h2o: how much water is enough?

Word recently spread across my office that I know a thing or two about plants, and ever since, I’ve been asked for plant advice on the regular. While I love talking about plants, it’s been a fairly comical situation. Imagine being called to someone’s office, not to discuss the project you’ve just completed, but to give them tips on their wilting peace lily!

If nothing else, this experience has helped me realize that a good majority of people are unsure of how much water to give to their plants. Perhaps you fall into this category? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Unfortunately, there is really no straight forward or easy answer to this question because there are so many different factors to consider. To help, here are some of the most important things to keep in mind when trying to determine how much water your plant requires:

#1 What type of plant do you have?

Knowing the type of plant you have is a key factor to success! I will admit that for years, I didn’t really care all that much about the type of plants I had. I just put them in the window, gave them water, and hoped for the best. In hindsight, I could have saved myself a lot of plant-grief if I had simply done the research. When you know what type of plant you have, you can better understand it’s needs for optimal health and growth. Without this information, you’re really just playing a guessing game.

Typically, when you purchase a plant it will come with some basic information . If it doesn’t, ask someone at the store who can tell you more about the plant. There are so many resources available online today. All you really need is to search the name (if you have it) and a large number of sites will appear, all providing information and insight into the needs of your plant.

Not sure of the name? That shouldn’t stop you! Not too long ago I was trying to figure out the name of a plant. I was in a local plant shop and they had the exact plant I was trying to identify, so I asked the employee who (surprisingly) had no clue what type of plant it was (!). I went home and searched: “plant that looks like the top of a pineapple”. I had to search around a bit, but eventually came to learn that my plant was called a ‘Janet Craig’ Dracaena. Thank you internet! Another option is to take a photo of your plant and go into a plant shop and ask for advice, or post it online to a discussion board. People who love plants love to talk about them, and you’ll be sure to find some answers by simply asking!

Once you know the name of your plant, you can start investigating other important factors:

#2 How much light does your plant require?

Some plants require direct sunlight, while others prefer indirect or shaded spots. Each plant is different and some are more adaptable than others. Knowing the ideal amount of sunlight will help you grow the healthiest plants possible… and will also help you make good decisions based on the type of light inside your home. So, for example, if you live in a basement apartment and your windows receive minimal light, you are going to want to avoid purchasing succulents, which need lots of bright light.

If you’re not sure if your plant is getting enough sun, or too much sun, there are some easy cues to check for. If the leaves are crispy around the edges, or are losing their color, there is a good chance it’s getting too much sun (possibly combined with not enough water). If leaves are wilting and the soil feels wet for an extended period of time, this is a signal that your plant needs more light (and also probably less water!)

#3 Does your plant like humid or dry conditions?

Knowing where your plant comes from can help you determine whether it likes a humid or dry environment. I have a lot of tropical foliage, so I know that my plants prefer more humid temperatures. It can sometimes be difficult to provide the ideal environment, especially if your plant comes from far away. There are some simple solutions to this problem: you can purchase a humidifier, especially during those dry winter months. Or you can mist your plants on a regular basis. The same goes for the opposite scenario: a plant that requires a dry environment usually requires more sun and less water.

#4 Consider the time of year!

I’m probably not the best person to explain the science behind growing plants, but I can tell you from my own observations that time of year is a huge factor. In the winter, days are short and sunlight is limited, therefore plants require less water to maintain their status quo. During this time of year it is very easy to over-water, simply because there is not enough sunlight for your plants to utilize an excess of water. Therefore, your plants are more susceptible to root rot and water damage. There is also a lot of research to show that during the winter months many plants go into a state of hibernation, so growth is slower… and therefore need less water.

In the spring & summer, the sun shines bright and plants will flourish. Depending on the type of plant, it might mean that you need to increase the water, and it’s also an ideal time to re-fertilize and check to see whether your plants have out-grown their pots.

THE MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE YOU WILL EVER GET FROM ME:

The most important thing you can do to ensure you are giving your plant the right amount of water is to throw your weekly water schedule OUT THE WINDOW and simply check the soil before each watering. If the soil feels wet, it doesn’t matter that you haven’t watered the plant it 2 weeks. It doesn’t need more water! I promise!

The standard practice is to stick your finger an inch or so into the soil. I usually do this in more than one spot, in case I previously watered my plant unevenly. If the soil feels moist or wet under the surface, no water is needed. If it’s dry, give that plant some love.

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