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- How to Water Houseplants (and How to Know if You’re Overwatering)
- Best Water for Houseplants
- How Much to Water
- When to Water Your Plants
- Best Ways to Water
- How to Tell if You’re Overwatering Your Houseplants
- Follow the seven golden rules of watering and your indoor house plants are sure to thrive
- WATER KILLS: How to Water Indoor Plants
- How to form water basin for plants
- Irrigating Plants With Greywater
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How to Water Houseplants (and How to Know if You’re Overwatering)
Watering your houseplants sounds simple enough, yet it’s something many of us struggle with. That’s because there are actually many variables that can make it tricky to know exactly when to water and how often, never mind how much each particular plant needs. We’ll help you get a better feel for how to water your plants properly. Plus we have tips on the best kind of water to use for houseplants and how to recognize the dreaded signs of overwatering. Once you start following our guidelines, you may never have to be haunted by the memory of crispy, dried out leaves or mushy, brown plants again.
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Best Water for Houseplants
Wondering if tap water is OK for your plants? The short answer is, it depends. Most tap water should be fine for your houseplants unless it is softened because it has salts that can build up in the soil over time and eventually cause problems. Chlorinated water is also safe for most houseplants, but if you have a filtration system, that’s even better for your plants. Another option is collecting rainwater to use.
No matter what type of water you choose, room-temperature liquid is better than either warm or cold. Either extreme can damage your houseplants’ leaves, so it’s best to refill your watering can right away after each session and let it sit until next time. That way, it has plenty of time to even out to the right temperature.
How Much to Water
Not all plants need the same amount of water, so if you’re not sure how much yours need, take cues from nature. Many popular houseplants like philodendrons come from tropical regions of the world where it rains regularly. These species usually have big leaves that use up a lot of water to look good. Plants like these will need more water than desert denizens like cacti and succulents, which often do better when you let the soil dry out between waterings.
If you notice less growth than usual, ease up on how much water you give your plants until they start growing more again.
The time of year can make a difference, too. Many houseplants grow more during the spring and summer, but not as much in the fall and winter. If you notice less growth than usual, ease up on how much water you give your plants until they start growing more again.
When to Water Your Plants
If you see any wilting leaves, it’s time to water your plants. But you don’t want to let your plants get to this point because they won’t look as good and it makes them less able to fend off diseases. Instead, try making a habit of checking on your houseplants at least once a week to see if they need a drink. You can use an app like Waterbug or Happy Plant to help remind you when to make your rounds.
Make a habit of checking on your houseplants at least once a week to see if they need a drink.
The best way to tell if your plants need water is to stick your finger about an inch into the soil mix, and if it feels dry, break out the watering can. If you detect dampness, check back again in a day or two. For smaller houseplants, you can also pick up the whole container. If it feels light for its size, add water. Then lift it up again and you’ll get a sense of how heavy the pot should feel when the soil is saturated.
Watering in the morning is preferable to evening. That way, any splashes on the leaves have a chance to dry and evaporate faster throughout the day when temperatures tend to be warmer. The longer that wetness sits on plant leaves, the higher the risk of diseases taking hold.
Best Ways to Water
You have room temp water ready to go and the soil feels dry, so now what? You might be tempted to just dribble on a bit so you don’t risk overwatering. Unfortunately, this won’t help your plants much at all because most of their roots aren’t right up at the soil surface. It’s better to pour enough on to fully soak the soil around each plant, continuing until water starts to run out of the container’s drainage hole. If you catch the extra water in a saucer, sometimes your plant’s soil will absorb a bit more while it sits in it. However, make sure to dump out the saucer after about 10 minutes or your plant’s roots may rot.
Another option is to fill the saucer or another type of basin under your containers with water. You’ll see that in a few minutes, the water will soak into the soil through the drainage holes. Keep filling the saucer until the water no longer gets absorbed. This is the ideal method for watering certain plants such as cacti, succulents, and African violets that don’t like wetness near their stems.
Image zoom Lumina Images/Getty Images
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. If that doesn’t help your plant bounce back, you can also try repotting it with fresh soil after trimming away any dead or mushy roots.
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.
Follow the seven golden rules of watering and your indoor house plants are sure to thrive
While some people seem to have a knack for growing healthy house plants, for the rest of us keeping a cactus alive can feel like a bit of a stretch. If the latter sounds like you, help is now at hand in the form of the brilliant new RHS Practical House Plant Book (£14.99). It’s a bible for anyone who wants to know how to look after their indoor plants and create unique displays that will bring year-round cheer to your home.
