How often to water plants indoors depends on your houseplants and growing conditions. Plant choices, size, humidity, light, and temperature all play a role. I’ll show you how to come up with a routine for your indoor plants.
Even though watering seems like a simple task, this is where a lot of people can go wrong when caring for houseplants, by either over-watering or leaving them to become dehydrated. In general, houseplants’ potting soil should be kept moist, but not wet. They normally need watering once or twice a week in the spring and summer, but less in the autumn and winter. However, depending on the type of houseplant, this is not always the case.
How often should you water houseplants?
Most houseplants need watered every 1-3 weeks. You should monitor your houseplants and water when they need it, rather than on a schedule. Frequency of watering will depend on the size and type of plant, size and type of pot, temperature, humidity and rate of growth.
What does watering my plants do?
Water provides structural support, cools your plant down, and moves minerals to all the right places.
Think of plant cells as water balloons. When they are filled with water, they become stiff, and your plant stands upright. When there is a lack of water, the cells deflate, and the plant looks wilted—a clear sign your plant needs more water if paired with dry potting mix. Plants also produce cellulose that help them keep their shape, but water pressure (water flowing through the plant) helps plants gain and retain their shape better than cellulose alone.
When you water your plant, an invisible process called transpiration occurs. The sun evaporates water from the leaves through their stomatal pores, causing water loss in the leaf. That’s great, because available water will go where it’s needed most. Ideally, the water is pulled up from the roots, but if roots are dry, water is taken from the leaves themselves.
How to Know When Indoor Plants Need Watering
Let’s look in more detail at how to know when indoor plants need watering:
Type of plant affects watering needs
Every kind of plant has its watering requirements. Some houseplants such as ferns prefer damp, wet soil, and humid conditions so they may require frequent watering. Other types of indoor plants need moist soil that partly dries between watering so they only need watering when the top 1” (2.5 cm) of the potting soil is dry. Always check the plant’s watering needs and then water accordingly. If you have a variety of houseplants, you probably shouldn’t water them all at the same time.
Soil moisture content tells when to water house plants
The best way to know if a plant needs water or not is to test soil moisture levels. Poke your finger in the soil to see if the medium is dry. With most houseplants, watering is only required when the top 1” to 2” (2.5 – 5 cm) of the potting mix is dry. Waiting until the potting medium is partially dry ensures that soil at the roots never becomes waterlogged.
You should also check the soil at the drainage holes. The medium should be consistently moist. If the soil at the bottom of the pot is dry, it is definitely time to give your plant deep watering.
Top houseplant watering tip: roots poking through drainage holes is a sign that the potted plant is rootbound. A rootbound plant tends to hold too much moisture in the soil and doesn’t drain well. So, either repot your plant or go easy on the watering.
The weight of the pot can indicate when to water the plant
As you get used to caring for many houseplants, you’ll begin to tell by the weight of the pot when plants need a drink. Moist, damp soil is heavier than dry, arid potting soil. So, unless you’ve got succulents or cacti—which require seldom watering—water plants when the pots feel lighter than usual. With experience, you’ll be able to tell when it’s the right time for watering plants by picking them up.
Use a moisture meter to know how often to water plants
A moisture meter is an excellent choice if you have fussy houseplants that are picky about soil dampness. Moisture meters take the guesswork out of knowing how seldom or frequently to water plants. These devices are not expensive and can mean the difference between thriving houseplants or ones that suffer from root rot.
Using a moisture meter can also help to know how often to water plants throughout all the seasons. Houseplants need watering more often in summer than in winter. So, a meter to measure soil moisture is ideal to water just enough for your plant to thrive indoors.
Look for signs that houseplants require watering
There are often tell-tale signs that your houseplants need watering. Drooping leaves, dead leaf tips, and slow growth are signs of an underwatered plant. Let’s look in more details at the signs that your indoor plant needs watering:
Drooping leaves: Check soil moisture because dry soil and wilting leaves show that your plant desperately needs water. However, if the potting medium is damp or moist, drooping leaves could indicate too much moisture or disease.
Dead leaf tips: Plants that don’t get adequate water develop brown, crispy leaf tips. If soil is overly dry and leaves start turning brown, thoroughly water.
Slow growth: If you’re watering your plant, but not often enough, it could start growing slowly. Usually, new leaves will be small. Give your plant a deep watering and check soil dryness weekly.
