How often should you water houseplants? A plant-by-plant guide, plus expert watering tips

How often should you water houseplants? Here's a quick guide to different plants' watering needs and upkeep tips from the pros

A window sil with three small plants
(Image credit: Grounded)

How often should you water houseplants? You're not the only one who's confused... Maintaining these green beauties can often feel like a guessing game, especially when it comes to their watering needs. While it's generally believed that once a week is ideal for most plants, that isn't always necessarily the case.. 

Every home has different light exposure, temperature, and humidity levels, and these affect the plants that live within such environments. 

'Each houseplant has very specific needs in terms of light levels, watering, humidity, feeding, and temperature so it’s important to find out what type of plant you have and its country of origin to get a sense of the conditions it will thrive in,' says Emma O’Neill, head gardener at Garden Organic. 'It can be tempting to spot a plant that looks lovely in a shop and assume you can put it anywhere in your house but it’s so important to have the right plant in the right place.'

How often should you water houseplants?

To start you off, here are some of the most popular houseplants, and their general watering requirements. 

1. Fiddle Leaf Fig: Weekly watering needed. Allow the soil to completely dry out before you water it again.

 2. Tortoiseshell Calathea Medallion: The plant loves moisture so mist it with water every day. 

3. Ficus: This plant needs at least 1-1.5 liters of water a week, so it should be watered moderately in the spring and summer. When pouring water, make sure you pour till you can almost see the water coming out the pot holes. 

4. Crassulas: You need to be a little careful with this plant as it stores water in its leaves. Usually, it requires 1 to 2 watering sessions a fortnight.

5. Palms: These need frequent watering, with the soil always being moist. Keep in mind that if its soil is allowed to dry out too much, it can become hydrophobic and repel water.

6. Succulents: There is no hard rule when it comes to watering succulents, as it differs in different climates. The indoor ones can be watered every 14-21 days.

7. Spider plants: These need to be watered once a week, but before watering, check the soil to see if it's still moist. If it is, wait for a few more days before you water the plant. 

8. Pothos: These need to be watered once every week. Ensure the soil is always moist, but don't overwater the plant.

9. Peace lily: These love a generous soak and for the plant to be evenly moist. It's best to water these once a week.

10. Aloe: Usually the plant thrives with once-a-week watering. Keep checking the soil to make sure it is not completely dry.

However, as we've already explained, different locations in the homes and climates will affect how much watering your house plants need. But how can you work this out?

To answer these burning questions, we reached out to florists, gardeners, and plant experts to learn what you need to know about watering your houseplants. Here's what they had to say.

How do I know how much water different plants need?

A living room with a tall plant in the corner

(Image credit: Design by Studio Nato. Photo by Hanna Grankvist)

We get it; not everyone has green fingers. But everyone does love plants! They freshen up the home, create a lively environment, and even clean the indoor air. Of course, you don't need to remember their botanical names, but it's always helpful to have a general idea about the type of houseplant you have and how to care for it. 

Largely, houseplants fall within a few categories, ranging from dry soil varieties to happy-with-their-toes-in-water ones. Then there are the low to moderate water species that need partially damp soil to thrive.

'For those that lead busy lifestyles, there are plenty of houseplant options that need minimal watering for maximum joy,' says Whitney Bromberg, founder of FLOWERBX. 'Ferns are the perfect example of a plant that suits most homes and are perfectly located in a humid room like a bathroom or conservatory. Boston Fern and Blue Wave Fern need their soil to remain damp to touch, but never waterlogged.' 

'More tropical plants, like Tortoiseshell Calathea Medallion also require humidity to thrive. Only water your Calathea when the first quarter of its soil is dry, and allow water to flow through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot to avoid waterlogging its roots,' says Whitney.

Other than these, Aloe, Pothos, Croton, Snake Plant, Ivy, and Air Plant are ideal for on-the-go professionals as these need occasional watering and are the hardy variety, and are ideal for indoor or balcony gardens.

2. Keep a schedule for watering plants

A living room wall painted pink with a plant kept in front of it

(Image credit: Design by Pedro Haruf Arquiteto. Photo by Dentro Fotografi)

Before purchasing the plant from a nursery or a gardener, remember to ask them about their watering needs. If you're buying lots of plants, keeping a tab on each of their needs may become difficult, so make a schedule.

'The best way to water your house plants is to have a weekly routine where you go around and check them all,' says Kelly Dyer, glasshouse gardener at West Dean Gardens. 'Some plants, like Begonias or Philodendrons or Ficus might need water every week, while others, like Crassulas or Aspidistras or Ceropegia, might only need watering every two . Either way, if you take some time every week to check them all you will remain on top of it.'

