Categories
BLOG

how often should indoor plants be watered

How Often Should You Water Houseplants?

Watering houseplants can be a difficult thing to master. I used to try to water my houseplants on a schedule, but this never seemed to work out too well. Thankfully, I’ve learned some great tips that have transformed the health of my houseplants. Read this article to learn exactly how often you should water your houseplants.

How often should you water houseplants? Most houseplants need watered every 1-3 weeks. You should monitor your houseplants and water when they need it, rather than on a schedule. Frequency of watering will depend on the size and type of plant, size and type of pot, temperature, humidity and rate of growth.

Read on and I’ll give you the knowledge you need to always get it right when watering your houseplants. There are some really easy ways to tell when your houseplants need watered, and once you have this knowledge, it’s hard to go wrong

How To Know When To Water Houseplants

  • Type of plant – Some plants love wet conditions and others like it dry. Some can tolerate drying out well before a good soaking, where others need steadily moist environment. Check your plant’s water requirements as this will help greatly when assessing whether to water or not.
  • Test soil dryness – Use your index finger and poke it into the potting mix around your plant. You will be able to feel whether the top few inches of soil is damp. For many plants, the depth at which the soil is dry to is a good indicator of when to water the plant.
  • Monitor the weight of the plant pot – I love using the weight of the plant pot to test how much water remains in the soil. Dry soil is much lighter than wet soil, so there will be a significant weight difference between a potted plant that has been watered and one that is dry. I’m not talking about getting the scales out. With a bit of practice you will know when to water your houseplants just by lifting them.
  • Feel the soil through the drainage holes – Use your finger tips to feel the bottom of the potting soil through the drainage holes in the bottom of the plant pot. You will be able to assess the dryness of the soil to help determine whether watering is required.
  • Watch for signs of wilting – Wilting or drooping leaves can often indicate that your plants are suffering from lack of water. Be careful to use this in combination with assessing the soil, as there are other things that can cause wilting, including overwatering or disease. It’s really important to treat the right cause of wilting in your plants, rather than making the problem worse.
  • Use a moisture meter – If you have a tricky plant, or if you just want to be a bit more exact about the process, you could use a moisture meter to assess whether your plants need water. These are inexpensive and reliable, and can make a big difference if you are having problems.

How To Water Houseplants

Here is a video I made that covers how I water my houseplants to keep them thriving. I also discuss 9 common watering mistakes and how to avoid them.

8 Factors That Impact How Often You Should Water Houseplants

In addition to the type of plants you are growing there are a whole range of factors that dramatically impact the frequency that you will have to water your plants. Variation of these factors is why you should never water on a schedule.

Size Of Plant

Larger plants need more water than smaller ones. With more vegetation, larger plants absorb more through their roots, use more for respiration and lose more through transpiration.

Having said that, younger plants, which are growing vigorously can sometimes have higher water requirements than larger plants that are not actively growing.

Temperature

Higher indoor temperatures will increase evaporation and the metabolic rate of your plants, meaning they will dry out faster. There may be considerable variation in the temperature of your house from summer to winter and from one room to the next.

Rooms that get a lot of sun during the day can be considerably warmer, greatly affecting the watering requirements of your plants.

Humidity

The humidity of the growing conditions will have a big impact on the rate of evaporation of water from the soil and the rate of transpiration from the leaves.

Our homes tend to have lower humidity levels in the winter when windows are shut and the heating is on. Bear this in mind when thinking whether your plant needs watered or not.

Type Of Pot

Porous materials such as terracotta lose water much faster than plastic pots, which prevent any water getting through the sides of the pot. Try to choose pot type based on the type of plants you are growing. Plants that prefer arid conditions and well-draining potting mix will do better in clay pots.

Size Of Pot

I once made the mistake of potting a succulent and cactus arrangement in a large pot with far too much potting mix. Even though the potting mix was well draining, the quantity of soil in the large planter took forever to dry out and my cacti were not impressed.

Pick a pot size suited to the plant. Choose smaller pots for plants that like potting media to dry out rapidly. Choose larger pots for plants that like evenly moist conditions.

Type Of Potting Mix

Potting soil with higher amounts of organic material or small, tightly packed particles will hold onto water more readily. Adding sand, perlite or vermiculite will improve drainage.

You can often get premade potting soil tailored to your plant, but it’s easier and cheaper to make your own and you can tailor it exactly to the needs of your plants.

Ventilation

Moving air will increase evaporation and therefore increase the water requirements of your plants. Moderate ventilation is a great thing for plants, as it can reduce the risk of disease, but it will increase water requirements.

Time Of Year

The time of year will play a significant role in how often you should water your houseplants. Many houseplants grow much more slowly or are dormant in winter, which will dramatically reduce their water requirements.

