Your Complete Guide to Watering Houseplants

How do you know when your houseplants need water? How much water do houseplants need? Is it best to water houseplants from the top or the bottom?

I have the answers to all of these questions and more!

In this guide, I’ll take you through signs of over and under-watering, how often you should be watering your houseplants, and the varying methods different plant keepers prefer.

But first, let’s start with the basics.

How Often Should I Water My Houseplants?

People like to say you shouldn’t water your plants on a schedule. But if you don’t keep a schedule, how will you know when your plants need water?

The truth is, you likely will need a plant-care schedule, especially if you have many plants. But it won’t involve watering every single plant at the same time every day, week, or month.

Your plants have their own routines, which vary depending on things that we sometimes don’t even notice. They’ll need more water if the air is dry, and less on cloudy winter days.

Different plants will also have different water requirements. A cactus, for example, might go a month or more without water. A Fittonia, on the other hand, may need its soil drenched every 3-4 days.

Typically, you want to wait until your plant is showing signs of thirst, and its soil is adequately dry. Most houseplants like their soil to dry completely between waterings, but some, like the aforementioned Fittonia, don’t appreciate dry periods.

Some caretakers check their plants every morning for signs of thirst. If your houseplant collection is full of succulents, you might only check in once a month.

The longer you tend to your collection, the more you will learn about your plants and their tendencies. Your routines will likely change over time!

Signs Your Houseplant Needs Water!

Now that you know your routine should have more to do with checking your plants than actually watering them, you need to learn what you’re actually checking for!

Here are some symptoms of under-watering:

  • The plant is wilted
  • The plant is losing leaves
  • There’s an abundance of dried-out leaves
  • Leaves are wrinkled, less firm, or paler in color
  • Leaves turn brown or yellow
  • The tips of the leaves are crispy or brown
  • The plant is growing slowly*

Keep in mind that over and under-watered plants sometimes look very similar. If your plant is showing symptoms, rule out over-watering first, as this is most dangerous for most houseplants.

*If you’re a beginner, take this with a grain of salt! There are plenty of slow-growing plants out there, and plants’ growth will also slow outside of their growing season.

Signs of Over-Watering in Houseplants

Are you afraid you’re watering too much? Have you already lost a plant or two (or ten) to root rot?

Here are some symptoms of over-watering:

  • The plant is dropping leaves
  • Leaves turn yellow
  • Parts of the plant turn brown or black, or feel mushy
  • Mold is growing in the soil
  • The plant is wilted
  • Leaves are cracked or have growths

Again, do keep in mind that over and under-watering can look very similar!

Plants can also show signs of over-watering if their soil is too dense, or their pots have poor drainage. Watering less won’t change this problem–you’ll have to attack it at the source.

How to Water Houseplants

Finally, let’s talk about how to water your houseplants.

Generally, you want to use room temperature water and saturate your soil the whole way through to avoid shocking your plant and promote healthy root growth.

However, the watering method you use to accomplish this is up to you.

The two main methods are bottom-watering and top-watering. There are benefits and drawbacks to both methods that we’ll talk about below!

How to Water Houseplants from the Top

When you think of watering plants, this is probably what comes to mind. To top-water plants, you simply use a watering can, a cup, or a faucet to pour water onto the soil.

The best way to top-water is to evenly saturate the soil until water is dripping from the drainage hole in your pot. This promotes healthy root growth.

Some people water in smaller increments. This typically benefits the person more than the plant, as it’s easier and less messy. It’s also quicker than bringing your plants to the sink, for example, one by one to allow the water to drain out.

I recommend taking the extra effort to water the whole way through unless:

  1. Your pot doesn’t have any drainage
  2. Your soil doesn’t drain well

However, if this is the case, improper watering should be a short-term solution until the problem is fixed.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Top-Watering Houseplants

The best thing about top-watering is that it’s easy. Simply pour water over the plant, and you’re done!

Top-watering is also helpful to remove dust from plants or give them some extra moisture. Watering with a showerhead works best for this, but you could also use your sink.

This method flushes salt and mineral deposits from the soil, which is extremely beneficial to your plants.

However, some plants don’t like water sitting on their leaves. For these plants, you’ll have to take extra care to pour the water directly onto the soil. This makes it more difficult to ensure water is evenly distributed, especially if your plant is bushy and hides the soil from sight.

Top watering also allows some pests, like fungus gnats, to lay eggs in the top layer of your soil.

How to Water Houseplants from the Bottom

To bottom-water houseplants, you’ll need a bowl or deep saucer to place under your pot. Your pot will also have to have at least one drainage hole.

Simply fill the bowl or saucer with water and let your plant sit until the soil is saturated most of the way through. It’s ideal that the top inch or so of the soil is left dry, but not necessary.

For me, this process typically takes 20-30 minutes.

You can also group your plants together in a larger container, or a filled sink or tub, to speed up this process.

If your plant is light and tries to float on top, simply weigh it down with a rock or two!

Benefits and Drawbacks to Bottom-Watering Houseplants

Bottom-watering houseplants takes more time, generally. You could keep a bowl under every single plant to make the process faster, but many people (including myself) don’t like the look.

You also have to be the type of person who won’t forget their plants in the middle of watering! Leaving them sat in water too long will cause root rot.

But for your plants, bottom-watering is best. Some plant lovers swear by its advantages to root growth.

Bottom-watering and leaving the top inch of soil dry also stops pests such as fungus gnats from breeding in your soil. This will be crucial if you already have a gnat problem around your plants.

Though bottom-watering is beneficial, it doesn’t do as well at flushing the soil of salt and mineral deposits. This is easily fixed through an occasional top-watering.

There you have it! Now your plants should be healthy, happy, and properly watered.

If you have any questions or additional tips, leave them in the comments below!


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