One of the most important parts about taking care of your houseplants is making sure you are watering correctly. Too much, too little or even watering in the wrong way can harm your plant, so it is worth getting it right. We hope our watering guide will help you understand your houseplants better and know what to look out for when it comes to watering them.
Knowing when to water
Every houseplant type is different and has its own unique watering needs. Some need bi-weekly watering, others will survive months without a drop. When buying a new houseplant, it should include a label with a rough indication of watering requirements. If you are unsure on how often to water your plant, check out our Plant Index page where you can find more information on each specific plant type.
Environment and seasonal changes
Once you have figured out the rough watering requirement of your houseplant, it’s important to also take into consideration how your watering must change dependant on environment and season.
If your plant is in a bright and heat-intensive room in your home, you will need to water it more often than if light and temperature levels are medium to low. This is due to higher levels of photosynthesis in brighter spots which will require more water.
It is also vital that you change your watering schedule throughout the year depending on the season. During winter, your plant will be receiving less sunlight as the days get shorter. The temperature will also be lower both during the day and at night. This is when overwatering can become a very easy mistake to make so it is important to significantly reduce watering over those colder darker months.
Get up close with your plant
One of the easiest ways to tell if your houseplant needs water is to see whether the top few inches of the soil are still damp. If so, wait a few days before giving it any water.
We also recommend lifting up your plants (any that aren’t too big of course) and getting a feel for what they are like weight-wise before and after watering. Over time, you will become really attune to you how your plant feels when it wants some more water. Make sure to lift up your plants carefully from the strongest stems or from the pot itself and never from the leaves.
Your plants are telling you things
Several houseplants will also give you a really clear indication if they need more water. For example, Peace Lilies get very droopy leaves when thirsty and spider plants become quite light in colour. These aren’t major issues if not consistently underwatered and they will reverse almost immediately after watering.
Time of day
We only really have one rule when it comes to what time of day to water your plants; not in the evening. This is because overnight, your plant will be in a slightly cooler environment with no natural sunlight meaning that any excess water will not evaporate until the morning. This will lead to an increased risk of root rot. We recommend watering in the morning as it gives the plant enough time to soak up all the water needed before nighttime. It also gives you the time to empty out the saucer of any excess water so it is not sitting in it all night.
How to water
Watering from the top
One method for watering your houseplants is from the top down. This is usually the method used if you have a planter rather than a saucer, or if your plant pot does not have any drainage holes.
Although this watering method does have it’s advantages, such as soaking the entire plant through, there are some important things to watch out for when watering from the top. You want to avoid any of the leaves or stems becoming damp as this can lead to bacterial disease and rot. Instead, water as close to the soil as possible.
Water the whole plant. One common mistake to make when watering is to pour it all in one spot. However, this will lead to the roots growing towards the moisture, making the plant unstable and the growth uneven. Instead, you want to pour water all around the top of the plant evenly to promote healthy growth.
We would always recommend watering in a variety of ways as top watering can flush out the nutrients, drown the roots and sometimes even not get enough water to the roots. So switching up how you water each plant can be really beneficial for its long-term health.
Watering from the bottom
This method is often used if you have a saucer and a plant pot with drainage holes. It can also be used for smaller plants in a planter which you can pick up and water from the bottom.
Watering from a saucer can be especially beneficial for tall plants as it encourages their roots to grow downwards, thus increasing the stability of your plant.
We recommend removing any excess water from the saucer half an hour after watering. This will ensure that the roots have had enough time to soak up the required amount of water and prevents your plant from sitting in water for too long. For many plants, this can quite quickly cause root rot which will damage the overall health of your plant.
If you notice your houseplants are getting quite dry, or you have been away for a while, the immersion technique can be really beneficial. This is done by filling up a large container, or the bathtub and placing your plant in there, submerging the pot fully. Leave your plant in the water for a few minutes before removing.
We recommend only doing this one plant at a time and switching out the water between them to decrease the risk of spreading diseases or pests between your plants.
Type of water
Some houseplant types can be a little fussy to the water that you use, especially if you live in a hard water area. We always recommend using natural water (either collected rainwater or distilled/ filtered water). This reduces the possibility of your plants negatively reacting to the high levels of fluoride in tap water.
Most of the time using tap water will be absolutely fine, but if your plant is showing signs of water sensitivity, or you can’t figure out why your plant might be looking a little sad, it may be best to try switching up the water used. An easy technique is to leave a tray of tap water out overnight so that the chemicals can evaporate off.
Preventing root rot
Apart from being cautious with watering and checking the moisture in the soil of your houseplants regularly, there are a few other tips that we have that will help to avoid root rot.