'Tropical plants, like palms, generally need watering when the top two inches of soil are dry, while cacti and succulents have adapted to store lots of moisture in their  leaves and can survive long periods of drought,' says Richard Cheshire, plant doctor at Patch Plants. 'Give these plants around a month between waterings. Desert plants like corn plants and aspidistra also prefer their soil on the drier side, so it’s best to let the soil completely dry out before topping up.'

3. Regularly check the soil

A small houseplant built into a coffee table

(Image credit: Baldiwala Edge)

Whether in your living room or even in a summer house, ensure that the plants in small containers are not kept in direct sun, as they can dry out very quickly. Even the ones that love the sun, like cactuses and succulents, can have bone-dry soil with too much sunlight.

Don't forget the finger dip test. 'Simply place your finger into the soil down to the second knuckle,' says Richard. 'If the soil sticks to your finger, this is a sure sign that the soil is moist and your plant is likely still drinking. If the soil is completely dry, your plant may need a top-up.'

'Also do bear in mind that as the weather becomes hotter, plants will need a drink more frequently,' says Richard. 'If your plants drink so quickly that you’re watering more than once a week, it may be a sign that your plant needs repotting. Plant them in a pot around two inches wider so that they have room to spread out and more soil to drink from.'

4. Feed houseplants too

A small living room with houseplants on either sides

(Image credit: Sarah Barnard Design)

To keep houseplants happy, you need to provide good feed. Garden compost, manure, and seaweed are great sources of feed for plants, as these contribute to good soil structure and fertility.

'In summer it is advisable to feed your houseplants once a week or every two weeks – remember their roots cannot go in search of nutrients in open ground and they have limited soil to draw on so they are dependent on you to top them up,' says Kelly. 'In Winter as it gets darker and plants are photosynthesizing less, even if they are still in a warm environment, water them less and stop feeding.' 

5. Prepare for the seasons

Set of 2 Stratton plant pots

(Image credit: Garden Trading)

While every plant has different needs, its requirements also change with seasons. For instance, plants generally need lesser water in the winter as most houseplants go dormant in the cold. For certain plants or even trees that grow in pots, in the summer you may even have to water them every day.

'Overwatering is one of the most common causes of issues in houseplants so checking daily will help you understand your plant’s needs,' says Emma from Garden Organic. 'As a general rule of thumb, water your houseplants once a week during the spring and summer months, and less frequently in the darker months of the year. They may also need feeding in their growing season (normally late spring to early autumn).'

What is the best way to water indoor plants?

Before you zero in on ways to water the plants, the first thing to keep in mind is how to choose the right ones. 

If you aren't very confident in your plant-growing skills, choose ones that have little to moderate watering requirements and ones that don't require too much sunlight. Hardy ones will survive without you having to pull your hair out. 

When it comes to watering plants, different people have different practices. 'Some people prefer to water by sitting their pots in a sink or bath of water until the soil surface is moist; others prefer to walk around with a can,' says Kelly. 'If watering with a can make sure you can see water coming out of the bottom of the pot into the saucer so that you know it’s watered all the way through. You don’t however want your pot to stay sitting in a pool.'

While watering your plants, remember to evenly water the soil, making sure every root is hydrated and nourished. 'Avoid watering the leaves of your plants to prevent mold, disease, and sunlight burns,' says Olivia Taylor of Leaf Envy. 'While they do like to be wiped down now and again to remove dust and clear the path for light absorption, they are not fans of being watered from the top-down.'

Farringdon apartment with neutral interiors and lots of plants

(Image credit: Mary Wadsworth)

How do you know if you're overwatering your plants?

Sometimes you can be tempted to water your plants a little more than outlined in this guide. Alternatively, you could be watering your plants as per schedule but because the pot perhaps doesn't have proper drainage, the plant starts drowning. 

If you want to check for this issue, touch the top of the soil before you water it. If enough time has passed since you watered the plant last, yet you feel the soil is still wet, it means it's oversaturated with water. Also, an overwatered plant's leaves will start turning yellow or start falling. If you see your plant attracting too many pests, that too could be a sign that it's overwatered. 

A good way to save an overwatered plant is to repot it. Ensure the pot has appropriate drainage and airflow. Hold off on watering until the soil feels dry before you start watering again.

Aditi Sharma Maheshwari

Aditi Sharma Maheshwari is an architecture and design journalist with over 10 years of experience. She's worked at some of the leading media houses in India such as Elle Decor, Houzz and Architectural Digest (Condé Nast).  Till recently, she was a freelance writer for publications such as Architectural Digest US, House Beautiful, Stir World, Beautiful Homes India among others. In her spare time, she volunteers at animal shelters and other rescue organizations.