How to tell if a plant needs water

The single hardest thing to remember when it comes to watering your houseplants is self-control. We know the instinct to water them is strong, but over watering is the most common way to kill houseplants. So how to tell if a plant needs water? To know if your plants happen to be struggling from overwatering, take a look at these six signs below

Tip: how to water houseplants while away

Signs plants have too little water

It may take some trial and error to figure out how much to water houseplants or garden plants. As you work out the right amount and frequency of watering, use these clues to determine if you are under watering:

  • Wilting: This is the classic sign of an under watered plant. Too little water causes a plant to lose turgor, the rigidity in cells and tissues. There are some diseases that can trigger wilting, but the easiest and most likely explanation is under watering.
  • Dry soil: If the soil around a plant is dry, it may need more water. Exceptions to this are some succulents, like cacti, which don’t need much water because they can store it so well.
  • Dry, dead leaf tips: When a plant doesn’t get enough water, the tips and edges of leaves dry out and turn brown. Ultimately, entire leaves will brown and die.
  • Slow growth: If you are chronically under watering a plant, but still giving it enough water to survive, growth will be slower than normal or expected. New growth, such as leaves, may be small.
  • Visible footprints: For a sign that turf grass is not getting adequate water, look to your footprints. After you step on the grass, it should bounce back quickly. If the footprints remain visible for several minutes, the grass is too dry.
How to tell if a plant needs water

How to tell if a plant needs water

How to tell if soil is dry enough to water

Feel the soil

This is the easiest, most reliable, low-tech way to tell if your plant needs to be watered. Stick your finger in the soil 2-3 inches deep, and if it’s dry, your plant needs water. You could water your plants using only this method to check when they need water, but sometimes you don’t want to get your hands dirty, or you have plants that are hard to reach. So read on for other indicators that it’s time to water your plants.

How to tell if a plant needs water

How to tell if a plant needs water

Lift your pots to determine their weight

Another way to tell if your plants need watering is to lift their pots to determine their weight. This is a common practice in nurseries when watering.

If the plant is dry it will be lighter than usual, as water adds to its weight. This is a really quick method and is recommended if you have lots of potted plants! For larger pots, try to tilt them to gauge their weight.

You’ll get better at this technique the more you try it. By regularly picking up your potted plants you’ll know when individual ones need watering. Once you finish watering, lift the pot so you get an idea of its heaviest weight. This makes it easier to compare its weight after a few days. If it feels a lot lighter, chances are it needs watering!

Soil stick

If you don’t want to get your hands dirty checking soil moisture, get yourself a cheap, unfinished wood chopstick, and poke it down into the soil. Think of it like a cake tester: If the soil sticks and darkens the wood, it’s still wet, and if the stick emerges dry, without any wet soil stuck to it, it’s probably time to water. If you don’t have any chopsticks, you can also use a wood dowel, about the size of a chopstick or pencil, sharpened to a point on one end. One advantage of this method over using your fingers is that you can get the stick deeper into the pot.

How to tell if a plant needs water

How to tell if a plant needs water

How do you know when a plant needs to be watered

Your plant’s leaves are wrinkled

Plants with succulent leaves, such as hoya and er, succulents have wrinkled leaves in times of drought. Pothos and philodrendron also get wrinkly leaves too.

If you’re not using a moisture metre and you don’t have the pot weight think sussed yet, it’s advised that you wait until the leaves are wrinkled before you water.

Plants with succulent leaves tend to be far more tolerant of underwatering than overwatering, so waiting til their leaves are wrinkled can be good way of ensuring you’re not giving them too much water. The leaves will plump up again pretty quickly.

How to tell if a plant needs water

How to tell if a plant needs water

Your plant is dropping leaves

In my experience, plants have to be seriously dry before they start dropping leaves. Leaf drop is something that’s more common when plants are overwatered, so be sure you know which it is before proceeding.

If you’re waiting for your leaves to drop before watering – that’s too long. Yo should have watered as soon as the leaves started wrinkling, not waited until they crisped up and fell off.

How to check soil moisture in potted plants

Use a moisture meter to check the soil dryness

For some house plant lovers, the popsicle stick or chopstick test is enough to test the soil moisture. However, those who want a more accurate and scientific result to their moisture test like to invest in soil moisture meters.

A soil moisture meter can be quite useful. It certainly takes the guess work out of trying to schedule your house plant watering. Moisture meters usually have a scale that ranges from 1 to 10. 1 usually denotes very dry and 10 denotes very wet. Most also have color meters which help to determine when to water house plants and when it is best to hold off.

How to tell if a plant needs water

How to tell if a plant needs water

How to use a soil moisture meter to check the house plant’s soil

The first step is to choose a moisture meter. Most are inexpensive and some provide information on soil pH as well as moisture.

The moisture meter reads soil moisture via the probe. Simply press the probe into the soil – while being careful not to jam it into the roots – to get a soil moisture reading. Only push the unit about ¾ of the way into the soil.

You can remove the device from the soil and read the result after a few minutes. You will need to interpret the result depending on the water needs of your plant.

I hope this list will help you how to tell if a plant needs water. The most important thing when assessing when a houseplant needs water is to check each plant carefully, rather than relying on a watering schedule.

Just get to know your indoor plants, and watch them over time. They will give you all the information you need to be able to get watering just right.

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