In addition, less sun, ventilation and cooler temperatures in winter can make a massive difference to water requirements. Your watering habits will need to adjust if you want to keep your plants thriving.

How Long Can Indoor Plants Go Without Water?

Most people have a tendency to water their houseplants too frequently, myself included. Most houseplants can survive quite happily for up to two weeks in most indoor conditions without being watered. They may not survive this neglect on a regular basis, but if you are away for two weeks, most of your plants will do OK.

There are some houseplants that are very fussy about their water requirements, such as calatheas and nerve plants, so if you think you might struggle to water your houseplants regularly, it is best to pick more drought tolerant plants.

Some plants can even go much longer than two weeks without water. Certain types of succulents, including many cacti can easily manage more than a month and often much longer without water while still remaining healthy.

Having said this, if your goal is to keep your plants in perfect health, I usually recommend some supplemental watering with an indoor plant watering system if you are going to be away for longer than one week.

Self-watering pots, capillary mats, watering spikes or watering globes are all good options to keep your plants hydrated while you are away. Read more about watering houseplants while you are on vacation in this article.

How Often Should You Water Houseplants? – Some Examples

Succulents

Succulents are a large group of plants from multiple species, with adaptations to store water and prevent water loss. As a general rule, let the potting media dry out fully before watering succulents, especially cacti.

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)

Peace Lily’s prefer their soil to dry out fairly well before watering. Ensure that the potting soil is almost dry before watering thoroughly. Peace Lily’s will wilt once the potting soil is fully dry. Try to water just before this happens.

Phalaenopsis Orchids

Overwatering is the most common reason why people struggle to care for Phalaenopsis Orchids. Wait till the potting media is dry and the roots are silvery white, then water thoroughly.

The leaves will become wrinkly and droop when they are dehydrated. Try to avoid this from happening as it can significantly impact the health of your orchid.

Nerve Plants (Fittonia)

Nerve Plants require continually moist potting soil. Water regularly once the top of the soil has dried out. They are also prone to root rot due to overwatering. Try to ensure the soil is just lightly moist, not saturated, before watering again.

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica)

Water Rubber Plants once the top inch of soil is dry. Typically, I water my rubber plants about once per week during the growing season and once every 10-14 days during the winter. As mentioned above, assess your own plant rather than sticking to a schedule.

Kentia Palm (Howea forsteriana)

Kentia Palms are moderately drought tolerant and tend to suffer more with overwatering than underwatering. Water them thoroughly once the top three inches of soil is dry.

Wandering Jew Plant (Tradescantia zebrina)

Water Wandering Jew Plants once the top inch of potting soil is dry. This is another plant which does better when you err on the side of caution with watering, as it is prone to root rot when overwatered.

Prayer Plant (Maranta leuconeura)

Prayer Plants can be more tricky to keep in top condition due to their particular water requirements. They need a well draining potting medium and the soil should be kept constantly moist, but not soggy. The top of the soil should feel lightly damp at all times. Watering regularly until a little water drains out the bottom of the pot is perfect.

Guzmania

Unlike many other plants, Guzmanias are watered by pouring water into the central rosette, rather than adding water to the soil. Guzmanias are epiphytic and primarily use their roots to anchor them in place rather than for absorbing water and nutrients. Fill the central rosette several times per week to ensure it has sufficient water to thrive.

Pinstripe Plant (Calathea ornata)

Calathea ornata requires constant moisture, so regular watering is required. Try to maintain lightly moist soil by watering a moderate amount as soon as the surface of the soil starts to dry out.

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina)

Water Weeping Figs on a regular basis to keep the soil lightly moist. Weeping figs are quite sensitive to impurities in the water, so using filtered water or rainwater is a good way of preventing problems. Weeping figs are prone to leaf drop for multiple reasons, so the plant will soon let you know if you’re not watering it right.

Indoor Orange Trees

Indoor orange trees have high water requirements, and as long as they are planted in well-draining soil in a pot with plenty of drainage, then it is hard to go wrong. Water thoroughly on a regular basis, maintaining moist soil, and tailor frequency to the needs of your individual plant.

Eternal Flame Plant (Calathea crocata)

Water thoroughly once the top inch of soil is dry. Calathea crocata can be very sensitive about the type of water used, so using rainwater or distilled water is a good idea.

Flamingo Flower (Anthurium)

Water infrequently but thoroughly once the top few inches of the soil is dry. Anthuriums tolerate infrequent watering very well, but they really suffer if overwatered.

Flaming Katy (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana)

A really popular winter flowering succulent that can brighten up your home with winter and springtime blooms that last for months. Being a succulent, avoid overwatering. Water Flaming Katys thoroughly once the top half of the soil is dry.

