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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 every week and every 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 the same light conditions.
Factors that affect how often you need to water your house plants:
- How you water them
- The species of plant
- How much humidity the plant is getting
- How much light the plant is getting
- The type of pot it’s in
- The type of potting mix it’s in
- The time of year
- How fast it’s growing
What affects how often you should water your indoor plants?
So many different factors affect how often houseplants should be watered.
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 thoroughly soaking them until water is running through the drainage holes (which are imperative – read why here).
The plant species you have dictates how often you water them
Some plants are thirstier than others.
As well as environmental factors, such as how hot/close to the window they are to the window, plants evolve different water-retaining 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 that travels below the ground and sends out roots and root nodes.
You might think that plants with rhizomes are better at dealing with drought that others, but that actually isn’t necessarily true.
ZZ plants have rhizomes that look like this:
The rhizome is the lump in the middle, and it’s very good at storing water for the plant. The leaves and stems also hold a LOT of water, unlike a lot of other plants. This is to deal with the periods of drought it might experience in it’s native east Africa.
Calathea also have rhizomes:
Calathea leaves and stems are delicate and they don’t store much water, because it’s not required when they live somewhere where water is so plentiful they named it the rainforest.
They have rhizomes because they’ve evolved to deal with a LOT of water, and in the seasons when the rain is less frequent (like, once a day rather than practically constantly), they don’t shrivel up.
First of all, I don’t want to hear anything about misting. I have a whole post on why it’s largely pointless.
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. If a plant that needs high humidity doesn’t get it, its ability to photosynthesise is compromised.
High humidity will decrease the amount you need to 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:
I have a whole article here on why humidity is important, but it’s a bit like light – you can’t believe how much difference having high humidity makes to tropical plants.
And how much easier they are to care for.
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 that 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 as they do 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 warmth, 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 more often 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.
But as we all know, Calathea will complain more when they don’t get those requirements.
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 opposite 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 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.
The potting medium & whether it’s top-dressed
If your potting medium is high in sand, perlite, or orchid bark 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
The difference between quick-draining potting mixes for cacti and aroids is that aroid mix is designed to be very airy but also to retain a decent amount of water. Succulent mixes retain much less water.
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 gnats, 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, both these products can become hydrophobic if they’re left to dry out for too long, and it can be a pain to rehydrate them.
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 is blooming) 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).
My personal watering schedule
I change 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 an old teapot. I do have a watering can.
From a strict 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.
So I use my teapot. Every week, I go around my plants and check the soil with either my finger or a moisture meter. If it’s dry, I water it, if it’s wet I don’t.
Some plants need watering when they’re still *slightly* moist, which is why I like a moisture meter.
Moisture meters are very polarising in the houseplant community because they’re not super accurate, especially if you have chunky soil. I’ve never had a problem, BUT the key is to take the readings with a pinch of salt.
If it says it dry but it looks wet, don’t water it OR double check with your finger.
Is it better to water too much or too little?
Neither is great. You’re better off learning how to water properly.
Overwatering will kill plants quickly, underwatering will take longer.
Your plant will get stressed from both, which will not only affect its growth, but it’ll also send out stress hormones that will attract pests. Not ideal.
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.If you’re the kind of person that forgets about their plants, you have a few options:
- Set a reminder for yourself to check your plants weekly – I do it before I do the big clean in case of soil/puddles
- Pick plants that suit your house
- Move plants to leca so you can put them on more of a schedule
- Put your plants in spots you walk past a lot, so you don’t forget any
- I have an article on having plants and ADHD with some tips that have helped me
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 underwatered Hoya bella even blooms in late spring.
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.
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 all 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 unlikely that your plant will dry out so quickly that you’ll need to water it every day, but 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 most 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 the soil dries out that, save Planta employing someone to come into your home and check 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 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.
(Also, I still use one, so why wouldn’t I recommend them?)
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)
Are we all sure of when to water our plants?
Water them when the soil’s dry – not on a daily, weekly, or monthly schedule.
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!