How often should I water my house plants?

Overwatering is the biggest killer of houseplants by a long way, followed not too far behind by underwatering. The trouble is this a houseplants can't tell you when it's thirsty or had enough, and no two plants have the exact same water requirements. So how often should I water my house plants?

Unfortunately there are no hard and fast rules, and this because those plants that are considered house plants in your local garden centre or supermarket could have originated from such contrasting places as the desert regions of central America to the marshy environments of south east Asia. So what do you do?

See, no cacti in the desert!
Well you can begin by checking the label, however these tend to be generic with a collection of unintelligible graphics for guidance. However if it has a genus and species name then you can always research the requirements. Just be aware that conditions in your home will be different to that of your houseplants indigenous country, especially with regards to light levels and daytime temperatures which will have an effect on the amount of water a houseplant needs. 

In general, the majority of traditional houseplants are those which can tolerate the lower light levels however this will not be the case for all. Take cacti and succulents for example. However there are increasing number of more attractive houseplants which have increasingly challenging requirements which must be met if they are too survive. the new ranges of epiphytic ferns are a great example of this as they never seem to come with cultivation information. So if you are struggling to keep houseplants then try starting off with those plants whose popularity has lasted over the years, in fact think back to those easy-to-keep, resilient varieties popular during the victorian period. The Aspidistra is notable species and has been a favourite choice for centuries now due to its cast iron constitution and ability to withstand both waterlogging and drought!

I am going to give you some rough pointers and be aware that plants will require less watering during the winter months.

For regular house plants water once a week, do not allow the root environment to become waterlogged unless this is a particular requirement for you plant species such as African violets or or some carnivorous plant species. Then allow the top inch or so to dry out between waterings. Over the winter months drop this down to watering once a month.

Drought tolerant cacti

For cacti and succulents you can water once a week during the summer so long as they have been planted in a well-drained compost and usually about half to a quarter of what you would give an average leafy houseplant. Otherwise water the same but once a month. Over the winter watering can be cut down to a half, maybe even less.

Houseplants with a large amount of foliage will dry out in a small pot and will need watering more often than it would to in a large pot. House plants in full sun, warm rooms or in draughts will require more watering than they otherwise would. 

If you use a saucer under you plant pot and pour your water in that so that the moisture is drawn up into the rootball, such as for African violets and Cyclamen, tip away excess water during the winter period.

If it is your natural habit to over-water, you just can't help it, then replant your houseplants into porous terracotta pots as you will have natural evaporation of excessive water through the sides. As your house plants die through obsessive over-watering consider replacing them with water-loving specimens such as the Boston Fern,  Pitcher plants - Sarracenia species, Selaginella cultivars, Cyperus species -Papyrus and Baby’s tears - Helxine soleirolii. 

Water-loving ferns
If you natural habit is to forget to water, I mean under-water. then consider the multitude of cacti and succulents available. Just remember that the do not grow in the desert and will need some water sometimes. Only sand is in the desert, with the occasional camel passing through.

If you are just not sure then research your houseplants watering requirements or replant into a self-watering container.  

Dealing with overwatering

If you plant has wilted and yet the compost is soaking wet then the plant is suffering due to overwatering. Overwatering kills off the parts of the root system that draws in the water to make the plant turgid. If the plant is not too far gone, remove the pot and place the root-ball onto an old folded newspaper. The newspaper will draw out the excessive moisture like a wick, allowing he compost to dry out. Re-pot, the water less often with less water.

Desert image - By The Central Intelligence Agency - The World Factbook - Algeria, Public Domain,

Fern Image - GFDL 1.2,

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