What to Consider Before Watering Houseplants
More light = more watering frequency. Less light = less watering frequency.
The smaller the grow pot or pot, the more often your plant will need watering. The larger the pot, the less often. Plants in large pots don’t need watering as often as those in small pots.
And, plants in large pots aren’t any harder to water & in some cases can be easier because they don’t need it as often..
Type of pot
Terra cotta & unglazed pots are porous which means air can get into the root ball. Plants in these types may need watering a bit more often than those in plastic grow pots or directly planted in ceramics or resin pots.
If the root ball is tight in its pot, it’ll most likely need watering more often. Some plants grow best when slightly tight in their pots. If they’re too potbound, the roots won’t be able to hold water.
The heavier the soil mix, the less often you’ll water. I have a Dracanea marginata planted in potting soil right next to a Dracaena Lisa planted in lava rock (some larger houseplants will come planted in larva rock). I water the Lisa more often than I do the marginata. The lava rock doesn’t hold the water like potting soil does.
The warmer the temperature of your home, the faster your plants will dry out. I live in Tucson, Arizona where the temps. are warm & the sun shines a lot. If you live in a cooler climate (most people do!) then you would water your indoor plants less often.
The higher the humidity, the slower the mix will dry out (especially potting soil). I’m not only in a sunny & warm climate but the humidity is low so I’ll water my plants more often.
Heat / Air conditioning
Both reduce humidity & can remove moisture from the air. You’ll water less often in winter (see the last point) but air conditioning can be drying too.
If the soil is top-dressed with moss, rock or bark, then it’ll dry out slower.
It is not enough to know how often to water houseplants. You must know how to water your houseplants correctly.
Wandering around your home periodically with a watering can, spraying any thirsty looking plants will keep the plants hydrated. However this is unlikely to keep the plants happy. Underwatered or incorrectly watered plants are likely to dry out more quickly than properly watered plants.
The easiest way to ensure that your plants are getting enough moisture is to immerse them. Immersing, or thoroughly soaking plants also reduces how often you need to water houseplants.
To thoroughly soak your plants fill a sink or, if you are watering lots of plants, a bath. Place the plant, or plants in the water and allow them to sit there for about an hour. During this time they are able to soak up as much moisture as they need.
Drain any remaining liquid away and leave the plants in the sink or bath for a while longer. This allows the bottom of the containers to dry and excess moisture in the soil to drain out.
Alternatively hold the plants over the sink and water until liquid begins to drip from the drainage holes in the bottom of the container.
How long can indoor plants go without water?
Most people have a tendency to water their houseplants too frequently, myself included. Most houseplants can survive quite happily for up to two weeks in most indoor conditions without being watered. They may not survive this neglect on a regular basis, but if you are away for two weeks, most of your plants will do OK.
There are some houseplants that are very fussy about their water requirements, such as calatheas and nerve plants, so if you think you might struggle to water your houseplants regularly, it is best to pick more drought tolerant plants.
Some plants can even go much longer than two weeks without water. Certain types of succulents, including many cacti can easily manage more than a month and often much longer without water while still remaining healthy.
Having said this, if your goal is to keep your plants in perfect health, I usually recommend some supplemental watering with an indoor plant watering system if you are going to be away for longer than one week.
Self-watering pots, capillary mats, watering spikes or watering globes are all good options to keep your plants hydrated while you are away.
How to tell if you’re overwatering your houseplants
There’s a reason pots have drainage holes: too much water will literally drown your plants. That’s because roots do need oxygen, or they will rot and die. Even with good drainage, keeping the soil constantly wet can make it hard for air to reach the roots. There are a few ways to tell if you are overwatering your plants before it’s too late to save them.
There’s a reason pots have drainage holes: too much water will literally drown your plants.
No new growth and yellowing leaves that are dropping off can be signs of overwatering. You may also notice wilting, which can be confusing because that is also a sign of too little water. The trick is to check the soil when you notice these problems: If it feels wet, you probably should go easier on the water. If the soil is dry, you may need to give your plant more water. If a drink doesn’t improve things, you may need to adjust the temperatures or light levels your plant gets.
You can also use your nose to figure out if you’ve got an overwatering problem. Lots of moisture encourages fungi and bacteria to grow in the soil, which can cause unpleasant odors, especially when roots are rotting. And if you spot any fungus gnats flitting around your plant whenever you water, you’ve likely been too heavy-handed with the watering can.
