We often get asked this question. “How often should you water indoor plants?” Unfortunately, the answer it not exactly simple. There are so many different types of indoor plants and they like to exist in different sorts of environments and conditions. According to the variety of indoor plant, what sort of soil/pot/other abode in which it resides, the geographical location and general weather there, the nature of the house/apartment, the amount and kind of light it receives – these and additional smaller factors combine to probably add up to an ideal amount of water for every individual indoor plant. But as we shall see, you need to take variables into account and a rigid recurring routine is not actually the most thoughtful approach.
Some sort of an indoor plant watering algorithm would be handy wouldn’t it? In an app you can download to your phone. Wait, there actually is one! No, there’s more than one! There are a few apps which claim to help you ascertain how much water you should be giving your plants, and how often. If you google it, you will see a few apps out there which will review the information you provide about your indoors plants, do the maths/science, recommend a watering amount and pattern, then also send you reminders.
So if, you’re the sort of person who can’t get enough new apps, maybe investigating these could be for you. Perhaps we will take a closer look at some of these and give them our own review in a blog to follow? Or, are you sick of apps and algorithms creeping into so many aspects of our lives? For many indoor plant lovers, the journey is all about a communing with nature at home and putting that phone away for a while. About a relationship with nature and specifically florae, which is a kind of symbiotic, organic learning experience. For many indoor plant aficionados, this may even be one of the most important aspects of having house plants around – to interact with them, learn – feel their needs and moods. These folks knowwhen and how much to water their plants because they are kindred spirits!
Maybe this isn’t quite you either. Do you have a rough idea about how often to water most plants, but want to understand it a bit better, but without wrestling with an app? Then read on.
Speaking of googling – if you ask it how often to water houseplants, the top heading says ‘every 1-3 weeks.’There does seem to be a bit of discrepancy between one and three weeks though, doesn’t there? It’s rather obtuse. Which is it, 1 or 3? Can you water all your indoor plants once every 1-3 weeks and you’ll be right? For many popular houseplants, it’s possible you could get away with it, but we don’t recommend an approach quite as loose as that.
GET TO KNOW YOUR INDOOR PLANTS!
For a start, it just sounds a little neglectful to run with a regime quite that relaxed. You should be monitoring your lovely indoor plants fairly regularly anyway. Perhaps not every day but definitely more often than once a month. The more often you are checking them out, the better your relationship becomes, and for many of us, after a while you can tell when they need a drink, like you can tell when you need to buy your old friend a drink!
For instance, this writer even has names for some of his indoor plants, and when I’m having a big glass of water on a warm day, I often drink about three-quarters of the glass then give the rest to ‘Greg’, my money plant (Aureus). I figure this shared quenching of our thirsts can only be a good thing and assist in the bringing of prosperity to the house - which these plants are supposed to do, traditionally. I know for sure when Greg needs watering, just by looking at him. I can tell when he needs a little bit of a haircut too. We get each other!
It’s great if you can create this kind of karma with your indoor plants, but we realise this doesn’t work for everyone! We suspect that people who speak to their indoor plants are probably in the minority, so for everyone else, here’s what you need to know:
GET THE RIGHT ADVICE
Most importantly, it’s easy to get the right advice. If you’re not sure about how often to water your houseplants, or any other related matter - and you are concerned - the best thing you can do is get some advice from experts, like us at The Plant Runner.
Because there is some bad advice around. Some people may tell you that you should give your indoor plants heaps of water, all the time. This is incorrect, and it’s probably the second biggest reason why indoor plants are accidentally ruined – overwatering. The poor plants will drown if watered too much, too often. Especially certain houseplants which prefer less H2O. In fact, it is easier to make this mistake really, as it’s harder to see when a plant is suffering from overwatering, whereas it is usually more obvious if it’s parched and in dire need of a sip.
SIGNS OF OVERWATERING AND DAMAGE CONTROL
We’ll start with this, in case you’ve got an emergency situation which needs fixing fast!
If you have an indoor plant in a pot on a tray, the tray should not be constantly showing a level of collected water - or worse, overflowing. Watch the tray when you’re watering the plant. If water collects in the tray for a short while then vanishes, that’s ok. But if it’s still sitting in there more than half an hour after you’ve watered, you’re giving it too much for sure. If this is happening, carefully move the pot off and discard the water in the tray.
Too much water will eventually suffocate an indoor plant’s roots – they need air too – just like us. When this starts to happen, fungus and mould will appear in the soil, which you don’t want. You may not notice fungus or mould until it’s too late, but signs that are noticeable are: leaves wilting, yellow leaves, rogue pulpy bark beginning to form on the stems and a heavy pot that has soggy soil.
