The Best Way To Water Houseplants (Complete Guide)

Watering your houseplants is not as simple as dumping out the remainder of your water cup into your plant as you walk by. Yes, many of us are guilty of that. There are a few basics you should know when it comes to watering your houseplants.

In this article, I will discuss how to properly water your houseplants. I’ll also go over signs of overwatering and signs of underwatering. Once you have the basics down, there isn’t much to think about.

Watering houseplants
Watering houseplants (a complete guide)

Different types of water used for watering houseplants

Not all water is the same. Some of us are connected to city water, and other people have private wells. Distilled water is not the same as filtered water. Is tap water from the sink okay to water your houseplants? It depends.

Some plants are more sensitive to different types of water. Let’s go over the different types of water commonly used in watering houseplants.

  • City/town water – Contains minerals, salts, and chlorine. Some plants are sensitive to this (Prayer plants/Calatheas and Spider Plants especially).
  • Well water – Everyone’s well water will a bit different. However, it is typically less harsh on plants than city or town water, and suitable for most houseplants. Though, I would recommend testing your water periodically with a home test to see what minerals may be present.
  • Rain water – Rain water is much purer (free of minerals and salts) than well water or city water. If your houseplants live outside during the summer, they’ll love the fresh rain water.
  • Filtered water – Better than city or town tap water alone. A fridge filter or pitcher with a filter is a simple option.
  • Distilled water – Pure water that can be purchased at many stores. Some plants that are sensitive to town water prefer this, as they don’t respond well to mineral build-up.

Of course, it’s entirely up to you which water you choose to water your houseplants with and there is no need to overthink it. I suggest simple filtered water from the fridge or a filtered pitcher that has come to room temperature. If you have a couple of finicky Calathea plants, you can save some distilled water for them.

Methods of watering your houseplants

There are two primary ways of watering your plants, top watering and bottom watering. I suggest doing a mixture of both depending on the type of plant, the size of the plant, and the space you’re working with.

Top watering houseplants

Top watering snake plant in the sink
Top watering moonshine snake plant.

Just as it sounds, watering your plants from the top involves using your watering can (or sink) to water your plants from the top. The water then drains out the bottom. It is very important to ensure you are thoroughly watering your plants when using this method.

Rotate the plant as much as needed to ensure the entire plant and all of the roots are thoroughly hydrated. When the water begins to drip out the bottom from the entire pot, you can let it sit for a few minutes for emptying out the excess water.

This is the easiest method of watering, and typically what most people do. However, if you have a particularly small or bushy plant, top watering can be a challenge. Even if you strictly bottom water your plants, I suggest top watering on occasion to properly flush the plant. This will remove any build up of minerals or impurities that may have collected over time.

Bottom watering houseplants

Bottom watering snake plant in the sink
Bottom watering snake plant.

Bottom watering is the process of saturating your plants root system from the bottom of the pot. You can fill a bowl, a large container, or even your sink with water for this method. The plant is placed into the water (in the nursery pot or pot with drainage holes), and the water is wicked through the bottom until the soil is thoroughly saturated.

Once you notice the top of the soil getting moist, remove the plant and allow it to drain.

How often to water your houseplants

There is truly no single answer to this question. When it comes to watering your houseplants, a variety of diffrent factors come into play:

  • The size of the plant and the pot size (how much soil is in the pot)
  • The temperature and humidity of your home
  • The type of pot you are using (terracotta dries out much quicker)
  • The type of plant
  • How much light it is receiving
  • Whether the plant is in its active growth season or not

The best thing you can do is keep track of your plants. Get into the habit of checking your plants on a regular basis. Lift them up to feel the weight and learn how heavy the pot feels when they are thirsty.

There are some plants (like succulents) that like to be completely dry before watering. Other plants also prefer a little bit of watering neglect (I’m looking at you, pothos). It’s important to research your plants and their individual watering needs to help them thrive.

Watering Begonia in the sink.

How to water your houseplants (the right way)

Simply put, the correct way to water your plants is to ensure they are getting a thorough watering at proper intervals. The easiest way to do this is to get to know your plants. There are many apps available where you can log when you water your plants, but a handwritten list with dates will also do just fine.

