How often to water plants indoors depends on your houseplants and growing conditions. Plant choices, size, humidity, light, and temperature all play a role. I’ll show you how to come up with a reliable routine for your indoor plants.
You may also like these tips on how to get African violets to bloom if yours are refusing to bud or flower.
How Often Should I Water My Houseplants?
Answer: As often as they need it.
It’s a cheeky answer but it’s also the right one.
I started out thinking a routine such as watering houseplants once or twice a week would be right for my varied collection of plants.
But, I gradually learned over time from some of my favorite houseplant experts including Lisa Eldred Steinkopf (The Houseplant Guru) that it’s not as simple as that.
Each plant is an individual with different needs. And they go through cycles throughout the seasons, just like outdoor plants do in summer and winter. This could be flowering, fruiting, producing seeds, or months of rest in the darker months.
During some cycles, the plants are thirstier, either due to growth or drier indoor conditions, and sometimes they can go long stretches while the potting mix remains adequately moist.
Yes, absolutely have a routine for checking on your plants—I find every three days (maximum) works nicely—but do not assume water is needed each time. My simple tagging system (described below) will help with that.
Once you get an eye for it (or finger tip, as you’ll see), it does really become routine.
The word “soil” here is used interchangeably with “potting mix“. Most houseplants grow in some sort of soil-less potting mix or growing medium suited to their needs.
- Why There Is Not One Answer
- General Houseplant Health Tips
- How to Water Houseplants
Why There Is Not One Answer
While it would be handy if our houseplants could follow a predictable routine and need watering on Tuesdays and Saturdays, nature doesn’t work like that.
Even within our homes, plants are both influenced by the seasons and undergo their own life cycles.
What a plant needs can be influenced by:
- Age and condition, growth cycles, and seasonal changes
- Light intensity and duration
- Soil or growing medium
- Type of container – plastic, clay, wood, metal, stone: each retains moisture differently
- Relative humidity
- Moisture levels
I’ve also found that plant behavior can vary between two seemingly identical plants—perhaps that’s different genes at work.
In other words, each plant is an individual and just like your children or pets, each will have its own unique personality and benefit from individual care.
It sounds daunting at first, but once you dive in, much of it becomes intuitive. And, unlike a fixed routine that ignores plant needs, you will soon dial-in to a system that really works.
Related: Do Houseplants Really Purify the Air? | Myth alert!
General Houseplant Health Tips
Before we get to the watering tips, it’s good to know what follow basic tips for healthy houseplants.
Start With Healthy Plants
If you see anything worrisome, don’t buy it.
Examine every inch of a plant before buying, and, if there is any sign of insects, struggle, disease, mold, or anything else suspicious—on the plant or in the store—do not bring them home. Not only might they fail, but they could infect your other plants along the way. There’s always a chance something is lurking that you won’t see, but a good visual inspection helps.
Quarantine New Plants
When you bring a new plant home, keep it quarantined.
It’s ideal if you can keep new plants isolated for a few weeks before integrating them with your other plants. This allows time to learn if there are any bugs or diseases present and deal with them.
Know What You’re Growing
Tropical houseplants usually have some sort of instruction tag noting the basic light and water needs. But how can you know if they are trustworthy?
I save all my plant tags but also check the information against other trusted sources.
When I’m confident I have the right tips, I create a care tag (more on this below) and situate the plant where the lighting is best for its needs.
Fall in Love
Fall in love with your plants. Yes, there is an affair to be had. There’s a lot of noise online these days featuring super low-maintenance plants that tolerate variable conditions and neglect, and to me, you might as well buy plastic ones if that’s all you want.
Indoor gardening, just like outdoor gardening, is an opportunity to dive into an entire world of incredible plants, their life cycles, and all the magic and mystery of things that grow.
While I do prefer outdoor gardening, those same endorphins seem to run through my core when I tend to plants indoors as well.
Never underestimate the joy of a rare bloom on a tropical plant or a brilliant, flowering amaryllis on a dark, miserable February day.
I know this will sound like an exaggeration, particularly if you are envisioning a couple of flower pots on a windowsill, but trust me, the more you indulge in plant care, the more intriguing and enjoyable it becomes.
Related: How to Grow Vegetables Indoors
I try to check—or, really, say hello to, my plants every day and never go more than three days. It’s really the only way to become aware of how they are growing, how healthy they are, and what they like.
If you have to be away for a week or two, this has tips for keeping your houseplants happy while you’re away.
By checking on your plants every day or so, you will start to notice all sorts of things. Along with new shoots, leaves, buds, and flowers, you’ll start noticing how your plants change throughout their cycles and the seasons.
