How to Water Indoor Plants

When plants are kept in the house as potted plants, their watering needs will differ from those of plants grown in the soil outside. The symptoms of over-watering and under-watering plants are very similar, and improper watering causes more houseplants to die than any other factor. Learn how to water houseplants correctly in this article.


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    Pot plants correctly. The plant container type and size, and the potting soil you use have a lot to do with correct watering.
    • Use a lightweight potting medium instead of a garden soil for indoor plants.
    • Use special potting mixes for plants like orchids and cacti. Research your plants and use the right planting medium.
    • Make sure all pots have drainage holes.
    • Use a pot that isn’t too big. When transplanting, the new pot should not be more than 2” (5cm) wider or deeper than the old one.
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    Re-pot the plant if it is very root bound. The plant becomes root bound when it outgrows its container. You can tell that this has happened when you pull the plant out of the pot and you see only roots, no soil. Time for an upgrade!
    • In other cases, there is still soil but the roots are so bunched up that the plant isn't thriving.
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    Water plants on their schedule, not yours. The need for water varies at different times of the year and stages of growth. Watering every Wednesday is a good way to lose the plant.
    • Know the water requirements of your plant. Consult a good care guide. Some need to be constantly moist; others need to dry out between watering.
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    Look at the plant and its medium. When the plant is droopy or wilted, something is wrong.
    • Many yellowed, browning, or dropped leaves mean there is a problem. Wrinkled or shrunken leaves or stems on cacti and succulents mean there is a problem. All of these symptoms can mean the plant is either too wet or too dry.
    • Check the looks of the soil and the saucer under the pot. Seeing water is a sign the plant is over-watered.
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    Stick your finger into the medium about 1” (2.5 cm) deep. This is the critical step in determining water needs. You should be able to feel if the soil is dry, moist or soggy.
    • If the plant is droopy, wilted, shrunken, browning or dropping leaves but the soil feels soggy, then the plant is too wet and the roots are rotting, depriving the leaves of water. Do not water this plant.
    • If all of the above symptoms are present but the soil feels dry, then the plant needs water.
    • If the plant looks fine but the soil feels dry consult your care guide to see if this type of plant needs constantly moist soil and water if it does. If it’s recommended to let it dry between watering, water in 2 days or if you see the plant wilt.
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    Water until water drains out of the pot at the bottom. Then empty any collected water in the saucer under the plant promptly.
    • If a pot is too dry, water may run out around the sides of the pot where the medium has shrunk away and left a gap. The cure is to soak the pot for an hour in a tub or pail of water.
    • Plants that are too root bound, (the pot is completely full of roots), will not be able to take up enough water to keep the plant from wilting each day. Re-pot the plant into a bigger pot. Before re-potting, the bound roots must be separated and the long/excess ones trimmed off.


  • Use room temperature water. Both softened and hard well water can be hard on plants. Use rainwater or distilled water if you can. Chlorine (modern chlorine treatment does not dissipate with time) and fluoride in city water can build up in potting soil and cause problems as well.
  • Try not to let plants wilt between watering. This is very stressful for the plant. Some plants recover well after watering but others that wilt will not recover.
  • There are meters and even decorative figurines that can let you know when the soil is too dry but touch is still the best way to see if a plant needs water.

Things You'll Need

  • Watering can or similar
  • Suitable pots/containers for plants
  • Good potting mix
  • Information (book or website) on each plant type's watering needs

Sources and Citations

  • Hessayon, Dr.D.G., The Houseplant Expert, London, England, Expert Books, 1994, pgs. 177-178 – research source
  • Ortho books, Houseplants Indoors/Outdoors, San Francisco, CA, Chevron, 1974, pg 12-13 – research source

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