Exactly how much you should water indoor plants


Intro: Emma Vidgen // @emma_vee
Images, words and styling: Lisa Eldred Steinkopf // @houseplantguru


How much water is enough when it comes to your indoor plants? Unless you’re a natural green thumb it can be really hard to know. Too little and you can lose them in a frighteningly short space of time. Too much and you could overload them. I for one have been guilty of showering my greenery with too much love (read: overzealous watering) only to have them get totally water logged and die.

That’s why we asked Lisa Eldred Steinkopf (aka: the house plant guru) for the definitive word on how and when to water your green babies.

Here she shares her expert advice on exactly how much water your plants need.



A problem that arises when deciding when and how to water your plants is that the labels that come with them are often misunderstood.

Instead of watering your plant on a schedule (as is often recommended) I suggest you check your plant on a schedule. When you use an air conditioner in the summer or heat in the fall, it lowers the humidity in your home, drying out your plant faster. During these times, your plant may need more water for a short time while it adjusts to the new environmental conditions.

Before following the label, consider factors that influence how the plant takes up water and use the label only as a starting point and not as a set-in-stone rule. A week of cloudy days and cooler weather will decrease the amount of water a plant uses at that time. Conversely, a week of sunny, hot days will increase the water your plant will use. Consider all this as you check your plant and decide whether to add water.




The best way to decide whether a plant needs water is simply to stick your finger into the potting medium. If you feel moisture at your first or second knuckle, it is not necessary to add water. If it is dry, give it a drink.

When you have a plant in a large, deep pot, checking just the top couple of inches may not be a good indicator of its moisture level, as the potting medium may be dry on top but still quite moist in the lower part of the container. Check it further down in the pot with a long dowel or stick. Push it into the medium as far as you can and hold it there shortly, similar to sticking a toothpick into a cake to check for unbaked batter. If there is moisture or wet potting medium on the tip of the stick, hold off watering. Water when the dowel is barely moist and never let it completely dry out.

If you are uncertain how to decide if your plant needs water, lift the container after watering your plant to feel its weight. When you lift it again and it feels much lighter, you will know it needs water.



Leaves that are lighter green…

Plants that need water are usually a lighter green than their normal colour — this is especially true of ferns. This way of reading your plants comes only after working with plants for a long time.

Leaves that are wilting…

If you find your plant is wilted, it may be a sign the plant is dry. However, check the potting medium before adding water, as wilting can also indicate your plant is too wet. If a plant has been allowed to dry and wilt, it may have damaged the roots to the point that they have died off and may no longer be able to take up water, so the plant wilts just as if the roots had rotted from overwatering.

You may be tempted to water the plant after seeing it react this way, but adding more water will not help it at this point — the roots that died from drying out will start rotting in the now-overly saturated medium, and your plant will most likely not recover.

If you remove your plant from the pot and discover that it has been overwatered and the roots are black and mushy (and, probably extremely smelly) is there hope? If your plant still seems to have life in its green parts, there may be a chance to save it. Wash the remaining potting medium off the roots and see if any healthy roots remain. Cut the mushy, dead roots off and replant your plant in fresh potting medium. Many plants will recover from an occasional wilting, reacting only by losing a leaf or two, but this method should not be used as an indicator that your plant needs water on a regular basis.


HOW MUCH TO WATER your plants

You’ve established that your plant needs water, but how much? If it is a cactus or other succulent, you just need to give it a thimbleful, right? I used to think so, fearing that I would overwater it. Or, if the plant is a big drinker, you can leave it standing in water, right? The answer to both of those questions is no. You should give water to any plant, no matter the variety, the same way: until water runs out the bottom of the pot from the drainage hole.

The key to this watering practice is the amount of time that passes before you water again. A cactus or other succulent may not need water again for months, yet a fern or peace lily may need water again in a few days.

A plant should stand in water in the saucer for no more than 30 minutes to make sure it has absorbed as much water as it needs. If there is any left in the saucer at that time, dump it out. If your plant is too large to move, use a turkey baster to remove any excess moisture from the saucer.



With our busy lives, it may be hard to remember when you watered and fertilized each plant. I write it down on my calendar; you could also keep track of your plants in a plant journal or bullet journal. I have plant‑themed washi tape and add my own sketches of my plants in my journal. I have also learned to keep track of the dates I repot or up-pot my plants by writing that information on a plastic plant tag that I place in the container. Use a pencil, as most other types of pens or markers eventually wear off.

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Grow In The Dark by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf is available now through Murdoch Books ($32.99)

Images and Text from Grow in the Dark by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf. Cool Springs Press RRP $32.99’. Out now