If you think you may have been overwatering your plants, but you haven’t killed the plant, the damage can be reversed. What happens when a plant has been overwatered is the roots start to fail in their primary functions. Every plant’s root system is there not only to absorb water for the limbs, stems and leaves on top, but also some air (oxygen in the soil – very important), and also of course nutrients.
If the problem has not progressed too far, you should do the following:
- It needs to de-stress! If the plant is sitting in direct sunlight, move it into a shadier spot.
- It needs to drain. You can take away the tray and let it slowly drain over a sink or on a deck or in the garden. If it’s in a pot with no holes or tray, you may be best off to remove it carefully (trying to keep as much of the soil in a clumped mass, and placing the plant upright on some newspaper or something absorbent. If you use newspaper, it will quite quickly absorb the excess water and you will need to keep replacing it, until it is clear that the majority of the superfluous fluid has been soaked up.
- Prune the plant. Use a good quality tool to snip away any dead or dying leaves and stems.
- You need to make the call – is the soil OK to stick with or does it look too ‘flood damaged?’ If the soil appears to be too crook, you can dispose of it and repot the plant in new soil. This is very stressful for the plant and it may not recover, be warned.
- Whether you do repot or just drain carefully and return to pot, don’t fertilise yet – but a good addition would be some plant food which has hydrogen peroxide in it. This will help with re-oxygenating the root system.
HOW TO AVOID OVERWATERING
As mentioned above, get to know your indoor plants – but also, try to get know the soil. It’s ok if the soil on the top surface is dry – it’s supposed to be, in general. You should be able to stick your finger in there and the top layer should be pretty dry. If it is sticky, black and moist, chances are there’s overwatering going on. A widely held view is that the soil in a pot should be mostly dry from the top surface till about one quarter of the way down – where it should start to be moist. You could get a moisture meter to accurately gauge the moisture level in your pots. Some say healthy soil for a houseplant should be like a perfect cake – not too dry or too soggy either.
Lift the pot. Does it feel heavier than it looks? If so, it is probably waterlogged.
Do you still have the original instructions for the plant? We always recommend keeping the labels. If not with the plant itself, in a spot altogether in a drawer in the laundry or kitchen. That way you can always refer to these; they will remind you all about what sort of conditions and how much water your plant requires.
Or of course, ask us at The Plant Runner.
COMMON SENSE REALLY
There are obvious variables to the recommendations. For instance, if a houseplant is in an area which receives sun and wind more often, it will probably need watering more often. And vice-versa. If it’s in a cooler, shadier spot, it won’t need as much. Plants will typically want more water in summer and less in winter. Bigger plants require more watering than smaller ones. Younger plants usually need more than older ones, as they experience growth spurts. Humidity is a major factor – are you in a mostly humid place and are the plants subject to the humidity, or do you keep the home air-conditioned? Both air-conditioning in hot months and heating in winter can dry out soil. More decorative pots, such as porcelain or terra cotta will lose water more easily than plastic pots. When it comes to pots, size does matter. You should always try to use a suitable sized pot. If it’s too big, the soil will not behave as it should – it will take too long to dry out. Also different types of potting mixes are designed to either drain faster or retain moisture – in order to be used with different plants accordingly. Read the instructions. Get savvy with the info.
After you’ve gained more experience, you will develop more of a sixth sense as to when to water your pals, as discussed above.
Some plants really do prefer a lot less water than others. You probably know that cacti and most succulents, for example, thrive in a dryer environment. Whereas the more tropical varieties of plants like a nicely moist home. The best thing you can do is check all these details out carefully when you first bring the plants home.
Cacti and succulents can often actually go for over a month without watering. So if you prefer to do less watering, perhaps these guys are for you. Plants such the popular Peace Lily are happier if you allow the soil to dry out before watering again. Orchids actually prefer the soil to dry out before a decent watering, as well. Kentia Palms also enjoy generally dryer soil conditions. Indoor plants types which require more moist abodes include Ficus varieties, Prayer Plant, Pinstripe Plant and Guzmania.
These and all the wonderful species of flora which we keep as indoor plants all have different needs. Again – the label will tell you everything you need to know, so hold on to it for future reference.
A strict year-round watering schedule is not the best way to go, because conditions change from season to season, as mentioned. Stay tuned in to the changing environment.
Better still if you can get a feel for it - and you will, in time - have patience, go easy with the watering and lastly, don’t fret if you go away for a fortnight, your plants will be fine. Just give them some good old-fashioned TLC when you return (and tell them stories about your holiday, they’ll love that ;)