It may seem like a simple and straightforward task, but watering the wrong way is the #1 reason why house plants die.
This article will help you recognize the tell-tale signs your plant is not happy with the way it is being watered. You will also learn the 5 steps to help ensure you never kill another plant by watering incorrectly.
Are You Killing Your Plant With Kindness?
Look at the images below to see if your plants are exhibiting any of these signs. If so, keep reading to learn how to correct the problem.
Step 1: KNOW YOUR PLANT
Understanding your plant's water needs is the most important step. House plants can be grouped into four categories when it comes to their watering needs.
- Wet At All Times - Very few plants belong in this group. Some are Acorus, Azaleas and Cyperus.
- Moist At All Times - Most flowering plants belong in this group. They want their soil to be moist (but not wet) all the time. A few examples of these plants are Poinsettias, Tulips, and Cyclamen.
- Moist/Dry - Most foliage plants belong in this group. The top 1/2 inch of the soil for these plants should be allowed to dry out between each watering. Foliage plants are plants that are grown for the beauty of the leaves (foliage) and not flowers (like flowering plants). A few examples are Ivy, Ferns, Rubber Plants, and Begonia Rex.
- Dry In Winter - Cacti and Succulents fall in this category. They need to be watered as much as the plants in the Moist/Dry category, but ONLY during their active growing season. During winter, these plants should be allowed to dry out almost entirely before watering again.
Step 2: KNOW WHEN TO WATER
The best way to discover when your plants need water is to look at the surface of the soil. Check daily in the spring and summer months and weekly in the winter. If the surface looks dry and powdery all over, and the plant is in the wet or moist at all times category, water the plant. If it is not in those categories, do the finger test. Put your finger in the soil to the depth of your fingernail. If you fingertip remains dry, water your plant. There are exceptions to this rule, however. Cacti and succulents, during the winter months, should not be watered even if your fingertip remains dry. Unless there are signs of shriveling in these plants, it is best to leave them alone in the winter months.
Step 3: KNOW HOW TO WATER
How to water? I know, it sounds strange, but there are actually right and wrong ways to water. The top image on the right depicts one problem that can happen by watering incorrectly. The best method is to use a watering can with a long, thin spout, insert the end of the spout under the leaves and pour the water slowly, steadily and gently. If you pour too much water into the pot at once, the water can run down the inside of the pot and out the bottom without allowing the roots to absorb the water. If you pour the water slowly, little bits at a time, the roots will be able to absorb the water.
You should also be careful not to water when the plant is in full, direct sunlight as splashed leaves may be scorched.
Lastly, some plants, like African Violet, Gloxinia, and Cyclamen do not like water on their leaves or crowns, so they need to be watered from below by immersing the pot in water. Use enough water so that it comes up to just below the level of the soil. Leave the pot in the water until the surface of the soil looks wet.
Step 4: KNOW THE BEST TYPE OF WATER TO USE
Tap water carriers minerals which can leave deposits on the surface of the plants and alter the nutrient composition in the soil. Some places in the US have particularly hard water. Take a look at the map to get an idea of the nature of your water. If you are in an area with Hard to Extremely Hard water, it is recommended that all of your indoor plants be watered with distilled water at room temperature.
Step 5: KNOW HOW OFTEN TO WATER
How often you should water can vary, sometimes greatly, depending on the environment and on the specific plant. Fleshy-leaved plants, like succulents, can tolerate much drier conditions than thin-leaved plants. Rooted cuttings will take up less water than mature plants. A good rule of thumb is, the larger the surface of the leaf, and the more rapidly it is growing, the greater will be its need for frequent watering. In the winter, growth slows down and could stop in some varieties. Therefore, you should decrease the frequency of watering. Until the plant growth resumes, you should limit your watering to one to three times a month, depending on how the plant responds. During the spring and summer, watering may be necessary on a daily basis (depending on the type of plant and the structure it is growing in). As the temperature and light intensity increases, so does the need for water.