The daily checks—or every few days—are also the time to rotate the containers to prevent serious leaning toward the window or other light source.
Related: How to Grow Pothos From Cuttings
How To Water Houseplants
Check on your plants daily if you can and never go more than three days without checking on them.
There is no such thing as a fixed watering routing but by checking on them regularly and using the tag system (below), it’s much easier to know what to water when.
Tag Plants by Needs
This explains my houseplant tagging system in full detail.
I use plastic plant tags that come in various colors to color code each plant by its water preferences.
- YELLOW | Plants that like fairly dry conditions. This includes my various succulents, cacti, and Aloe vera.
- GREEN | Plants that need soil (potting mix) to dry out between waterings. Examples include my indoor tomato plants, heartleaf philodendron, some herbs, and flowering bulbs.
- BLUE | Plants that like even, consistent moisture, but not too much. African violets are a perfect example of this. When they have even moisture, they bloom as nice long time. Norfolk pine is another plant that likes even moisture.
- PINK | Plants with special needs. Orchids are a good example. We’ve found the best way to water orchids is by submerging the entire pot in warm water for 30 minutes instead of using a watering can.
If you want to organize your plants this way, see the tagging system for easy houseplant care.
Test for Moisture
You can get a much more accurate measure of soil moisture by checking at root level.
If there is room in the pot, the fingertip method for detecting soil moisture is easy and reliable. Press the tip of your finger about an inch deep into the soil to feel how dry the soil is. Easy.
If there isn’t room or you can’t do it without damaging the plant, use a moisture meter instead.
Moisture Meter on Amazon
Using a Moisture Meter
Moisture meters work nicely, don’t cost much, and do not require batteries.
I ignore any secondary features the meter may include and just use the probe to instantly know how moist the soil is.
- Insert the probe in the soil at root level. The dial indicates the moisture level on a scale from 1 to 10.
Whether I water the plant depends on the plant group (1,2,3, 4) and how recently it was watered.
For example, if it’s one of the plant types (group 1: yellow tag) like succulents that prefer a dry spell between watering, and I know I watered recently, even though the soil is somewhat dry, I will wait.
If the soil is getting dry and it’s an African violet (group 3: blue tag), I will water because these guys like even moisture.
Some plants take rest periods, either because they have just flowered or fruited, or because it’s winter and light has decreased.
Growth will slow down and so does the need for water.
During my plant checks, along with observing changes in the plants and rotating the pots, I’m also watching for any signs of trouble, including insects, wilt, spots, fungus, or signs of over- or under-watering.
Often, we don’t actually know what we’re seeing, but we know trouble is brewing. That’s when the internet or a good houseplant reference book is your friend.
The part I like best, which also leads to more intuitive care, is the gradual awareness of the changes that plants undergo. This may be new growth, shoots, flowers, or fruits.
I also make note of any plants that may need larger pots, pruning, washing, relocating, or dividing.
As time goes on, I realize I’m becoming more tuned into the life of the plants.
Water Slowly and Deeply
I like a slender, long-necked watering can with a small spout so I can aim the water exactly where I want it: on the soil, below the bottom foliage.
The goal is to water the entire root area which may require rotating the pot as you pour the water.
To prevent temperature shock, I fill my watering cans at the end of each watering session in preparation for next time. If your tap water has chlorine (instead of chloramine), this allows it to off-gas and the water can warm to room temperature before it is needed.
Advice varies, but I follow those who say to water deeply when you do water. Make sure the roots get a nice, deep drink. Water should come out the drainage holes onto the drip dish below. Remove the excess after 15-30 minutes.
Related: How to Grow Pothos From Cuttings
Frequently Asked Questions
Is tap water safe for houseplants?
It depends. Everyone’s water is different—even when it comes from the same source. Plus, anything can be toxic at the wrong amounts. To be safe, learn what’s in your water, find out if everything is within acceptable ranges, and go from there.
- Check on your plants daily if you can, and never go longer than three days.
- If and when to water depends on the individual plant: use the tagging system to simplify it.
- A moisture meter is very helpful for checking how dry the soil actually is.
- Ultimately, it’s awareness of your plants that will not only make you a better houseplant mama, but it also opens up a whole world of houseplant nerdom. And it’s a very nice world indeed.
If you’re going away on a trip, these vacation watering tips will help keep your plants happy while you’re gone.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
Kitchen Propagation Handbook
7 Fruits & Vegetables To Regrow As Houseplants
by Melissa J. Will
Learn how to grow houseplants from avocado, oranges, lemons, ginger, and more using leftover pits, seeds, and roots.
This ebook is a digital file (PDF format) you save to your device. It is not a physical product.
PayPal, Credit Card, Apple Pay