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How to Water Houseplants

Watering Plants inside

Written by Rhonda Ferree, retired horticulture educator

I currently have just over 70 houseplant containers to water. Most have one plant per container, but a few are combinations of plants. They come in all shapes and sizes, colors and textures, and I love them all! Just like pets, I groom, feed, water, and enjoy the company of my plants. Yes, I'm a plant geek!

Do you have a brown thumb when it comes to growing houseplants? If so, you might not be watering them properly. The most common way people kill houseplants is by over watering them.

It is best to look up individual plant types for their watering needs. Typically, you will see the following descriptions under water requirements on a plant tag or description.

  • Heavy: keep soil constantly moist, but not soggy
  • Medium: water thoroughly; allow surface to dry
  • Moderate: water thoroughly; allow soil to dry
  • Light: lightly moisten soil around roots; allow soil to dry

The succulents and cacti have differing water needs depending on their type and growth cycle stage.

Many houseplants suffer from too much or too little water. Several factors influence the frequency of watering, including the type of plant, temperature, humidity, light, pot size, plant size, potting mix, and drainage. The best method for determining when to water is to test the soil with your finger to a depth of two inches. If the soil is dry, it probably needs to be watered. Check your plant regularly. Wilting plants often indicate they need water, but sometimes it can be a symptom of over-watering.

Another method is sub-irrigation where you water the plant from the bottom and let the soil soak up what it needs. The easiest is to place the pot in a few inches of water in a sink or a saucer. Remove the pot when the moisture has wicked upward through the soil, and it is evident at the top. There are also special containers available that work the same way. My mom and I make ceramic African violet pots that hold water in the base for the plant to soak up as needed. Other sub-irrigation containers have a reservoir at the base and a float indicator that tells you when it needs more water.

If you choose to water from the top, be sure to soak the soil thoroughly and allow the excess water to drain through to the saucer. Be sure to pour excess water off the saucer so that the plant will not drown.

Some other tips that will help include using room temperature water, not cold water. Avoid softened water that can damage some plants. If needed, let water sit at least 24 hours to allow the chlorine and fluoride to dissipate. Remember to water your plants when they need it and not just on a set day per week.

Houseplants are just another type of pet. Learn how much water your plants need, and you'll keep them healthy for years to come.



As horticulture educator, Rhonda Ferree inspired citizens in local communities to grow their own food and improve their home landscapes. She focused on high quality, impactful programs that taught homeowners how to create energy-efficient landscapes using sustainable practices that increase property values and help the environment.

After 30 years with University of Illinois Extension, Rhonda retired in 2018. She continues to share her passion for horticulture related topics as “Retro Rhonda” on social media.

ILRiverHort is a blog that helps people connect to nature and grow.