when to water house plants

When to Water House Plants

Many a houseplant is lost due to watering issues. So how do you actually figure out when they are thirsty?

Although some might advise us to stick to a disciplined watering schedule with timeous reminders on our cellphones, there are many variables and factors to consider when you water house plants. It is true that most foliage (tropical) houseplants start life in the hothouses of growers where they are watered and fed on a schedule. But those hothouses will feature a regulated environment with consistent humidity, temperature and light. As soon as plants land in somebody’s lounge, though, it is a different story…

Signs that a houseplant needs water are:

  • Soil colour: If the soil is wet it will have a dark colour and loose consistency. If it has dried out it will have a greyish colour and will have started pulling away from the sides of the pot.
  • Soil moisture: If it feels dry to the touch when you stick a whole finger into the soil, the plant needs watering. Should you carefully stick a chopstick or kebab stick deeper into the soil and it comes out clean, the soil is too dry.
  • Pot weight: If you pick up the inner pot in which the plant actually grows and it feels light, chances are that it has dried out too much.
  • Soil type: Not all potting mediums are the same. Some growers use a bark-based medium that can dry out faster, whereas others are more partial to a humus-dense mix that retains moisture for longer. When buying a plant, check the soil.
  • Position: Houseplants sitting in indirect light close to an open window will dry out much faster than those tolerant to lower light conditions sitting further away from a window.
  • Root density: Most indoor plants are grown in fairly small plastic pots, unless they are large specimen plants already a few years old. This can mean that something like a fast-growing spider plant, with its vigorous and fleshy roots, will soon become pot bound and will dry out quite quickly. If you see this happening to your plants, it is a good idea to repot them into the next size pot.
  • Appearance: Plants like the peace lily (Spathiphyllum) will start drooping by losing its turgor, which is the rigidity in its cells and tissues when well hydrated. A bleak leaf colour and shrivelling leaves, which are caused by stomata on the leaves closing to halt evaporation, are further indications that a plant may be very dry. Dropping leaves (Ficus), dry or dead leaf tips, slow growth and the production of smaller leaves are other signs of chronically under-watered plants.
  • Temperature: Prolonged heat will dry plants out much faster than expected. After a few very hot days, expect your plants to be dry and needing a deep watering in the sink of your kitchen.

Conclusion: The first thing to consider when it comes to how often to water house plants is to study every individual plant’s needs carefully by reading up on it – this is the only way to success and leafy joy. Also use technology, like investing in a moisture meter. Other aids are water-retention products that can be added to the soil to keep it moist for longer, and decorative mulches to add around a plant’s stem. The best advice remains to use your senses, like sight and touch.

The Gardener