If you think you’ve been overwatering, it doesn’t necessarily mean your plant is doomed. Just let the soil dry out a bit before watering again. Then start following the watering techniques we describe above.
Knowing how to water your houseplants definitely requires some experience. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at caring for your indoor garden. Try starting with a few varieties that are tough to kill. Then, once you’ve mastered the basics and feel more confident in your watering skills, you can try taking on a few plants that are more challenging but totally worth the effort.
Different plants have different water needs
Different types of houseplants have different watering needs Some need watering more often than others.
So, an answer like “once a week,” or some such, is more or less meaningless. However, most indoor plants need to be watered every 7-21 days.
Dialing them in based on their cultivar or plant family will also help ready how the previous factors can impact your indoor houseplant watering schedule.
This is a rather large group of plants with a variety of cultivars, including cacti.
They have natural adaptations that help them to store water while also reducing moisture loss. With these, you can allow the potting soil to dry out fully before watering.
Also known as Spathiphyllumthey also prefer to let their soil dry out before watering. The plant will generally tell you when it’s ready by starting to wilt.
Phalaenopsis Orchids are one of the most common victims of overwatering.
Ideally, you should wait until the potting soil is dry and the roots look a shade of silvery-white, before watering thoroughly. Generally, once a week is the minimum for potted orchids.
Just don’t wait so long that the leaves start to look wrinkled and droopy.
Also known as Fittonia these plants require potting soil that is continuously moist, yet not saturated.
Water regularly when the top of the soil has noticeably dried out. Just don’t water them heavily. Nerve plants are somewhat prone to root rot when over-watered.
The rubber plant or Ficuselastica needs to be watered when the top inch of soil becomes dry. During the growing season of spring and summer, this is usually around once a week.
In the dormant periods of fall and winter, it might be as much as 10 to 14 days between watering sessions.
Known more commonly as “Kentia Palms” these plants have moderate drought tolerant and tend to have problems when overwatered.
Ideally, they should be watered once the top three inches of soil is dry.
Wandering Jew Plant
Wandering Jew Plants or Tradescantia Zebrina need to be watered once the top inch of potting soil is dry. This is another plant that is prone to root rot when overwatered.
Prayer plants prefer well-drained potting soil that is also kept constantly moist, without being soggy or saturated.
Ideally, you want the surface of the soil to be lightly moist. When watering you should stop as soon as a little water drains out the bottom of the pot.
Guzmaniais is a little unique in that they need to be watered via their central rosette. You shouldn’t water the soil directly.
Also known as being“Epiphytic” these pants tend to use their roots to anchor them in place rather than for absorbing moisture.
As such the central rosette needs to be filled several times per week. This is the sort of indoor houseplant that you might want to leave with a friend or neighbor when you go on vacation.
Also known as calatheaornate these plants also constant moisture and regular watering.
The goal is to maintain lightly moist soil through frequent light watering sessions. It’s best to do this as soon as the surface of the soil feels dry to the touch.
Weeping figs and fig leaf trees also appreciate frequent watering and lightly moist soil. They also tend to be sensitive to water impurities. It’s best to use filtered water.
The plants are also prone to dropping leaves when they are distressed and you should take this as a sign that something is going on.
Indoor Orange Trees
Indoor orange and other miniature citrus trees are an increasingly popular novelty with indoor house plant enthusiasts.
They tend to have high water requirements yet need potting soil with plenty of drainage. It’s best to water thoroughly on a regular basis.
With this plant, you need to water it thoroughly after the top inch of soil is dry.
An Eternal Flame plant can be somewhat sensitive to water impurities, so distilled or filtered water might be preferred if you aren’t sure about the quality of what’s coming out of your tap.
Also known as Anthuriumthese flamingo flower plants need to be watered with a moisture strategy that leaves the top few inches of the soil dry, yet the lower roots are still relatively moist.
They will tolerate somewhat infrequent watering, so long as they are not over-watered.
These increasingly popular succulent blooms flowers in the winter and their springtime blooms can last for more than a month. Like most succulents, you need to avoid over-watering.
Arrowhead plants, which are also known as Syngonium Podophyllum have good drought tolerance.
They should be watered thoroughly after the top 1 to 2 inches of soil has dried. It’s also important to note that Arrowhead Plants go dormant in the winter, which will significantly reduce the amount of water it needs.