Here’s the million-dollar question I get asked quite a bit: how often should you water indoor plants? There’s no definitive answer here because so many variables come into play. I’m going to answer questions and give you things to think about which will help you when it comes to watering indoor plants.
First off, here’s my education and experience in a nutshell so you know I’m legit houseplant aficionado. My dad built a greenhouse off our dining room when I was 10. This was how my love affair with houseplants began. I studied landscape architecture but ended graduating with a degree in landscape and environmental horticulture.
I was an interior plantscaper (an interior plant specialist) for years both maintaining and designing commercial accounts. Suffice it to say, I learned more on the job than in school! I’ve enjoyed plants in my own homes for many years now so I’m happy to share what I’ve learned along the way.
Boy, do I love houseplants! This lovely assortment has different care needs so it’s best to do a little research before you start buying.
I did a post and video called Houseplant Watering 101 quite a few years ago in my early days of being a content creator but I wanted to do this more in-depth guide for you. This way, you’ll be able to have them both as references.
How to Water Indoor Plants
There are so many variables and factors involved that I can’t give you a set answer as to how often you should water your houseplants. For instance, I watered my houseplants in San Francisco and Santa Barbara differently than I do in Tucson where I now live. In the indoor plant care posts that I do I always give you an idea of how I water my houseplants so you can use that as a guideline.
2 Most Common Reasons Houseplants Don’t Thrive
1.) Over watering or under watering. Too much water = no oxygen to the roots which leads to root rot. Too little water and the roots dry out. Most beginning houseplant gardeners (welcome to the wonderful world of houseplants by the way!) tend to water their plants too much, ie too often.
2.) Right plant wrong place. A Ficus benjamina won’t survive in low light and high light exposure could cause a Pothos to burn.
Oh, the popular Ficus benjamina can be so temperamental. They drop leaves when anything isn’t to their liking.
What to Consider Before Watering Houseplants
Here are a few things you should think about before, during, and after you water your plants.
The Type of Plant
Different plants have different watering needs. This goes hand in hand with the point below.
Frequency of Watering
I don’t water all of my many houseplants at 1 time. It would be much easier if I did, but some dry out faster than others & some need watering more often than others. For instance, Peace Lilies will need watering more often than Snake Plants.
How You Water
Water the soil all around, not just in 1 spot. The roots run all around the base of the plant.
Not Checking the Soil
Water by how the soil feels, not by length of time. Most roots go deep & are in the bottom half of the root ball. Just because the surface looks dry, it doesn’t mean the roots are. Don’t water too shallow.
More light = more watering frequency. Less light = less watering frequency.
Snake Plants don’t need or want watering every week. I water mine every 3-5 weeks depending on the time of year. They’re great for people who travel or who forget to water their plants!
The smaller the grow pot or pot, the more often your plant will need watering. The larger the pot, the less often. Plants in large pots don’t need watering as often as those in small pots.
And, plants in large pots aren’t any harder to water & in some cases can be easier because they don’t need it as often..
Type of Pot
Terra cotta & unglazed pots are porous which means air can get into the root ball. Plants in these types may need watering a bit more often than those in plastic grow pots or directly planted in ceramics or resin pots.
If the root ball is tight in its pot, it’ll most likely need watering more often. Some plants grow best when slightly tight in their pots. If they’re too potbound, the roots won’t be able to hold water.
The heavier the soil mix, the less often you’ll water. I have a Dracanea marginata planted in potting soil right next to a Dracaena Lisa planted in lava rock (some larger houseplants will come planted in larva rock). I water the Lisa more often than I do the marginata. The lava rock doesn’t hold the water like potting soil does.
The warmer the temperature of your home, the faster your plants will dry out. I live in Tucson, Arizona where the temps. are warm & the sun shines a lot. If you live in a cooler climate (most people do!) then you would water your indoor plants less often.
If my Peace Lily goes dry, the leaves & stems completely droop. They perk right back up after a good soaking. It’s a popular houseplant but you have to be regular on the watering with this one.
The higher the humidity, the slower the mix will dry out (especially potting soil). I’m not only in a sunny & warm climate but the humidity is low so I’ll water my plants more often.
