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How Much Water Does My Houseplant Need?

watering can houseplants

You know your plant needs water, but the tricky part is knowing how much. With just the right amount and frequency of water, your plant will be perky and reward you with new growth. But give it either too much or too little water, and you could find yourself with a droopy, stunted plant. 

Watering isn’t one-size-fits-all, and you’ll probably find that each of your plants has its own preference when it comes to the amount and frequency of water it receives. Use these tricks to figure out when and how much water your plant needs to grow and thrive. 

Learn from your plants’ origins

Plants are like us - they tend to stay true to their roots. Your tropical plants will want more water than desert plants like cacti and succulents. Keep your plants’ natural habitat in mind when you determine how much water to give it. 

Support proper soil drainage

It’s best to put plants in a pot with drainage. If it’s too late and your plant is already in a non-draining pot, just be careful not to water the plant with more than 1/4 the pot’s volume. Mixing chunky materials like bark into your potting soil can help create air pockets and increase drainage for your plant.

How often to water your plant

It may be tempting to stick by a consistent watering schedule, e.g. every Sunday. But making a fixed watering schedule can actually damage your plants, giving them too much water. Instead, you can create a water-checking schedule - that is, set a reminder to check your plant soil’s dryness, and only water if necessary.

As a rule of thumb, most indoor plants like to be watered around once a week. Succulents like sansevieria prefer to be watered once every two or three weeks. Before your water, always check your plant soil’s dryness. Stick your finger 1-2” (about the second knuckle) into the soil, between the stem of the plant and the edge of the pot. If it feels moist, wait before watering. If the soil feels dry, it’s time for a watering.

Keep in mind that plants in smaller pots will dry out quicker than plants in large pots with more soil. For instance, my calathea in a small terra cotta pot needs to be watered every 2-3 days. I eventually transferred it to a self-watering planter so it gets the consistent moisture it needs. 


How much water to give your houseplant

Water your plant’s soil, avoiding the leaves as much as possible. Pour water until you see water drain through the bottom, or about 1/3 of the volume of the pot. 

If the water seems to drain straight through to the bottom, your plant is actually bone dry and the roots won’t absorb the water properly. If you find that your plant is extremely dry, bottom watering is the best way to make sure your plant’s roots are able to take up water. 

What type of water to use

Imagine taking a cold shower - not very pleasant, right? Like us, plants don’t like to be given cold water, as it shocks their system. Try to give your plant room temperature water, and on the warm side rather than cold. 

If possible, also give your houseplant filtered or distilled water to avoid feeding it harsh minerals.

Pay Attention to the Weather

In the winter when there’s less sunlight, your plants may go longer without needing watering. If your plant sits near a bright window, make sure to check its soil frequently to make sure it doesn’t dry out too quickly. 

If you have the heater on in the winter your air could dry out, causing humidity-loving tropical plants to suffer. If you have fussy tropical plants like fiddle leaf fig, make sure you can keep humidity high with a mister, humidifier, or by keeping your plant perched on a bed of rocks and shallow water. 

New Year’s Resolutions for Plant Parents

plant new year's resolutions

Our plants give us so much. They clean the air we breathe, help us feel closer to nature, reduce feelings of anxiety and stress, and so much more. 

With everything plants do for us, sometimes they don’t get the attention they deserve. I know I’ve let my plants get dusty, and I haven’t fertilized them in ages. 

Especially this year, I want to make sure I give back to my plants as much as they’ve given to me. These are some easy new year’s resolutions to be a more ethical, caring plant parent.

Create a leaf-wiping schedule

Houseplants remove dust particles from the air by trapping them on the surface of their leaves. If we don’t remove the dust from their leaves once in a while, they won’t be able to absorb sunlight and photosynthesize.

My current leaf-wiping routine is somewhat arbitrary: I see a dusty plant, and I wipe it down. I want to be more methodical, making sure my leaves aren’t being bogged down by dust for too long. My resolution is to put in a bi-weekly calendar reminder to take a moist cloth and wipe down all my plants. 

Join a plant swap club

It’s so easy to run to Home Depot every time I want a new plant. But it’s more sustainable to adopt a plant, whether it’s a cutting or full plant. Plus, creating ties with other local plant lovers helps to strengthen the plant parent community bond and foster new connections.

Research my plants’ origins

Helping your plants thrive starts with understanding their ideal environment. Do they naturally grow on a shady jungle floor? Or maybe they’re happiest with something to climb? 

By replicating the light, water, and humidity of their native environment, you will help to make your plants comfortable and happy in your home.

Propagate new plants

Propagating plants is a sustainable way to grow your indoor jungle. So far, the only plant I’ve propagated is pothos and calathea. This year, I want to get adventurous with the types of plants I propagate. Maybe I’ll try my hand at propagating a snake plant? Or perhaps a ZZ. 