  1. Make sure you have drainage holes – One of the most important things you can do is make sure you are using pots with drainage holes. If you have a pot that you would like to use, and it does not have drainage holes, simply use a nursery pot and place it inside of the decorative pot. Placing rocks at the bottom of the planter will not provide sufficient damage, and can actually cause more issues.
  2. Use the right soil mixture – Soil mixture is very important. Most plants prefer well-draining soil that is also moisture retaining. This can be a tricky balance. At the very least, I suggest adding perlite to any basic potting mix for houseplants. This will help keep the soil on the fluffy side, allow for more drainage and aeration, and prevent root root.
  3. Thoroughly soak – Do not be afraid of the amount of water you are using when watering your houseplants! Giving the plant a complete soaking and ensuring that all the roots are wet is very important. If you are using a pot with good drainage holes, there is no need to worry about the quantity of water you are using. It is also easier to water your plants in the sink or bathtub to avoid a mess.

Signs of houseplant overwatering

It’s true that overwatering houseplants is one of the top reasons they die. Houseplants do not like to be waterlogged or kept in soil that is overly wet and dense. It is more common for people to overwater their plants (too frequently) than underwater them. Sometimes too much attention is a bad thing.

Overwatered monstera plant
Overwatered Monstera.

Common signs:

  • Droopy, soft, mushy yellow leaves – If you notice yellow leaves (especially new leaf growth) turning yellow, and the leaves are soft (not crunchy), this is a sign your plant has been overwatered
  • Soft, mushy, fragile roots – If you slide your plant out of the pot and notice the roots are very fragile, soft to the touch and mushy, your plant may have root rot. This is caused by overwatering. Luckily, this can be treated with hydrogen peroxide.
  • Mold – Mold on the surface of your plant can be the result of too much moisture and/or not enough air circulation.
  • Brown, black, or yellow spots on leaves – Many fungal and bacterial infections are the result of overwatering. If you notice spots on your leaves, it could be an infection. Use a fungicide to treat the plant and remove any leaves that are affected.
  • Fungus gnats – Fungus gnats love moisture. While not always the case, they often appear in overwatering situations. If you have fungus gnats, you can treat your houseplant with mosquito bits, which kills the larvae. Systemic granules can be used indoors only, as they are poisonous to pollinators.

Tip: If you are looking for the perfect ready-made soil for your houseplants, keep it simple and check out our favorite Chunky Houseplant Mix from Sol Soils. This soil is very well-draining, making it less likely you will overwater and cause root rot. And, use code “GEEKY” for 10% off!

Signs of houseplant underwatering

Neon Pothos showing the first signs of underwatering (slightly droopy leaves).

Even if you’re watering your plants correctly (by thoroughly soaking them each time you water), you may be not be watering frequently enough. Waiting too long between waterings and letting your plant dry out is not good for the plant.

Or, you may be watering at the right frequently, but not giving the plant enough water. This would be the person guilty of dumping out their water glass every time they walk by. Either way, underwatering your plant can cause a variety of symptoms and hinder it’s growth.

  • Drooping leaves and stems – This is one of the most common signs of an underwatered plant. Droopy leaves will often perk up shortly after a good watering.
  • Leaf curling or wrinkled leaves – The same way our skin looks thirsty when we are dehydrated, leaves can become wrinkled or curled when your plant is not adequately hydrated.
  • Crunchy, discolored leaf tips – If you notice crunchy leaf tips that are discolored (yellow or brown), you may be underwatering the plant.
  • Dry, yellow leaves – Leaf yellowing is a symptom of many different things. However, if you notice yellow leaves that are dry or crunchy to the touch, and you have not watered your plant for awhile, it may be time for a good soaking. Mushy and plump yellow leaves indicate overwatering.

While underwatering your plant is not good for its health, it’s actually a lot better than overwatering. But, you want to avoid stressing your plant and allowing the roots to dry up. If you have a plant that has been severely underwatered, give it a good bottom watering soaking. Allow it to sit for 15-20 minutes in room temperature water and let the roots and soil soak up all the water, until the plant is fully saturated.

I hope this guide helped clear up some questions you may have about watering your houseplants. Most people fall either chronically overwater their plants, or let them dry out too frequently. The key is finding a good balance, keeping tracking of your plants, and giving the plant what it needs to thrive.

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