Plant Care 101

Am I Watering It All Wrong?

It's True: There's More Than One Way to Water a Plant

The rumors are true! Watering a plant can be accomplished with more than just a watering can. There are multiple ways you can shower your plant with love. Well, in this case... not just love, but also water!

Out in the wild, plants rely on good old mother nature to take care of them. But once you bring them into your house, you become the mother nature that your baby plant relies on to meet their needs.

At first, watering might feel like a chore or just something you can never get quite right. But once you understand a couple key things about watering a plant kept in a container, you will not only look forward to the chance to nurture your plants, but they will thank you for it!

So, How Can I Water My Plant?

There are three main methods to watering plants: top watering, showering your plants, and bottom watering. We'll go over each of these methods so you can become the plant watering guru all your friends turn to for advice.

Top Watering

When you think of watering a plant, this is probably what comes to mind: a watering can, or any vessel really, pouring water into the plant from the top down. This allows the soil to become saturated as the water makes its way down into the soil and to all the plant's roots.

When watering from the top, try to make sure the spout of your watering can is below the leaves and aimed only at the soil. This is the only place where water is going to have an impact for the purposes of delivering water to the roots.

You will want to water evenly and thoroughly until the soil is fully saturated and water (and possibly some soil) begins to flow out of the pot's drainage holes. Remember, we are mother nature to this plant bb, so you need to act ~like the rain~ and saturate! Top watering is the quickest and most straightforward way to water your plants. You simply have to carry a watering can around and visit all your plants!

Shower Your Plants

There's no denying it: showers are the closest thing to a rainstorm that we have available at home. You may think it a bit tedious to lug your plants to the shower and back, but they will love it and thank you for it. For smaller plants, you can also use a deep sink that has a spray nozzle instead of your shower.

When you give your plants the spa treatment, set your shower head to the lightest setting you can. It's fantastic if you have a handheld nozzle because you can get more plants done at once and even spray the underside of the leaves. If not, no worries! You can do one plant at a time as well.

If you want to really give your plants the true mother nature experience, why not try turning the lights on and off ("lightning") and play some thunder sounds. We think they appreciate that almost as much as they do when we sing to them. Wait… That's not just us, right? 😳

BONUS: Another easy way to shower your plants is by letting them soak up the natural rain. If it's a nice temperate day and you know it's going to rain, why not let them experience the real deal? This is very similar to giving your plants a shower, but arguably a bit easier. All you have to do is set them outside.

Your plants will love this because they get the best water of all—the rain. Make sure to do it earlier in the day and don't forget to bring them back in. Most plants will not appreciate being left cold and wet overnight. Sounds miserable!

Bottom Watering

Bottom watering is a technique in which you essentially set your plant's booty in the water. No, seriously! With this method, you will pour an inch to a couple of inches of water into a tray, tub, or container of some kind and set your plant, pot and all, into the water.

Your plant must have a drainage hole in their pot for this to work. In our experience, bottom watering or not, a drainage hole is always a good idea.

Bottom watering is a great way for your plants to absorb only the amount of water they need. This can be done one-on-one with a single plant, or it can be done with multiple plants at once, depending on your container. If you're doing multiple plants with one container, do make sure they are all healthy. Otherwise, the water can spread disease or pests.

Another simple way of doing this is if your plants have drainage trays or are in cachepots, you can just pour water into the bottom of the tray with your watering can as you visit each plant.

You'll know the plant has had their fill when the top of the soil feels wet. You can wait about 30-45 min, and then you'll want to remove any excess water. It's just like when we sit in a bath for too long—after a while, the water gets cold, and we get all prune-y. Plants don't want that, either! Except in their case, they might actually start to rot. 😱

Wait, Which Way Should I Water My Plant?

Okay, so you get it; you have options. But, being the responsible plant parent that you are, you're wondering, which method is best? Unfortunately, the answer isn't entirely straightforward—there are pros and cons to each method of watering.

Remember, plant parenting is a lot like pet or kid parenting. Everyone has their preferred method and multiple ways can work.

The important thing is making sure you find what works for you and your plants. No two plant parents are the same!

Top Watering

The Good:

  • This is the easiest method as you don’t need to lug your plants anywhere.
  • It’s quick. Most often, you can water and walk away.
  • If you water enough for the water to drain out, it helps to remove any built-up salts from the soil.
  • It forces you to spend a bit of one-on-one time with each of your plants, which is a good opportunity to check-in and make sure everything is going well.

The Not-So-Good:

  • Depending on your technique, water can flow through without saturating all of the soil. It’s best not to just dump it all in one spot—try to pour gradually and evenly across the entire surface of the soil.
  • If this is your only method, it can cause the soil to compact over time.
  • If you're overwatering, it can encourage fungus or pests. Gross!

