How to water indoor plants like an expert: 4 simple steps

Did you know that over watering indoor plants causes most indoor plant deaths? Too much love and care is a killer. Find out more about how to water indoor plants like an expert...

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how to water indoor plants

Introduction

Sadly, and all too often, it is too much care that ultimately kills indoor plants. 

In an outdoor garden, it rains, the sun shines and your plants can grow new roots to search for food and water. In an indoor environment, our plants rely solely on us to provide the perfect environment for them to thrive. And, in our efforts to recreate this perfect environment, we wrongly water our plants and cause many plant health problems.

Watering indoor plants – knowing when and how to water indoor plants is one of the most effective and easiest ways to ensure you maintain healthy indoor plants. Let’s explore the topic of watering indoor plants so you can become an expert at helping your plants thrive.

How to water indoor plants – the basics

So, you want just the basics on how to water indoor plants. Follow our simple 4 green thumb rules of watering:

1. Know your plant

Each indoor plant is unique and has different watering needs. Some plants like to drink more water than others. Generally, there are two types of indoor plants:

Dry: These plants enjoy dry soil and can survive on dry soil for longer periods. There is no need to water them frequently.

Moist: These plants enjoy moist soil and like to be watered a day or so after the soil dries out – more frequently.

2. Test the soil

This is where watering indoor plants gets a little dirty and tactile. Poke your finger into the soil, down to your first knuckle.

“Is the soil moist?” If the soil sticks to your finger, it’s moist.

“Is the soil dry?” If the soil doesn’t stick to your finger, it’s dry.

But let’s check a little further. Take a good look at the soil around the edge of the pot. Is there a slight gap between the soil and the pot? That means that all of the water has been used up and the soil is dry.

If the soil is moist, don’t water.

If the soil is damp, don’t water.

If the soil is a just a little moist (almost dry) and your plant is a big drinker, water it. But be cautious and err on the side of don’t water.

If the soil is dry, water.

How frequently would be considered normal in watering indoor plants? It depends! But generally, you will be watering your indoor plants every 4 days to weekly in the summer months and once every 10 or so days in the winter months. And less for succulents and cactus that only require the occasional watering.

3. Let’s get watering

There are two ways and how to water indoor plants all comes down to personal preference and convenience.

From below

Use a tray, large container or even your sink. You will need a few centimeters of fresh water. Then place each of your indoor plants carefully in the water and allow them to soak up the water. Leave for about 30 mins to an hour. Do not leave your plants soaking overnight. After a short soak, remove them from the water and let them drain before placing them back in their normal location.

From above

Using a watering can or jug, slowly pour water around your indoor plant to saturate the soil. Avoid wetting the foliage but make sure you give all of the soil a good soaking. If you are worried about any excess water running out of the pot, simply stand your pots in the sink. Otherwise, the excess water will collect in the saucer.

4. Remove excess water

Other than making sure you don’t water your indoor plant too often, this is one of the most important things to remember when watering indoor plants. Always, always, always remove any excess water from the saucer underneath the pot to ensure the roots of your plant are not sitting in any water.

So, there you have it, the ‘how to water indoor plants’ basics all wrapped up in 4 simple steps.

Is your thirst (excuse the pun!) for knowledge not satisfied? Want more information on watering indoor plants, read on…

Know your plant

As are humans, each indoor plant is unique and has different needs. Thus, plant watering needs are no different and may be influenced by the species of plant, style and size of pot, type of soil, location within your home, and the amount of light that your indoor plant receives.

But before you throw down your watering can in sheer frustration, let me convince you that getting to know your plant and its needs is not difficult.

Some plants like to drink more water than others.

Generally, there are 2 types of indoor plants:

Dry: These plants enjoy dry soil and can survive for longer periods in dry soil. They don’t need to be watered frequently. In fact, watering once or twice a month is enough. Don’t water if the soil is already moist. Typical dry type plants include cacti and succulents.

These types of plants are excellent for beginners, because the watering requirements are so simple.

Moist: These plants enjoy moist soil and like to be watered a day or so after the soil has dried out – more frequently than dry type plants. Most tropical plants suitable for indoor gardens are moist type plants. 

However, moist does not mean ‘sitting in water’ and it certainly doesn’t mean mushy soil. “Is the soil moist?” If some soil sticks to your finger when you gently press it into the soil and remove it, it’s moist.

Even for moist type plants, they don’t like to sit in water as this leads to root rot.

Top Tip

Remember, for most plants, they want a drink of water, but then they also need time for the roots to breathe. So, watering indoor plants is about timing. A good soaking, drain and then a few days to dry out again, is the best way to give them the right balance of water and air.

How to water indoor plants

Ok, so you understand your plants needs and when the plant needs watering, but exactly how do you water indoor plants. Well, like everything else, watering indoor plants can be done in a number of different ways. Many people will argue the merits of one way over the other, but I think the best way needs to feel comfortable and convenient for you.

My preferred technique (for plants that can be lifted easily) is actually a hybrid of from above and from below. I stand them in the sink and gently allow the tap water to flow over the soil and into the pot. I keep the plug in, so the water collects in the sink. Give them a big soaking making sure that you saturate all of the soil. Allow the plants to stand in the sink for 10 – 30 minutes or so, then remove the plug and let the water drain away.

You can do a few pots at the same time.

If you don’t like this approach, there are 2 ways to water indoor plants.

