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How to Water: A Beginner's Guide

How to Water: A Beginner's Guide

Have you ever brought home a new plant determined to make it "The One?" The first in your soon to be jungle. The proof for yourself, your co-workers, your sister Clair (who can wear white to an Italian dinner and keep it spotless) that YOU have a special connection with nature?

You downloaded the first plant apps Instagram shoved into your feed AND scheduled a watering reminder into your phone (just in case). You spent every Sunday morning giving your new frond the quality attention it deserved...only to have that once beautiful plant STILL die on you?  

Sound familiar? You're not alone.

Understand the Watering Needs of Your Plants

The most common way well meaning plant caretakers do in their plants is watering on a schedule.

Just like your own hydration requirements change from day to day depending on how active you are and the temperature, your plants' watering needs are influenced by their environment too. Things like soil composition, access to light, temperature changes, planter size/material, and your plant's natural growing cycles all affect how frequently your plant needs water. 

To water your plant correctly every time you just need to know what your specific plant's watering needs are and how to know when it's time for water.

A great place to start is looking up what environment your plant is endemic to (aka originated from). Dessert plants like succulents and cacti evolved in arid climates and can go long stretches of time without water. Tropical plants, on the other hand, grow in areas where rain is plentiful and consistent. 

Of course, natural patterns aren't conveniently consistent so instead of time, we check soil dry out rates as a way to measure if their plant needs water or not. This information is usually easy to find on a tag or in the plant's product description. It will look something like  “water once the soil has dried out ¾ of the way.” (If you would like help with identifying your plants' care needs you are also welcome to contact us - we're happy to help with IDs and care info.)

Once you know how much the soil needs to dry out between waterings use your finger or an unfinished wooden dowel or chopstick to check the moisture of your soil regularly.  Sam shows you how HERE.

Watering Succulents and Cacti

Succulents and cacti are desert plants that have adapted to survive in dry conditions. As a result, they do not require frequent watering and are prone to rot if they are exposed to moisture too frequently or for too long. Check on these plants once a week during the growing season, but water only when the soil dries out completely. During the winter they can usually go weeks without attention.  

When its time to water, saturate the soil fully and allow any excess water to drain away. Avoid getting water on the leaves or stem, as this can lead to rot. Bottom watering, or letting your plant sit in water (for an hour or two) and pull water up through a drainage hole, can be a great method to use.

Because the soil is watered infrequently it can become hydrophobic over time. If water seems to sit on top of the soil for a long time rather than absorbing easily you may need to re-pot your plant or use this guide to rehydrate your soil.

Watering Tropical and Temperate Plants

Tropical and temperate plants make up the vast majority of houseplants, and have a variety of  watering needs. As a general rule, most temperate plants prefer to be kept evenly moist but not waterlogged. This means watering them when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. Some tropical plants such as Philodendrons or Ficus can dry out half to just fully dry. Others, like Begonias or Alocasia need more consistent watering as well as supplemental humidity.   

You can help your humidity loving plants by either enclosing them in a terrarium or under a cloche or using a humidifier, pebble tray, or a mister.  The best method is the one you find it easiest to do consistently.

Tips for Proper Watering Techniques

It's important that you are starting with a setup that makes watering your plant appropriately as easy as possible. 

Pots with drainage holes are essential. Drainage holes protect your plant from sitting in water which decreases the likelihood of root suffocation and decay. 

The soil you use for your plants also impacts how frequently your plants need water. Plants that are vulnerable to root decay will benefit from soil blends that provide more drainage. On the other hand a soil mix that includes lots or moisture retention qualities can make it easier to keep fine rooted cuties like Begonia happy. (Need some help? Our houseplant clinic can help you make adjustments to your soil blend according t your plants' needs and your care style)

Another important tip is to water deeply, so all of the soil in your planter is wet when needed rather than giving your plants frequent shallow watering. While it might feel good to give your plants little sips of water this keeps soil from drying out properly and increases the likelihood of decay.

Instead, let your plant reach its desired level of dry out and water in a C-shape around the surface of the soil until water begins to drain through the drainage hole. This ensures the water saturates the soil all the way through, encouraging deeper roots.

If you have a saucer under your pot, don't forget to empty it after every watering! Bacteria is attracted to organic mater in the water in the saucer. If left too long, that bacteria can negatively impact your plant's health. 

Finally, be sure you are using the right type of water for your plants. While most plants will be just fine with tap water there are some (Most carnivorous plants and some more tender species of Calathea for example) that are sensitive to minerals and additives found in tap water. If your plant is sensitive to your water you may find your leaves with crispy edges or other discoloration switch to filtered, distilled, or rain water. 

Make plant care part of your self care

The most important variable to consider when it comes to successfully watering your plants is figuring out what works for YOU?

Whether it's keeping your moisture craving plants near the sink, investing in a watering can that is beautiful enough to leave out, or choosing plants that don't need attention more than once a week it's important to create a routine that easily integrates with your currently lifestyle. 

Customizing your watering routine to your plants needs is the first step to plant care mastery. Appropriate watering not only keeps your plant hydrated, it also helps you avoid common plant ailments like fungus gnats and root rot. 

If you're struggling with your watering routine or would like help creating a custom set up for your plant a virtual consultation with one of our clinicians can help.