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How to Care for House Plants

Watering House Plants

Most house plants like their soil kept evenly moist, that is, neither soaking wet nor bone dry. A few prefer that their soil dry out entirely between waterings. No matter what the watering needs of a given plant may be, always water thoroughly, then wait until the plant needs more water before starting again. You can either use tepid water straight from the tap or let water stand overnight. In areas where water is very hard or where water is artificially softened, rainwater is often the best choice for watering your house plants.

How to Tell if Your Plant Needs Water

Plants will often tell you they need water by dramatically collapsing, but it is best not to wait that long, since most plants never recover from severe wilting. Learn to judge your house plant’s needs by checking it every two or three days.

watering plants
Pour out excess water from the saucer after watering house plants from below.

There are various ways of telling if a house plant needs water. Some people go by soil color: The mix changes from dark brown to pale beige as it dries out. This is not always an adequate factor, especially for house plants in large pots. The soil at the top of the pot can often be quite dry, while that in the middle is still moist. For that reason, many people prefer sticking a forefinger into the mix. If it feels dry to the touch one inch down, it is time to water. There are moisture meters available that can also test for water needs. Other people prefer to lift the pot. When it approaches dryness, a pot will weigh considerably less. Choose whichever method best suits your needs and stick with it.

Watering Basics for House Plants

Most people prefer to water from above. In that case, water thoroughly until excess moisture runs out of the bottom of the pot. If the plant has dried out entirely, to the point of wilting, this method may not be sufficient, since dry soil often repels water. In that case, set the pot in water until it soaks up all it can hold.

You can also water from below. In that case, fill the saucer with water and wait about 20 minutes. If there is still water in the saucer at that time, pour it out. If there is no water in the saucer, the plant might not have received enough. Add more, come back in 20 minutes, and pour out any excess water.

For house plants that like their soil moist at all times, wicking can be a solution. All this requires is a water reservoir (an old margarine container, for example) kept next to the plant and a piece of yarn. Insert one end of the yarn into the top of the potting mix, pushing it down into a drainage hole using a knitting needle. Punch a hole in the lid of the reservoir and insert the other end of the yarn into the reservoir. Water once from the top of the pot to allow water to soak through the wick. From then on, the plant will absorb the water it needs via the wick. Just keep the reservoir filled with water (or a solution of water and fertilizer) at all times. This method is ideal if you are frequently absent, since wick-watered house plants can often go for weeks between waterings.

A capillary mat can also be used. This can be a commercially available capillary mat or a homemade one (old acrylic blankets or pieces of indoor/outdoor carpeting make great mats). Cut the mat to fit the saucer or, for a collection of house plants, use a large tray and set the plants directly on the matting. Water thoroughly from the top the first time, then simply keep the mat moist. The plants will be able to absorb water from the matting when they need it.

Keep reading to learn about humidity for house plants.

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