There's More to Watering Plants Than Just Adding Water—7 Rules to Follow Every Time

Keep those greens thriving with these must-know watering tips.

Bringing home new house plants—especially pre-potted ones with no how to pot a plant knowledge necessary—can be a huge rush. It’s a little like bringing home a new puppy or kitten, but with much, much less work. That isn’t to say that plants don’t need a little TLC, though. Sure, there are plants that don’t need sunlight and some greens that basically take care of themselves, but all plants need a little water now and then.

In fact, watering plants may be the number one priority for plant parents. Anyone who has progressed beyond gardening for beginners may want to look into pruning, deadheading, fertilizing, re-potting, and more, but plant-care newbies will want to focus on watering plants the just-right amount. It’s possible to both over- and under-water plants, so figuring out how (and how often) to water plants sounds deceptively easy. In reality, it does take a little know-how (and a lot of patience and experimentation).

Every plant is different, as is every plant environment. The same plant will need more water if it’s set in a sunny spot than it will in a shadier one; older and larger plants will be thirstier than smaller, newer ones. Garden tools may make the physical act of watering easier, but you’re going to have to pay attention to be sure you’re watering right.

To help demystify the plant watering process, we’ve broken down the rules of thumb experienced gardeners follow when caring for indoor or outdoor plants into seven easy-to-follow guidelines. Stick to these plant watering rules and pay attention to how your plant reacts (because each situation is different, and there aren’t one-size-fits-all rules), and you’ll be on your way to intermediate-level gardening in no time. Up next: Conquering the vertical garden.

#1: Water for the weather

In mild weather (particularly in the spring), you can probably plan to water your potted plants once a week. Plants will need more water as the temperature rises in late spring and summer as the warmer weather causes moisture to evaporate before the plant can use it.

#2: Adjust according to size

This one’s straightforward: Larger plants need more water; smaller plants need less water. Also, large pots containing small plants can hold a lot of moisture, so adjust water quantities accordingly. Small pots or hanging plants may need to be watered twice a day, while large pots can be watered once a day.

#3: Take advantage of the best times to water plants

If plants do need to be watered twice a day, try to do so in the morning and in the evening. For plants watered once a day, try to do so in either the morning or the evening.

#4: Add enough water

You’ll want to add water to pots until it leaks out of the drainage holes in the bottom. (Pots without drainage holes should have some sort of safeguard against root rot, whether that’s rocks or another moisture catcher at the bottom.) This way, you’ll know that the soil and roots have access to moisture throughout the pot. Avoid oversaturating by adding just enough water that it drains out of the bottom; too much can hurt the plant. If you come back again to water later and the top of the soil is moist, you probably don’t need to water again just yet.

#5: Aim true

Water should be poured onto the soil, not the plant leaves and flowers. Dumping water on the plant itself can lead to fungal diseases and even scorched spots on the leaves.

#6: Stay calm

Some plants and flowers, especially plants in outdoor pots, may look wilted at the hottest times of day. Don’t panic and add water; plants wilt as self-protection to keep the roots from losing too much moisture. Wait to see if the plants perk up again once things cool off at the end of the day; if they don’t, they may need a little more water or more frequent waterings.

#7: Keep it dry

If pots are allowed to sit in water (or if they’re drenched in water too often) they can develop root rot and/or die. If you’re using saucers under planters to catch water and dirt, empty them after you water and after it rains to keep the roots and soil moist, not drenched.

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