It would be nice to have a one-size-fits-all approach to watering houseplants, I for one would like that. But things are not that simple, especially if you have different types of houseplants.
But even if you have the same species of plants all over your home, you’d still need a “personalized” approach to how often you water each plant.
I know it sounds like drudge work, but bear with me, it’s honestly not that bad. The tips below will help you form fail-safe watering habits that will become second nature to you and will take out the guesswork from watering houseplants.
When to Water Houseplants?
Different plants have different watering needs and fitting all those needs into a “master watering schedule” that works equally well for all your houseplants is not the way to approach this issue.
You could do that, and it’s surely the easiest and most straightforward way to watering houseplants, but an ‘indiscriminate’ watering approach won’t lead to healthy houseplants in the long run.
Am I saying you should monitor each plant individually, and water only when each plant needs it? Yes, ideally that should be the case.
But how do you know when plants need watering? Observing the factors below will help you crack this issue and form a keen eye to when and how often each of your plants need watering.
Things to Consider When Watering Houseplants
Here’s what’s important when it comes to figuring out the watering needs of your plants:
1. Plant Type
This should always be your starting point. Some plants like Nerve Plants thrive if their soil is slightly moist all the time, but Phalaenopsis Orchids need their soil to completely dry out before the next watering.
Research the watering requirements of all your houseplants and start from there.
2. Soil Type
Well-draining soils like succulent or cacti soil mixes don’t have a good water-holding capacity and will dry out sooner than an all-purpose potting soil, which can hold water for longer.
Doing a finger dip test will let you know how dry the soil is and whether watering is in order. Picking up the pot and doing a weight test is also a good rule of thumb to follow as moist soil will weigh more than dry soil.
3. Pot Size
The material of your pot also has a role in how often you will water your houseplants. Plastic pots will dry out slower because they don’t allow water to escape at the sides of the pot.
The porous material of terracotta or clay pots will help the soil dry out faster and if you’ve potted a plant that isn’t resistant to drought in a clay or terracotta pot, you need to watch out for the soil.
The size of the pot also matters. You may be inclined to oversize the pot, possibly to avoid future repotting, but don’t do that.
Soil in a large pot will take longer to dry out and you risk hurting certain plants such as succulents that shouldn’t stay in moist soil for too long.
Pick small pots for drought-resistant plants and slightly larger pots for plants that need constantly moist soil.
4. Plant Size
Young plants that are still growing may need more water than already established plants. Large plants will also require more water than dwarf plants because they absorb more water due to more vegetation, but they also lose more water through transpiration.
Therefore, plant size is another factor to consider when deciding how often you should water your plants.
5. Temperature & Humidity
Temperature and humidity are two other important factors that will have a say in watering frequency. The higher the temperature and lower the humidity, the dryer the air, and the more frequently you need to check on your plants to see if they need watering.
The rooms in which you’ve positioned your houseplants are also a deciding factor. Rooms that get more sunshine will be much warmer, which will increase evaporation rate and increase watering frequency.
If you have plants in a room with increased ventilation, you’ll also need to water more frequently because ventilation increases evaporation. On the flipside, however, it also decreases the risk of fungal diseases.
Seasonal temperature changes will bring about temperature and humidity changes in our homes but will also coincide with the natural dormant period of certain plants.
Some plants will still grow and flourish during winter as well. Other plants will require lower temperatures during winter, otherwise they won’t bloom.
Therefore, you will need to adjust your normal watering regimen to seasonal changes in temperature, humidity and light.
As you can see, quite a few factors come into play when it comes to watering your plants. At first, it may seem like a daunting task to pay attention to all these things, but you’ll get the hang of it sooner than you’d expect.
7. Your Time
This is an often-overlooked aspect of indoor gardening. Sure, temperature, potting, soil, light, humidity, etc. all matter, but equally important is the time you are willing to invest in caring for your plants.
If you’re a beginner in home gardening, I advise you to start small and work your way up from there. Don’t overstock your house with plants, because it will soon feel overwhelming if you don’t know how to look after each plant.
Some plants can be very finicky when it comes to watering (e.g. Pinstripe calatheas), other plants like succulents and cacti can go without water even more than two weeks.
If you’re often forgetful about watering your plants, it’s best to choose drought-tolerant plants that will tolerate a bit of neglect.
How Long Can Houseplants Go Without Water?
Even though overwatering is a much more widespread issue than under-watering, it’s still not advisable to deprive your plants of water for too long.
How long can you leave them without water? It depends on the plant, of course. However, in most cases, houseplants can go without water for 1-2 weeks if indoor conditions are otherwise optimal.
If you occasionally leave home for 1-2 weeks, you can reasonably expect most of your houseplants to do fine during this time, even without watering.
If you regularly skip weeks before watering, some of your plants will start to wilt, dry out and get irreversibly damaged.
Therefore, if you’re gone for a week or two for the holidays or on a business trip once in a while, don’t stress too much about your plants going without water.
What if you’re away for longer than two weeks? If you’re going away for more than two weeks, I advise making arrangements so that your plants get watered while you’re gone.
You can ask friends or relatives to pop over to your house and water your plants, or you can set up different self-watering systems for the plants that are unlikely to survive too long without water.
Some systems you can use include watering globes, capillary mats, watering spikes, self-watering pots, etc.
Quick Tips for Watering Houseplants
If you’re a beginner indoor gardener, and assuming that the initial set-up of your plant is in order (e.g. soil, pot, lights, etc.) the following watering checklist will help you up your watering game and avoid overwatering mistakes:
- Research your plan’s water requirements and check if you should water the plant base or the entire plant from above (some plants should never be watered from above to avoid excess humidity and/or diseases of the leaves).
- Always check the soil before watering by sticking your finger into the soil and lifting the pot to check its weight.
- Make sure your pot has draining holes and empty the saucer at the bottom of the pot according to your plant’s requirements (some plants can be allowed to “soak” a while in the water that gathers in the saucer, other plants should never be allowed to sit in water once it drains from the pot).
- Be mindful of seasonal temperature changes or other changes in the weather that might warrant a different watering frequency.
- Periodically assess the health status of your plant and make necessary adjustments based on how well your plants are doing with your current watering frequency.
Monitoring your plants and treating them individually will ensure that your plants will thrive and develop in a healthy way.
Responding to the water requirements of each individual plant is the best approach to watering your houseplants.
What works for one plant, may not be enough for another plant, or it may be too much for a different plant. Therefore, you cannot expect them to adjust to a catch-all watering schedule.
As an indoor gardener, it’s your responsibility to be mindful of all the factors that contribute to the water requirements of your plant and to monitor your plants for any changes that would warrant an adjustment in how often and how much water they need.