Watering houseplants the right amount is probably the biggest worry of houseplant parents because the impact of wrong watering habits can be pretty devastating.
There is a lot of advice and countless tips on how to avoid overwatering and check if your plant is overwatered, but there is less discussion about the other extreme. How do you actually know when your plant is ready for water and make sure you aren’t underwatering your beloved plant?
Well fret no more, in this article we will be going through several ways to know if and when your plant needs watering so say goodbye to crispy roots and drooping leaves.
Test the weight of your plant
Before we start, we just wanted to point out that this one applies to small and medium plants only (so don’t go picking up those large Fiddle Leaf Fig Trees). One tip we always recommend to plant parents is to get to know the weight of their houseplants before and after watering. Just by picking up your plants at regular intervals throughout the week you will start to get a good understanding of how light your plant becomes when it’s in need of water.
Although this method isn’t an exact science, it’s a great way to quickly check in with your plants and keep track of how quickly the potting mix is drying out. It will also help you figure out how environmental changes such as seasonal differences in light and temperature impact how fast the soil is drying out. You can then adapt your watering schedule accordingly.
Your plant is drooping or wilting
One visible sign that your houseplant is in desperate need of some water is a droopy or wilting plant. Sometimes the stems begin to droop down a little and other times the leaves look a bit limp and wilted. The specific signs depend on the plant type and variation so make sure to check out the care guide and information on your specific type of plant to see how that would manifest itself.
Some houseplant types are definitely more dramatic when it comes to drooping down. Peace Lilies for example will heavily droop and become quite limp at any sign of dry soil. They can very quickly get the point of looking as though they are dying but will bounce back within minutes of getting water.
Most often, the drooping is reversible and you’ll often see your plant looking a lot perkier within hours of watering so whilst a drooping plant shouldn’t be the biggest concern, it can lead to more serious issues if you don’t water quickly.
The soil has come away from the side of the pot
One thing to look out for when spotting very dry soil is that it has started to come away from the sides of the pot. You’ll often see a little gap a few millimetres or a centimetre wide. This indicates that the soil has compacted and needs more water.
Instead of just pouring lots of water on your plant, the best thing to do is either soak it in a bowl or water a little bit every couple of hours for a day. The reason is that if you just pour a bucket of water over your dry plant, most of the water will run straight down the gap in the side of the pot and out of the drainage holes. By soaking your plant, you are ensuring that it is reaching the root system.
Look at the colour of the potting mix
Another way you can tell if your plant needs water is by looking at the colour of the potting mix. Dry potting mix will be quite light brown in colour and soggy soil will be a much darker shade of brown.
This might take some getting used to, much like the lifting technique, where it’s good to monitor the colour before and after watering so you know what to look out for.
Test the soil moisture to confirm your plant needs watering
The most obvious way to know if your plant needs water is to test the moisture in the soil. Alongside the other techniques, we often recommend you do this before watering to be sure.
There are several ways you can test the moisture levels in the soil. Firstly, using the chopstick method. We’ve written a more detailed guide on the chopstick method of moisture testing but the best thing to remember is if the chopstick comes out clean, the soil is dry.
The most reliable way of testing soil moisture though is through a moisture meter. They are really affordable and small devices that you just pop into the soil and it will tell you how moist or dry the soil is.
These are great to use on bigger plants that you aren’t able to lift, and those with really sensitive root systems where even the slightest mistake in watering can have a big impact. We always use this moisture meter from Amazon and it’s really helped in keeping our houseplants happy.
Those are the best ways to tell if your houseplants need water and over time you’ll become more accustomed to what each of your individual plants needs and when.
One of the most important things when it comes to watering your plant is adjusting the schedule throughout the year and in response to any unexpected changes.
We recommend against rigid watering schedules because they don’t take into account changes in temperature, light, humidity and other environmental factors that play such a large part in how much water a plant needs.
The other important thing to consider is what your individual plant type needs. Start by looking through our Plant Index to find 100+ care guides on all types of houseplants and they will give you a good indication of how much moisture your plant needs.
Whilst some thrive in dry soil, others need constant moisture to prevent their root system from crisping up. Use this as an initial guide and adjust your watering habits depending on what your individual plant needs.
Written by Billy Dawson