No more over watering and under watering! Stop guessing and master how to water indoor plants like a pro based on their unique needs. Happy houseplants guaranteed!

Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt the crushing guilt of a wilting houseplant, a casualty of your well-intentioned but rigid watering schedule. We’ve all been there, diligently pouring our devotion (and H2O) on a fixed weekly basis, blissfully unaware that our leafy friends might be begging for something entirely different.

The truth is, plants, like people, are individuals with unique needs. What might be a life-giving drink for your beautiful monstera could be a soggy death knell for your drought-tolerant succulent.

Thus, you might be over watering or under watering your indoor plants without even realize you’re doing it.

So, let’s ditch the one-size-fits-all approach and dive into the dynamic world of understanding your plant’s thirst cues.

In today’s post, I’m going to help you change your approach to watering plants indoors so your houseplants can thrive.

Are you ready to be the plant parent you’ve always wanted to be? Let’s go!

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Why Skipping Schedules Makes Sense

Think about it: in nature, no plant receives a pre-programmed water timer. They rely on subtle signals like soil moisture, sunlight, and temperature to dictate their thirst. Blindly sticking to a schedule ignores these crucial factors, often leading to over watering, the silent killer of houseplants.

The biggest reason indoor plants die is from over watering them. It’s a common mistake that even experienced gardeners make, but is very easy to fix. So don’t sweat it if this has happened to you.

It’s happened to the best of us at some point or another in our gardening lives so now, we learn to become better gardeners from what we are doing wrong. Don’t beat yourself up over it.

The Secret to Keeping Houseplants Alive

Paying Attention to Seasonal Rhythms

Just like us, plants adapt to seasonal changes. During the winter most indoor plants enter a state of dormancy, slowing down their metabolism and usually requiring less water. If you persist with your summer watering routine and you risk drowning their slumbering roots.

In addition, dry heat from the indoor air can also dry the soil out much faster than during the warmer months too. So it’s really important to pay attention to your the soil and your plant’s needs in the home conditions that you have. Make sense?

Listen to Your Plants

Remember, your plants are constantly communicating their needs. Observe their leaves, stems, and soil. Wilting, drooping, or yellowing foliage are cries for help. Don’t ignore these changes and instead, investigate what’s going on. Is it getting too much light? Too much water? Have you fertilized it recently?

Conversely, perky leaves and new growth signal contentment. By paying attention to these subtle cues, you’ll develop a deep understanding of your plant’s individual rhythm that will help you create an indoor garden that thrives.

plant room located in the sunroom with white swivel chairs, snake plant, spider plants, chinese evergreen, pilea, boston fern with leather poof ottoman, jute area rug. Easy care houseplants that clean the air

How We Over Water Plants Indoor

There are a few ways we tend to over water houseplants. Do any of these sound familar? If so, stop doing them and let’s approach watering indoor plants differently.

  • We want to schedule ourselves on the same day every week to water plants so we don’t forget. DON’T DO THIS! It’s a surefire way to drown your indoor plants.
  • We might also look at the soil surface, think the plant is dry, and needs water. So we water it more. Then, as those plants start to decline, many think it’s thirsty and needs even more water. So then you water again. The problem with that is, the plant might already be over-saturated near the roots and instead of allowing it to dry out, you’re giving it more water which leads to root rot and plant decline.

The problem with both of these methods is that the soil where the roots are may not actually be dry. And if the soil is not really dry, then plant roots sit in a wet soggy mess that promotes pest and disease problems.

So just because the top layer of soil looks dry doesn’t mean it is. And, the plant may not “need” to be watered on the scheduled watering day.

dipping plastic knife into to soil to check for dryness -The Secret to watering plants indoors
Use your finger, popsicle stick or plastic knife to check for soil moisture

How Does Soil Retain Water and Still Look Dry?

Wet soil is very similar to a sponge. If you soak a sponge and hold it upright, water collects at the bottom while the top dries out.

Soil acts in the same way. So the soil surface may look and feel dry, but may not be dry where the roots are located. Now that we understand how the soil retains moisture near the roots, how can you tell whether it’s dry or not?