Arrowhead Plant (Syngonium podophyllum)

Arrowhead plants are fairly drought tolerant and should be watered thoroughly only once the top 1-2 inches of soil is dry. Dormancy in the winter will very significantly reduce its water requirements.

Peperomia

There are hundreds of species of Peperomia with dramatically different appearances, making them really popular with houseplant lovers. Most have succulent characteristics, so it is best to wait until the top two inches of soil is dry, before watering thoroughly. They are fairly drought tolerant, so can cope with a little neglect.

If you want to read more about caring for any of the plants mentioned above, simply click on the links as I have covered each in an in depth care guide.

If you’d like to learn more about caring for houseplants and growing indoors, see here for my most recent articles. If you need a little help looking after your plants, I’ve also put together some resources. My recommended resources section has loads of information, books and suggested tools that can help you grow amazing indoor plants.

Welcome to Smart Garden Guide

Hi, I’m Andrew, and Smart Garden Guide is my website all about indoor gardening and houseplants. I’m here to share my experience and help you have more success and enjoyment growing plants. Enjoy your stay at Smart Garden Guide.

8 great ways to know how often you should water houseplants. General advice and 17 examples. Learn why you shouldn't water your houseplants on a schedule.

Watering Houseplants Guide

How often should I water my houseplants?

How often should I water my plants? Is a question we’re frequently asked. To answer this you need to understand that without water a houseplant will die – This is a fundamental principle of all plants, it’s especially important with houseplants as they don’t have access to natural sources of water, and therefore depend completely on us to get it right. So let’s dive in to this guide.

That said most plant death is actually caused by too little water. or equally too much. It’s a fine balancing act and this guide will help you understand how to get it right.

When to water houseplants?

Houseplant’s are not keen on strict routine. Yes, you may hear your neighbour Jane saying she waters all her plants heavily every Sunday morning without fail, or Uncle Chris might swear his success is down to watering sparingly every Tuesday and Friday evening.

However the fact remains that often such routines are unlikely to work long term and are only setting you up for problems later on. Each plant has their own likes and dislikes when it comes to watering, even two plants of the same type could have differences. For example their location and their size will vary and effect how much water they need.

So how do you know when to do it?

Unfortunately the answer to this usually comes down to experience and practice. There isn’t a hard and fast rule to follow, it’s a simple case of observing your plant, and interacting with it.

By “interacting” we mean touching the soil surface and just below that to see if it is moist or dry. If the soil surface and the first inch below is dry, it’s likely time to water your houseplant. If the soil surface is still damp, no more water is needed.

If your plant’s not too big or heavy you can also pick it up; a pot or container which is heavily saturated with water will be much heavier than a pot which has completely dried out. There are also instruments you can buy which beep or light up when it’s time to water again.

Of all the methods and tricks people suggest the weight of the pot is by far our favorite one. Once you’ve done it a few times you will “just know” by it’s weight how much water is left accessible for the plant and you will be able to gauge if it needs to be left alone, or if it needs a top up or a soaking.

How much to water depends on.

Look for your particular houseplant in our Hub section of the website to understand its individual watering needs. When you’ve understood this, there are a few other things to consider because lots of different factors can influence how much the plant uses and therefore the time needed between watering’s.

. The plant itself

If the plant has fleshy thick leaves it’s been naturally adapted to receiving less water, cacti and succulents for example. Too frequent watering here and you will be increasing the chances of rotting. On the other hand if the plant’s leaves are thin or numerous then it will have less tolerance for under watering and will need more frequent watering.

. The time of year

There is less light in Winter and the temperature is cooler. This means the plant slows down because photosynthesis is less effective. Providing the room isn’t excessively hot you may be able to reduce watering to just once or twice a month over the Winter months.

. The environment

As the temperature and light intensity goes up so does the need for water. An increase in both of these variables results in a more effective level of photosynthesis which in turn needs more water.

. The surrounding humidity

Plants which are in very humid locations will need less water than those in dry environments.

. The size of the plant pot and the material it’s made of

As a general rule a large plant in small pot will need much more water than a small plant in a big pot. This is because if the roots are filling the pot, there is less capacity for the soil to hold water (because the roots are taking up the space). The opposite is true when the plant is small but in a large pot, in these circumstances much more water can be held by the soil so less frequent watering is needed..

Plant’s in clay pots compared to those in plastic ones, will normally need more water because the clay is porous and water is wicked away from the soil in the pot. Finally If you apply a mulch around the plant water will remain in the pot for a longer period as the mulch prevents the soil surface drying out as quickly.

Signs from the plant to look out for

Sometimes it’s easy to know when to get the watering can out as a number of houseplants are rather clever and tell you when they want water. The Peace Lily in the photo below for example is very obvious.

