How To Water Indoor Plants: Complete Guide

Along with light and nutrients, water is among the essential ingredients for plant life. Although watering plants seems like such an easy task, doing it the wrong way is probably the most common mistake in plant care.

Indoor plants are best watered according to the water requirements of the different plant types. Generally, indoor plants should be watered when the top layer of soil has dried by evenly and fully soaking the soil while emptying out excess water through a drainage layer.

Knowing how to water your plants the right way is critical to keeping your plants alive and thriving. In this post, I will cover all aspects of how and when to water your plants and give helpful tips.

Is Too Much Water Bad For Indoor Plants?

When thinking about water and plants, people often assume that not enough water harms plants. Surprisingly though, most houseplants rather face the problem of being overwatered by their generous owners.

Too much water decreases the level of oxygen in the soil which hinders roots from taking up oxygen and nutrients from the soil. In the long run, this causes root rot and reduces a plant’s resilience to fungi and other diseases. Literally, this means that the roots of your plants can’t do their work and suffocate due to overwatering.

Too much water is therefore just as bad for your indoor plants as too little of it. This is why knowing how to water your plants is essential to keep them happy and healthy for many years.

Tip: To help excess water flow out of the pot and avoid having plants sit in water, adequate pot drainage is essential. I explain all about drainage and give a handful of great tips on how to drain a pot in my post.

How Much Water Do Indoor Plants Need?

Indoor plants need enough water to keep their metabolism running normally; the amount of water needed varies with plant type, access to light, and nutrients.

But how to know how much water each of your plants needs just where it is in your place?

As a rule of thumb, most regular plants need to be watered weekly, and more arid plants such as succulents and cacti only bi-weekly. Before watering, always check if the top layer of soil is dry. If it is still moist, do not water the plant yet.

To estimate what water intake each of your plants has, it helps to think of what their natural habitat looks like. Lush, tropical plants with big leaves will generally need more water than cacti that naturally grow in desert-like, arid landscapes.

I also recommend to look up each plant type and what its specific needs are in terms of water, light, and nutrients. Plant identification apps can be extremely helpful to do so. I review the pros and cons of the five best plant apps in this post.

Good to Know: Typically, people tend to overwater their plants. Even though you mean them well, plants generally do not need as much water as we think.

How To Water Houseplants: Practical Tips

First off, here are some general keep-in-minds for watering your houseplants:

  • Watering plants is about respecting their needs and not necessarily your schedule.
  • Always consider what type of plant it is, where it is located (= how much light it gets), as well as the season you are in: These factors contribute to the water requirements of each plant and they might change throughout the year.
  • Rather think of it as establishing a watering check instead of a watering routine: First of all, you check whether your plants need water. You only actually water them if they do. Otherwise, you wait and check again some days later.

Only Water Plants If The Top Layer Of Soil Is Dry

To find out whether a plant needs water, it is best to stick your finger – up to about your first knuckle – into the top layer of the soil and check if the soil is dry or moist.

  • If no soil sticks to your finger: The soil is dry meaning you can water the plant
  • If the soil sticks to your finger: The soil is moist meaning you don’t water the plant yet

Remember to check each plant individually as their water intake varies due to different plant types and light availability.

Always Water Plants At The Base

When watering your plants, always pour water right onto the soil instead of over the leaves and stems. Many plants have a layer of protection on their leaves which will be damaged by the water. Furthermore, sprinkling water onto the leaves can cause a mess on the floor or windowsill around your pot; most of it will be spilled instead of soaking the soil.

Tip: Any type of clean container can be used to water plants, though a proper watering can with a long and thin spout makes it much easier to evenly water a plant at its base without damaging the stems or leaves in the process.

Water The Soil Evenly

An even water distribution in a pot promotes an even growth of the root system and therewith of the plant stems. If watered unevenly, the roots tend to grow only towards the moist parts of the soil.

Hence, it is recommended to water the surface of the pot evenly, distributing water all over it.

This really makes a huge difference, as you might have experienced already yourself when installing a self-watering system for your plants when away.

I once installed a self-watering system for my fresh herbs on the balcony which worked through a type of terracotta plug that was connected to a water container by a plastic pipe. The plug needs to be stuck into the soil to transfer the water. Two weeks later when I removed the terracotta plug from the pot, the roots had already grown all over it.

Tip: To get water distributed evenly, some experts claim that bottom watering is best. To do so, place the plant pot in a saucer filled with water and refill the saucer until no more water is being soaked up by the plant.

