How Often Should Plants Be Watered? Leafy Plant Care Tips 101

October 15, 2019



Why we water our plants is a no-brainer. But if you’re asking, “when and how often should plants be watered?” you know that the answer is not as obvious. So, we’ve come up with our top recommendations on how to water plants effectively. This way, your plants stay green and healthy, and you stay happy.

When plants are watered, their roots absorb water and water soluble nutrients so the rest of the plant can use it to grow. Check out how these plants perk up when they get water!



When to Water Plants

The ideal time to water is right when the plant starts to show signs that it’s a little dry.  Different plants do this in different ways.

For example, you can tell that it’s time to water your succulent plant when the stems look shriveled. This is because they store water, which gives them a fuller look when hydrated. When dehydrated, the opposite occurs.

Another example is with ferns. When they’re lacking water, the leaves look pale green instead of their usual bright green. Ferns have a tendency to become dull in color when thirsty.

Other plants may turn yellow or show signs of drooping when they need to be watered. This all depends on the type of plant you have.

If you find that you’re not around to water your office plants over the weekend or when you’re on vacation, you could come back to a dead plant. We suggest opting for an indoor plant maintenance service so your plants will never be left thirsty.

Factors that affect watering frequency

  • Variety. Cacti won’t need much water in general, whereas a Hibiscus or Ficus will turn its leaves yellow and drop them if there’s a lapse in watering.

  • Size. All else being equal, smaller plants in smaller containers will need watering more frequently because the small size means smaller storage capacity for water and nutrients. In this regard, plants and animals are alike…a puppy will need to eat more frequently than an adult dog.

  • Container material. The material of the container can be porous (terracotta, felt pockets, stone) or non-porous (plastic, glass, ceramic). Plants in porous containers will need water more frequently because the container will whisk away moisture. Plants in non-porous containers will need water less frequently because the container will trap moisture in.

  • Container shape. Tall and deep containers will hold water for longer than shallow and wide containers.

  • Ambient temperature. Plants are generally more active and water will evaporate faster at higher temperatures. Plants in higher temperatures (80°F) will need water more frequently than plants at lower temperatures (65°F).

  • Lighting level. Plants with access to more light will grow faster and thus need more water and nutrients.

How often Should Plants Be Watered?

So, how often should plants be watered? The answer: it depends.

As you can see, there are a lot of factors above that affect the watering cycle of a plant. No set schedule will work for every single plant.

To help you get started, we recommend watering once per week while taking note of how your plant responds. You may need to water more or less.

On average, it takes a plant up to 3 weeks to adjust to its surroundings. During this period, aim to figure out the right timing for watering your particular plant. Then, set reminders for yourself and stick to the schedule.

Want to make it even easier to know how often to water plants? Sign up for our text message reminder service. Not only will we ping you when it’s time to water, we’ll also give you recommendations based on your plant and its situation. If something changes, just let us know and we’ll adjust our recommendations based on your feedback.

Related: The Best Indoor Plants for Beginners

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Tips on How to Water Plants Correctly

Knowing the answer to, “how often should plants be watered,” is our #1 tip. Once you’ve got that down, consider the following plant care tips:

  1. Room temperature water is the way to go.  If you water directly from the faucet, test out the water with your finger first. Super hot water will literally burn the plant and cause cells to burst. If that happens to sensitive root hairs, then the plant will have to grow new ones. Super cold water can shock the plant, especially tropical varieties and cause them to lose leaves. Over time, frequent temperature extremes can weaken a plant and make it more susceptible to insects, disease and drought.

  2. Water slowly at first. Imagine cracked earth and a rainstorm…most of that water is washing over the surface without being absorbed. Only later when the surface is moist does the soil take on more water. The same thing happens in the plant pot, only on a smaller scale. Most potting soils use a blend of sphagnum moss.  When wet, it can hold a lot of water (think boggy streams).    

  3. Water the deep roots, too. When you water, it’s best to really water all parts of the plant, so even the roots near the bottom get moisture. Deeper and longer roots allow plants to get more moisture out of the soil and thus last longer between waterings and be more resilient. So, water deeply (all the way to the bottom of the pot) so the roots at the bottom can get a drink as well. 

  4. Let it sit, but just a bit. To ensure that the water reaches the roots at the bottom, let the pot sit in water in the drip tray for about 10 minutes so the soil can finish absorbing water. If you’re watering a very dried out pot, you may need to leave it for longer.

  5. Always drain off.  After it sits, pour off all the excess water in the drip tray. Most plants don’t like to have wet feet and sit in water. To avoid root rot, always drain off excess water. 

How to Avoid Overwatering Plants

Overwatering is the most common cause of plant failures. We get it — you want your plants to be hydrated, but overwatering plants does more harm than good. You have to find that sweet spot. 

When plants are overwatered, the excess moisture surrounds the roots and causes them to rot. Unhealthy roots stop effectively absorbing water and nutrients. This can lead to the entire plant failing. 

Both overwatered and underwatered plants exhibit similar symptoms, so it can be tricky to tell what’s causing your plant to fail. 

Here’s what to look out for in overwatered plants:

  • Black, soft spots on leaves or stems close to the soil

  • Entire leaves or stems turning translucent and mushy

  • Little black gnats that fly around the plant when you move it or water it


Overwatered Monstera deliciosa with transpiring water and yellowing leaves. Photo credit: Gardeners’ World

Overwatered Monstera deliciosa with transpiring water and yellowing leaves. Photo credit: Gardeners’ World


Plant care tips to recover from overwatering

We wouldn’t leave you without some plant care tips related to watering frequency. If you think you’ve been overwatering a plant and there are still signs of life (aka greenery), here are some emergency measures you can take to reverse the trend:

  1. Clean it up. Trim off all leaves or stems that have turned mushy, black, soft or translucent.  

  2. Let it dry out. Don’t go back to the same watering schedule. However often you have been watering the plant, go twice as long before you water again. Check the level of moisture by sticking your finger about 1” deep into the soil and see if it feels moist or dry.  Don’t water until your finger comes out dry! 

  3. Move it to a brighter area. Sometimes overwatering can be further compounded by lack of light, which makes the plant less active and use up less water. Moving the plant to a brighter area, such as in direct sunlight or under typical indoor fluorescent lights, will help it wake up a bit and start putting out new growth and roots.

  4. Be patient. Depending on the plant, it could take up to 3 weeks to show signs of improvement. You know it’s on the mend when you see new shoots or leaves growing.

Related: 3 Herb Plants Perfect for Summer

Final Thoughts on “How often should plants be Watered?”

There’s a lot that goes into knowing how to take care of a plant. Everyone knows they need to water their plant, but many people don’t know how to water plants the right way. To do this, you must water the right amount in terms of volume and frequency.

This may seem like a lot to remember, but it’s really about getting to know your plant so that you know when it’s happy and when it’s not. Then, just water accordingly and enjoy the journey of being a proud plant parent!  

Want more plant care tips and how-to’s? Contact us with any questions and follow us on Instagram @garden_streets for daily plant inspiration!

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