How to Properly Water A Houseplant

By Raffaele DiLallo | March 28, 2018
by Raffaele DiLallo
March 28, 2018

Growing up with a deep-rooted Italian heritage, where I was the only one from my entire family that was born in the U.S., I was different from the other children.  From an early age, I was surrounded by large vegetable gardens, oleanders, geraniums and fig trees. I developed an obsession with growing houseplants when I was a small child, and it stemmed from my desire to purify my indoor air because my father smoked heavily!  I have an obsession with growing orchids, and my outdoor gardens have taken on a decidedly tropical appearance.  I share houseplant tips daily on Instagram (@ohiotropics) and blog about houseplant care on my personal site, Ohio Tropics.  You can also find me on Twitter (@ohiotropicsblog) and Facebook (Ohio Tropics Blog).

I often shock people when I describe how I water houseplants.  My advice presents a stark contrast from the mountains of misinformation out there on how to properly water a houseplant.  I’ve heard everything from using ice for watering orchids and other plants, to misting the surface of soil for succulents because they “don’t need much water.”  These methods will only result in frustration.  My method of how to water a houseplant is the same for all plants.  Here are a few DO’S and DON’TS for watering your houseplants:

DO’S for Watering Your Houseplant

  • DO soak the entire soil when you water.  This will encourage a healthy root system.  This goes for succulents too!  I like to take smaller plants to a sink and soak them with tap water until water runs out through the drainage hole.  If you have a larger plant that you can’t move, you should still give it a thorough watering until water starts to come out of the drainage hole.  Just ensure that it is not sitting in water.  I like to use a turkey baster to remove excess water if the plant is too big to move.
  • DO monitor your plant and customize WHEN to water it again based off of its needs!  In general a good rule of thumb on watering it to wait at least until the surface of the soil is completely dry to the touch before watering it again.  For leafy foliage houseplants, such as Peace Lily, Pothos, and others, it is important not to let all the soil in the pot dry out.  Each time you do this, the plant will be weakened.  Conversely, for snake plants (Sansevieria) and any succulent or cactus, you will want all the soil to dry out before watering again.  And when you DO water them again, follow the tip in the first bullet point.

DON’TS for Watering Your Houseplant

  • DON’T follow a calendar or the “water once a week” method.  It is OK to have weekly checkpoints, but your plant may not need to be watered every week.  Of course this depends on the pot size, temperature, light and many other factors.  On the other hand, small pots, especially porous terra cotta pots, may need to be watered more frequently than once a week.
  • DON’T water again if the surface of the soil is still moist to the touch.  Wait a little bit longer.  It is better to err toward underwatering versus overwatering.
  • DON’T use ice to water your plants.  This is a widespread piece of information that you should NOT follow!  This is a marketing gimmick that is popular for Moth Orchids.  First off, ice is too cold and may shock your plants.  Secondly, it will not thoroughly soak the potting media, thus encouraging a weak root system.  As a result, it will dehydrate your plant and result in a slow death.
  • DON’T apply a small amount of water or mist the surface of your plant.  All plants will benefit from a thorough watering.  If you water shallowly, you will be encouraging a weak and small root system.  I’m convinced this is one of the reasons why many people kill succulents.
  • DON’T let a plant sit in water.  The vast majority of plants will not like this and it will encourage root rot.  Be sure to remove any excess water sitting at the base of the plant.  One exception (and there are always exceptions) is Papyrus.
  • DON’T use cold water to water plants.  This may shock your plant.  Instead use at least room temperature water or tepid water.
  • DON’T use water from a water softener system.  These systems use sodium which is toxic to plants.  Use filtered water, rain water, or buy purified water.

When researching plant care online, be sure to seek information from a reputable source, such as a plant society, or from someone that has personal experience with the topic. This will ensure that you will get REAL information!  It is apparent when someone is simply regurgitating information and has no experience with the topic.  For more houseplant care advice, visit and subscribe by email!

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