READ MORE: Just moved? Top tips for your new garden
Authors Fran Bailey and Zia Allaway shared their top tips with us on one of the most important aspects of indoor gardening – how to water your house plants. These days you can buy indoor plant watering systems that take the guesswork out of it, but if you still enjoy picking up a watering can and tending to your greenery, then read on.
When to water plants
Most house plants prefer moist compost in spring and summer when they are in growth, but take care not to water too much; soggy, waterlogged compost causes disease and can be fatal, while a little drought is easily remedied.
To prevent wet compost, keep your plants in pots with drainage holes at the bottom so that any excess water can drain out, and tip away any surplus that is sitting in the plant’s decorative pot (“sleeve”) or saucer about an hour after watering.
How to water
Watering from above: Pour water from above if your plant is happy for its foliage to be doused; most tropical plants and ferns are in this category. Make sure that the compost is also soaked or you risk watering the leaves without any moisture reaching the roots.
Watering from below: Set your plant in a pot with drainage holes in a tray of water about 2cm (3⁄4in) deep. Leave for 20 minutes, then remove and drain. Use this method for plants that do not like wet leaves or stems, such as African violets, or if foliage is covering the compost.
African violets bloom throughout the year
Misting leaves and aerial roots: Some plants absorb moisture through their leaves and aerial roots. Examples include orchids, Swiss cheese plants and areca palms. Mist the leaves and roots regularly, but also water the compost to keep them healthy.
Watering bromeliads: The leaves and bracts (petal-like modified leaves) of most bromeliads – such as silver vase plant and Amazonia Zebra Plant – form a cup-like reservoir in the centre of the plant. Fill this up with rainwater or distilled water, replenishing it every few weeks. Also water the compost so that it is moist.
Bromeliads are easy to care for. After blooming the plants produce baby offsets which grow into new plants
Soaking air plants: Air plants are best soaked in a tray of rainwater or distilled water for an hour once a week. After soaking, leave to drain, and make sure they dry fully within 4 hours to prevent them rotting. Alternatively, mist them 2–3 times a week.
Water air plants in a tray
Stop the rot
Drought-loving cacti and succulents like their leaves and stems to remain dry at all times, so add a layer of grit (known as a “mulch”) on top of the compost if repotting. Mulch helps water to quickly drain away, preventing them from rotting.
Even cacti need love and attention
The seven golden rules of watering
1. Keep plants in pots with drainage holes to prevent waterlogging.
2. Water most plants every 2–4 days (or as required) in spring and summer to keep the compost, moist (not waterlogged).
3. Water desert cacti and succulents less frequently (only when the top of the compost feels dry).
4. Reduce frequency of watering in winter when plant growth is slower and temperatures are lower.
5. Tip out excess water from pot sleeves and saucers to prevent overly soggy compost.
6. Avoid getting water on the leaves and stems of plants with soft, furry foliage, or succulents and cacti.
7. Do check to see if your plant prefers rainwater or distilled water rather than straight from the tap.
Got the gardening bug? See these gorgeous ideas for small gardens or try these easy gardening hacks to take the graft out of growing.
WATER KILLS: How to Water Indoor Plants
05.12.2016 Words by Georgina Reid
- Issue 36
Most indoor plant fatalities occur due to drowning. I know, terrible, huh?! Those poor little things – all their roots want is a big drink of water, then a few deep breaths of oxygen but just when the potting mix dries out enough to get some air they’re inundated again. Surprise! Their leaves start shrivelling, and they look sadder and sadder as the days pass. Their very caring human is also surprised. Surprised by their beloved plant’s sudden downfall. Human waters plant again, and again, to solve the problem. Unsurprisingly, the plant dies.
Most plant’s root systems, unless they’ve evolved to live in water, need air. The practical implications of this are as follows:
Pots need drainage holes. When you buy a plant in a plastic pot from the nursery, it will always have holes in the bottom of it, right? This is very important as it allows the water to drain out of the potting mix so the roots can breathe. DON’T PLANT YOUR NEW LEAFY FRIEND IN A POT WITHOUT A DRAINAGE HOLE. It will probably die.
Use potting mix, not soil, in pots. Potting mix is engineered to be lightweight, and allow for good drainage. If you use soil in a pot it will be incredibly heavy, and will not drain very well (unless it’s very sandy) meaning your plants will most likely drown. DON’T LET THEM DROWN.