From above

For indoor plants that are too heavy to lift, watering from above is the best watering technique.

Using a watering can or jug, slowly pour water around your indoor plant to saturate the soil. Give the soil a good soaking but remember you only have the depth of the saucer or tray to collect excess water. Pour a little, wait a little, pour a little more, until the soil is soaked. You want the water to saturate all of the soil in the pot not just the surface and not just on one side.

If your plant likes a bit of water on its foliage, you can also spray the foliage at the same time. Most tropical indoor plants and ferns like having their foliage sprayed to create some humidity.

Remember to empty any excess water from the saucer or tray so your plant is not sitting in water.

From below

Many keen indoor gardeners argue that watering from below is the best technique. Mostly because it simulates the natural environment and can help prevent over watering. Plus, you can be sure that the water gets to the roots of the plant.

How to watering indoor plants from below

Use a saucer

When it is time to water, place a saucer underneath the pot and fill the saucer with water. Let the water soak up into the soil in the pot for an hour or so. Then, empty the saucer and let any remaining water drain out.

Soak your plants

Fill a tray, large container, sink or even your bathtub, with a few centimeters of water. Place your pots in the water and let them absorb the water for an hour or so. You can place several plants in the same water bath. Remove the water and let the excess water drain away before placing your plants back in their normal position.

This technique is particularly good for plants that do not like their leaves or stems to be wet such as African Violets and plants with furry foliage.

Self-watering pots

When it comes to watering indoor plants, self-watering pots are extremely convenient. These pots feature a water reservoir at the base that your plant can ‘drink’ from. With self-watering pots, you just fill the water reservoir and keep it filled. These pots are great for beginners because it is hard to over or under water your plant. There is also the added advantage of being able to leave your plants to self-water while you are enjoying a holiday.

Other tips and tricks

See, it’s not hard to learn about watering indoor plants. But there are a few more things to remember.

Foliage – to wet or not to wet?

Plants that like drought conditions, such as cacti and succulents, like their leaves and stems to remain dry at all times. Similarly, if your plant has soft, furry foliage, it will generally like it’s foliage to be kept dry.

On the other hand, some plants absorb moisture through their leaves. Tropical plants, such as those that originated in rainforests and jungles and like a more humid environment, enjoy a regular misting of their foliage. So, while watering your plant, grab a spray bottle and mist their leaves.

Roots need air as well as water…

Believe it or not, your plant’s roots need air and an opportunity to breathe. That’s why it’s so important to allow the soil to dry out slightly in between waterings.

All pots should have drainage holes. This allows, not only excess water to drain out of the pot, but also allows for your plant’s roots to breathe. Do not repot your plant into a container that has no drainage holes because you are asking for trouble.

Potting mix, soil, what is the difference?

Potting mix is specifically formulated to be lightweight, hold moisture and allow for good drainage. It is the ultimate mix of soil, composting material and other elements for growing healthy indoor plants. Sometimes, it also contains fertilizer to assist the growth of your plant. If you simply fill your pot with soil from your garden, not only will it be heavy, but your plant may miss out on necessary nutrients, and there may be a creepy crawly or two that you don’t want indoors.

Should I use pebbles to cover the soil?

A layer of pebbles on top of the potting mix in your pot can help retain moisture longer. You can use a layer of decorative pebbles to make your indoor plant look good and to slow down evaporation. Not required though – again, personal preference.

Should I keep my indoor plant in the pot I bought it in?

When you buy an indoor plant from a garden centre, the pot is a growing pot. These pots are meant to be temporary homes for your plants, not a permanent home. Plants kept in these pots long-term become root-bound and run out of room to grow their roots. This in turn will stunt their growth, makes it hard to water them properly and makes them more susceptible to diseases.

After your new acquisition has settled in to its new home, you might want to repot your plant into a pot slightly bigger than the existing pot. This will allow room for your plant’s roots to grow and in turn your indoor plant.

Pots should always have drainage holes to help the soil dry after watering. The addition of a saucer will allow you to water your indoor plant thoroughly without worrying about damaging your carpet or table.

What is the best water for indoor plants?

Let’s keep it simple, whatever is available and clean! However, there are a few things to think about.

Imagine jumping under a cold shower or pouring hot water over your toes. Doesn’t sound like a comfortable experience! Your indoor plants don’t like cold or hot water on their roots either. So, water at a temperature that feels comfortable on the back of your hand is best.

Some plants don’t like the level of chlorine in modern domestic homes. I have never had a problem using tap water but if you want to lessen the amount of chlorine in tap water, run the water fast into the jug (the more bubbles in the flow the better) and allow it to stand for 24 hours.

If you can collect rainwater, great, this is probably the best water for your indoor plants.

Seriously, don’t stress, your indoor plant will appreciate you getting the frequency of watering right over the type of water in most cases.

A word of warning, neither you nor your indoor plants, will appreciate the odor that comes from rotten milk if you dump left over coffee into its pot – phew!

How to water indoor plants without making a mess?

When it comes to watering indoor plants, there are many different ways. The best way to avoid making a mess is to use a saucer or use a water bath.

How to water indoor plants while on holidays?

Better Homes and Gardens has 4 excellent ideas for watering indoor plants and keeping them healthy while you are enjoying a break.

Conclusion

So, there you have it. Watering indoor plants – the basics and more.
Remember, life is better with indoor plants!

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