Both reduce humidity & can remove moisture from the air. You’ll water less often in winter (see the last point) but air conditioning can be drying too.
If the soil is top-dressed with moss, rock or bark, then it’ll dry out slower.
This doesn’t have to do with frequency but your tap water may be high in salts & minerals. These can cause the roots to burn which will show up as brown tips &/or brown spots on the leaves. I have a water filtration system which runs through my kitchen faucet & that’s the source I use to water my houseplants. If your water quality is poor, you may need a filtration system or to use distilled water.
I’ll save this important point for last:
Time of Year
This is really important to know when it comes to watering indoor plants. Plants rest in the cooler, darker months so you’ll water them less often. For instance, I’ll water my 6″ Aglaonema commutatum every 7-10 days in the summer whereas in winter, it’s every 14 – 18 days.
Bromeliads are a flowering houseplant option whose blooms are colorful & long-lasting. They have a particular way that they like to be watered which you can read here.
Watering Indoor Plants: Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know when I’m overwatering my indoor plant?
It can be tricky to determine overwatering from underwatering. In both cases, the plant can show signs of wilting as well as yellowing leaves.
Here’s a general rule: if the plant is soft to the touchy (mushy) & you see brown spots on the leaves or portions of them turning dark, then it’s overwatering. If the leaves turn pale &/or look wrinkled, then it’s too dry. You might also see the soil pulling away from the grow pot.
In my experience, a plant can recover from under watering better than overwatering.
Will my houseplant die if I overwater it?
It could. This depends on the type of plant & how long the roots have been staying waterlogged. Once you notice the damage to your plant, it’s often too late to save it.
When I worked in the interior plantscaping business many moons ago the main reason plants had to be replaced was due to overwatering. It depends on the conditions, the plant & the soil mix but overwatering can mean a quick death for an indoor plant.
This is especially true if you water a houseplant with the same frequency in winter as in summer. When the temps cool & the daylight gets shorter is a good time to back off on the frequency of watering.
How do I fix an overwatered plant?
As I said above, you may not be able to. You can try repotting it into fresh soil mix. Start by shaking off all the old, wet soil mix. You can then examine the roots. If too many of them aren’t damaged, then repot into the dry mix.
One of each, please!
How can I prevent overwatering my houseplants?
I water my plants by instinct. I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s 2nd nature for me. You might check into getting a houseplant watering calendar, journal or app. This will help you keep track of when you last watered your plants & prevent overwatering.
The top of the soil is dry. Should I water?
Just because the top of the soil is dry doesn’t mean the roots down below are. You can stick your finger into the soil if you’re unsure but that generally works with plants in smaller pots. Some people find a moisture meter to be useful.
What kind of water is best for houseplants?
Your tap water may be just fine. It depends on the chlorine & mineral content of your water. Some people have to use distilled water for this reason. The damage will show up as excessive brown tipping or brown spots on the leaves.
I have a kitchen faucet filtration system because Tucson has hard water. I had 1 in my Santa Barbara home also.
What temperature should the water be?
Room temperature is best. The roots of houseplants don’t like it too cold or too hot.
Here’s my trio of watering cans. I use the 2 in the front for watering indoor plants. I love the red one because it’s lightweight, has a long spout & was inexpensive. The 1 in the back has a large nozzle with lots of holes which could make a mess when watering houseplants. I use it on my outdoor container plants.
How do I water my plants without making a mess?
A watering can with a long narrow spout can help with this. Get the spout as close to the soil as you can when watering. This will prevent soil & water from flying out of the pot. You don’t want to create a waterfall!
How do I protect my floor from water damage?
It’s best to have a saucer under the pot. If your houseplant is in a grow pot (on its own or inside a decorative pot), then a simple plastic saucer under that is fine.
Any type of pot or saucer on the floor, table or any other surface can have condensation build up which also leaves marks. I use these pot risers as well as thin cork mats under pots & baskets. I’ve also seen felt protectors with plastic bottoms which would work just fine too.
How do I water hanging plants?