Donate to an environmental charity

You can’t love plants without loving where they come from. With rising temperatures and deforestation, our global ecosystem is in danger. There are organizations like Greenpeace and Rainforest Alliance work to solve urgent environmental challenges around the world. Donating to their cause can help heal our planet and let us continue enjoying nature, indoors and out.

7 Telltale Signs of Overwatered Houseplants

7 Telltale Signs of Overwatered Houseplants

Every living being needs water, and that includes plants! Plants are made up of about 90% water, which is much more than other living beings. Without enough water, plants can’t photosynthesize or absorb nutrients from the soil. That’s why proper watering is one of the most crucial things you need to do to keep your plant healthy.

As an attentive plant parent, you may feel compelled to water your plant very frequently. But just as other forms of helicopter parenting, overwatering your houseplant can do more harm than good.

Roots need both water and air to carry nutrients up to the plant body. If roots get waterlogged, they shut down and stop transporting water and nutrients up to the plant.

Luckily, plants tend to cry for help when they’re suffering. Here are the most common telltale signs that your houseplant is getting too much water.

Brown Tips

Brown-tipped leaves is one sign that you have been overwatering your plant. Here’s how it works: plants wick up water through the roots and into the plant body. As the water makes its way up the stem and to the leaves, the plant cells fill up one by one. The water is passed on until it reaches the end of the line, which is the tips of the leaves. Because the cells in the leaf tips have nowhere else to pass the water on, they continue to fill until they burst and form crusty brown tips.

Yellow Leaves

You may be checking on your plant and notice a yellow leaf among green leaves. If the plant soil gets too wet due to overwatering or poor drainage, your plant’s roots can’t breathe. When roots suffocate, they aren’t able to deliver the water and nutrients your plants need, causing yellow plants that fall off.

Wilting

If your plant looks droopy and sad, there’s a good chance it’s due to overwatering. Confusingly, wilted leaves can also be a sign of underwatering. The way to tell what’s causing wilting is by feeling the leaves. If they feel wet and squishy, they’re overwatered. If they feel crisp and dry, they’re underwatered.

Leaves Dropping

It’s normal for your plant’s leaves to fall off as part of the natural aging process. If you see this happening to new leaves though, there’s a good chance it’s due to overwatering. Leaves don’t always turn color before falling off, and can drop when it’s still green.

Slow Growth

As explained earlier, suffocated roots aren’t able to carry water and nutrients to the upper part of the plant. If your plant isn’t getting the proper nutrients, it will grow slowly or not at all. This is one of the less severe of overwatering symptoms, and should only raise alarm if it’s accompanied by yellow and dropping leaves.

Mold Growth

If your plant’s soil is too wet for too long, it could become a breeding ground for mold. While most forms of mold can be scraped off, if left unaddressed it can lead to more serious problems like root rot.

Root Rot

Visible overwatering symptoms like brown tips and mold could indicate issues beneath the soil surface. When there is too much water in the soil and the roots can’t breathe, they’ll eventually start rotting. Root rot is a fungal infection that causes mushy, brown roots. If you see some of the aforementioned overwatering symptoms, you may want to gently take the plant out of its pot and examine the roots for rot.

Help, I Overwatered My Plant! Now What?

If you catch the overwatering symptoms early on, you can take steps to nurse your plant back to health. For mild cases of overwatering (e.g. a couple yellow leaves, brown tips, light mold), you can simply stop watering for a few weeks and wait for signs of recovery. Wait until the soil is completely dried out, down to the bottom of the roots. If your plant is bouncing back, then you can water again.

Trim off any dead or mushy leaves, which cause the plant additional stress. Make sure to also check that your soil is draining properly. The original cause of your plant’s distress may not be the frequency or volume of your watering, but rather that your soil isn’t draining properly. Make sure to choose a planter with at least one drainage hole, and choose a high quality potting soil.

Unfortunately, not all overwatered plants are salvageable. If root rot has overtaken the entire root system, it’s too late to save the plant. But if you see healthy roots, which are white and firm, then you can try removing the affected roots and repotting the plant in new soil.

Gently remove the plant from its pot and shake off clumps of soil. Trim away dark, slimy roots with garden shears, wiping the blades down with alcohol between trims to prevent the rot from spreading. If you choose to re-pot the plant in the same planter, wash it out thoroughly with mild soap to eliminate traces of fungal spores. Refill it with new potting soil and place the plant inside. Water it until you see water flow through the drainage holes below. 

How to Avoid Overwatering Your Plants

In order to avoid overwatering, you need to know how to check your plant’s moisture level. My favorite way to do this is the finger method. Simply stick your finger into your plant’s soil two knuckles deep. If it comes out dry, it’s time to water. If you feel dampness and your finger comes out with bits of soil sticking to it, you can wait to water.

Another way to avoid overwatering indoor plants is to buy a self-watering planter. In a well-designed self-watering planter your plant only takes up the water it needs, so that it can’t get overwatered. Particularly with self-watering planters where the soil sits above the water reservoir, you don’t have to fear that the roots will sit in water and develop root rot.