The picture on the left is the Peace Lily telling you it really needs water, the one on the right shows its now got plenty. Most however don’t give such clear signs, but there are a few subtle hints you might be able to pick up on.

Signs that it’s had too little water

  • Leaves become limp and wilted. Sometimes faded or translucent.
  • Flowers fade quickly or fail to actually bloom.
  • The oldest leaves on the house plant start to fall off.
  • Leaf edges become brown and dry.

Signs that it’s had too much water

  • Leaves become limp and wilted.
  • Flowers become moldy.
  • Both old and newer leaves on the house plant start to fall off.
  • Leaf tips become brown.

Under-watering and over-watering cause very similar warning signs in house plants

Ahem. If you have read the two lists above you might be forgiven for thinking we have made a mistake and copied the same signs into each. Unfortunately it’s no mistake, frequent under watering and over watering cause very similar warning signs in house plants! Even the Peace Lily example above sometimes isn’t always that clear. If the Peace Lily has had too much water it also flump’s over a little bit, which the novice may assumes means more water is needed, and before long he or she is trapped in a cycle of continuously over watering.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, if you ever see any of the symptoms listed above you will just need to rely on other methods to judge (such as pot weight / touching the soil / common sense etc) and make an educated decision as to which type of watering mistake is causing the problem, and adjust accordingly.

What time is best to water?

What ever time suits you! Well this is mostly true, a lot of house plants don’t mind if you water them in the morning, afternoon or evening. However as a general rule its best to avoid watering any plant in the evening when it involves wetting their crowns or exposed stems. The idea is that if you do this, the water sits on the plant and when the temperature drops at night it can encourage plant rot or diseases. If you watered that plant in the morning, by nightfall the water should have subsided or evaporated from the crowns / exposed stems.

How to water

There are three main ways to water. Sometimes it’s about what is most convenient for you, other times it’s simply about preference. However it’s almost always best to water heavily once, then wait until the soil starts to dry out rather than little and often.

Watering Can Method

This just involves watering from the top and allowing the water to filter through the pot by gravity. Although it’s very quick it’s less accurate than the other two methods below and so it’s always best to have the pot sitting in a container or drip tray to catch any water that comes out of the drainage holes. If your container has no drainage holes for excess water to escape from then you have no choice but to use this method, but be very careful you don’t over do it!

Bottom Watering Method

The plant pot is sitting in a drip tray and you just fill the tray up. Eventually the water will be drawn up into the dry root ball. If the drip tray is quite small you may need to do this a few times until no more water is drawn up. Be sure to tip any excess water that is still in the tray away after half an hour to prevent rotting.

Immersion Method

You need to fill a lager container such as a washing up bowl, and then lower your plant pot into the water just so the water level reaches the top of the pot. Bubbles will appear on the surface, and when they stop (after a minute or so) the root ball will be fully saturated with water and you can remove the pot from the water. This method carries a risk of spreading diseases or pests if you are doing multiple plants in the same water. Make sure your plants are healthy, or ensure the sick one goes in last.

What water to use

The best water you can use on your house plants is the most natural – Rainwater or bottled water. However both of these options can be impractical or expensive in the long term, so tap water is the most commonly used type of water. In the majority of situations tap water does not cause any problems, however if you live in a soft water area you need to carry out an additional occasional step to avoid issues. This is because soft water contains salt that will build up in the soil which will eventually effect the natural transfer of minerals and water into the roots.

To avoid this happening “flush” the pot once every couple of months. This just involves pouring in water to wash the salt build up out of the drainage holes. Be sure to provide fertiliser as you will also wash out nutrients in addition to the salt by doing this.

Watering troubles

Watering is normally a quick and painless process, but sometimes there is something wrong with the soil which causes issues:

Water won’t penetrate the surface

This is caused by a very dry surface soil. You don’t typically get this unless your potting mix contains high levels of clay, for example if you have used garden soil instead of potting compost. Or the soil is completely bone dry. The solution is straight forward however, just prick the surface with a fork or small trowel to break it up a little, then try watering again.

Water runs straight out of bottom

This is almost always caused because the soil has dried out completely. This results in soil pulling away from the edges of the container creating a clear channel for the water to drain through, and the soil therefore does not have a chance to grab any of the water that is quickly passing by. The solution is to follow the Immersion watering method above, if that isn’t practical you can try Bottom watering.

About the Author

Over the last 20 years Tom has successfully owned hundreds of houseplants and is always happy to share knowledge and lend his horticulture skills to those in need. He is the main content writer for the Ourhouseplants Team.

Credit for the houseplants and watering can – Kaufmann Mercantile
Credit for the houseplant group photo to – Robin Berthier

Watering house plants is a fine balancing act and our guide will help you understand how to get it right. We tell you how to water, how much, when to do it, and how to spot the problem signs.