One of the most common questions we get asked is "How often should I water my indoor plants?" or "What should my watering schedule look like with this certain plant?" And that can be a little tricky to answer because the amount you water one plant could be completely different from what I water the same plant in my own collection. Some things that factor into how often you water a plant could be - the amount of light it receives, if it's receiving any sort of direct sunlight, humidity, even the type of planter and the soil its potted in.
Due to so many different factors determining when you should water indoor plants, I always recommend observing your plant and understanding how each plant reacts to your growing conditions. Continue reading to learn some tips on plant's water requirements.
Why is water important?
First, let's discuss the basics. We all know plants need water, but why is it so important?
No matter what type of plant it is, tropical plants or even the desert dwelling plants, they all need water-it's non-negotiable. And that's because water helps plants carry out all their basic needs from keeping their form to drawing up nutrients and dispersing it through out their leaves. Plants are also made up of almost entirely water, anywhere from 80%-95% depending on the type of plant. So, water is crucial in helping a plant stay alive.
Environmental factors that effect how often a plant needs water
As mentioned at the start of this blog, there's many different things that can effect how often indoor plants need water. Here's just a few examples:
The size and material of the pot
Larger plants, with a substantial root system, in smaller pots will need more water than small plants in bigger pots. And the same goes for the reverse, larger plants in larger pots, with space to grow will need less water than smaller plants that are root bound with no extra room to grow. And this just comes down to the amount of substrate that the plant's roots live in. The more substrate and space the plant has in a pot, the less amount of times it'll need to be watered.
The type of planter your indoor plants are planted in will also effect the amount of times you need to water. Pots like terra-cotta, will need need more frequent waterings than a plant in a ceramic planter. Terra-cotta, or clay pots, are porous material that wick away moisture. So if you have over watering habits, aim for terra-cotta pots. Ceramic, glass, and plastic planters are the opposite and will hold onto to a lot of moisture. These types of pots are key if you tend to underwater.
Type of plant
It's crucial to know and understand the type of plant you're bringing into your house, or into your houseplant collection, and the type of watering it'll need. Many houseplants are marketed for beginners but need constant moisture levels, thus making it hard for a novice plant collector to care for. Plants like; Ferns, Calatheas, Begonias, certain species of Philodendrons...and many more, need almost constant moisture in order to thrive.
On the other hand, plants like; Pothos, Monstera Deliciosa, plants with succulent characteristics and cacti are alright with a few missed waterings.
Potting soil and mix
While you may read how beneficial it is for plants to have proper drainage and how to have the right potting media, having too many amendments in your soil will cause it to dry out faster. Which isn't always a bad thing if you've rotted a lot of houseplants from over watering. If you find it difficult to keep up with watering needs, try adding less perlite or orchid bark and more soil to your potting mix.
You can also cater your soil mix to certain type of plants. If you have a more thirsty, needy plant, then you can add more peat or soil to the mix than adding more soil amendment.
Humidity is another huge factor in how often you need to water your indoor plants. If you have high humidity, anything 60% and higher is considered high humidity, you'll find your plants need a lot less watering than if you have a drier growing condition.
Last factor I'll mention, although there's still so many more, is light. Whether it's from growlights or actual sunlight, the duration of light your plants receives is crucial to how much water they'll need. Providing your houseplants with the ideal amount of light will make them grow and thrive, which is what we all want, right? Actively growing plants, absorb water much faster than a dormant plant or a plant in lower light. So, during the growing season or anytime your plant is receiving an extra few hours of sunlight, be sure to check the soil.
How to check if your indoor plants need watering
As you can see, there's so many things that can effect your plant and how much water they need and intake. That's why it's always better to observe and get to know your indoor plants rather than putting them on a strict watering schedule. Whenever you find yourself admiring your plants or doing plant chores, see what they look like when they're watered and when they're thirsty. Each plant has its own ways of telling you it needs water.
Some plants, like succulents, will slowly start to wrinkle their leaves. While other plants, like Philodendrons, will have drooping leaves that feel paper thin. If you have particularly fussy plant, like a Peace lily, it may completely flop over, play dead or even give yellow leaves.
Next, you can check to see if the soil is bone dry. This can be done with your fingers. Simply place your finger half way down the pot. If it feels dry, it's time to water. If you feel a bit a moisture, and you know the plant needs to dry out a bit more, then wait a few more days. You can also do this same method with a chop stick, if the chop stick comes out clean, then the soil is dry but if the chop stick is wet and you see dirt, then wait a few more days.
The last way you can check to see if your indoor plant needs water, is by using a moisture meter. This is probably one of the most used plant tools I see recommended, but not all moisture meters are made the same. Be sure to double check the accuracy of your moisture meter before using it and watering a plant that doesn't need it.
Tips on how much water to give your plants and when
Something that isn't talked about enough, is the term "over watering". Over watering doesn't mean how MUCH water you give your plant but rather the frequency. For example, rubber plants, or Ficus, don't like to be watered very often. However, when the soil is dry, fully drench the soil until water is running out the drainage holes and you know the soil has been completely saturated. Once this is done, the plant won't need to be watered until the soil is dry again. Watering a plant too many times before it's ready, is over watering and will certainly lead to root rot.
Drainage holes are important, especially when your first start collecting. It helps ensures that there's no excess water sitting at the bottom of the pot, where the plant roots live and could easily be rotted. If you prefer to use a nicer pot, place the nursery pot inside the nicer pot and use it as a cache pot. That way any excess water can drain from the drainage holes in the nursery pot and can be easily dumped out of the cache pot.