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Houseplant Water Needs

Water is crucial to your plants’ survival, however much like light, different plant varieties have different water needs. Once you’ve ensured your plants are receiving the correct amount of light it’s time to sort out how much water they need, and how often they need it.

When wrapping our brains around how often to water a plant, we are going to (again) consider their natural environment; are we looking at a desert plant that grows in dry conditions, only receiving the occasional dump of rain, or is this a lush tropical plant that would receive daily periods of wet and dry and high humidity in nature? Understanding how your plant thrives in its natural environment allows us to mimic this environment at home, allowing the plant do what it does best, grow.

Plant care ultimately comes down to this act of trying to reproduce the natural environment at home. Which means that you not only need to know the name of your plants, but also understand how they grow in the wild. Taking the time to read up about the plants you have at home, online or in print, is an important part of plant parenthood. I can’t emphasize this enough, if you want to develop a green thumb you need to learn about your plants and their individual needs.

Commonly, the amount a plant needs will be broken into broad categories. You may see information online, or on plant identification tags included with the plant when you buy it, that say things like “water every one to two weeks, allow soil to dry out between watering”, or “keep soil moist at all times, do not allow plant to sit in excess water”. Keep the plant wet but don’t let it sit in wet soil? It can definitely be confusing at times.

As a general rule, most leafy tropical plants like to be watered regularly, think once a week depending on the season. Between watering the top inch of soil should dry. If you’re new to plant care, or have killed a few too many plants in the past, give the soil a feel before each watering to make sure. Go ahead and stick your finger in the soil. If it’s damp it’s not time to water yet.

Desert plants including cacti and succulents are comfortable with less frequent water and should be allowed to dry out completely, sometimes for weeks or even months, before being watered again. Plants that are susceptible to root rot and those in lower light will also need water less often; think Snake Plants (Sansevieria) and ZZ Plants (Zamioculcas).

There are also some plants that thrive in consistently damp soil; delicate fern, alocaisa, and caladium varieties will quickly crisp up if their soil isn’t kept sufficiently wet.

If remembering what water needs your different plants require is too much to remember, try grouping them together – cacti in the bright kitchen window rarely need water, ferns and calathea across from a bright window can’t dry out – or do what we do and write it down on a calendar. Another great watering tip is to pot your plants in something with drainage. This can be a plastic growers pot that is then placed in a pretty ceramic pot. Drainage holes allow the water to escape if you are a little heavy handed and are a great way to give plants a thorough watering (until water is running from the bottom of the pot) without over doing it.