Know your plant. Some plants like more water than others, some like less. If you treat your Boston fern the same way you treat your succulents, the fern will die. It likes lots of water and the succulents don’t really care for the liquid. So, like you’d do before a first date, get googling! Do your research, and get to know what your green friend needs before it’s too late. PLANTS AREN’T OBJECTS, THEY’RE LIVING BEINGS DESERVING OF DIGNITY AND RESPECT. Yes?
But back to water. Here’s a guide to help you know WHEN to water your indoor plants.
Firstly, stick your finger into the potting mix, down to your knuckle.
If the mix is wet, don’t water.
If its damp, don’t water.
If it’s a tiny bit moist and your plant is a big drinker like some ferns, water it. If your plant is an average to low drinker like a succulent, don’t water it.
If the mix is dry as a bone, water.
This guide will most likely mean that you’ll be watering your plants around once a week in summer and once every 10 days to two weeks in winter.
Now you know when to water, how do you know how much? Well, I reckon a big soaking is best. When you water, make sure you saturate the entire potting mix, not just a little bit on top. Soak your plant, even put it in the bath or shower, and then let it dry out completely before watering again.
– Don’t leave water in the saucer of the pot. Around ½ hour after watering your plant tip out excess water in saucer. This will help your plant not drown.
– Some plants, like begonias, don’t like having their leaves wet, according to my favourite indoor plant book – The Care of House Plants by David Longman. These guys can be soaked in a bucket of water for 15 minutes or so, and then drained as usual, rather than watered from above. I’m a slack gardener, and my begonias get watered from above like all the rest of my plants and they seem fine, so, you know, do what you want… But be warned.
– Cactus are great, but they’re generally not brilliant indoor plants. They really don’t like water, and they really love sun. Only grow them indoors if you can fulfil their desires, otherwise they’ll rot. Quietly, slowly, surely.
Clear as mud? Great! Happy watering.
The image used to accompany this post is by Jacqui Turk, and features The Fortynine Studio’s Desk Top Pot range. The pots are made to neatly fit a standard 140mm plastic pot available from any nursery. This allows the plants to easily be swapped out and changed when needed. The feet allow airflow under the pot so there is no build-up of condensation, making the pots safe for any surface. The pots are glazed internally to ensure they are watertight. Each pot is hand decorated with slip in various patterns, giving each its own unique character.
To ensure proper watering the first year after planting, that is, the year in which plants are settling in and will need more water than when they are fully established, why not form a watering basin around each new plant?
This technique is used mainly with trees, shrubs and conifers because they tend to be slower to establish than herbaceous plants and also because they are usually a good size at planting and therefore require a greater quantity of water each time you irrigate. However, it can also be applied to any plant, especially if it’s in a situation where it is likely to need frequent watering.
A water-holding basin is simply made of a berm of soil up to 15 cm high all around the root ball. When you water, simply fill the basin with water. The water will then percolate into the soil exactly where the plant needs it!
When the plant is well established, usually after a year, just remove the basin and then the plant will benefit from the same watering as neighboring plants. In a situation where the plant is likely to continue to suffer from a lack of water and therefore will need regular watering (plantings under a roof overhang, in sandy soil, under trees with abundant roots, arid climate, etc.), however, you can leave the basin in place permanently.
How to form water basin for plants
OR Are all indigenous plants Water. Wise? 5. Symptoms advantage of widening the water basin. The larger the By creating a forest of trees, a dense canopy. Just backfill with native soil, making sure there are no clods that will cause air pockets around Plant the tree a little high to allow for tree settling in the hole. A basin for water may be made around the base of the tree (not next to the trunk). establish plants or to maintain plant growth water. • Don’t start watering programs too early in the spring. Plants will .. fill a trees water basin in seconds.
Mycorrhizal fungi form associations with plant roots and help them extract and This berm will create a basin to hold irrigation water and. A water-holding basin is simply made of a berm of soil up to 6 are fully established, why not form a watering basin around each new plant?. How to Plant Containerized Trees tree in a straight position, then fill and firmly pack the hole with the original soil, making sure there aren’t any air pockets. Create a water-holding basin around the hole and give the tree a good watering.
Plants that grow too quickly may have weak wood, making them vulnerable to . up a ridge of soil two to three inches high to serve as a water collection basin. OR Are all indigenous plants Water. Wise? 5. Symptoms advantage of widening the water basin. The larger the By creating a forest of trees, a dense canopy. establish plants or to maintain plant growth water. • Don’t start watering programs too early in the spring. Plants will .. fill a trees water basin in seconds.
