Every human needs three square meals a day to survive.
With potted plants, the story is a little different.
Each genus within a family of plants can have precise watering requirements. The easiest way to kill a plant is not to water it properly.
Let's start with the absolute basics.
How To Water Indoor Plants
Here are three tips on watering your houseplants to give you a skeletal idea of the topic.
- Plants Like To Gulp, Not Sip
Granted, watering all your plants twice a week for fifteen minutes a day may be super convenient for you, but it can wreak havoc on your plants.
The technical term for underwatering your plants is “shallow watering” and devastates the root systems of most potted indoor plants.
Rationale: We’ve all read those gardening books that give us generic, blanket advice: water seldom, water deeply, but none of them explain why.
Frequent shallow watering causes plants to develop roots that lie very close to the soil surface, meaning that the plant will not survive any kind of dry heat, common in May and June.
- (Pot) size matters
Your local hardware store probably sells twenty different sizes of plant pots, but how do you choose the right ones?
Having the wrong plant pot size can affect how much water your plants get access to, so here’s a (very approximate) guide to pot sizes.
Standard sizes of plant pots:
- 10-inch diameter pots: Good for succulents, herbs, most flowers, decorative plants like the Chinese Silver Bay, and veggies like lettuce, beets, and carrots.
- 14-inch diameter pots: Best suited for “leafy plants such as the Cast Iron and other collard greens.
- 18-inch diameter pots: Most frequently used for largish plants like the Green Ti need to be flushed now and again to eliminate accumulated fertilizer salts.
- 24-inch diameter pots: You'll often find these small supporting trees in office spaces for plants like the Fiddle Leaf Fig.
- Proper Watering Techniques
How you water your plant can also have a significant impact on the health of your flora.
- Water your plants in the morning.
- Water at the roots, not from the leaves.
- Water slowly: you need to ensure that the root ball mass becomes moist.
- While occasionally misting your leaves is a good idea, frequently exposing them to moisture isn't (it promotes fungal growth).
- Don't use softened water (and please use a watering can. Use a water bottle, and you're just asking for a mess).
How Often Should You Water Indoor Plants
Now that we’ve covered how to water your plants, it's time to ask when to water them and how frequently to do so.
Most indoor plants need water every 7-10 days, and it's generally not advisable to stick to a rigid schedule when watering them.
Keep a close eye on the level of moisture in your pots (this sounds awfully scientific, but all you need to do is poke a finger in the soil).
You want to water your plants to the level where the soil is moist but not soggy or saturated.
An easy way to check if your potted plant’s soil is dry is to look at the spot where the soil touches the pot wall,
If you see a gap between the pot wall and the soil, it means that all the moisture from the earth has evaporated.
How to check if your potted plant needs water
- Stick a finger about 2 inches into the soil, wait ten seconds and then pull it out.
- If the soil sticks to your finger, it is moist and does not need watering.
- An alternative way is to gently press the soil around the plant’s root.
- You only need to water the plant if the top 1 inch of soil is dry.
- If the soil is moist, wait a couple of days before checking again.
- If you have a large indoor plant, pick up the pot and gauge its weight.
- To gauge the watering needs effectively, you'll need to know approximately how heavy the pot should be when dry and water accordingly.
How To Water Hanging Plants Indoors
Sure, we’ve covered potted plants in this article, but what about hanging planters?
Here's how to properly irrigate your beautiful hanging plants.
- If your planter is large, consider a pulley system to lower it for watering.
- That way, you can take your time when watering it and give each plant individual attention.
- It's not necessary to lower hanging planters to water them, though — you can also just use a long-spouted watering can. Just make sure that you don't flood the thing.
- You can also remove the hanging pot and place it (with the plants) into a shallow sink or bathtub.
- Then, let the drainage holes in the planter soak up water from the sink until you're satisfied with the soil’s color and moisture.
Indoor Plants Vs. Vacations
It's the question that has plagued home gardeners for millennia: how do we water indoor plants when on vacation?
Here are three possible solutions:
- Poke Holes In A Bottle Cap
Duration: 5-7 days
- Take a bottle that holds about 1L of water.
- Make 4-5 small holes in its cap using a nail.
- Fill the bottle with water, replace the cap, and stick it into your pot, cap side down.
- Water Wicking
Duration: 2-3 weeks
- Cut cotton rope into long pieces (only cotton rope as it's the most absorbent).
- Push one side of the rope deep into the plant pot and the other end into a large bowl.
- Make sure the side of the string inside the bowl is as slack as possible.
- Fill the bowl or vase up with water.
- You can “connect” multiple plants to the same water reservoir this way.
- Plants In The Sink
Duration: 7-10 days
- Plug up a sink or bathtub, and fill it with about 4 inches of water.
- Place a towel over the bottom of the sink or bathtub.
- Put your plants on the towel, ensuring they are in pots that drain well.
All of the above are great alternatives to hiring a plant sitter, and ensure that your plants are well taken care of in your absence.
Pro tip: You can also use method #3 to water large indoor plants without making a mess if you have a lot of those.
Simply leave them in the tub for 3-4 hours and then replace them in their spots.
Watering Tips From A Professional Interior Plant Service
Rules Of Thumb When Watering Indoor Plants
Warning: This list is by no means all-inclusive — keeping an eye on soil moisture is mission-critical.
- Cacti in summer: Every ten days
- Cacti in winter: Every three weeks
- Succulents: Every two weeks
- Small ferns (<12 inches): Every week
- Large ferns (1.5-3 feet): Twice a week
- Indoor trees in summer: Every week
- Indoor trees in winter: Every two weeks (except for evergreens)
- Hanging plants: Every 2-3 weeks
Signs That You're Overwatering Your Plants
- Squishy stems and/ or leaves
- Overly drooping tendrils
- Plant looks wilted
- Young leaves turn brown
- Yellowing/ brown spotted leaves
- Insects are attracted to the soil
Signs That You’re Underwatering Your Plants
- Crispy and/ or brown leaf edges
- Shriveled, wrinkled leaves that feel flat to the touch. (Leaves should be plump, mostly).
- Soil pulling away from the pot walls
- Wilting (can be a sign of both over and underwatering, so check the soil moisture)
Developing proper watering habits is not hard, but it requires a willingness to acquire horticulture fundamentals.
Once you get the hang of it, though, you'll be able to tell whether or not your plant needs water just by picking the pot up — how cool is that!