How to Determine Whether Houseplants NEED to be Watered: The Art of the Finger Test

While I mentioned having a scheduled watering day could be harmful to plants, it is good to plan one so that watering is on your radar.

So what will you be doing on that scheduled day? You are going to check the soil for dryness instead of blindly watering every week. No more mindless watering because we will be doing it with more intention. Here’s how!

Use your finger, popsicle stick, or even a plastic knife and gently poke the soil about an inch deep. Does it feel wet? Is there soil on it?

If it’s dry, give your plant a drink. But if it is still damp? Hold off and check again tomorrow. This method accounts for factors like pot size, soil type, and plant variety, ensuring the care you give is tailored to that plant’s needs.

I know this sounds like a task but you will get to know your plants and their watering needs after a few weeks and not need to do this as often.

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02/18/2024 03:48 pm GMT

How to Water Indoor Plants the Right Way

It is so important to strike the right balance when watering indoor plants because there are lots of different factors that go into watering plants at the right time.

It’s a good idea to check your plants weekly to see if they NEED to be watered. Keep in mind that just because you are checking, doesn’t mean they actually need to be watered.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Watering Plants Indoors

  • Use a watering can: A watering can spout directs water to the base, avoiding splashes and puddles. This helps you focus on watering where plants need it most, their roots.
  • Give plants a shower: It’s a good idea to give houseplants a monthly shower to wash off any dust or debris and give them a good soil soaking.
  • Water plants in your kitchen sink: You’ll know you gave plants a good soaking when you use a sink faucet. Allow the water to completely drain out before putting it back in it’s home.
  • Avoid Softened Water: Sodium from softeners can harm your plants. Use outdoor spigots, filtered water, or purified options instead.
  • Check the Soil for Moisture: Dig in before you give plants water. Each plant has its own rhythm, so check them individually.
  • Only Water Plants When Necessary: Set reminders to assess your plants, but ditch rigid schedules. Some need more frequent drinks than others, and seasons can shift their thirst. Learn your plants.
  • Water Deeply: A good drench is key not a shallow watering. Mimmick rainfall not a superficial drink of water. Thoroughly soak the soil until water drains from the pot’s bottom. This encourages healthy root growth.
  • Keep Plants Out of Standing Water: Allowing plants to sit in water is a recipe for disaster. If you overdo it, use a turkey baster to remove excess water.
Garden blogger stacy ling watering chinese evergreen houseplant -The Secret to Keeping Houseplants Alive

How to Fix Soggy Soil After Watering Indoor Plants Wrong

If you’ve been unknowingly over watering plants, we can fix the problem and help improve their health.

  • Start by cleaning the plant from dust and debris.
  • Remove any and all dead growth so the plant doesn’t waste any energy into them.
  • Get rid of any mold you see too.
  • It’s a good idea to completely repot the plant and give it a fresh start in new potting soil in a clean container.

To clean your container, use 9 parts water to 1 part bleach and clean the container well. If leaves are yellowing, the plant can also be stressed from the following:

  • over watering
  • poor drainage
  • too much light

Once the plant is repotted in a fresh container, keep it in a location where it can rebound and don’t over water it! In fact, if the problem was due to over watering, I’d repot it and leave it alone for a few days before watering it.

I shared more tips for reviving houseplants after they decline in this post. So you’ll want to check out this article for more help with fixing an indoor plant that’s not doing well.

planting palm plant in fresh new soil to revive it -how to revive plants

Indoor Plant Leaves Turning Brown and Crispy Tips: Not Always the Sign of Over Watering

Sometimes Brown leaf tips or edges can happen on any indoor plant but are common on certain species like spider plant and dracaena.