Ask the salesperson to lift the plant out of its container so you can see if the roots rich container soil and venture forth to find food and water on their own in a strange, Create a watering basin by mounding the soil several inches high just . The Right Way to Plant Trees and Shrubs – Seven Steps to Ensure Success plants the best chance of establishing in the landscape by next spring, plant them in fall! . Water again thoroughly once all the soil is in place. Installing the plants is done after you have installed almost everything else, its roots into the soil and trapping water in the “tub” where it will destroy the plant. Form excess backfill into a circular berm, or mound of earth shaped into a ring.
Irrigating Plants With Greywater
In general, larger plants, such as trees, bushes, and perennials, are easier to irrigate with simple greywater systems than smaller plants. Turf grass, made up of hundreds of individual plants, is the most difficult to irrigate with greywater- we don’t recommend it. Remember you can safely irrigate any food plant so long as greywater doesn’t touch the edible portion of the plant (no root crops).
Most fruit trees thrive on greywater, and there are many delicious options! They can tolerate frequent watering and once established they can go long periods with no water.
- Choosing a fruit tree: To start, use root stocks that are resistant to local diseases (ask at your local nursery or Cooperative Extension) and plant trees that are known to grow well in your area. Your tree will also do better if it has good soil; adding compost may be helpful.
- Drainage: Next, consider the drainage of your site. If drainage is poor, you will need to plant the tree on a mound and water it less to prevent diseases like crown rot. When planting trees ensure that the crown of the tree is above the mulch basin to prevent crown rot.
- Salt: Fruit trees are generally salt sensitive and should not be irrigated with water from powdered detergents or other products containing salts. If your greywater source contains lots of salt (dishwasher detergent, for example, is high in salt), add salt-tolerant plants to your landscape, or irrigate frequently with rainwater to flush salts from the soil. Plants that thrive on recycled or reclaimed water (highly treated wastewater) are good choices for high-salt greywater. It’s best to use plant-friendly products, those low in salts and free of boron, to ensure a good quality irrigation water.
Other perennials that thrive on greywater include edible shrubs and vines such as raspberries, thimbleberries, blackberries and their relatives, currants, gooseberries, filberts, rhubarb, elderberry, passion fruit, kiwi, hops, and grapes. Blueberries love acidic soil so you’d have to choose pH neutral soaps or use acidic mulch.
Irrigate at the “drip line” of your plants
Plant roots typically extend well past their “drip line,” the outer edge of the branched. Dig the mulch basin at or beyond the drip line and direct greywater into the basin.
Determine how much water your plants want
Design your simple greywater system to direct an appropriate amount of water to each plant; too much could over saturate the soil while too little could dry out the plants. We’ll give you a very rough estimate of how much to water a typical fruit tree during the irrigation season (without rain to supplement). When you design your system make sure to consult further resource, such as The Water-Wise Home or the San Francisco Graywater Design Guidelines for Outdoor Irrigation, to get more detailed instruction on how to determine plant water requirements.
Approximate weekly irrigation needs for a medium sized fruit tree:
- Cool climate: 8-12 gallons/week
- Warm climate: 15-25 gallons/week
- Hot climate: 30-50 gallons/week
The EPA has an on-line calculator to help estimate how much to irrigate in different parts of the country (based on climate).
How to irrigate with greywater
With a simple greywater system, for example a laundry-to-landscape or branched drain system, greywater should be discharged onto mulch (either on the surface or subsurface depending on your state code requirements). Don’t discharge greywater directly onto the bare ground, it can clog the soil by filling the small air gaps in its structure and then won’t drain well. Mulch prevents this potential problem since it filters the particles, enabling greywater to soak into the soil below. Any type of mulch works, like wood chips, straw, or bark.
More complex greywater systems filter greywater so it can be used in greywater-compatible drip irrigation tubing. In these systems the irrigation tubing is used to irrigate the same as in a conventional system and it can be covered with mulch.
With simple greywater systems remember to:
- Discharge onto mulch.
- Have an air space between the pipe and the ground. This will prevent roots from growing back into the greywater pipe and clogging it. In states that require subsurface irrigation a “mulch shield”, such as the irrigation valve box shown in the image, create this air space and prevent clogging.
1/2 inch tubing releases GW into mulch shiled