Essential Tips for Caring for Your Houseplants
Essential Watering Tips for for Your Houseplants
with Melissa Martens
Learning when and how to water your plants is one of the most challenging, and important, lessons for new plant parents. Plant care tags are diluted with vague terminology like ‘medium watering requirements’ or ‘water sparingly’, but what exactly does this even mean? We all wish there was a secret formula, with the code on exactly how much water a plant needs and when. But plants are adaptive and dynamic; they change over time and are highly influenced by their environment. Therefore, plants needs often change with them.
While there is no secret formula, learning about your plants and their watering preferences may be easier than you think. With some perceptive observations and a little trial and error, you will have your indoor garden thriving in no time!
How To Tell When Your Plant Needs A Drink
Generally, plants can be categorized into three groups: plants that like to be kept moist, plants that like to partially dry out, and plants that like to dry out thoroughly. A quick google search should let you know which condition your plant prefers. Once you determine the preference of your plant, it is time to determine when to water.
The secret weapon of every plant parent is simple – their finger! The best way to determine when your plant needs a drink is to simply feel the soil. Press your fingertip firmly in the surface of the soil. If the soil is moist, your finger will come away slightly wet. If partially dry, you won’t feel a lot of moisture, but the soil may still feel fluffy and cool. If dry, you will feel no remnants of moisture and the soil may feel parched and hard.
Plants that like to be kept moist should always have soil that feels nice and damp to the touch, and you should water as often as needed to maintain this. Plants that prefer these conditions include calatheas, ferns, and carnivorous plants. These plants originate in tropical regions where they grow beneath dense canopies, hence their preference for soft, moist conditions.
Plants that like to be watered when they are partially dry should be watered just when you notice them beginning to dry out. This is at that point where the soil feels fluffy and cool, but with very little moisture. These plants don’t like to be wet all the time, but they also don’t want to go bone-dry. This includes many common houseplants such as pothos, monstera, and various species of ficus.
Plants that like to dry out thoroughly really like to live life on the edge. The parched soil may startle you at first, but let them have a period of time with dry soil before giving them another drink. These plants include ZZ plants, snake plants, and Phalaenopsis orchids.
How to water your plants
Whenever possible, we recommend that you keep your plant in its original nursery pot, and simply set it inside its decorative pot or container. This gives the plant proper drainage during thorough waterings. When your plant is ready for a drink, remove it from the decorative container and bring it to the sink. Allow a soft stream of water to run through the soil until it is dripping from the bottom drainage holes in the nursery pot. If the plant is larger, you can water using a large cup or watering can while the plant sits in its decorative container, but be careful not to let too much excess water pool in the bottom of the container. You can also remove the plant, water it outside with the hose, and return it to its decorative container when it is done draining.
If you plant a houseplant inside a decorative pot without holes, the lack of drainage puts the plant at risk of overwatering and root rot. Even if the top of the soil feels ready for a drink, there may be an accumulation of water at the bottom that can drown the root system. This is why we prefer keeping houseplants in their original nursery pot and allowing them to drain outside of their decorative container when watering.
Factors That Influence How Often
A Plant May Need To Be Watered
Several factors may affect or change how often you water your plants:
- Air flow: Do you run the AC often in your home? Are your plants near an open window with lots of air flow? This may cause the soil to dry out a little faster and require you to water a little more often.
- Soil media: The type of soil your plant is in will also affect how often you are watering. Usually, plants that like to dry out thoroughly will be planted in a coarser mix that will facilitate the draining process. Plants that like to be kept moist will often be planted in a thicker, more absorbent media that is better at retaining moisture. Keep this in mind when repotting your plants to ensure you are catering to their moisture preferences.
- Season: Most houseplants naturally enter a semi-dormant stage in the winter. They will still be alive and healthy but may not be growing much. At this stage, they will not require water as often, and you may want to taper back on your watering schedule.
Symptoms of a Poor Watering Regime
If your plant doesn’t like how it’s being watered, it will be sure to tell you. Both over and underwatered plants may show many similar symptoms: drooping stems, yellowing or browning leaves, leaf drop, and limited growth.
If you have a plant with low water requirements that is showing these symptoms, ensure that the soil is drying out thoroughly between waterings. It may take two, even three weeks before the plant is ready for another drink, but it should be getting some water at least once a month.
If you have a plant with high water requirements that is showing these symptoms, make sure it isn’t going through any significant dry spells. If you’ve been diligent with your watering, also ensure that the soil is never excessively soggy. You want the soil moist, but not wet and waterlogged, or else your plant may become a victim of dreaded root rot.
I’ve Been Doing Everything Right… So What’s Wrong?
If you’ve followed our guidelines and your plant is still failing to thrive, another factor may be to blame. Other causes of a struggling plant include:
- Too much or too little fertilizer
- Too much or too little sun
- Pests and disease
- Insufficient humidity
If you feel that one of these other factors may be involved, feel free to refer to our other blogs as a resource. You are also welcome to call or email us to speak with an horticulturist or indoor plant care specialist about any concerns you may have.
