Watering Houseplants

These tips will help you determine your plants' watering needs.
The Basics

  • Generally, try to give plants what they would get in their natural environments. Some plants need a period of dry soil for days or weeks. Others need more regular watering, with the soil allowed to dry between each drink. Still others prefer consistently moist soil. Many plants go through phases of growth when they require more or less water.
  • Match watering frequency to the plant's needs and growth patterns. Watch for wilting -- a sign of water stress. Also watch for leaf drop or yellowing.
  • Do not kill your plants with kindness. More plants die from overwatering than any other cause. When you overwater, the soil gets so soggy that oxygen cannot reach the roots. Soggy soil also encourages the growth of certain bacteria, which can evetually cause root rot, an often-fatal condition.

Soggy Root Ball Avoid root rot at all costs.

This creeping charlie shows signs of severe overwatering: soft stems, drooping and paling leaves. Its root ball is soggy. To revive an overwatered plant, first withhold water. If that doesn't work, repot when soggy soil has dried a little.

  • Rainwater, well water, and bottled water generally agree best with plants. Collect rainwater in a barrel or plastic garbage can at the base of a downspout. Keep in mind, though, that in some parts of the country, the air sometimes pollutes rainwater. Similarly, well water sometimes can be too alkaline for acid-loving plants. Bottled water is excellent but expensive. Chlorinated water will not damage houseplants.
  • Tap water is OK if not too hard, but avoid softened water. Softened water contains salt, which builds up in soil over a period of months. If you do use softened water, replace the soil yearly, scrubbing all deposits from the pots.
  • Avoid spotting the leaves of fuzzy-leaved plants by using tepid water. Fill your watering can after each watering session and let it sit until next time. That way, the water will reach the right temperature for watering these tempermental plants.
  • Water in the morning if possible. This gives any moistened foliage a chance to dry out during the day. Plants with dry foliage have less chance of contracting disease in the cool evening hours.
  • Water less during a plant's dormant period. Most plants grow rapidly in spring and summer and require lots of water at this time. During late fall and winter, however, they stop growing and require far less water. The opposite is true for a few plants, which may need little watering in spring and summer, and quite a bit of water during their active period in fall and winter.

Continued on page 2:  Watering Techniques