Shower Your Plants

The Good:

  • Showering your plants also helps remove dust from the leaves. It cleans anything else off the leaves (including lurking pests—as long as it's not an infestation), too. So, you're basically doing two things at once! And who doesn't love multitasking?
  • This method is excellent for flushing out any built-up salts or minerals from the soil as well.
  • You can water a lot of plants at once

The Not-So-Good:

  • If your container does not have a drainage hole, you definitely do not want to use this method—it can lead to water sitting in the pot, which ultimately leads to root rot.
  • Some plants don't love getting their leaves wet. Make sure to check your plant’s preferences!
  • If used as the only watering method, it can lead to overwatering, compact soil, and fungus or pests over time.

Bottom Watering

The Good:

  • It lets the plant take the amount they want. This is basically plant-led watering! It’s not impossible to overwater with this method, but it’s much less likely.
  • Sensitive leaves are happy since you're not pouring water over them.
  • The roots do a little more work to soak up the moisture and ultimately become stronger.

The Not-So-Good:

  • If bottom watering multiple plants in the same water, it can spread disease.
  • Because the water isn’t going top-down, it doesn’t remove any salts from the soil.
  • Bottom watering is more time-consuming—you have to check your plant, fill the tray, wait for it to absorb, and drain the excess as well. We’ll be honest: for larger plants, this method can take quite a bit of time. It's better for smaller plants.

So, What’s the Best Way?

Well, plant parent, that’s up to you! We have our way, and you’ll develop yours as well. Personally, we like to mix it up a little. We like to bottom water when possible, but we will also give our plants the occasional shower. And if we're doing a check-in and notice our green pals could use a drink, we’ll top water!

The important thing is to find what you enjoy doing. Remember, caring for your plants isn’t a chore! It’s nurturing a living thing, and in return, they thrive for you! Not to mention, they'll help clean your air, enliven your space, bring you peace-of-mind, and so much more.

How Do I Know When to Water My Plant?

When to water your plant is probably the top question in your mind right now. While you can set a schedule, this isn't always foolproof. If only it were that easy! For example, in the winter, when there is less light, you probably don't need to water a plant as often as when they're basking in full summer sun. Similarly, if you're keeping your plant in low light year round, they also won't need as much water.

The frequency changes season by season and place to place, but you always want to be thorough when you water—all plants want their soil fully saturated when it’s time for a watering. A tiny drink of water every day is not ideal. Follow nature instead. Again, think of a rainstorm!

Setting a schedule sounds like the easiest way to remember for us forgetful folks, but it's really not the best way to meet your plant's needs. If you water on the same day every week, you are risking over (or under) watering your plant. This is less than ideal for our leafy friends and can cause problems in the long run.

Plus, each plant has their own watering needs. So, if you water strictly weekly, you'll likely kill a cactus by overwatering and may risk under-watering a thirsty tropical plant. Anyway, you probably get the point here. Watering isn't something that can be done on a set schedule very successfully.

But if it helps you to have a "watering day" to check all your plants, we're all for it! Just make sure your plant needs it before you water.

Part of the fun of being a plant parent is really getting to know your plant and their specific needs. Typically, houseplants fall into three main categories:

  • Low: Think of deserts, so cacti and succulents (including jade, aloes, and more). You only want to water these babies when the majority of the soil is dry. Otherwise, they might get grumpy.
  • Moderate: Most houseplants fall into this category. They like water, but not too much and not too little—hints of Goldilocks, for sure. You can typically give them a good watering when the top one-to-two inches of the soil has dried out.
  • High: These plants can't get enough! Well, actually, they can get enough, so don't go crazy. They want soil that is evenly moist all around and would probably like a humidity boost, as well!

You can learn a lot about your plant's preferences by knowing where they come from. Their natural environment will give you clues to their watering needs.

How Can I Tell if I’m Watering My Plant Correctly?

The visible signs aren't as easy to decode as you would think. For over or under watering alike, leaves may droop or turn yellow. Leaves may start falling off. Leaf changes can indicate many other things besides just a watering problem, too. So it’s not a great way to guide your watering.

Sticking your finger a couple of inches in the soil can help you gauge the watering needs of your plant. When you stick your finger in, try to determine how dry or wet the soil feels. Does it stack up to your plant's needs?

Over time, you’ll be able to know when your plant needs water simply by picking up the pot. The weight of the pot will be a lot heavier when it's saturated with water compared to when it’s getting dry. And eventually you'll be able to feel by weight when it's time to water. This can be even more accurate than the finger method!

If you want to be absolutely sure, you can also get a moisture meter. These have one or two long prongs that you can stick in the soil to get a reading of dry, moist, or wet. For most houseplants, it's best to take the reading about a 1/4 way down the pot. It's a pretty helpful tool for any anxious plant parents out there or for those just starting out and needing a bit of reassurance. 😌

Over-Watering: The Ultimate Plant Killer

Word of caution: Most plants can tolerate not getting enough water for much longer than they can tolerate getting too much water. Overwatering your plants is one of, if not the, leading cause of death in plant babies!

Why does overwatering lead to death? Ultimately, if the pot is filled with water, roots can't get any oxygen. Roots need oxygen to survive. Roots can rot if they're not getting any oxygen. And root rot is basically the grim reaper of plants. 🪦

What Can I Do If I Think I Overwatered My Plant?

