How to Stop Killing your Plants: PART 2 - Water

I have a confession.

I have not always been a plant person...GASP! Don’t get me wrong, I have always LOVED plants, I just though they didn’t love me back! But I was wrong - they just didn’t love the way I was caring for them. But I've learned a lot the past several years!

Having chosen to open a plant shop, it's now my job to take care of hundreds of plants each day! Crazy!! But I still remember what it's like to wonder what my plants are trying to tell me when I see them struggling (it still happens once in awhile!). 

I'm sharing some of the most important things I’ve learned about being a plant parent in a blog post series I'm calling "How to stop killing your plants".

Part 1: Light

Part 2: Water

Part 3: Soil

Part 4: Attitude

Let's go!

Part 2: Water

Watering your houseplants might seem tricky, but we have a few tips that should make it a little easier! Here's a beginner-friendly guide to watering your leafy friends!

1. Use the best soil meter we have ever found! Most everyone has this handy tool close by… it’s your finger! Ok bad joke but seriously it is the simplest way to know how moist or dry the soil is for small to medium size house plants. Go about an inch into the soil near your plant. A general rule of thumb ;)  if it feels dry, it's time to water! There are some caveats to this with a few different groups of plants. With most succulents you want to allow their soil to dry all the way out between waterings. Some ferns prefer not to get dry at all (these are NOT my specialty LOL) and will brown or shrivel if the top inch gets dry. The best way to know what your plant wants is to do a little research on that genus (group) of plants which will require the botanical name of the plant i.e. Monstera deliciosa…see tip #2

2. Know the botanical name (scientific name) of your plant such as Pilea peperomoides whose common name is “Money Plant”. If you don’t know what type of plant you have you will just be guessing at how it wants to be cared for. Most of our phones have the ability to identify plant photos now or you can use Google Photos for free to get either the exact name or at least pretty close, simply from a photo of your plant. And if you have no idea, we suggest the general rule of thumb - water when the top inch is dry and provide bright, indirect light. What is bright, indirect light, you ask? See our previous blog post on light.

3. Water Thoroughly! When you water, give your plant a good drink until water comes out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. This is easily done if you place your plant over the sink when watering. This ensures that the roots get enough water and you’re not just wetting the surface of the soil.

Having talked to hundreds of customers over the last few years, I’ve learned that most people overwater without knowing it! Too much water can drown your plant's roots and cause them to rot. This happens when you either water too frequently (before your plant has had a chance to absorb the water you last gave them) or if you allow your plant to sit in soggy soil. This usually happens if a pot does not have a drainage hole see tip # 4) or if you leave water sitting in the saucer underneath the plant. It’s important to empty any excess water from the saucer under your plant's pot after watering, especially if you choose to bottom water (see tip # 3).

3. Choose your favorite watering method! The preferred method can vary based on the type of plant but, again, here’s some general advice.

I prefer bottom watering (which some people call “butt chugging” but I just can’t call it that LOL). Bottom watering helps reduce fungus gnats by keeping the surface of the soil drier. Fungus gnats need moist soil to lay their eggs in so you are lessening the chance they will take up residence in your plants!.

To bottom water, simply place your plant pot (ideally the plastic grow pot, which has lots of holes on the bottom) in a dish of water. You can literally use any container you want. I like to use the clear plastic drip trays for individual plants or, to water several plants at once, I’ll place them in a large under-bed storage box and fill with a few inches of water and a bit of liquid nutrients and set a timer for 15-20 minutes. This allows plenty of time for them to absorb as much water as they need, then I place them back in their spot.

Top watering is simply pouring water over the top of the soil until it runs out the drainage holes. Easy peasy.

4. Pot Drainage. Plants definitely prefer soil that can drain! Planting in pots without a drainage hole is possible but it’s tricky, and not recommended for new plant parents! We stock lots of pots in the shop that don’t have drainage and they are intended to be used as cover pot. A cover pot is intended to be decorative. You just drop the grow pot (plastic nursery pot) into a cover pot for looks and it also contains any soil/water so it doesn’t get the surface of your table messy. If you decide to plant directly in a pot without drainage, it’s imperative you allow extra time for the soil to dry out or the roots of the plant will surely rot. If you decide to take the chance, this is one of the few times I recommend watering with a spray bottle so you don’t accidentally give the plant too much water. But just be really careful if you decide to go this route!

5. Watch for signs from your plants! They really will tell you if something isn't right. Keep an eye on your plant's leaves. If they start to droop or turn yellow, it might need more water. And sometimes yellow leaves means too much water (super helpful, right?). If they're getting mushy or brown, it’s likely getting too much water. So how do you know which it is - stick your finger in the soil! You knew I was going to say that didn’t you? If it’s pretty wet - you’ve been overwatering. If it’s really dry, you’ve been under-watering. I know, rocket science.

6. Be Consistent. Try to water your plants at the same time and in the same way each week. I like to set a reminder in my calendar app so I don’t forget. And just because the alarm goes off doesn’t always mean the plants will need water. But it’s a reminder to check their soil to feel if they’re ready for water! Consistency helps your plants know what to expect and keeps them happy!

With a little practice and attention, you'll become a pro at watering your houseplants and keeping them thriving in no time!

Have a question about watering? Drop it in the comments and we’ll answer ASAP!!

I hope this was helpful! xo, Leslie

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