Top Myths on Watering Houseplants

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How to Water Potted Plants

People are generally very confused over how to water houseplants properly.  The problem is that it is easy to misinterpret a lot of aspects about houseplant care in general.  But I attribute that to many sources not really taking the time to be specific about the main factors in houseplant care.  What does high light mean?  What does low light mean? What does it mean if a plant likes to stay moist or dry? There must be a better way.  This post focuses on one aspect of houseplant care, and that is to help you understand everything about watering your houseplant properly.  Here are a few watering myths that I’ve come across that I would like to debunk.

Myth #1:  I shouldn’t soak my succulents.  They only need a little bit of water at a time.

WRONG!  Almost without exception, I recommend thoroughly soaking your houseplant, regardless of whether it is a succulent or not.  And no I’m not crazy.  It works and I speak from experience, so trust me!  Keep reading though…because you might be wondering “oh I thought succulents don’t like much water?”  Well that’s only partially true. Let me explain because the devil is in the details.

If you just add a little bit of water (because succulents don’t need that much water, right?), you are doing a big disservice to your plant.  If you don’t thoroughly soak your plant and just add a little bit of water, you are encouraging a shallow root system.  And if you have a poor and shallow root system, your whole plant will suffer.  Without a healthy root system, you will not have a healthy plant.

Yes it is true that succulents don’t need as much water as many tropical foliage plants, however, you should still soak your plant.  The critical part for succulents is that after you water, you should wait long enough for the potting soil to pretty much go completely dry before watering again.  And when you do water again, soak it again!  Let the water drain through the drainage hole and discard any extra water.  Less frequent, but thorough-watering, is superior to frequent mini-drinks of water.

Myth #2:  Houseplants Need to Be Watered Once a Week

WRONG!  Well, the real answer is that it depends!  In some cases, yes this may work!  But only under certain combinations of conditions.  It’s ok to have a regular checkpoint to see if your houseplants need water or not, but you shouldn’t blindly water a houseplant just because your schedule tells you to.  If you watered a plant, and a week later the top of the soil is still moist, you should NOT water it again.  Doing so will invite root-rot.  When a plant stays too wet, you are depriving the roots of oxygen and they will proceed to rot.  As a general rule of thumb, you should wait to water until the top inch or two of the soil is dry (depending on the size of the pot).  Then go ahead and give it a good soaking.  There are some exceptions though.  Some plants, such as succulents or cacti, should be allowed to go completely dry before watering again…but don’t wait TOO long!

Myth #3:  You Water Orchids with Ice

NO!  Unless you’ve seen a monkey with a popsicle in the jungle, then you should not water your orchids with ice.  This is one of the worst marketing gimmicks I’ve ever seen.  Do NOT use ice to water your orchids.  First of all, when the ice melts, it does not provide enough water in order to soak the potting medium and thoroughly moisten all the orchid roots.  Secondly, the ice can damage the roots if they come into direct contact with the ice.  It makes absolutely zero sense to water orchids with ice.  This scheme is mainly marketed for Phalaenopsis or moth orchids.  Phalaenopsis come from the tropics of southeast Asia and I guarantee you they’ve never met an ice cube.

Myth #4:  If I fuss over my houseplants, they’ll grow better

Don’t get too happy with that watering can!   You have to let nature take its course and a lot of people tend to overwater their houseplants.  Like I mentioned, it’s OK to have a regular checkpoint to see if your plants need water, but don’t water just because you told yourself you need to water every Saturday.  I can’t emphasize the following point enough:  If your calendar is telling you that it’s your normal watering time, and you feel the surface of the soil and it is still moist, then don’t water!  On the other hand, you might find a houseplant that dried out terribly and once a week may not be enough.  You may need a couple checkpoints during the week.  Why is this?  Watering needs vary drastically depending on:

  • Temperature:  Higher temperatures means that soil will dry out more quickly.
  • Pot Size:  Smaller pots will dry out much more quickly.
  • Pot Material:  Terra cotta pots will dry out very quickly because they are porous.  Plastic or glazed ceramic pots will take longer to dry out.  Choosing a pot type based off of your specific plant can work to your advantage or disadvantage, so choose carefully depending on the moisture needs of your plant.
  • Growing Season:  Depending on where you live, plants will slow down or stop growing in the middle of a dark/cold winter.  So they will not use as much water and you have to be careful not to overwater especially during this time.  On the other hand, during the growing season, plants will need more water.
  • Root System Size:  Recently I was shocked because I had watered my large hibiscus tree indoors in the middle of winter, and 3-4 days later, it was very dry.  This plant has an extensive root system and is in a large pot.  I probably won’t be repotting that plant anymore otherwise it’ll be too difficult to move.  Having a pot-bound plant, coupled with increasing growth as days are getting longer, all increase the need for watering.
  • Humidity:  In a more humid atmosphere, soil will generally take longer to dry.
  • Light Levels:  The higher the light levels, the more water a plant will use.  A plant that is sitting in a dark corner will use much less water than a plant that is in brighter light that is actively photosynthesizing and growing.

Myth #5:  Everything on the internet is true

WRONG!  This one is a BIG WRONG.  You can tell the websites that just regurgitate material versus those that truly have knowledge to back it up.  Be weary of any old website when getting houseplant care information especially when it seems vague and generalized.  I’ve seen so much misinformation online.  So if you are researching online, trust reputable sources (such as http://www.ohiotropics.com)!  Or if you have very specific questions, it is best to refer to the numerous plant societies out there such as:

So there you have it!  Hopefully you have taken away some helpful pointers in houseplant watering.  Did you read anything here that was new information for you?  If so, comment below!

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4 Comments

  1. Patty January 21, 2018
    • [email protected] January 22, 2018
  2. Kathy March 14, 2019
    • [email protected] March 16, 2019

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