When to Water Your Plants

Roosie
Published on June 20th 2020
11
A metal watering can on a table
Beginners behold! If you're looking for answers on when or how often you should be watering your houseplants, you're in the right place.
In this article, I'm going to try and give you a quick grounding in some of the basic principles that will help you determine for yourself how and when to water your plants.
This article won't explain why plants need water; Dan has covered that here:
It also won't cover methods of how to water your plants, find that here:
If overwatering is the problem, read more about that here:

How often should you water your plants?

How often you should water your plants depends on a range of factors - there's no one-size-fits-all answer.
Factors affecting how often to water include where you are located in the world, the immediate environment of the plant, the exact plant and the specific requirements that go with it, namely the optimum light, water and soil.
Close up of woman's hand spraying water on houseplants
The aim is to balance these factors with the correct lighting and potting medium to make watering as easy as possible.
The only accurate and applicable answer to how often you should water any plant is to check regularly!
Having a look at the leaves, popping a finger in the pot, touching the holes at the base of the pot and feeling for the weight of the water are my favourite ways to check.
Trying to water plants on a schedule is a sure way to kill them, whether that's through overwatering or underwatering.
You can't give good advice about watering needs and plant care without knowing as much as possible about the specific situation.

What plant have you got?

Plants differ in their water and light requirements, so doing some research to find out what plant you have is an excellent first step to knowing when to water.
To get you started with identifying your plant, try Plant ID in Candide or ask the wonderful community by posting a photo! #PlantID
Check out the leaves of your plant; are they thick and fleshy (succulent) or is there a lot of green foliage?
I'll talk briefly about the requirements of each of these broad groupings of plants, as you'll want to treat them quite differently.
Plants with lots of thin leaves like the Philodendron Micans (pictured left in the photo below) will lose water faster than the succulent (right) with its thick, water-storing leaves.
A close up of two pots of plants
Using pebble trays under foliage plants and grouping them can help raise the humidity around your plants.
Misting can also be very satisfying and is something I enjoy. It's worth knowing that the beneficial effect of misting is short-lived, as the moisture diffuses quickly into the room unless you're growing in a closed environment by using something like a terrarium, plastic bag or glass cloche.
Growing more delicate plants can be easier under glass.

Water requirements

Succulents have a wide range of ways to reduce the amount of water they lose from their leaves, as an adaption to growing in hot, dry environments. So they don't need much from us!
Succulents also like a lot of light. Most people struggle with them as houseplants for this reason, and they can get tall and leggy as they stretch for more light.
Cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti, find out more about them here:
A man watering a houseplant with a sprayer
Plants with more foliage generally enjoy higher humidity and more water compared to fleshy succulents.
There will be fluctuations in the immediate environment of every plant depending on its location in your house.
This could be near a sunny window or in a dark corner, and subject to a cold draft, a warm radiator or the humidity of the bathroom.
The way to provide the best care possible is to monitor your plants and learn more about them and their needs.
Monitoring will allow you to give your plants the best care. Nature is unpredictable, so watch your plants carefully and go with the flow.

When is the best time to water my houseplants?

As with a lot of the advice here, the best time to water will depend on your exact plants and the specific environment you've got them growing in.
By observing your plants, you'll pick up on small changes which can indicate when your plant needs a drink.
Succulent leaves tend to get soft and wrinkled when they need proper watering.
With foliage plants, it can be quite dramatic when the leaves flop, but there are usually smaller signs that they need water a few days before the dreaded flopping.
Leaf drooping is the best indicator a plant is thirsty!
Some can be more dramatic than others. Peace Lily is a classic example.
A drooping Peace Lily plant in need of watering
Dramatic
A well watered Peace Lily plant
Totally fine 20 minutes later after a good soak!
Things to look for: Check the leaves. Are they held in the same position as usual? Are they still relatively firm? Has the leaf colour changed? Are the leaves marked in any way?

But when is the best time of day?

The best time of the day to water is any time that the plants aren't in the direct, hot sun. This will be a different time for everyone, based on where they are.
Watering plants in the midday sun is generally a recipe for scorched leaves and unhappy plants. So the morning or evening is ideal.
For more tips on watering methods, click here.
watering plants

When is the best time to water my garden?

