • Always water after repotting.
  • Plants in large pots dry out more slowly than plants in smaller pots.
  • Plants in bright daylight dry out more quickly than plants in low light.
  • Humid air keeps soil moist for longer than dry air.
What Does Water Do?

Water provides structural support, cools your plant down, and moves minerals to all the right places.

Plant cells are like water balloons. When they are filled, they become stiff and your plant stands upright. When there is a lack of water, the cells deflate and the plant looks wilted — a clear sign your plant needs more water. Plants produce cellulose that help keep its shape, but it’s water pressure (water flowing through your plant) that helps plants gain and retain their shape better than cellulose alone.

When you water your plant, an invisible process called transpiration takes place where the sun evaporates water from the leaves through stomatal pores, causing water loss in the leaf. That’s great, because water will go where it’s needed most. Ideally, the water is pulled up from the roots, but if roots are dry, water is taken from the leaves themselves, which can result in a deflated plant — an indication your plant is thirsty.

Keep in mind your soil is like a sponge. Most houseplants like a porous soil, allowing room for water and air pockets. If your soil is moist to begin with, hold off on watering for now. If you notice water pours out through the drainage holes immediately, your soil is actually bone dry and the soil is repelling water, rather than soaking it in. Avoid pouring water onto bone dry soil. Water will only move through and around the edges of your planter and will not be absorbed by the roots. Your plant should absorb water slowly through its roots so, before you water again, you’ll want to check how dry the soil is. Use your fingers and feel if the soil is wet at least 2 inches below the surface. If so, you can add water. If your soil is wet at the surface, you can hold off.

How Much is Too Much?

Much like different plants need varying amounts of light, different plants need varying amounts of water. Think of your plants’ natural environment: is it rainy and tropical or hot and dry? These simple questions will help you gauge how much water your plant needs.

Desert-natives like cacti and succulents like to stay dry and will benefit from less water. When you water your cacti, succulents and euphorbs, feel free to give them a soak, but make sure they dry out completely — wait a few weeks (even months) before watering again. Humidity-loving ferns need a good watering once or twice a week.

Plant size will also determine how much water your plant needs. In smaller pots with less soil, the soil will dry out faster than in larger pots with lots of soil. If you have two of the same plant and one is larger than other, one will need water more often than the other.

Tip: For large plants, pour water and let it soak in. Repeat until soil is saturated. Let it dry until watering again. For smaller plants do a semi-soak by placing the potted plant in a tray and pouring water over the soil until the tray has about ¼ of an inch of water. Let the plant sit for 8 hours, then drain the water.

We’re inclined to ‘stay hydrated’ but plants can drown if they are flooded with too much water. If soil is left too wet for too long, it can cause root rot. That’s what we call overwatering. On the other hand, if your plant’s soil is consistently too dry you’re likely underwatering. Letting your soil dry out before watering is key for plants to receive the the perfect balance of water and oxygen.

Tip: It’s okay to be flexible in your plant care habits. Monitor how water affects your plant. The rule of thumb is: most common houseplants prefer frequent waterings, but there will be special exceptions.

Setting a Water Schedule

Healthy plants will rarely say no to a drink of water, but it’s all in the timing. One of the biggest mistakes is sticking to an exact watering schedule. Watering on exactly the same day every week may do more harm than good. For most plants, only water when the soil is dry — not just surface dry, but 2-inches-deep dry. Use your fingers to easily determine soil moisture levels.

Most common houseplants prefer frequent waterings, but there will be special exceptions.

Mind the Seasons

During the summer when the sun is more intense, smaller succulents might need to be watered more regularly, about once every two weeks or so, compared to once a month in off seasons. Ferns and tropical plants will need to be watered once a week. For these plants, make sure the humidity levels stay high during hotter months. Some ferns love soil that’s always moist (not to be confused with soaking wet).

Tip: For plants in a non-draining pot, simply follow steps for larger plants, careful not to saturate the soil completely (use just enough). Dry soil pulls away from the pots edge, allowing water to run off and not absorb. If pot has no drainage, be careful not to exceed ¼ of the pot’s volume of water. If your planter has drainage but you notice water rushes through soil immediately and out the drainage hole, water has not absorbed.

Temperature: Keep it Tepid

Most houseplants prefer warm or tepid water over cold water. Warm water absorbs into soil best. Try not to splash water onto your plant’s leaves (unless it’s an orchid, air plant, or a fern, that will appreciate the added humidity). Most tropical plants have waxy leaves because the rainfall in their natural environment (i.e., the rainforest) can be excessive. Waxy leaves helps water slide off and avoids risk of fungal infections.

We wish you an enjoyable watering experience for you and your plants.

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