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Essential Tips for Caring for Your Houseplants
with Haley Fox
Greetings, plant friends! Spring is just around the corner, bringing us longer days and warmer weather. This means we can resume our regular watering and plant care routines. Exciting news I know, but before we jumpstart these routines, let’s discuss exactly what watering our plants should look like.
One of the most common troubles we experience as plant parents is over or under watering. Properly watering your plant requires a full understanding and awareness of what your plant needs. Every plant is different, and your whole collection will not be on the same watering schedule. The state of your plant’s soil is always changing. The three states of the soil are either, Saturated / Partially dry / Completely dry.
I check my plants once weekly to determine what watering they may need. Plants, like Ferns, prefer to be consistently moist, not saturated. Other plants, such as snake plants, like to go bone-dry between watering. The rate at which your plant needs to be watered will be directly related to its environment. A plant sitting near a bright window with lots of air circulation will dry out much faster than a plant located in a dark and stagnant corner of your living room.
Keeping this in mind, research your plant’s needs and understand the different states of the soil. Helpful tip, understanding what conditions your plant receives in its natural growing environment, can help you to emulate these conditions in your home. When watering, it is best to thoroughly water. Many of us may give our plant half a cup of water on Tuesday, and come Saturday, the last sip of water from our glass. These tendencies are usually developed from the fear of over watering. A more efficient way to water is to completely soak your plant so that you see water escaping from the drainage hole. (Assuming it has drainage) … (Your pot should always have drainage)
Base your next watering on your new knowledge of your plant and monitor how quickly or slowly the soil is drying. A helpful tool for this is a moisture meter, these can be placed in the soil and give you a reading on how wet or dry the soil is. I found this tool helpful when I first started collecting houseplants. It’s like a set of training wheels before you feel that you have learned your plants needs and can be found at most any house plant nursery.
So, let’s get to the root of it…Why is overwatering a plant harmful?
Well, when the roots of your plants become water-logged, it prevents their ability to support your plant with nutrients and to further absorb water when it is time for a drink. Furthermore, they cannot absorb oxygen needed to sustain the plant. To resolve this, move your plant to an outdoor shaded area, if needed plant in dry potting soil, and leave the plant alone.
Under watering your plants can be just as harmful as overwatering. Lack of watering can cause leaf drop, slow growth, curled leaves, and yellowing. There is no set amount or frequency for watering your plants; it is for you to learn your plant, and its needs. After all, that is the beauty of growing houseplants.
Fertilizing Your Indoor Plants
It is important that you are fertilizing ONLY during the growing season. For us here in So-Cal, this is year round. Because we are in a subtropical zone, temperatures do not get cold enough to send our plants into dormancy, however, you may notice less growth during winter, we’ll touch on this shortly. To determine what your growing season is, you can do a quick google search to find out.
Do we want our plants to grow all year? Yes! But even in the subtropical region I found my indoor plants slowing down for a month in the winter. Why shouldn’t you fertilize your way through it? Because your plant won’t use those nutrients! They will end up burning the roots… worse off the foliage.
I find the most success fertilizing once or twice monthly with a mild and all organic fertilizer.
The three digit ratio on the front of the bottle indicates the weight of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and potassium in your container. Each of these serves a valuable role in the health and growth of your plants.
Nitrogen is used for leaf growth and health, phosphorous is used in the formation of new roots as well as the production of seeds, fruit, and flowers. Potassium helps make strong stems and growth.
Both synthetic and organic fertilizers are on the market, but how can you tell the difference? Which should you use?
Synthetic fertilizers have will have a high ratio on their bottle such as 16-16-16. This is indicative of a high concentration of NPK – Such high values can only be achieved in a lab.
Organic fertilizers have a smaller ratio, such as 4-3-1 – making them gentler, and the NPK values are obtained from natural sources rather than being synthesized in a lab. Natural sources can include those from animal waste, such as guano or worm castings. Another popular option is guano, (bat excrements).
Here’s the difference – Synthetic fertilizers will give you immediate results, but they are only feeding the plant with a mass amount of nutrients, rather than improving the overall health and longevity of the soil. What I mean by this, is that you may have green leafs right away, and that push of growth is thrilling, but it is not beneficial in the Long run. Organic fertilizers work slowly by sustaining the plant and doing work below the soil. This concept is best explained through biodynamic gardening- aimed to enhance the overall health of the soil, offering a sustainable environment for your plants, long term, rather than sporadic bursts of nutrients.
In conclusion, what fertilizer you use, Organic, synthetic, slow release, this hobby is all about you learning your plants, growing with them… and growing with us! Stop by our house plant nursery to pick up all of your amendments, fertilizers & more! Until next time.