Watering houseplants sounds easy, but getting it right is a huge struggle for many indoor gardeners. In this post, you’ll learn everything there is to know, including when, how much, how long, and how often to water. I’ll also tell you the best type of water to use, and show you exactly how to water indoor plants, the right way!
How do you water houseplants? Sounds like such a simple question, right? But guess what… improper watering is the number one killer of indoor plants!
The key to successfully growing houseplants is proper watering. It sounds easy, until you start to think of all the different types of indoor plants there are, each one potentially having different watering requirements.
Yep, it can get pretty complicated. But don’t worry, there are some general rules to follow for watering indoor plants. Below, I’m going to break it all down, and make it super easy for you to get it right every time.
Here’s what you’ll find in this detailed houseplant watering guide…
- Best Type Of Water
- When To Water
- How Much To Water
- How Long To Water
- How Often To Water
- How To Water
- Adequate Drainage
- My Favorite Tools
Best Water For Houseplants
Sometimes it’s more than just a question of how to water houseplants, but what type of water to use on them! And guess what – the type of water you use matters.
Many types of plants are sensitive to the chemicals and salts found in tap water. Over time, those chemicals will build up, and eventually form an ugly crust around the tops of pots and on the soil. Yuck!
Not only does it look gross, but chemical buildup in the soil can also cause problems with your houseplants. Common symptoms include brown or yellow leaves. Or worse, it could end up killing the plant.
It’s also important to use room temperature water. Most indoor plants are from warm climates, so they can be very sensitive to hot and cold.
Here’s a list of different types of water to use on houseplants, in order from best to worst…
By far the best water for indoor plants is rainwater. If you don’t have a rain barrel, I highly recommend getting one. In the winter, you can use clean, melted snow that has been warmed to room temperature, which is the same thing as rainwater (learn how to melt snow for houseplants here).
Distilled water is the second best option for watering houseplants. It doesn’t contain any added salts or chemicals, but the downfall is that it does cost money.
Though it’s better than city water, well water usually contains lots of heavy metals that can build in the soil up over time. So you may want to try to alternate using rainwater or distilled water for houseplants if you have a well.
If city water is your only option, let it sit in an open container for at least 24 hours before watering indoor plants with it. That will allow the chlorine to evaporate. But softener salts and other chemicals will still be present.
It’s funny how many people ask me about watering indoor plants with ice cubes. I don’t recommend it. Like I mentioned above, plants are sensitive to extreme temperatures. So I worry that the frozen ice could damage sensitive plants. It’s best to stick to using room temperature water.
When To Water Indoor Plants
The biggest mistake newbies make is watering plants indoors on a set schedule. It’s OK to create a houseplant watering schedule so you don’t forget about it, but don’t mindlessly water all of them every single time.
Doing that is a really easy way to accidentally overwater houseplants. Always be sure to check the soil of each one first to make sure it actually needs to be watered.
To check the moisture level, stick your finger one inch into the soil. If it feels wet, then don’t water it. Wait a few days and check the plant again. If you struggle to get it right, an inexpensive indoor plant water gauge makes it easy.
How Much To Water Indoor Plants
Some indoor plants need to be kept consistently moist, and will not tolerate dry soil. Others need to dry out completely between waterings, and will die quickly if they get too much water.
But most houseplants fall somewhere between these two extremes, and are much more tolerant of being over or under watered.
Every plant is different though, so it’s best to look up the exact type that you have to be sure there aren’t any specific watering requirements for it.
If you struggle with giving your houseplants the proper amount of water, then I recommend getting a soil moisture gauge. That will ensure you get it exactly right for each type of houseplant that you have.
How Long To Water Plants
In general, you should water indoor plants until the water starts to come out of the drainage holes. This will ensure that you give the rootball a good soaking. Just be sure to empty the cache pot or tray so the plant isn’t sitting in water.
If the pot doesn’t have drainage holes, then this task is going to be more difficult. In this case, I usually stop once the water starts pooling on top of the soil.
How Often To Water Indoor Plants
In general, indoor plants need more water during the spring and summer (their active growing period) than they do in the fall and winter.
Most will go into a state of dormancy during the winter, and prefer having their soil dry out a bit more between waterings.
So, you should check the soil weekly in the spring and summer. In the fall and winter, you could cut that down to checking on them every-other week.
But remember, you should only water indoor plants when they need it, not based on a set schedule. So always check the soil before you water.
Overwatering Indoor Plants
Overwatering is by far the number one cause of death for houseplants. When a plant starts to wilt, most people automatically assume that it needs more water. But, guess what… wilting is one of the first signs of overwatering!
Another sure sign that you’re overwatering is when you see tiny black bugs flying in and around a houseplant. Those are fungus gnats, and they thrive in wet soil.
If you discover that a plant has soggy soil, then allow it to dry out before watering it again. To speed things up, slide the rootball out of the pot, and let it sit for a few days.
If you struggle with overwatering houseplants, I recommend putting them into a container that has drainage holes. You could also use a clay pot, which wicks water out of the soil, allowing it to dry out faster.
Under Watering Houseplants
You should never allow houseplants to dry out to the point where the leaves are drooping, and the soil starts to pull away from the sides of the pot.
Some plants will tolerate being dried out to the point of wilting, but there are others that won’t recover from this practice, and it can be fatal to them.
If you find that an indoor plant is drying out too quickly after watering it, that’s a sign that it’s pot-bound and needs to be moved into a larger container. Learn all about repotting plants here.
How To Water Indoor Plants
There are a few different ways to water plants indoors: from the top, by soaking them, or bottom watering. No method is perfect, so it’s a good idea to experiment to see what works best for you.
