Watering plants may seem easy but it's actually tricky. As any experienced plant parent would tell you, there’s arguably no faster way to kill your new houseplant than watering it irresponsibly.
The Ugly Signs of Overwatering and Underwatering
You’re probably thinking, “I’ll water it every day. How hard can that be?” In their natural habitat, most of our now domesticated plants do not get an abundant supply of water every single day, especially those from dry desert lands. There’s a reason they’re called drought-resistant.
This is particularly true for popular indoor plants, such as succulents, snake plants, and the ZZ plant (Zamioculcas Zamifolia), which have fleshy stalks and leaves that act as their innate water reservoir. "These plants prefer to stay on the dry side, and seem to thrive on neglect," Kathie Hayden, plant information service manager at Chicago Botanic Garden, said in an article by Good Housekeeping.
When these plants are put in pots and kept inside the home, with the exception of hot summer months perhaps, watering every day can be a bit too much to handle for them.
Symptoms of overwatered houseplants include:
- Wilting leaves
- Wet soggy soil
- Root rot – characterized by soft, mushy dark, and wet roots
- Mildew or fungal grown on the topsoil and the root
- Little black insects hovering over your plant (soil gnats)
On the contrary, there is also the case of underwatering, which is similarly damaging to houseplants. The common signs of underwatering in indoor plants are:
- Brown tips on the leaves
- Yellow, drooping leaves
- Dry, parched, cracking, and almost rock solid soil
In early stages, an underwatered indoor plant can be a bit more salvageable compared to an overwatered plant. However, if the situation is left unaddressed it will continue to dry and unfortunately die.
How to Water Your Houseplants Properly
Avoid overwatering or underwatering and eventually killing your indoor plants with the help of these practical plant care tips from experts.
Water only when the topsoil is dry.
Check by poking your finger onto the potting material. For a new indoor plant, observe for a couple of weeks how many days it takes for the soil to completely dry out in between each watering session.
Stick to a regular watering schedule.
Once you’ve gotten to know your houseplants better and confirmed how many days it actually took for the soil to dry, it’s easier to adhere to a regular watering schedule.
If you have a lot of different types of indoor plants at home, it’s possible that they don’t require the same amount or frequency of watering. Make sure to take note of that. On a piece of paper, jot down plants that need to be watered every day, every couple of days, once a week, or longer. For example, orchid plants in a six-inch pot can go for as long as seven (7) days without water, especially during cold season.
While most indoor plants are proven to be resilient and won’t die on you instantly if you forget to water them for a few days, following a regular watering schedule helps prevent the unsightly brown tips on the leaves, which is typically caused by erratic watering.
Use a watering can with a long spout.
This watering tool is best for maximum coverage of all sides of the pot and plant minus the spills. It’s also nice to have when you need to water hanging plants that are a bit hard to reach.
Be careful with the leaves and flowers.
There’s a debate on this issue, whether it’s all right to wet leaves and flowers. Some say no; some say it’s OK if they’re from the rainforest. However, for indoor plants, it’s probably safer to keep the leaves dry and focus the watering efforts on the root system and the soil. This is because indoor plants with wet leaves are more prone to diseases, leaf mold, and fungal growth.
Water copiously until it runs out of the drainage holes.
Indoor plants love a good, filling drink. Remember to use tepid water, pouring generously but slowly. This way, the potting mix has time to take in and absorb the moisture and doesn’t overflow or come out of the drainage holes. If you can, declare bath day every weekend. Take your plants with you outside or in the bathroom and give all of them a good watering.
Water in the morning.
Watering in the morning is more sensible rather than in the afternoon or at night because it will allow the potting mix to dry before temperatures drop. After each watering, it’s highly recommended to allow your plants to dry in a bright spot around the house. Be vigilant of stagnant water on saucer pots. A plant that is wet for too long is at risk for plant diseases, fungal growth, and root rot.
The watering trick with terracotta pots
Terracotta pots are awesome not only because they give that warm, rustic, classic, and authentic gardening vibe aesthetically but because they come with adequate drainage holes and holds a lot of moisture for a sufficient amount of time, too.
A tried and tested method for orchids planted in this container is to soak the terracotta pot for a few minutes and let the water permeate the pot itself. This sort of serves as a little cooling system for the plant, which can be convenient in the scorching summer heat or when you’re on vacation.
What’s the best type of water to use for plants?
Although it sounds a little paranoid, the type and quality of water you use for your houseplant is an important factor to consider, too.
Plants experts suggest that while tap water can be generally harmless, softened water, which contains high levels of sodium or salt that can build up in the soil over time, can be slowly detrimental. In addition, there are also plants that are a bit sensitive and react badly to the chemicals found in water from your faucet.
Rainwater is said to be the best watering solution for both indoor plants and outdoor plants. Take advantage of this free resource from nature by setting up a rain barrel or an empty container to collect rainwater for you during the wet season. In winter time, you can collect snow, store it in container bins, and let it warm up to room temperature.
On the other hand, if you do not want to overthink it so much and feel like collecting rainwater or snow is too tedious or impossible where you currently live, don’t lose hope. Savvy Gardening shares that letting regular tap water sit in an open container for 24 hours can allow for the chlorine to evaporate and become a safe watering medium for your houseplants.