Choose the right pot
When you bring your new beloved houseplant home, they will often come in a plastic pot. These are great for nurseries and plant shops as they are cheap, lightweight and durable. However, they are not ideal for your houseplants as they hold all the moisture in. This means that if you accidentally overwater, and there is a slight blockage of the drainage holes, your plant will be sitting in all of that moisture. Instead, you want to opt for terracotta pots as they are permeable meaning that some of the water can evaporate through the sides of the pot. Clay and terracotta pots are a little more expensive and breakable, but their benefits are huge (and they look great too!).
As we mentioned before, drainage holes are a must-have for any pot. They allow you to water from the bottom up and mean that any excess water can stay far away from your plant’s delicate roots.
Choosing the right soil
Another technique we use to avoid root rot is to add a little perlite to the potting soil. This increases the drainage as it makes it a lot easier for the water to flow through and out of the drainage holes at the bottom. You can also opt for adding a few small pebbles or stones at the bottom of your pots to avoid the drainage holes getting blocked by soil.
Signs you are overwatering
There are a few signs to look out for that could be an indication your plant has been overwatered. Of course, this does vary with each houseplant type, so it is worth heading over to our individual plant guides to find out the signs for your specific plants.
Leaves become wilted and limp
Leaves start to fall off throughout the plant
Leaves become dark brown/black
An unpleasant damp smell coming from the soil
What to do if you overwater
Replace the soil
If you notice that your plant is suffering due to overwatering, check the soil straight away. If it is still waterlogged, replace the entire soil straight away. Remove as much of the soil from the root system as possible without damaging it any further.
Cut away the dead leaves and roots
Once you have taken away the waterlogged soil, carefully cut off any damaged roots. You want to do the same with the leaves as you don’t want the plant wasting energy trying to keep them alive. Cutting off the dead brown leaves will encourage new healthy growth.
Adjust your watering schedule
Once you have replaced the soil and removed the dead parts of the plant, you want to be really careful reintroducing water. Make sure your plant has drainage holes and a saucer or planter to collect the excess water. Cut down on the amount of water in comparison to how much it was getting before and keep an eye on light or temperature changes throughout the year that will impact how much water it needs.
Signs you are underwatering
Similarly with overwatering, these signs will be slightly different for each houseplant but are good to know more generally so you can spot any early warning signs.
Leaves become limp and droopy
The oldest, often lowest leaves start to fall off
Leave edges become dry, crispy and brown
What do do if you underwater your plant
Luckily underwatering is a little easier to deal with than overwatering. We recommend two things; first of all giving your houseplant a quick bath using the immersion watering method we mentioned above. This will allow your plant to slowly soak up the water needed without sitting it a bowl of water for too long.
The most important thing with underwatering is that you do not overcompensate. You don’t want to shock the plant, or worse – go the other way and overwater. So you need to slowly reintroduce watering with a little and often approach. A small amount of water every day for a week or so to ensure the root system is sufficiently watered.
Equipment that will help you with watering
Whilst you could go forever watering out of a plastic bottle or spare container that you find on the side, there are quite a few tools and products that will really help you water your plants correctly and make your life a lot easier!
Are you really a plant parent if you aren’t obsessed with finding the right watering can? It is definitely worth investing in one that works for you and your plants, and that fits well into your home. If you have smaller, more delicate plants, it is definitely better to get a watering can with a thinner spout so you can be more precise with your watering.
Say goodbye to uncertainty around watering and hello to the peace of mind knowing your houseplants will never be overwatered again. If there is one houseplant gadget that you will allow yourself to get, make it a moisture probe. They are really affordable nifty probes that will measure the amount of moisture in the soil. You will then know exactly when it is time to water your plant.
Watering whilst on holiday
Give them a thorough soaking
If you are only going away for a few days, we recommend giving them a good soak through before you leave, letting them soak up the maximum amount of water. This should help your plants survive for a good few days without any extra attention. Note that this will work best for plants not in direct sunlight or really hot rooms as they often will require more regular watering.
There are a couple of DIY tips and tricks that you can use to create a self-watering system yourself (plastic bottle or wet string techniques) but we don’t often recommend them as they are not as reliable as self-watering pots. These pots will gradually release water to your plants over time, making sure that they are not overwatered, or bone dry.
Ask a friend or neighbour
If you have someone who lives close to you that you trust with your plants, then this is always the best option. We always recommend leaving detailed instructions so that they know which plants to water when. Try and pick a friend that you know also has plants – that way you can trust they know what they are doing!
Written by Billy Dawson