How often should you water indoor plants?

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I wish I could tell you that you could set yourself a reminder and water all your plants weekly.

Unfortunately, it’s not the best way to do it, unless you want to overwater.

And you definitely don’t want to overwater.

Read why in this post (tl;dr – it’ll kill your plant babies).

So, how often should you water your indoor plants?

In a nutshell, when they need it – usually between a week and a fortnight BUT IT VARIES MASSIVELY. The only way to guarantee an easy, regular watering schedule is to only keep one type of plant, all the same size in the same type of container and in similar light conditions.

Factors that affect how often you need to water your house plants:

  1. how you water them
  2. The species of plant
  3. How much humidity the plant is getting
  4. How much light the plant is getting
  5. The type of pot it’s in
  6. The type of potting mix it’s in
  7. The time of year

monstera leaf

What affects how often you should water your indoor plants?

So many different factors affect how often houseplants should be watered. The more extensive and varied your collection is, the more time you’ll have to spend checking your plants.

How you water them

If you’re wandering around your house, watering can in hand, sprinkling any thirsty-looking plants, then you’ll probably have to water them more often than if you were taking them to the sink (or bath, if you want to do a load in one go) and thoroughly soaking them until water is running through the drainage holes (which are imperative – read why here).

I’m definitely not trying to sway you in either direction – I’m as likely to just give my plants a little drink as a full-on bath, just be aware that the less water you give a plant at a time, the more frequently it’ll need watering.

I would say that the bath method does require more time (it can take up to an hour – more if I’m leaving them to soak the water from the bottom up, so if you’re pressed for time, a little sprinkle is better than nothing at all.

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The plant species you have dictates how often you water them

Some plants are thirstier than others.

There are various reasons for this, the main one (I think – I’ve very much an amateur with access to Google) being how much water a plant can store.

Plants evolve different water holding capacities depending on their natural habitat.

Cacti, succulents etc. can store an awful lot of water in their leaves and stems, and therefore don’t need watering as often as a plant with more delicate leaves.

Some plants have rhizomes, in which they can store water.

A rhizome is (basically) a stem than travels below the ground and sends out roots and root nodes. I would say that the most common indoor plant that has rhizomes is the ZZ plant – if you have one, check its base – you might be able to see a rhizome sticking out about the surface, looking a bit like a potato x carrot.

As you probably already guessed, plants with rhizomes are less susceptible to drought than plants without them.

A lot of house plants come from tropical rainforests, which is why they appreciate a lot of humidity.

Plants that live on the ground, like calathea, evolved to live in constantly damp soil, so they can’t store much water – it would never have been evolutionarily beneficial.

Calathea never considered that humans would want to keep them in their homes.

It’s also worth noting that the age of the plant, as well as the species,  can affect how much water it needs. My baby spider plants are always thirsty, but my two big ones often don’t need watering more than once a month.

monstera leaf

The level of humidity affects how often you water your plants

First of all, I don’t want to hear anything about misting. I have a whole post on why it’s largely pointless here.

Pebble trays are also not great if you have a lot of plants.

If you have plants that require high humidity, you really need a humidifier. It’s the only way to get consistent moisture to your plant.

High humidity will decrease the amount you need water your plants, especially if you have a lot of terracotta pots. Basically, the soil won’t dry out as quickly.

Watering is not a substitute for adequate humidity, but, for some plants, if they have ample humidity, you may rarely need to water.

I have a terrarium filled with Calathea, Rhapidophora and Pothos, and I never need to water it. The humidity keeps the substrate from drying out.

Why humidity is important to some plants

A lot of aroids (like Monstera and Philodendron) are semi-epiphytic.

They don’t always grow with their roots in the soil. In order to get enough moisture, they’ve evolved roots and leaves that can absorb water from the air.

Calathea aren’t epiphytic at all, they’re just picky.

Aerial roots can absorb moisture from the air, but only if there’s enough humidity to make it worth their while. Aerial roots tend to dry out, but look at how they look in a terrarium:

pothos with fuzzy aerial roots climbing up the back of a terrarium
F U Z Z Y

The amount of light a plant has affects how often it needs to be watered

Light makes plants grow quickly. They absorb it and use it to photosynthesise and create energy.

It stands to reason to a plant that’s growing quickly will use more water than one that isn’t. That’s why plants don’t need as much water in winter than in summer.

Putting a plant under a grow light will really boost the growth, meaning it’ll use more water and therefore need watering more often. BUT ALSO lights (and the sun) provide warm, which causes the water in the soil to evaporate more quickly.

So increasing the light can dramatically increase the amount of water it needs.

This is good news for overwaterers – increase the light enough and you can water multiple times a week without risking root rot.

