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The Goal When Watering Tropical Plants
When watering plants in your home, the goal is to give them the same amount of moisture in the frequency they would receive in their natural environment.
While each houseplant is different, there are general principles that will make indoor gardening successful.
Type of Houseplant
First, determine if your houseplant is considered a tropical or succulent plant.
Each has completely different water requirements.
Because they originate from climates or environments that receive regular rainfall and are humid, they tend to like to be moist, but not too wet or too dry.
These plants have the capability to store water in leaves, modified roots, or other structures.
Think of desert plants.
Therefore, they can go for periods without water and have completely opposite water requirements to tropical houseplants.
How to Water Tropical Houseplants Properly
When to Water
The best way to determine if a tropical houseplant needs to be watered is by feeling the soil.
Place your finger an inch deep or so into the soil.
If the soil is dry, it’s time to water.
If the soil is moist, wait a few days and check again.
When it’s time to water, use a small watering can with a long, narrow spout to focus the water on the soil surface.
It won’t hurt the leaves to get slightly wet, but the water needs to be focused on the soil and absorbed through the root system.
Morning is the best time to water.
This allows the leaves to dry throughout the day and will reduce the chance of any foliar disease.
How Do You Water Plants?
I put my plants in the sink or shower to water them so that they can easily drain with little mess.
In the summertime, most of my plants are outside, so that makes watering much simpler
If it’s easy to remove saucers, I recommend taking those off or lifting the plant away from them.
Add water to the soil until it drips freely out of the drain holes.
Be liberal and generous with the amount of water (unless the pot doesn’t have drain holes, see below).
Allow the plant to sit for a few minutes and drain thoroughly.
Water again and allow all the excess water to drain.
If the plant is excessively dry, the process may have to be repeated again until the soil is evenly moist throughout the container.
This will allow the roots to absorb plenty of water, but keep them from “sitting” in excess moisture.
This method of watering promotes deep, strong root growth which is the foundation of a healthy plant.
How Much Water Should You Give Plants?
One of the misconceptions about watering plants is that you should only give them a little bit of water or a lot of water.
Each time you water a plant, water it thoroughly and completely.
So the amount varies by the size of the pot, how dry the soil is, and the ability of the soil to retain moisture.
Regardless, the goal is to get the soil mix evenly moist throughout the pot so that the roots have plenty of moisture to use for photosynthesis without being overly waterlogged.
The amount of water you give the plant may vary each time you water it.
The next step is knowing when to water next.
What if the Pot Doesn’t Have Drain Holes?
There are a lot of pretty, decorative pots available that don’t have drain holes.
They are very convenient if you want to display a plant on a piece of furniture or surface that shouldn’t get wet.
However, it makes growing a healthy, gorgeous plant very challenging- not impossible.
I would suggest that unless you have a lot of experience with indoor plants stick to containers that have drain holes.
It makes the plants happier and you will be happier too!
If you have plants in containers without holes, it’s an art form to determine how much water to give them.
You really have to gauge the overall moisture level of the soil and try to add the right amount of moisture to make the soil evenly wet.
Add water very slowly in small increments and pick up the container frequently to get a feel for how heavy it is in comparison to when you began watering it.
The key is to stop before the soil becomes waterlogged and oversaturated as this will deprive the roots of oxygen and create an unhealthy environment for your plant.
How Often to Water Tropical Houseplants?
There is no standard guideline for watering frequency.
It is more art than science.
However, for most plants (not all) it’s better to err on the side of underwatering than overwatering.
Clearly, if a plant is wilting and the soil is dry, it is in need of water immediately.
One of the best ways to determine when to water is to gauge the weight of the container after watering so that you can feel when it becomes significantly lighter.
This is something that you get a feel for after time.
I pick up my houseplants and can tell if they are ready to be watered.
Of course, this is not possible for larger, heavier plants.
Also, plants growing in unglazed clay pots will dry out quicker than those growing in a glazed pot or a plastic container.
Houseplants generally don’t grow much in the winter months, so they won’t need to be watered as often as in the summer.
Another consideration is your home’s environment.
If you live in a dry, warm climate you may need to water every 3-4 days.
However, tropical houseplants grown in a humid environment may only need to be watered once a week.
Every growing situation will be a bit different- that’s what makes gardening challenging!
Light is one of the factors that will affect how often your plant will need to be watered.
Plants use water as part of their metabolic activity.
Light drives photosynthesis which is how plants produce their energy.
Water is needed in this process however, if there isn’t much light, they don’t need as much water.
So often, plants are overwatered simply because they aren’t receiving the proper amount of light to create the energy they need to sustain themselves.
Humidity and Temperature
Room humidity and temperature will affect how often a plant needs to be watered.
Most tropical plants do best in temperatures between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit with a relative humidity level of 50% or more.
Humidity is an important part of determining how much water a plant will use.
If the relative humidity is high, a plant won’t transpire (or evaporate) as much water through its leaves as quickly.
Therefore, it won’t need to be watered as frequently as if it was in a low-humidity environment (below 50% relative humidity).
Temperature affects relative humidity because the air can hold more moisture at higher temperatures.
So there is a lot more moisture in 50% humidity air at 80 degrees Fahrenheit than 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
A hygrometer is an inexpensive tool that will easily show you your home’s temperature and humidity.
This makes growing plants indoors so much easier and gives you the knowledge to provide an environment for your plant to thrive.
If you find that you need to increase the humidity in your home, I recommend a humidifier.
Misting won’t provide the level of consistent moisture that a humidifier can provide.
What Kind of Water to Use When Watering Houseplants
Tap water is fine to use for watering most houseplants unless you have a water softener.
The salts from a water softener will damage the roots of a plant and therefore should never be used for watering plants.
However, some plants are sensitive to chemicals and minerals in standard tap water.
This applies to any plant that is the Dracaena genus and these plants should be watered with distilled water or clean rainwater.
Examples are the corn plant (Dracaena fragrans), dragon plant (Dracaena marginata), and Janet Craig Dracaena.
Other plants that prefer distilled water or rainwater are spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) and venus fly trap (Dionaea muscipula).
There are countertop distilled water makers that are great tools for the avid indoor gardener.
If you have a lot of plants that are sensitive to tap water, this is a cost-saving option for making your own distilled water at home.
Important Watering Reminders and Tips
- Before watering, allow the water to sit overnight in an open container to allow the chlorine to evaporate. The chemicals in treated water can cause brown tips on leaves.
- Avoid using water that has been softened. It contains salts that can build up in the soil over time and damage the plant’s roots.
- If you can collect rainwater, that is a great option as some plants are very sensitive to chlorine and fluoride in treated tap water.
- Most houseplants require less water in the winter months as they are not receiving enough light to produce new leaves during this time.
- The main cause of houseplant death is overwatering in the presence of low light. When in doubt, always underwater your houseplant rather than overwater it and evaluate the amount of light your plant is receiving.
- It is always easier to add more water to a plant than to save one from root rot.
- Don’t allow excess water to sit in saucers.
- It is best to grow houseplants in containers with drain holes so that water can freely drain.
- Be sure to provide the right amount of light to your plants. Most houseplants need more light than they are receiving!