How to Water Your Plants

You’ve gotten your new plant, you’ve taken it home, you go to water it, and you pause to think: “Exactly how do I water this?” If you’ve ever had this thought, this story is for you! My STUMP co-worker Egan Thorne wrote this fantastic ‘how to’ so I’m sharing it here – it’s simple and will help your plants thrive – even if you’ve had difficulty in the past.

Hand holding watering vessel over plant on table.

Watering thoroughly ensures that all of your plant’s roots get saturated with water.

Watering Thoroughly

“Water thoroughly” is a phrase often said but rarely followed due to fear of overwatering—“overwatering” refers more to the frequency of the watering and not necessarily the amount of water given at once. Watering a plant thoroughly involves pouring water into your plant’s soil until water runs out the bottom of the drainage hole in its planter.

Watering your plants thoroughly promotes healthy root growth. Not only does this ensure that all of your plant’s roots get access to water (versus superficial watering, which only saturates maybe the top few inches of roots), but it also encourages roots to continue growing down into the planter in search of the moisture lingering there—roots growing to the bottom of the planter also help create a more stable and secure plant that isn’t prone to easily becoming displaced in its planter.

When it comes to planters without drainage holes at the bottom, it’s crucial to be mindful of the amount of water you’re giving your plant at once so that stagnant water doesn’t sit in the soil and cause roots to rot. In this case, it can be best to err on the side of under-watering or, if it’s a smaller planter, taking it to the sink and slowly tilting the planter to allow excess water to drain out the top.

Hand holding freshly watered plant over sink to fully drain.

Evenly saturating your plant’s soil will also ensure that all of the roots receive water.

When to Water

Watering on a schedule, while convenient for you, may not always benefit your plant. Before you water your plant, it’s important to always check to see if your plant actually needs water at that time. Otherwise, watering on a set schedule can easily invite overwatering and root rot.

For most leafier, tropical plants, they’ll ideally want the top 2-3” of soil to dry between waterings, while for arid, succulent-like plants, they’ll want the soil to be completely dry—all the way to the bottom of the planter—between waterings. For the more tropical plants, sticking your index finger into the top layer of soil to check works well, while you’ll probably want something longer, like a soil probe or a chopstick, to check and feel for plants that like their soil to be on the drier side.

Keeping the above in mind, your plants will only use its water at a rate dependent on the amount of light it’s receiving. If your plant is in lower sunlight, it won’t need watered as often. Alternatively, if your plant is in more direct sun, or it’s been consistently sunny outside for weeks on end, your plant will need watered more often to help compensate for how busy it’s been photosynthesizing.

Hand placing chopstick into soil at base of plant to check for dryness.

Inserting a chopstick to the desired depth, pulling it out, and checking the tip for moisture, is a great way to determine how dry or moist your plant’s soil is.

Where to Water

When watering your plant indoors, you will only want to water the soil and try to avoid splashing water on the leaves and in the center of certain species of plants (Sansevieria, Bromeliads, and other plants where new leaves grow from the center of the plant). Having stagnant water sit on leaves—or the centers of plants where leaves grow from—can encourage rot to set in without proper air flow.

It’s also important to note that when you do water your houseplants, you will want to water all areas of the soil evenly, instead of just sticking to one spot. We like to think of watering a plant’s soil similarly to how one might pour water onto coffee grounds while making a pour-over coffee—you want to cover all areas for maximum effectiveness. Watering only one area of the soil will deprive roots in other areas of the soil from receiving an ample amount of water, which can lead to symptoms of under-watering (think: browning leaves and edges) even though you did technically water your plant

Close-up of large-stemmed plant being watered over sink.

Evenly saturating your plant’s soil will also ensure that all of the roots receive water.

Bottom Watering

Bottom watering is a method of watering your plants that are in planters with drainage holes at the bottom. It involves filling a tray, bowl, or sink full of water and simply setting your plant in that tray, bowl, or sink (for ceramic drip trays, always test to make sure the tray isn’t leaking or leaving water rings on your floors). Over a period of time, with the assistance of some good old capillary action, water will permeate your plant’s soil, giving it a thorough watering.

Bottom watering does take a longer amount of time to accomplish in comparison to top watering, but it is useful, particularly in situations where soil has compacted and water runs out the sides of the planter when you go to water it. In this situation, bottom watering would saturate the soil completely despite the compaction and allow water to be absorbed regularly the next time you water via top watering. Bottom watering is also useful for when your plant has small crevices or areas near its leaves where water can get trapped, as bottom watering completely avoids inadvertently splashing water on leaves.

With all that said, we hope this has shed some light on the best practices when it comes to watering your plants. As always, if you have any questions, call us at (740) 918-9370 or stop by STUMP at 117 N. Columbus Street in Lancaster, Ohio to chat with us!

Photos by: Sebastian Muñoz & Egan Thorne

Filed under: Green Thumb, News
Hand holding watering vessel, watering plant on table.

By Jeremy Grosklos

Jeremy Grosklos manages STUMP on North Columbus Street in Lancaster, an oasis of plants, planters, accessories and plant-themed cards to make life green and serene.