How Do I Water My Plants?

— Written By Tracy Perry and last updated by Margaret Green

Tracy Perry

Agricultural and Natural Resources

Technician Franklin County Cooperative Extension Service

 Does my Plant need Watering?

 Incorrectly or not enough watering for indoor plants accounts for a large percentage of plant losses. One of the most commonly asked question is, “How often should I water my plants?” There is not a simple answer to this question. There are several basic points to consider:

  • Plants with large or very thin leaves and those with fine surface roots usually require more frequent watering.
  • Plants in a warm, dry, sunny location need more frequent watering.
  • A large plant in a small pot will need water more often.
  • Flowering plants and rapidly growing plants dry out quickly.
  • Different soil mixes require different watering schedules.
  • Water evaporates quicker from the sides of a clay pot than from plastic pots.
  • Also as a side note, you can tell when to water smaller plants by picking the pot up. Water weighs more than air, so a dry potted plant will be lighter than one that has recently been watered.

Forgetfulness is a common watering problem. When you forget to water, the soil dries out and the roots are damaged from dehydration and possible fertilizer burn. Never allow the plant to wilt. A lack of water can result in wilting, leaf spotting, and leaf drop. When a potting soil containing peat moss gets dry, it may be difficult to remoisten. The water may run down the side of the pot instead of wetting the soil. The best solution is to develop a habit of checking the plant on a regular schedule.

Water thoroughly every time you water a plant. Apply enough water to moisten the entire soil volume, plus a little extra. Indoor plants are usually placed in saucers or the pot itself is equipped with a reservoir to hold excess water that drains from the bottom of the pot. If the plant is left standing in this water, the moisture will be reabsorbed into the pot. This could results in generally poor plant performance. To prevent the problem, discard any water in the saucer after each watering, or elevate the base of the container above the level of drainage water. One-way to do this is to spread a layer of gravel in the bottom of the saucer deep enough to keep the bottom of the container out of the water. If you have a pot equipped with a reservoir you do not have to add gravel because the pot itself is designed to prevent the standing water issue.

The feel and color of the soil should be used as a guide in watering indoor plants. Plant roots are usually in the bottom 2/3 of the pot. For most plants, do not water until the bottom 2/3 starts to dry out slightly. You can’t tell this by looking, so you have to feel the soil. When the top 1/2-inch of the soil in containers feels dry, the plant probably needs watering. For a 6-inch pot, stick your index finger about 2 inches into the soil approximately to the second joint of your finger. For smaller pot, placing your finger approximately 1 inch into the soil is the proper depth to measure. You might try using a toothpick. If the soil feels damp, don’t water.

Plants differ in their preference for soil moisture levels. Some prefer to be kept moist but not wet. They must have a relatively uniform amount of water in the soil at all times. These plants tend to have a fine root system that will die if the soil becomes very dry. Others prefer to dry out between watering’s. Also keep in mind the water that you use for watering your plants should be at room temperature. This is especially true for tropical plants. Now, ask yourself the same question, does my plant need water? What will your response be?

For more information about indoor plants, or if you have other gardening questions, feel free to contact the Franklin County Cooperative Extension Office at 919-496-3344, or visit our website at