How to water indoor plants

How to water indoor plants

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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! When it comes to proper watering, there are lots of factors involved. And when you think of all the different types of indoor plants there are… well, it can get pretty complicated. But don’t worry, there are some general rules for how to water indoor plants, and I’m going to break it down for you.

Houseplant watering tips for different plant types

Houseplant watering tips for different plant types

Some indoor plants need to be kept consistently moist and will not tolerate dry soil. Other plants need to dry out completely between waterings, and will quickly die 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. Below I’ll discuss some general guidelines for how to water indoor plants, and give you some basic houseplant watering tips. But every plant is different, so it’s best to look up the type of plant you have to be sure there aren’t any specific watering requirements for it.

How to water indoor plants

There are basically two ways to water indoor plants… from the top or from the bottom. Neither method is perfect, and there are pros and cons to both.

Method 1: Watering from the top – The most common way to water indoor plants is to pour water over the top of the soil and allow it to soak in. If you use this method, you should give the plant a good drink of water, and allow the water to run out the bottom of the pot. Once all of the water has drained, make sure to empty the plant tray or cache pot so that your plant isn’t sitting in water.

Indoor plant watering from the top

Watering indoor plants from the top

With this method you’re less likely to overwater your plants, and it can also be easier to water a large collection of plants. But there are also a few cons to using this method of indoor plant watering. First, it can be difficult to ensure your plant is getting enough water, and that it’s being watered evenly. Since the top of the soil is wet you can’t tell how much is actually soaking into the rootball. Another con to watering from the top is that the top layer of soil stays wet longer, which can produce the perfect breading ground for soil gnats (one of the most common houseplant pests).

Method 2: 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 plant tray with water, and allow the plant to soak up water from the bottom. Some plants (like African violets) prefer this method of watering because their leaves and stems are sensitive to getting wet.

Bottom watering plants

Bottom watering plants

One great advantage to using this method for watering plants is that it helps to keep soil gnats at bay, since it’s much easier to allow the top layer of soil (where soil gnats live) to dry out. Bottom watering is also a good way to wet a bone-dry rootball. But be careful! This method of watering plants can be dangerous because it’s easier to accidentally overwater. Be sure to check the soil before bottom watering your plants, and never allow any of your plants to sit in water for extended periods.

Best water for indoor plants

Sometimes it’s more than just a question of how to water indoor plants, but what type of water to use on them! And guess what – the type of water you use on houseplants matters. Many types of plants are sensitive to the chemicals and salts found in tap water, and over time those chemicals will form an ugly crust around the tops of pots and on the soil. Yuck!

Rainwater is the best water for indoor plants

Rainwater is the best water for indoor plants

The best water to use on your indoor plants is rainwater. If you don’t have a rain barrel, I highly recommend getting one. If you live in a cold climate like I do, you can use clean melted snow that has been warmed to room temperature during the winter to water your plants (learn how here). Don’t worry, if tap water is your only option, just leave it sit out in an open container for at least 24 hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate before watering your plants. But if you have plants that are super sensitive to chemicals in tap water (like peace lilies and bromeliads), then I recommend using filtered tap water, or watering those plants with distilled water.

Most plants are very sensitive to hot and cold, so make sure you always use room temperature water on your houseplants.

Related Post: Rain barrels: good for the planet and your budget

Overwatering indoor plants

Overwatering is the number one cause of death for houseplants. When a plant starts to wilt, most people automatically assume that it needs more water. But, wilting is a sign of overwatering too! If you discover that a plant has soggy soil, then allow the soil to dry out a bit before you water again. If you see tiny black bugs flying out of your plant when you go to water (soil gnats), that’s a sure sign you’re overwatering it.

Over or under watered houseplant?

Over or under watered houseplant?

Under watering indoor plants

You never want to allow houseplants to dry out to the point where the leaves are drooping and the soil is starting 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 the plant. If you find that an indoor plant is drying out too quickly, that’s a sign the plant is pot-bound and needs to be potted up into a larger container.

Basic houseplant watering tips

Here are a few other things to keep in mind as general guidelines for watering houseplants…

  • In general, indoor plants need more water during the spring and summer months (their active growing period) than they do in the fall and winter. Most indoor plants will go into a state of dormancy during the winter, and prefer to have their soil kept on the dry side.
  • It’s ok to get into a indoor plant watering routine, but don’t automatically water you plants according to a set schedule. Check the soil of each plant before you water it to make sure it needs to be watered. To check the moisture level, stick your finger into the soil up to your first knuckle. If the soil feels wet, don’t water it. Wait a few days and check the plant again.
  • If the container your plant is growing in doesn’t have drainage holes, then you’re going to have to be extra careful so you don’t overwater it. So, if you struggle with overwatering your houseplants, I recommend repotting them into a container that has drainage holes.
Water jugs filled and ready to go

Water jugs filled and ready to go

Wow! Who knew there were so many details about watering plants! Remember, these are just general guidelines for how to water indoor plants, and they will work great for most common houseplants. But don’t forget to look up the watering requirements for each of your plants to make sure they don’t have any special needs.

Recommended Reading

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Share you best tips for how to water indoor plants in the comments section below.

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Improper watering is the #1 killer of houseplants! But don't worry, there are some basic rules for how to water indoor plants that will make watering easy.


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14 Responses to How to water indoor plants

  1. Emma says:

    We can’t use rainwater in the winter where I live – we have that snow thing 🙂 Do you recommend melting snow or using something else like distilled water?

    • Yes you sure can! I mentioned it really quick in the post, but make sure to use clean snow (i.e.: avoid snow that’s close to the road or walkways where ice melt or sand was used). Make sure you allow it to warm to room temperature before using it on your plants. I fill buckets with snow and bring the inside to melt. I wrote a detailed post about exactly how I do it on my other blog if you want to check that out… How To Melt Snow To Water Houseplants

  2. Cindy Keller says:

    I used to wonder why my indoor pots were developing that ugly crust and now I know after reading your post that it is caused by tap water! Thanks for letting us know that…I wouldn’t have figured it out. But I never realized rainwater was recommended for watering plants and will consider getting some rain drums or barrels to hold the water for future use. Thanks for the tips.

  3. Donna Green says:

    My peace lily plant is droopy. After reading your posts I think it’s been over watered . Will it come back after soil dries.

  4. Julia Rose says:

    You helped me let my plants live!! Also, you helped my daughter with her Science Project about plants!! Thank you😍

  5. Amy Halvorson Miller says:

    Do you know of a method for removing fluoride from tap water? I think it is causing the leaves of a couple of my plants to brown at the tips. (I live in an arid climate, so no point in a rain barrel.)

  6. Travis says:

    High great article what is the name of the plant in front of the red couch on the glass table sitting by itself in a brown container?
    I have this exact same plant that I got from my mom’s house after she passed away and for the life of me I cannot remember the name of it and how to properly take care of it .. i so much appreciate thank you

  7. Anna says:

    I do wish to add two more comments here

    For most plants, test soil moisture by dipping your finger an inch or more into the soil. If dry, add water. If moist, check again in a couple of days. …
    Use a long-spout watering can to reach all sides of a pot easily and avoid spills. If you have many plants, buy a large watering can.

    • Lois Nelson says:

      When I check my plants have a need for water. I use a water meter. I have a list of all my plants have and who needs water,
      Who doesn’t need water.

  8. Bonnie says:

    Help to ease my mind!! I accidentally watered my indoor plants with a bottle of water that I had mixed Benefiber in. Is this going to harm my plants?

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