In general (this is not a hard and fast rule by any means), plants that live in lower light situations in their natural habitat are less tolerant of drying out.

Why? Because it just…wouldn’t happen.

Sure, there are wildfires in rainforests, but drying out is the least of the plant’s worries in that situation.

I say ‘in general’ because the hardiness of the plant has a big impact. Aglaonema and Calathea fit into the same broad niche (chilling on the rainforest floor) so have broadly the same requirements.

As we all know, Calathea will complain more when they don’t get those requirements.

BUT it does mean that we can get hardy plants to THRIVE if we treat them like their finicky counterparts that have similar requirements.

On the oppostire end of things, succulents that live in arid environments are just grateful to have some form of liquid. Calathea are all ‘ugh’ if you water them with raw (?) tap water, but cacti are quite happy to be given old washing up water (don’t do this unless you want gnats).

Some pots absorb water, meaning the plants need to be watered more often

If you feel that you’re a little….neglectful when it comes to watering your plants, then stay away from terracotta pots. Terracotta is very porous and wicks moisture away quickly from your plant’s roots.

I learned that one the hard way.

This is great for plants like cacti that really like a very thorough soak and then to be dried out quite quickly – they really don’t like to get wet feet.

I have a rather impressive collection of black plastic nursery pots from outdoor plants, that I use to repot my indoor plants once they’re outgrown their original pot (be sure to wash them though – we don’t want to encourage any bugs or fungus).

I know they don’t look great, but you can get some beautiful cache pots to disguise them.

monstera leaf

The potting medium & whether it’s top-dressed

If your potting medium is high in sand and is designed to drain quickly, then you’ll need to be a more vigilant waterer.

Quick draining mediums tend to be used on plants like succulents that like to completely dry out before watering, so as long as your plant has the correct potting soil, it’ll probably not add to your watering workload

I’ve recently repotted my orchid in some very quick-draining medium (bark chips) because orchids really really really hate having wet feet. They also include their roots in the whole photosynthesis business, so the pot is clear.

I’m extremely excited for blooms.

Extremely.

Excited.

If your plant’s soil is covered with something – sphagnum moss, sand or gravel, then less water will be able to evaporate from the soil, so your plant won’t need watering as often.

Covering the top layer of soil with sand is also great for reducing fungus flies, so if you have an issue with them, then you can kill two birds with one stone by adding some sand to your pots.

Diatomaceous earth is another fungus gnat-reducing topdressing material.

If you have Calathea and ferns, then you may choose to top dress with sphagnum moss or coco coir to keep moisture in. I’ve found you end up with gnats everywhere though.

Also I can’t be bothered.

monstera leaf

Time of year

In the growing season plants, er, grow.

When plants are growing they need more water.

They’ll also need more water when it’s hotter than the tenth circle of hell (as it is when I’m writing this in July).

It may seem like a ballache to stomp around watering when you could be sunbathing but it’s the most rewarding time – all my plants are shooting out leaves (and my hoya may be about to bloom but I don’t want to jinx it so shhhh) so I feel like the least they deserve is a splash of water.

This does not mean that plants don’t need watering in winter – they just might need watering lee frequently. I also like to use tepid water – I have no idea if they like it, but it makes me feel better.

Imagine being cold and then having cold shower (but then also imagine being given tepid water to drink. Gross. Hmm, may have to rethink this).

monstera leaf

My personal watering schedule

I’ve changed up my watering schedule a LOT.

I used to bottom water, keeping a tray of water on my desk and moving my plants to it.

The problem with that was I tended to neglect plants that looked fine, and plants that weren’t in my office (where the water was).

Now, I use a watering can.

This one:

You can get a similar one here.

From a strictly engineering standpoint it’s, er, shit.

If you tip the can up to much water will come over the lip before it comes out of the spout.

It’s a little irritating.

EXCEPT

It works beautifully if you pour veeeery slowly, and also it’s much better for your plants if you pour veeeeery slowly. So, yeah, it’s a pain, but also it works really well at giving you the choice between watering your plant slowly or watering your carpet quickly.

Why pour slowly?

It also the soil more time to absorb the water. If you pour quickly, the water will gush to the nearest cracks in the soil rather than actually absorb. The slower you pour, the more water will be absorbed and not only will you have to water less often, but you’ll waste less water. Yay!

I have an article here on when to water your plants according to the numbers on your moisture metre.

monstera leaf

Is it better to water too much or too little?

This totally depends on the plant.

I’ve had a spider plant for years that has been chronically overwatered, and sure, he looked sad, but he’s bounced back. On the other hand, I overwatered a maidenhair fern and it died really quickly.

Many factors will determine how much drought or drowning a plant will tolerate, but in my experience I’ve found that younger plants succumb quicker – overwatering will kill far more quickly that drought in the majority of cases.

