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Top Myths on Watering Houseplants

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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. 

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. 

how to propagate aloe

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. 

how to water potted plants

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!

The concept of “overwatering” houseplants is very rampant and it doesn’t necessarily mean what you think! Check out my blog post on overwatering and find out what it really means.

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.

To read more details on why you shouldn’t use ice cubes, be sure not to miss my 5 Reasons Why You Should NOT Water Orchid With Ice Cubes blog post.

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 MaterialTerra 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 use 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, or many sources on social media, 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 Ohio Tropics!)  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!

Please do me a favor and share this post to social media because it will help me spread the Ohio Tropics houseplant care tips to the masses! Also, check out my shop on Amazon for all your houseplant care needs:

OHIO TROPICS PLANT CARE STOREFRONT

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Elizabeth Schindelar

Saturday 18th of January 2020

So I've got a huge Australian tree fern. I adore this plant but the fronds turn brown. I know it likes damp so I keep it moist all the time with water in the spill off dish below the pot. Then I think well the roots are rotting so I let it dry out but then I really get dead brown branches. How do I know if I am under or overwatering? The soil is so compact I can't even get my finger in to check for wetness.

Raffaele

Sunday 19th of January 2020

Hi Elizabeth! It sounds like the plant is severely pot bound. The root ball is probably all roots and it needs to be repotted. Is there even any soil left? Or is it just a hard mat of roots on the surface? Maybe send me some photos and I will be able to better help you. If this is the case, you'll probably have to take the plant out of the pot, make some vertical cuts all around the root ball (and at the bottom) if you're not able to loosen the rootball at all. After you make a few cuts in the root ball, it'll provide some areas for new roots to grow from and you can plant it in a larger pot with new soil.

Kelly

Wednesday 8th of January 2020

Hi omg i love ohio tropics! Ok well i have monstera an it out grew its pot it was in 10.5 inch plastic pot well i think i messed up all i could find at store was 14 inch terra cotta and i purchased it an put monstera in it do you think i going to ruin the plant?? Please an advice would be great!

Raffaele

Thursday 9th of January 2020

Hi Kelly, I'm glad you are enjoying my site :-) . I think you will be fine! Especially since the pot is terra cotta. As long as you used a potting mix that drains well when you water.

Mary Nell

Tuesday 3rd of December 2019

Hi Raffaele thanks for sharing your knowledge. I have 3 pots of succulents that are in glass containers that do not have drain holes. I followed the nursery directions on planting without drainage, I put rocks in the bottom , I used charcoal. I can’t really soak them do you suggest I repot in containers with drainage holes.

Raffaele

Tuesday 3rd of December 2019

Hi Mary! I would always recommend drainage holes. And you are correct that you can't soak them if you don't have drainage holes. You can hold off if you'd like until spring, and then repot. Just be careful with not adding too much water right now. Even with the rocks at the bottom, you will be surprised sometimes how much water will accumulate!

Tamala

Sunday 1st of December 2019

I did not know it was ok to soak a succulent! I have been giving my aloe Vera plant small amounts of water and I water it very infrequently. The leaves are green but they are curling inward. I’m no expert, but I believe I’m watering the poor plant quite incorrectly!! Thank you for sharing your knowledge!!

Raffaele

Monday 2nd of December 2019

You should see an improvement soon Tamala! Make sure your aloe is getting enough light. They are high light plants.

Ann

Wednesday 13th of November 2019

I just bought a couple of succulents to add to my aloe vera. The nursery clerk did say to water sparingly around the edge of the pot. I would never have thought I should soak them then leave to dry out. I'll try your method for sure. I also have Jade plants so expect this same method will be good for them?

Raffaele

Thursday 14th of November 2019

Hi Ann, yes I would do that for all succulents. Absolutely! Just make sure that your succulents are receiving as much direct sun as possible and that they dry out in between watering. There is a lot of misinformation on watering, especially for succulents. It's really quite simple!