Each plant has its own watering requirements. When you buy new plants, get to know what they are, and don’t be afraid to adapt them to the conditions in your home.
WHEN TO WATER
It would be great if you could just water your plants once a week and be done with it.
But with this strategy, you might not be watering enough for some plants, like ferns, and overwatering other plants, like cacti and succulents.
Temperature, humidity, and seasons can affect water requirements. For example, plants may need less frequent waterings in a cool, humid room than in a warm, dry room.
You may find yourself watering more often in summer when the room temperature is higher than in winter when some plants go dormant.
Conversely, other plants may dry out more quickly in winter when the heat is running.
Even the kind of pot can have an effect. Plants in plastic pots retain water longer than plants in porous terra-cotta pots.
With all these factors coming into play, what’s the secret?
The trick to successful watering is to check whether your plants need water, not just water them automatically.
Most plants do well if you let the top of the soil dry out slightly before watering, usually to a depth of about an inch (2.5 cm), but check the plants’ individual requirements.
Another way to see if your plants need water is to pick up the pot and gauge the weight.
It will feel much lighter when it needs water as compared to right after a thorough watering. It takes a bit of practice to get a sense of how much the pot usually weighs.
It’s a good idea, especially when you are first starting out, to check on your plants’ water needs most days.
If you tend to forget, consider setting up a smartphone alert to remind you.
Instead of sitting down immediately in front of your computer or tablet in the morning, grab your mug of coffee or tea, and visit your botanical buddies.
Or check on them at the end of the day, as a way of unwinding, of disconnecting from the human world and reconnecting with the natural one.
HOW TO WATER
When you water, be generous. Pour water into the potting mix until it comes out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the container and collects in the saucer, making sure to water around the whole plant, not just in one spot.
(This technique also applies to plants that don’t require a lot of water in terms of frequency, like cacti and succulents.) After the excess water has had a chance to collect in the saucer, dump it out.
You’re done! If you are using a pebble tray to boost humidity levels around the plant (see Oh, the Humidity, it’s fine for the water to remain in the saucer as long as the base of the pot is not sitting in the water.
Overwatering is the number-one killer of plants.
Almost no plant wants to sit in soggy soil; it can lead to a fungal infection called root rot that will eventually kill your plant. Inconsistent watering can also stress out a plant, making it more vulnerable to pests and other diseases.
WATER QUALITY AND TEMPERATURE
Tap water is fine for most plants, but a few plants are sensitive to hard water, chlorine, and fluoride.
For such plants, some experts suggest giving such plants rainwater, distilled water, or filtered water.
If you have a way of collecting rainwater, that’s great, but filtered water will keep them happy and is much easier to manage.
Temperature matters, too: stick with tepid water.
SPECIAL WATERING PRACTICES
Most plants are watered from the top, meaning that water is poured directly into the soil. (This is called top watering.) Certain plants, however, benefit from special watering practices.
African violets are commonly watered from the bottom (bottom watering) because they have sensitive leaves that can discolor and rot if the water sits on them.
To water from the bottom, place the plant pot in a dish with an inch or two (2.5–5 cm) of water. Leave it there for about half an hour to allow the plant to absorb water through the drainage holes.
You can soak moth orchids, which usually grow in a potting medium made of chunks of bark, in a basin of room-temperature water for 20 to 30 minutes about once a week.
Other plants, like bromeliads, have a central “vase” that you pour water into.
Still others, like a bird’s nest fern, would rot if you poured water into the center of the plant and prefer watering directly in the soil.
Again, check each plant’s requirements for specifics.
A watering can with a long, narrow spout makes it easy to direct the water exactly where you want it.