All is not lost. If you suspect you may have overwatered your plant once or twice—let them dry out more than you usually would, and then continue your check-in schedule, really making sure the soil is getting the chance to dry out before watering again. If you're sure you've been overwatering for a while and your plant is taking a turn, the best way to diagnose is to take a peek at the roots. Roots that are dark brown or black and mushy indicate root rot.

While it may a long road to recovery, there are steps you can take to try to help your plant survive root rot:

  • Repot the plant entirely. With this method, you should knock off as much of the moist soil as you can around the roots and let the root ball dry out a bit. When repotting, you’ll want to cut back the rotted roots, so the rot doesn’t continue its spread to the healthy portions of the root system.
  • Poke holes in the soil. This can help the plant get more oxygen. You can use chopsticks or something similar to do this. Just don't go too crazy with poking, or you might damage the already weakened roots!
  • Wicking out moisture. If you think the overwatering is minor and are worried about doing anything too drastic, you can try to "wick" the excess moisture out of the soil by placing the whole pot (with drainage holes) in a tray or container with dry soil. This new layer of dry soil will then soak up some of the excess moisture from the waterlogged areas around your plant's roots.

And hey, if your plant dies, it'll be okay. It's happened to the best of us.

Some plant owners say that you don't truly understand your plant species until you've killed one or two!

Does It Matter What Kind of Water I Use?

Now that you know the ins-and-outs of watering your plant, you've got all the info you need, right? Well...there's just one more thing. While most plants are okay with any type of water, others require special care around the type and temperature of water you end up using.

Going back to good old mother nature—she rains on plants. Rain is distilled water. It's also typically the same temperature as its environment. Most of the time, our houseplant friends do best when this is the case for them as well.

Temperature

You may have seen some tips and tricks about leaving ice cubes on plants and letting the ice cube melt, giving the plant a slow-release watering.

Eh—this is good and bad. Plants like water; this much is true. But they can also be sensitive little things and don't like water that is too cold or too hot—again, with the Goldilocks tendencies, they like water that is "just right." In fact, repeatedly using cold water can shock a plant's roots, leading to stunted growth and a generally stressed out plant.

The best rule of thumb is to use room temperature water. While some people think the ice cube trick might help a hot plant in summer, we aren't sold.

Is My Plant a Diva? Using Tap Water

Tap water is often supplemented with things like chlorine and fluoride—and the amount can vary a lot from place to place. Most plants don't mind this. Water is water. But there are a few plant species that would be the ones requesting bottled water straight from the most pristine waterfall in the world. You don't necessarily need to act on this knowledge—it's just something to pay attention to. If your plant is watered with water that isn't compatible with what they expect, they could potentially act out.

Ugh, Do I Really Have to Use Bottled Water?

No! Most plants will do fine with regular tap water. There are the occasional diva species out there, like Calatheas, and you’ll likely see some yellowing or browning leaf tips, which can indicate sensitivities to the minerals in your tap water.

If the browning leaf tips are bothersome to you, a simple trick is to leave a glass or pitcher of water out for 24 hours or so, and most of the minerals will evaporate. This is also good because it ensures the water is at room temperature as well. Another option is to collect rainwater, but this can be a tedious process and you'll have to maintain it well to ensure it doesn't also collect something nasty.

Can I Ever Leave My House Again? A Guide to Helping Houseplants Survive Vacation

Now that you know all about watering you may be wondering if you are ever allowed to leave the house again. Yes! You can! But no promises that you won't miss your plant babes.

  • Plant Loving Friends. Are you lucky enough to have a friend who lives nearby and doesn't mind checking in on your plants? This is probably the best way, but we aren't all that #blessed. Asking someone who isn't a plant owner themselves may be a recipe for disaster, unfortunately. They may overwater or underwater your plants, and if you are gone for a while, this can be a problem!
  • DIY Wicking. You can set your plants around a water source (like a bucket) and then use an absorbent material like twine or yarn. Then, you can basically create your own irrigation by placing one end of the material at the bottom of the bucket and the other side in your plant's soil.
  • Water globes. These have a design that allows them to hold a lot of water but release water as needed. They will steadily give your plant some water as they need it.
  • Upside-down water or wine bottle. These can act like water globes. There are nozzles that will slow the drip, or you can place it upside down directly in the soil for water-loving plants.

Whichever way you choose, know that you can indeed go on vacation without killing your plants. But they'll definitely appreciate some extra TLC and attention when you return!

What It All Boils Down To

You! Are you a person of routine and want to check your plant's soil every morning? Awesome! Do you enjoy the thought of giving your plants a little spa day? Great! Do you have an extra fancy watering can that gives you ~joy~ when you water your plants? Do it!

We're never going to be perfect when watering our plants—I mean, droughts and floods are a natural thing! So try not to let watering stress you out. Instead, keep an eye on your plant (and their soil) for feedback and you'll quickly learn to adjust as needed. Ultimately, your plants don't care how they get water, only that they do get water. So go forth and shower them with water... and lots of love! 💕

🌱 HMP is a growing resource 🌱
We'd love your help in building out our visual catalog for troubleshooting specific plants. If you'd like to share an image of your plant, sad or happy, hit us up!