Water Plants In The Morning Rather Than In The Evening

The time of the day is important when watering plants. I recommend watering your plants in the morning rather than in the evening.

This allows excess moisture to evaporate during the day as the plant is active during daylight hours. By watering in the evening, you risk that the plant sits in too much moisture for the whole night which in the long run can decrease its resilience to fungi and other diseases.

Fully Soak The Soil When Watering

The plant should get a good rinse until excess water pours out through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. Make sure to empty out the excess water about 15 minutes after watering the plant.

Your plant pots do not have drainage holes? Well, then I suggest it is high time to re-pot that poor plant! Drainage holes are essential to any plant’s well-being. Read more about why this is the case in my post about how to create appropriate drainage for houseplants.

Please Note: This method of fully soaking the soil does not apply to most succulents, cacti, or any other arid plants. These need water only sparingly every 2-3 weeks.

Empty Out Excess Water About 15 Minutes After Watering

I already mentioned this several times in this post, but as this is so important, it is worth mentioning as a separate tip:

After watering, wait for about 15 minutes and then empty out all excess water that has gathered in the saucer or outer pot of the plant.

It is crucial for a plant’s health that it doesn’t sit in water permanently. There is literally no plant species I can think of that would like this fact except for submerged plants (obviously).

If you are new to the concept of drainage and would like to know more about how that works for plant pots, please check out my post on creating drainage for plant pots.

Check On Your Plants At Least Weekly

Plants love routine and watering your plants should definitely be a regular habit.

Don’t forget about checking your plants regularly. A weekly check usually works just fine. During hot summer days or during the heating period in winter try checking on them even twice a week as the air gets very dry and they might need a little more moisture.

Let the plant’s needs determine your watering schedule: I would urge you to see your watering routine more as a watering check first of all. Check if your plants need water and if they don’t, then wait with watering until a couple days later.

Tip: Not everyone has an innate ability to care for plants. If you are a plant beginner, it is recommendable to set weekly reminders for watering your plants to avoid forgetting them. There are plenty of plant care apps that help you think of your green fellows, some of which I review in this post.

Use A Type Of Water That Is Good For Houseplants

Generally, the water you use should always be at room temperature to avoid temperature shocks to the root system.

Also, what type of water you use can make a big different to how well your plants do. Do you use regular tap water, distilled water or rainwater?

Water is not just water. All of the different types of water come with different advantages and disadvantages which you should know about to water your plants appropriately. Find out more about what the best water is for houseplants and how to prepare it in this post.

Check The Plant Specifications For Your Plant Species

Each plant species has different watering, nutrient, and light requirements that one needs to consider when keeping them as houseplants. If you know these requirements about the plants you own, watering them the right way will become so much easier.

Some plants require unusual watering habits, such as orchids. Orchids like to be bathed for a couple of hours about every 1-2 weeks instead of being watered.

To find out what special watering habits your indoor plants might need, I recommend identifying them and looking up their requirements. There are some great plant identifier apps which help you identify your plants in no time!

Consider The Seasons: More Water in Summer Than In Winter

Last but not least, always consider what season you are in when watering your plants. Usually in wintertime, they are in a so called dormant phase. With less light and cooler temperatures, they are less active and their intake of water and nutrients decreases. On the other hand, during summertime, they are the most active and in a growth phase which will require a little more water than usual.

Tip: The same goes for the use of fertilizer. In the dormant phase, fertilizer is best avoided while in the growth phase, fertilizer is best added to every second watering.

How To Tell If You’re Overwatering Or Underwatering Your Houseplants?

The visible signs for overwatering or underwatering a plant are unfortunately similar. The plant gets yellowing, wilting leaves and grows less than usual. But this is no reason to despair: Checking the moisture and smell of the soil will help define what issue is at hand.

  • Is the soil completely dry and hard? Then the plant is probably going through a drought.
  • Is the soil very moist and smells damp and moldy? Then the plant is overwatered and is best left to dry out a bit before watering it again.

Generally, I recommend making a plant health check your regular plant care routine. With that, you can spot issues and signs of illnesses early on and prevent them from spreading. All you need to know about your plants health is ready for you in my step-by-step health check, including some first aid tips.

What Is The Best Water For Houseplants?

Rainwater is generally the best water for houseplants as it is rich in all required plant nutrients and usually contains few contaminants and toxins. Not everyone has access to rainwater, though. Good alternatives are fish tank water, filtered tap water, or distilled water.

I explain what water is best for houseplants in my post including helpful tips on how to prepare the best water possible for your plants.

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