Trimming the brown portions off the leaves with a scissors can improve their appearance, but new browning can still occur if the root cause is not addressed. While brown leaf tips can be a sign of over watering, don’t jump to conclusions. Consider the following factors:

  1. Over watering or under watering: Trim off the brown leaves and be more mindful with watering practices.
  2. Not enough humidity. Add a humidifier or group plants together to increase humidity.
  3. Normal aging: If it is the lower leaves on a plant, that is natural aging. Trim that foliage off.
  4. Too much fertilizer: Over fertilizing can affect roots and cause damage to the foliage by browning out the edges and tips. You may also see buildup on the soil surface. Avoid fertilizing in winter while the plant is dormant and always follow package directions.
  5. Pest and disease problems: Sometimes plants get brown and crispy from pest and disease problems. Before doing anything, inspect the plant and research common problems for that particular plant. When you google it, add a .edu so you pull up information from an extension website.
  6. Erratic watering and other care conditions: Evaluate how you’ve been caring for the plant because it could be the result of erratic watering, water you are using, and over fertilizing.
watering a monstera deliciosa plant

Watering Indoor Plants FAQs

When is the Best Time to Water Indoor Plants?

The best time to water indoor plants is in the morning. So if try to water in the mornings where possible. It’s recommended to water all plants, whether inside or out, in the morning because it allows the plant to absorb the water before the heat of the day causes it to evaporate.

Watering in the morning reduces the risk of fungal growth that can occur when soil and leaves stay wet overnight. And it gives plant foliage time to dry off before evening, which can help reduce the risk of disease.

Can You Water Plants at Night?

While it is generally recommended to water plants in the morning, you can water plants at night if you forget to do it in the morning and they really need it. But I’d avoid doing it if you can.

I do not recommend making watering at night a regular practice. One of the main concerns is that the soil and plant foliage may stay wet for an extended period of time, which can increase the risk of fungal growth and disease.

Additionally, if the plant is not able to absorb the water quickly, it can lead to water pooling around the base of the plant, which can lead to root rot.

Also, watering at night can also attract insects and pests which can be harmful to the plants. If you have to water plants at night, try to do it as early as possible and only on a rare occasion.

Can You Bring a Houseplant Back to Life?

I always say if the plant still has some green foliage and stem, there’s a good chance you can save it. Take a look at the roots and see if the roots are white. You can revive plants using these tips.

close up of the reading nook in the sunroom with white swivel chairs, pilee plant and kalanchoe

How Often Should You Water Plants Indoors?

How often you should water plants indoors can be a tricky one to answer! It’s about finding the right balance because there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, as the frequency depends on a variety of factors that include:

  • Plant Type: Different plants have different thirst levels. Cacti and succulents, for example, are drought-tolerant and need infrequent watering, while ferns and peace lilies prefer consistently moist soil.
  • Pot Size and Material: Smaller pots dry out faster than larger ones, and clay pots lose moisture more quickly than plastic ones. Learn how different container types and how they affect plants in this post.
  • Soil Composition: Well-draining soil allows water to flow through easily, meaning you’ll need to water more often. Conversely, dense soil holds onto moisture, so you’ll need to water less frequently.
  • Sunlight and Temperature: Plants in bright, hot environments will dry out faster than those in shady, cooler spots. Additionally, plants grow more during the warm season and typically require more water then.
  • Seasonality: As winter approaches, many plants enter dormancy and require significantly less water.

When you are evaluating the specific plant you are growing, look at soil dryness, wilting leaves, and it’s growth rate. During active growth periods, plants typically need to be watered more often. Conversely, slower growth during cooler months means reduced water requirements.

By observing these factors and responding to your plant’s individual needs, you’ll master the art of watering and keep your leafy companions thriving. Remember, it’s always better to underwater than over water, as soggy roots can be fatal.

close up of chinese evergreen in the sunroom
Chinese Evergreen Plant

Should You Water House Plants from Top or Bottom?

It’s always best to water at the base of plants to ensure water is given where plants need it most. When we water from above, those roots don’t receive as much water. And when water is left on plant foliage in cooler conditions, that can lead to pest and disease problems.

However, using a mixture of bottom watering for every day with top watering every now and again will help wash away the build-up of salts and minerals to keep house plants looking lush, healthy and beautiful.

Embrace the Joy of Plant Parenthood

Watering your plants shouldn’t be a chore, but rather a journey of discovery. As you learn to decipher their unique language, you’ll cultivate a deeper connection with your houseplants. So, forget the weekly watering schedule, use your finger, and learn what your plant actually needs!

