Water: Houseplant Care Guide

Beginner's guide to water

If we had to narrow it down to just two key factors in keeping a plant healthy and happy, it would be light (which you can read about here), and water, which is what this section is all about. Water allows plants to take up nutrients through their roots, keeps their leaves and stems firm and formed, plus does a bunch of other important things to keep them alive. We know you want to keep your unicorn as happy as can be, and when it comes to water, there can be too much of a good thing. So read on and we'll share some tips and tricks to make this easy and fuss-free.

Here we're going to discuss two things - when to water your plants, and how.

Throughout this guide we will provide quick tips, i.e. key take-outs/summaries at the start, for those who are time poor or just want the highlights, followed by the details, so you can pick and choose how you learn.


Quick tips about water

  • Overwatering is the number one mistake new plant parents make
  • Overwatering refers to the frequency of watering, not how much is used at one time
  • Soil that stays wet for too long invites fungus that eats away at your soil and destroys roots i.e. root rot
  • Most indoor plants need their soil to dry out (either partially or in full) between waterings
  • We recommend using pots with drainage holes - for beginners, this will make keeping your plant alive (and not flooded with water) much easier
  • Checking the dryness of your soil before you water your plant will ensure you give your plant water when it needs it - no more root rot
  • Moisture meters are a plant newbie's BFF and take the guesswork out of knowing when to water by reading the soil for you

When to water your plant

One of the biggest mistakes plant parents make early in their journey is over watering their plant, which essentially means keeping the soil too wet, too often. It does not mean pouring too much water into a plant in one session - this is important to clarify. Soil needs a chance to dry out (after all, it doesn't rain every other day outside). So if you water your plant frequently, for example, watering it every day or even every few days, the soil is likely to remain wet which can lead to the growth of certain root-eating fungus. And this fungus can lead to root rot and sometimes plant death.

It can be tempting to water your plant often - after all, there's few ways you can interact with a plant, and watering it can feel a little like you're giving it a little splash of love. But as with many of the best things in life, less is more so put down the watering can!

Overwatering is easily avoided and we'll explain exactly how to tell when your plant needs a drink

There's a few signs you can look out for to see if your houseplant needs water. Its leaves may wilt, curl, look less shiny or become softer/weaker (nerdy fact - water is actually what makes leaves rigid, so when they're low on water they go floppy and soft). But if you're just learning your way around plants, using visual signs from the leaves may not be too easy to identify for sure, so here's a few more simple ways you can figure out when to grab the watering can.

  1. Stick your index finger in the soil up to the second knuckle. It's not super glamorous but it is so useful, and trust us, after you've lost a plant to overwatering, it's worth getting your hands literally dirty for. If the soil feels wet to the touch, don't add more water to it. If it feels dry, it's time for a drink
  2. Feel the weight of the pot. Note how heavy a pot feels right after you've watered it, when the soil has soaked up all that water. If you pick up your pot and it feels a lot lighter than it did when it was watered, it's a good sign that the roots have absorbed all the water and need a top up
  3. Use a moisture meter. These cost around $15 from any nursery or hardware store, and they literally read the moisture levels, taking the guesswork out of knowing when to water! 

The majority of houseplants require water when the soil is dry, or close to dry. There are are few exceptions to this - for example, some carnivorous plants require constantly moist soil - but most of the beautiful plants we have here at Uprooted will benefit from having their soil partially dry out between drinks.

On a side note, it can be useful to designate just one person in the home to be responsible for plant watering. This avoids a potential double-up of efforts if you live with other folks who might help out with your houseplant maintenance.

Methods for watering your plants

So you know when your plant needs a water top up, but figuring out a schedule as part of your everyday life can be tricky. After all, you don't want to be sticking your finger in soil every day to see if your plant needs watering! There's a number of methods or processes that plant parents use - none are wrong or right, just different approaches that you might find you align with. Here's a few of the common ones:

  1. Set watering days

This can work well for people who need a system to remind them to do things, or for those with large collections, and essentially involves having a set day each week when you will check your plants, and water if needed. For example, someone with a large collection of plants may find it easier to designate a day, let's say Sunday in this instance, as their plant checking/watering day for the bulk of their plants. On that day, they will quickly check each over plant to see which needs watering, and water accordingly. If it doesn't get water that week, it will get checked again the next Sunday. That method can work to ensure no plants are forgotten.

  1. Watering each plant as needed

If you have a smaller collection, or like to designate a little bit of time each day to quickly eyeballing your plants, you may choose to water each plant as you notice its need for a drink. If you work from home, or keep your collection within eyesight of areas you spend most of your time in, you may find it easy to spot when a plant needs a water top-up and designate a small amount of every day or so to plant watering.

  1. Individual watering schedules

Some plant owners find it useful to note down how often their plant needs water when they first get it, and create a plant diary that they use to guide them on each plant's watering requirements. There's a number of options for plant diaries ranging from apps, to excel templates, to physical diaries which you can find if you Google the search term "plant diary".

How to water your plants

So we've explained how to tell when your plants need water, and given some tips on how to manage a watering schedule. So next up is how to water your plants. Like we discussed with watering schedules, there's a few different methods, so we'll outline some of the most common and useful ones for you.

  1. Deep watering

This technique is all about making sure water gets deep into the pot, ensuring all of the soil gets drenched, versus tiny splashes of water on top that only moisten the surface and don't touch the roots. To deeply water your plant, take it somewhere where you don't mind water and maybe a bit of soil running out the bottom (we usually do this on a balcony, outside, in the shower/bath, or over a sink). Then slowly, using a watering can, tap, or shower head or hose, spray water on to the soil until water runs freely out the base.

  1. Bottom watering

This is one of our fave techniques for those with a few medium/large plants and need a low key way to sort out their watering needs. We love this method for those with small collections as it’s a no fuss technique where you can just sit them in water and then walk away. Here's how to do it:

  1. Fill your bath with 10cm water (room temperature). And if you don’t have a bath, you can use any vessel that holds water such as a long tray, a sink or a bucket.
  2. Place your plants in (pots with drainage only) to wick up the water from the base where it will be absorbed by the soil.
  3. Leave your plants in there for around 30 minutes - you’ll know they’re fully watered when the soil on the top is damp
  4. Once done, take them out and put them back out on display
  5. If your plants won’t all fit in together the first time, you can use the leftover water for another round

Just to note, this will only work with pots that have drainage holes i.e. decorative pots with drilled holes in the base, or plastic nursery pots with lots of small holes in the bottom.

  1. Watering from the top

If your plant is too heavy to move or you just need to give it a quick blast of H20, you can always use a watering can or bottle to water your plant on the spot. Direct the water towards the root ball, which will be below the centre stem of the plant. Go slowly as this allows the soil to absorb the water rather than repel it, which it may do at first. Think of your soil like a sponge, sucking up water slowly, rather than a glass to be filled up.

Need some help?

Get in touch at hello@uprooted.com.au  - we are always happy to help with any plant woes you may have.

Want to keep learning?

Head to our next section to learn about repotting and soil!

Houseplant care guide: soil and repotting