Think about how quickly it takes a human to die of dehydration – a few days. You don’t last that long if you’re drowning. It’s similar with plants. Overwatering depletes oxygen to the roots, causing them to rot and die.

monstera leaf

I’m likely to forget about my plants for weeks at a time. What plants should I get?

If you’re going on vacation, I have a post on what to do with your plants here.

I’m just going to give you a list of the plants that I own that don’t need as much watering as others

They’re pretty tough and can last a decent amount of time without water. Don’t expect a tonne of growth though.

I have a pothos that I bought about three months ago that I’ve watered once. ONCE. There’s a chance that it was overwatered at the garden centre I bought it from so it’s been drying out, but still.

  • Philodendron brasil, micans, scandens -any of the heart-leaf gang

We’re talking once a fortnight here (that’s every two weeks for any non-Brits. Pothos and Philodendron are just very chill plants – they just sit there, in their medium-low light, chucking out new leaves for fun.

I have quite a few hoya, and they’re pretty chill about watering. Too little is definitely better than too much. My consistently underwater Hoya bella even blooms in late spring.

hoya bella bloom
  • ZZ plant

This is for those of you that will forget about your plants for months at a time (though I don’t encourage this behaviour).

ZZ plants have waxy leaves (great for storing water), rhizomes (great for storing water), and don’t mind a medium-low light placement (great for storing water).

They’re definitely the MVP when it comes to water storage. They’re also fast growers, not picky about…anything, and you can pick one up from Sainsbury’s, B&Q and loads of other places for under a tenner.

NOT one to let dry out, BUT they droop overdramatically when they want watering, so as long as you keep it in your line of sight, you can rely on it to let you know when it’s thirsty. Syngonium, fittonia, and pothos also do this.

Avoid ferns, calathea, fittonia, and anything expensive.

monstera leaf

Should you water your indoor plants every day?

This is a question I’m asked a lot, and it’s an assumption that a lot non-plant-savvy people make.

The answer is no, you shouldn’t water your house plants every day.

Like I said in previous paragraphs, it’s unlikely that you’ll even need to water your plants every week, and doing so could likely cause root rot.

Watering every day will do the same thing, but quicker.

The only circumstance under which you should be watering your plants every day is this: if your plant dries out fully every day, then by all means water every day.

It’s highly unlikely that your plant will dry out so quickly that you’ll need to water it every day, but I suppose it isn’t impossible.

For example, if you put your plants outside in the summer they may need watering every day – especially if it’s hot and/or windy.

Also, if your plants are in a very chunky or airy soil mix and they typically like to stay moist you may need to water more often (though just adding some coir to the mix may be an easier option.

If your plant is being watered every day (perhaps by an overexcited child) then there are things you can do to help.

The biggest thing you can do is give it a tonne of light, and if it’s a vining plant, stake it up. Grow lights are great here, because they also add a bit of heat to help dry out the soil, and they won’t burn like they can in the sun.

Another trick many people swear by is sticking a tampon in the soil to absorb the extra liquid.

You could also try growing the plant in leca (read my full guide to leca here) or keep the plant in water. The article is specifically about Monstera, but you can keep all plants in water (just their roots, not their leaves).

What about plants apps to keep track of watering plants?

I’m currently using Planta, and whilst I quite like it, I would not recommend it for house plant beginners, and I certainly wouldn’t water my plants as often as Planta recommends.

There are so many variables that impact how quickly soil dries out that, save Planta employing someone to come into your home and checking the soil themselves*, an app cannot tell if a plant is dry.

Planta does have an option to ‘snooze’ the watering reminder for a few days, so I like how it helps me keep track of all my plants (I always neglect the kitchen windowsill gang). I also like that it reminds me to fertilise them (again, I think too often, but I just use less fertiliser) and clean them.

Buuuut if you want something that will tell you when to water your plants with any degree of accuracy, you’ll need a human being. Even moisture metres aren’t that accurate.

The only reason I recommend them for beginners is that in the beginning, they’re more accurate than you.

It can be hard to believe that a Monstera with soil that’s bone dry an inch down can be soaking wet six inches down. Moisture meters are great for teaching people that.

Over time, you’ll become better at judging when a plant needs watering.

*Which I believe would

  • a) cost more than £2.75 a month and
  • b) be illegal)
monstera leaf

Are we all sure of when to water our plants?

Water ’em when the soil’s dry – not daily, weekly, or monthly.

Except for Calathea and ferns, which you just shouldn’t get until you can be trusted to be a more trustworthy waterer.

If you’ve already taken the plunge, you shouldn’t let these plants totally dry out, but don’t let them stay too soggy – water them when your moisture meter hits 3 or 4.

Hope this helps!

monstera leaf with text overlay

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