Tips for Watering Houseplants

Woman watering houseplant in kitchen sink
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Although real statistics are hard to come, it seems likely that more houseplants have died because of improper watering than any other single factor. Bad watering habits tend to follow a pattern. First, when you're new with houseplants, people tend to overwater everything, all in the name of "babying my plants." Then people fail to recognize the differences between their various plants, watering a philodendron the same as an echeveria.

Finally, there is the stage of neglect, when houseplants are no longer so exciting or new so they are forgotten.

Developing good watering habits isn't difficult, but it does require a few essential ingredients, such as consistency and at least a bare willingness to pay attention to your plants and "read" their signs. Ultimately, the plants themselves are your best source of information. Plants that are wilting are telling you they need more water, while plants that are yellowing and looking washed out may be getting too much water.

How to Water Your Plants

While it's impossible to really cover this topic in a short article, there are nonetheless a few steps you can take to help make watering easier and more effective:

  • Leave room for water in the pot! When you're repotting your plants, don't fill the pot up the rim with potting soil. This makes it much harder to water as you'll have to dribble water over the soil and wait until it seeps in. Leave enough room that you can pour in some water and let it soak in on its own.
  • Be consistent. Even if this means marking days on your calendar, make sure your watering habits are consistent, so the plants don't suffer through debilitating cycles of drought and plenty. Although each species is different, in general plants prefer even moisture.
  • Keep like with like. If it's possible, grow similar plants next to each other, so you won't have to thread your way among various plants while watering. Keep your succulents with your succulents and your aroids with your aroids
  • Learn to water from the bottom. Bottom watering is a very effective method for many plants whose leaves don't like to get wet.
  • Use a long-necked watering can. This will allow you to apply water precisely at the soil level, without wetting the leaves. Fungal disorders are encouraged by wet foliage.
  • Never let your plants sit in water! Unless they are bog plants, make sure to empty out the plant trays after you're done watering so the plants aren't sitting in water. Sitting in water is a good way to get root rot, while is frequently lethal.
  • Keep a water supply nearby.
  • If your plants aren't near a water source, make your life easy and hide a watering container somewhere in the room where they're located. This will make it easier to regularly water.
  • Provide drinks, not sips.
  • Shallow and insufficient watering encourages weak root systems and makes the plant more vulnerable to collapse. When you water, make sure you do it thoroughly, so water runs through the container. This also helps flush out fertilizer salts, which can be dangerous if they accumulate.
  • Water in the morning. Watering at night encourages dampness, which is a prerequisite for fungal attack. Instead, water during the day, when the evaporation and transpiration rates are at their best.
  • Lastly, pay attention to water quality. Some plants cannot tolerate chlorinated tap water, while other plants have a difficult time with soft water. Use the cleanest water possible, such as rainwater, water that has been left out for a few days to dechlorinate, or reverse osmosis water.