I'm hoping you're getting the idea that looking for a blanket answer to any general watering questions (like: when should I water my garden? Or how often should I water my garden?), is harder than it sounds.
You won't get an accurate and informative answer to general questions from an expert unless you provide more information.
For example, the area of the world your garden is in and the kind of sun and water your plant receives,
The kind of sun is determined by the direction your garden faces, or a rough length of time it gets sun for (full sun, partial shade, full shade).
A watering can watering flowers in a garden
The type of soil in your garden or pots brings many more variables into play. Soil science is an entire field in itself. This article covers some firsthand tips on how to tackle different soil types in the garden.
If you wanted to learn more about how soil works, have a browse of these articles on the subject:

Observation is key

Plant care is comparable to running little experiments. I implore you to observe your plants, monitor them and keep track of any changes.
Regularly checking in with your plants is the best way to take care of them, and is much better than a blanket statement like water your Peace Lily once every two weeks.
Plants shouldn't be a source of stress, and checking in on them shouldn't be a chore to complete. It's not just something to tick off a list.
A person checking their houseplant
Spend some time with your plants and enjoy them! Plants can enrich your life and living situation.
I love looking at them, being around them and I'd say without effort, it's easy to observe at least one a day. It doesn't have to be for long!
Noticing a new leaf or flower bud totally counts, as that shows your plant is coping well with its current conditions and actively growing. Nice job!

How much water should I give my plants?

You guessed it, how much water to give your plants depends on what you're growing, where you're trying to grow and what specific environment you're in!
If they're in pots, they'll need more water compared to plants in the ground, and if they're growing in strong sun in sandy soil, they will need more water compared to plants in a moist, shady corner.
There are a lot of factors to consider. But if you do, you're well on track to success.
A person holding a cup of water to water their plant
To learn more about the science behind why plants need water (photosynthesis and cool processes like transpiration), check this out:

Keep checking

My best advice is to check the soil regularly.
If in doubt, stick in a finger. You can do this at the top or bottom of the pot.
Pressing your finger against the holes at the bottom of your pots is a great way to check the moisture levels. If you can feel any dampness at the base, it's probably okay!

Epiphytes

Air Plants are epiphytes, meaning that in the wild they grow on other plants and take water and nutrition from their surroundings without the need for soil.
A close up of an air plant on a table
Read more about epiphytes in general and specifically about Air Plants and how to water them just here:
And to find out more about how they can be watered, Helen shows us exactly how she waters her Air Plants at home:

Orchids

Orchids are considered tricky by many plant owners, but I think a lot of this is due to oversimplification.
There are over 700 genera in the orchid family, Orchidaceae. This equates to an estimate of over 30,000 orchid species and over 100,000 hybrids in the world.
This is huge. Orchids are massively diverse and constitute around 10% of all the plant species in the world. With this in mind, it's pretty clear that they won't all have the same watering requirements.
Someone watering their orchids
Orchids can be terrestrial or epiphytic and these two broad types should be grown differently.
Orchid varieties typically grown as flowering houseplants are often epiphytic in nature, generally found growing in or on trees.
This is quite different from terrestrial Orchids, which grow in the ground.
These two broad types need very different potting mediums.
For some guidance and ideas for what to grow inside and outside, check out these articles:

Water with ice cubes?

There's a lot of conflicting advice out there about how to water Orchids. Ice cubes are something I see recommended often.
I advise against using ice cubes to water your Orchids.
The idea behind this advice is that it's a simple instruction; a small, set amount of water is easy to manage.
The reality is that you're introducing shockingly icy cold water to your tender houseplant and it will not appreciate it as much as a dip in some room temperature water.
Imagine if you quenched your thirst through your skin. Would you appreciate icy baths on the regular?

Off away? Maybe not

If by some unlikely chance we manage to get out and away from our darling plants this summer, this article gives some tips on how to leave your plants well-watered while you're away.
Looking for some houseplant ideas? Heres some popular houseplants:

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