With a little attention and a lot of love, you can master the art of watering your indoor plants, transforming your home into a vibrant haven of thriving greenery. So, go forth, explore, and let your plants guide you!

view of the sunroom from the library with vintage wood chess table

More About How to Water Plants Indoor

How do you water your houseplants? Are they on a weekly watering schedule or do you test the soil for dryness before watering? Do you have any indoor plant care tips you’d like to share? I would love to know more in the comments below.

And don’t miss joining my Gardening DIY and Decorating Community on Facebook for more chatter. And follow along there and on Instagram as well. There are behind-the-scenes daily things that I share on Instagram that don’t make it to the blog. Would love to see you there too!

If you prefer to binge-watch Bricks ’n Blooms on TV, we go more in-depth with tours and posts on my YouTube channel. Would love to hang out with you there!

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Keep houseplants alive with tips from master gardener stacy ling
monstera delciiosa by the koi pond

Garden Supplies I Use

Since I’ve been gardening for well over twenty-five years, I’m often asked about the garden supplies and tools that I use most. From pruners to deer repellents, here are some of my favorites that I use in no particular order.

dahlia kogane fubuki in the potager garden

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watering a monstera plant
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I’m a master gardener who’s been gardening and growing things for over 25 years and author of the best-selling book, The Bricks ‘n Blooms Guide to a Beautiful and Easy-Care Flower Garden. With a deep passion for gardening, I enjoy helping others find their inner green thumb with all things plants and flowers, as well as finding ways to bring the outdoors inside their homes.

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monstera plant in farmhouse family room with sectional sofa and white throw pillows with round mango wood coffee table
watering a chinese evergreen plant in a terracotta pot -The Secret to watering indoor plants
Close up of Monstera plant foliage
The Secret to Keeping Houseplants Alive
houseplants, terracotta pots and garden decor on a potting bench -Potting Bench Idea made from wood pallet and has lots of terracotta pots with houseplants, flowers and potting shed sign
the secret to watering indoor plants graphic over sunroom with monstera plant background
Doing the cake batter test to see if chinese evergreen needs to be watered -The Secret to watering plants indoors
dipping plastic knife in potting soil to check for dryness -The Secret to Keeping Houseplants Alive
Removing plastic knife from soil to see if soil is wet while checking if it's dryThe Secret to Keeping Houseplants Alive

To show you an example of how what the tester will look like, this Chinese Evergreen could wait another day or so to get watered.

The knife came out somewhat clean but there was some damp soil on it.

I’ll check it again in another day or so to see if it’s drier.

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30 Comments

  1. I’m a serial over waterer! Thanks for all the tips. I’m sure my house plants will be much happier now that I know this!

  2. Your site is so informative. I truly love it. I need to send you my rose begonia. Every year I love them when they are for sale in the plant nursery and then I get them home on the porch for a couple months and they just simply digress. I know that ‘s not really a house plant…but I’m puzzled by it anyway.

  3. Pingback: Welcome Home Sunday with Bricks n' Bloom - Sincerely, Marie Designs
  4. Stacy this is so helpful! I sadly just killed a lovely ivy plant. I think I over watered it. Pinned for future plant love !☺️

    1. I’m so glad you liked it! Believe me, I’ve over-watered plenty of houseplants – it’s so easy to do without even realizing it!

  5. Great to see your feature over on Welcome Home Sunday! I always love your gardening tips and seeing your beautiful home. Maybe you’ll rescue me from my “black thumb” status!
    Shelley

  6. SI glad you joined us this week for Welcome Home Sunday! This is such a helpful post for your friend here who does not have a green thumb!

    1. We are going to work on that green thumb – you can do it! Thank you for including with me! I love joining you guys!

  7. Pingback: Welcome Home Sunday ~ White Arrows Home
  8. Thank you so much for all the tips. I used to grow beautiful plants, but now not so much. Could it be the water softener unit we have that uses salt and bleach

  9. Stacy
    I learn so much from your posts. I’ll be watering from the bottom from now on. lol. I have always done it wrong. 😑. Thanks for all your fabulous content.