I water cautiously when I’m watering my indoor hanging plants & use my smaller watering can with a long, narrow spout. I don’t want any water to come gushing out because saucers can fill up fast.
The 2 hangers linked in the picture caption below are ones that I like & use. These hanging basket drip pan saucers, as well as self-watering hanging baskets, are other options. If your plant is in a grow pot inside a hanging basket, plastic pot or ceramic, you can simply place a plastic saucer underneath the grow pot.
I like this macrame plant hanger because it has a good looking plastic saucer underneath to catch any water coming out. You can easily spray paint it to match the pot like I did. I can easily take the Hoya out if I want to spray it off in the sink. This is the one I have hanging in my dining room.
Does the pot need a drain hole?
It’s best for the plants if the pot has at least 1 drain hole. It’s hard to regulate the watering if the pot doesn’t have any. Drain holes prevent water from building up in the bottom of the pot which causes the roots to drown.
How much should I water my houseplants?
There’s no set answer for this. It varies from plant to plant, on your home environment & the time of year. All the above points & answers to these questions will help you out.
How do I water my houseplants in winter?
Back off on the watering frequency. Plants rest in the winter months (along with the roots) & don’t need watering as often. Just know that you can easily over water a houseplant in the cooler, darker months.
I’ve done a post & video dedicated to winter houseplant care with key points for keeping you indoor plants alive in the darker, cooler months,
Is watering indoor plants better from the top or the bottom?
I have always watered my indoor plants from the top & let the excess drain out. This method has always worked for me. If you water consistently from the bottom, then salts & minerals can’t wash out of the soil mix.
The container these succulents are planted in doesn’t have a drain hole. I water the pot (a measured amount) every 3-4 weeks.
Can you let plants sit in water?
The exception to this would be if your houseplants have dried out to the extreme & you need to water them from the top as well as soak them from the bottom to revive them. I’ll do that to my Peace Lily if it’s gone bone dry.
How long can indoor plants go without water?
It depends on the type of plant, the pot size, time of year & your environmental conditions. As a generalization, it’s 7-24 days. Plants need water to thrive & grow but too much water isn’t the solution either.
Is it OK to water houseplants at night?
I water my houseplants in the morning or afternoon because that’s when it’s most convenient for me. And, I don’t have to turn on all the lights to see the pots! Houseplants rest at night so for that reason, I’d just leave them be at night.
Aloe vera is not only good looking but it’s useful. Because it’s a succulent, it doesn’t like to have water sitting on its leaves for a prolonged period when growing indoors. Easy on the watering – it doesn’t need it weekly.
Should you water the leaves of a plant?
I take my smaller indoor plants to my kitchen sink & spray the leaves once or twice a month. As I said earlier, I live in the desert so I believe this must make my plants feel so good. I do it in the morning or afternoon so the leaves have time to dry before I put them back.
I take my larger plants to the shower or put them out in the rain 2 or 3 times a year to clean off the foliage.
You have to be careful that the leaves of houseplants don’t stay wet for a prolonged period as it could lead to mildew or fungal growth on the foliage.
What is the easiest way to water houseplants?
This is a loaded question! My answer would be: get houseplants with low water requirements so you don’t have to water them too often.
Other options that I know of are: self-watering containers, self-watering inserts, self-watering spikes & self-watering globes.
Dish gardens can be tricky to water depending on the types of plants & how they’re planted. Here’s a post I did on planting & caring for them.
Don’t be a “hit and run” waterer. Splashing a plant every 2 or 3 days is not how it likes to be watered. Most people overwater their indoor plants and kill them with kindness. I’ve always believed that it’s better to err on the side of too little water than too much water.
I love watering indoor plants so it’s not at all a chore for me. Crazy plant devotee that I am, watering my houseplants is something I look forward to each time I do it.
To sum this all up, you’ll water your houseplants at different times and different frequencies depending on their requirements, size, time of year, and the environmental conditions of your home. As you become more comfortable with your houseplants, you’ll figure out their watering needs!
Happy indoor gardening,
P.S. Be sure to check out our houseplants category for care and repotting plants.
You can find more houseplant info in my simple and easy to digest houseplant care guide: Keep Your Houseplants Alive
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