How to Water Houseplants Correctly

Houseplants Watering Water is one of the major requirements for the proper growth of houseplants and without water a houseplant will die. This may take a day incase of a seedling growing in sandy soil or it may take months incase of a fleshy leaved plant. This means that providing water for a houseplant is key and not just water but the correct amount, at the right time and the proper way. Most plants are killed by overwatering than any other single cause. Watering houseplants the proper way is crucial in order to ensure their growth.

For fear of killing their plants, most houseplant owners tend to overwater their plants and in the process killing them. Most houseplants are killed by overwatering than by any other single cause. Here is a simple guide on how to water houseplants.

When to Water your Houseplants

To avoid killing houseplants through incorrect watering determine when they need to be watered by feeling the soil with your fingers. Insert your index finger into the soil up to about 2 in. deep and rub the soil between your fingers.

If the plant's requirement is to keep the soil moist at all times like for Corn Palm and Bamboo Palm among others, water the plant if the soil feels slightly dry. Where the plant requires the soil to dry out between waterings, do not water if the soil feels damp but if it feels dry, the plant needs to be watered.

Although an occasional drooping of leaves will do no serious harm to some houseplants like Peace Lily. Do not let them beg for water this way, for when this stage is reached the soil is really too dry.

Roots need air as well as water. This means that the soil should be moist but not saturated or soggy (waterlogged). Waterlogging kills the plant by preventing air from getting to the roots and also encourages root-rot diseases.

Some houseplants like Rubber Plants need partial drying-out period between waterings others do not. However, all will need less water during the resting period (cold months). Look up your houseplant's water requirements in this Houseplants A-Z Guide.

Signs of overwatering; 

  • Brown leaf tips
  • Sudden loss of both old and young leaves
  • Leaves limp with soft and rotten patches
  • Poor leaf growth
  • Leaves curled, yellow and wilted
  • Flowers are mouldy
  • The roots are brown and mushy

Signs of Underwatering; 

  • Lower leaves curled, yellow and wilted
  • Brown and dry leaf edges
  • Leaves limp and wilted
  • Slow growth
  • Oldest leaves fall first
  • Flowers are fall or fade quickly

The Water to Use

The best water for houseplants is chlorine-free water. Most houseplants are sensitive to chlorine, flourides and other chemicals dissolved in water. The best source of chlorine-free water is rainwater or distilled water. Ensure that the water is at room-temperature (about 20-240C to avoid shocking the plants. If you only have chlorinated tap water, before using it to water your plants, let it stand in a container overnight to dissipate the chlorine as well as reach room temperature.

Always ensure the water is at room temperature before watering your plants. Too hot water will cause root damage and plant shock which may lead to death of plant and too cold water will cause dormancy and stifles any existing and future vegetative growth.

Use plain water only. Do not add tea, sugar or coffee to the water. Sugar attracts insects to your plants which may result in spread of diseases. Coffee and tea increase the acidity of the soil which may kill the plants.

How often to water

The frequency of watering is not a constant feature; it depends on the houseplant, the environment and the time of the year / season.

  1. The Houseplant
  2. Houseplants with a larger leaf surface area like Schefflera actinophylla and Monstera deliciosa require more frequent watering than houseplants with a smaller leaf surface area like Dracaena marginata. Rapidly growing houseplants require more frequent watering than slow growing houseplants. Fleshy-leaved houseplants like Snake Plant and other Succulents and Cacti require less frequent watering as they can tolerate much drier conditions than thin-leaved houseplants. A rooted cutting will require less frequent watering as it takes up far much less water than a mature growing houseplant.

  3. The Environment
  4. The need for water increases with increase in the temperature. When air temperature rises, houseplants lose more water to the atmosphere through their leaves inorder to keep themselves cool. Water is also lost from the surface of the soil through evaporation. These increase the need for more frequent watering of a houseplant in such an environment.

    Houseplants make their food from water and carbon-dioxide in the presence of light through the process of photosynthesis. This means that with increase in light intensity, more water is absorbed for photosynthesis to take place which results in increased need for more frequent watering.

    Houseplants in small pots and those which are pot-bound need more frequent watering than those in larger pots and not root-bound. Plants in clay pots require more frequent watering than those in plastic pots; clay pots are porous and allow water to evaporate from their surface. Plants grown in cache pots (double-pots) require less frequent watering than the single potted plants; double potted plants benefit from the reservoir of water at the bottom of the cache pot.

  5. The Time of the Year
  6. During the warm and hot months when the houseplant is actively growing, more frequent watering will be required than during the cold months when the plant is in the resting (dormancy) period.

For plants growing in water like Lucky Bamboo, change the water every 10-14 days to avoid rotting.

Houseplants Watering Methods

The method of watering will depend on the houseplant in question as well as personal preference. The best technique for most houseplants is to use the watering can as the standard routine and to water occasionally by the immersion method where possible.

  1. Watering Can Method
  2. Use a can with a long, thin spout. Insert the end of the spout under the leaves and pour the water steadily and gently until it drips through the drainage hole(s). Keep a tray or plate at the bottom of the pot to catch the excess water. Do not let the pot sit on the excess water, drain it immediately to avoid water-logging the soil mixture.

    Avoid watering in full sun as splashed leaves may be scorched. The best time to water your houseplants is in the morning so that they can make use of the water during the day in the food making process (photosynthesis). Avoid wetting the leaf-surface as some houseplants are prone to fungal diseases.

  3. Immersion Method (Bottom Watering)
  4. Some houseplants do not like water on their leaves or crowns. They are better watered from below. Immerse the pot in a container of water to just below the level of the soil and leave to soak from below until the surface glistens. Remove from water and allow the excess water to drain before returning the pot to its usual spot.

Houseplants Watering troubles

Common houseplants watering troubles include;

  1. Water runs straight through the sides of the pot
  2. When water is poured on the surface of the soil, it immediately runs along the sides of the pot through the drainage hole(s) without wetting the soil. The reason for this is that the soil has shrunk away from the sides of the pot; the soil has become compacted. This could be due two reasons; one of the reason is that as the houseplant grows and uses up the nutrients from the soil, the soil disintegrates and reduces in size. The other reason is that the longer a houseplant remains in one pot without repotting, the more the roots grow and spread in the soil forming a tight ball around the roots. The problem can be solved by repotting or replacing the soil with fresh soil. This problem can also be solved by immersing the pot in a container of water to the soil level and allowing some time for the soil to absorb the water, if repotting is not possible.

  3. Water is not absorbed by the soil
  4. When water is poured on the surface of the soil, it stands on the surface of the soil without being absorbed by the soil. The reason for this is caking of the soil surface. This may happen over time due to the quality of soil used or quality of water used for watering and especially if hard water is used to water the houseplants. This can be solved by breaking up the soil surface by pricking with a fork or a sharp pointed object, immersing the pot in a container of water to the soil level and allowing some time for the soil to absorb water and moisten.

  5. The Overwatered Houseplant
  6. If you have overwatered your houseplant, you can save it by doing the following;

    • Drain out the excess water from the pot by tipping the pot on its side for a few minutes.
    • To absorb the excess moisture, cover the soil surface with paper towels or tissue paper. Once they become saturated, replace with dry ones until no more water can be absorbed.
    • If these measures do not work and the houseplant begins to wilt or lose some leaves, repot the plant with fresh soil into a pot that has drainage hole(s) and avoid overwatering.

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