Here are details about the different methods of watering plants, including the pros and cons to each…
Watering Plants From The Top
The most common way to water indoor plants is to pour the water over the top of the soil, and allow it to soak in. If you use this technique, you should give the plant a good drink, and allow the excess water to run out the bottom of the pot.
Once it’s done draining, make sure to empty the drip tray or cache pot so that your plant isn’t sitting in water. With this method you’re less likely to overwater, and it can also be easier to water a large collection of plants.
But there are also a few cons to using this method. First, it can be difficult to ensure your plant is getting an even amount of water. Since the top of the soil is wet, you can’t tell how much is actually soaking into the rootball.
Another con to watering over the soil is that the top layer stays wet longer, which can create the perfect breeding ground for fungus gnats.
Soaking Plants In Water
Another way to water indoor plants is by soaking the pot or the entire plant. This method works great if the soil is extremely dried out, or if the water runs straight through the soil without soaking in.
However, I don’t recommend doing this on a regular basis unless you know what you’re doing. Soaking plants makes it very easy to give them too much water.
It’s also pretty messy. Soil will sometimes float out of the pot, or come out of the drainage holes. So I would recommend either doing this outside, or using a bucket for easier cleanup.
Never attempt this method if the pot doesn’t have holes in the bottom, or you will likely drown your plants.
Bottom Watering Plants
Plants growing in pots that have drainage holes can be watered from the bottom. All you need to do is fill the cache pot or drip tray, and allow the plant to soak up the water.
One great advantage to using this technique for watering plants is that it helps to keep fungus gnats at bay, since it’s much easier to allow the top layer of soil (where gnats live) to dry out.
Watering plants from the bottom is also a good way to wet a bone-dry rootball. Some even prefer this method because their leaves and stems are sensitive to getting wet.
But be careful! This method of watering plants can be dangerous because it’s easier to accidentally overwater them. Always check the soil before bottom watering, and never allow them to sit in the water for more than 30 minutes.
Adequate Drainage For Indoor Plants
As I mentioned above, overwatering is the number one cause of houseplant death. The best way to avoid this is to always ensure that your indoor plants have adequate drainage.
Contrary to popular belief, adding materials like pebbles, bits of broken pots, or packing peanuts into the bottom of a container does not add proper drainage. It only gives you a false sense of security.
Instead, you should use that pot that doesn’t have holes as a cache pot, or drill holes into the bottom. Just be sure to use a masonry bit for drilling holes in clay or ceramic pots so they don’t crack.
Some people hesitate using pots with holes in the bottom because they worry about water leaking everywhere, making a mess. There’s a very easy fix to that problem. Simply place the pot on a drip tray, or put it into a decorative cache pot.
My Favorite Houseplant Watering Tools
If you have a lot of houseplants like I do, watering them can be a chore. So here are some of my favorite tools you can use that will make it faster and easier.
- Indoor plant watering devices – Also called indoor plant watering bulbs, these automatic self-watering devices are very popular, and are especially great to use when you go on vacation.
- Garden sprayer – It may sound strange, but I’ve discovered that a basic garden sprayer works great for watering houseplants. The long spraying wand also makes it easier to water hanging plants.
- Small watering can – I used to use one gallon jugs to water my houseplants, but now I use a small indoor watering can instead. This makes it so much easier to be precise with the flow, and lowers the risk of spilling. Plus, it’s cute!
- Houseplant moisture indicator – I mentioned this one a few times already, but using a soil moisture meter makes is much easier to give your houseplants to perfect amount of water.
Houseplant Watering FAQs
Below I will answer some of the most frequently asked questions about watering indoor plants. If you have a question that wasn’t answered here, then ask it in the comments below. I’ll get it answered ASAP.
Can you save an overwatered plant?
It depends on how long the plant has been overwatered. If it is just starting to show signs of overwatering, then it should recover pretty quickly once you let it dry out a bit. To speed up the process, slide it out of the pot to help to dry the soil faster. However, if the plant has started rotting, or has died back completely, then there my be little hope. See the “Overwatering Indoor Plants” section above for more information.
Do all plants need water?
Yes! There’s no such thing as houseplants that don’t need water – well, unless they are fake. Even the toughest cactus plant in the world needs to be watered once and a while.
Should you water plants every day?
No! Absolutely not. You should never need to water indoor plants that often. If the soil dries out so quickly that you need to water every day in order to keep the plant from drooping, then it’s time to repot it into a larger container. Read the “When To Water” section above for details.
How long can houseplants survive without water?
That depends both on the type of houseplant, and also the time of year. Desert plants (like succulents and cacti) can go much longer without water than tropical plants can. Also, most indoor plants need less water during the winter than they do in summer. See the “How Much To Water” section above for more details.
How do you know if you are overwatering your plants?
One of the telltale signs of overwatering is tiny bugs flying around the plant (fungus gnats). Other symptoms include yellow leaves, soft brown spots (rot), leaf drop, or drooping leaves. If your plant is showing any of these signs, check the soil. If it’s wet, then you’re overwatering. See the “Overwatering” section above for more details.
Is it OK to water houseplants at night?
How do I stop my houseplants from leaking water?
Place them on a drip tray, or use a cache pot to capture the water. For hanging plants, you can use a hanging basket drip pan, or a decorative hanging plant tray. Alternatively, you can water indoor plants over the sink or tub, then leave them in there until they are done draining.
What would happen if you watered houseplants with salt water?
Salt dehydrates plants. So, if you use it on a regular basis, salt water will eventually kill your houseplant.
Watering houseplants doesn’t have to be complicated, a guessing game, or a huge struggle. Following these general guidelines will help you give your indoor plants the perfect amount of water every time.
Do you struggle to keep your indoor plants alive through the long winter months? Then my Winter Houseplant Care eBook is exactly what you need. It will show you how to keep your indoor plants thriving during the long, dark winter months, and all year round. Download your copy today!
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