That has nothing to do with its soil moisture!

Most houseplant care guides, including some that I have written in this blog, focus on how much moisture is present in a plant’s potting mix/soil. This approach is utilized often because that is the first way people think to determine whether a plant needs to be watered and it is one of the more consistent methods across plants and environments.

However, there are other ways that have nothing to do with the plant’s potting mix which can tell you accurately whether your plant is ready to be watered. We will discuss 10 of them in today’s post!

Table of Contents

Why are these methods better?

To use these tips and tricks, you have to start with a healthy plant.

The actual tips!
Using a plant’s leaves to know when it is time:

1. Plants with leaves that become soft or bendable when it is time to water
2. Plants with leaves that are less thick or succulent when it is time to water
3. Plants with leaves that curl when it is time to water
4. Plants with leaves that droop when it is time to water
5. Plants with leaves that are less bounceable when it is time to water
6. Plants with stems that become softer when it is time to water
7. Plants that wrinkle when it is time to water
8. Plants I use the weight of their pot to know when it is time to water
9. Plants who have roots that show when it is time to water
10. Plants I use a calendar to know when it is time to water

Plants I actually use soil moisture level to determine when it is time to water

Often I use multiple methods – here’s why

Why are these methods better?

  1. The majority of these tips involve letting the plant tell you its ready for water rather than trying to determine the plant is ready based on its soil moisture level
  2. They don’t involve dislodging dirt, which means they don’t get the area surrounding your plant dirty!
  3. It doesn’t require your fingers to accurately interpret the moisture present in a plant’s potting mix.
    • If you have a moisture meter (which I highly recommend) and have compared the moisture meter’s reading of whether the potting mix is dry or wet to your finger’s interpretation, you will know that our fingers aren’t always a good judge!

      It is easy to be confused by dry soil that feels cold. The cold potting mix can trick our fingers into thinking the mix is still wet when in reality it’s not and the plant would like to be watered. For plants that like life on the drier side, it’s no big deal. For our water-loving plants, this can make a difference though!
  4. These methods can help to prevent overwatering of plants that do not actually need water as soon as their soil is dry because they store extra water in their leaves or stems.

To use these tips and tricks, you have to start with a healthy plant.

Most of these methods are based on interpreting the behavior of the plant itself.

These will not work if the plant is ill from infection, overwatering, or other issues.

So, if you already have a plant that isn’t doing well, my recommendation would be to monitor the plant’s behavior and physical changes to get to know the plant, but to not use these tips to determine when to water. Instead, use more “traditional” (soil-based) methods until the plant is well again.

An example of why plant health matters:

One way many plants communicate they need water is by changing something about their leaves. Many Hoyas leaves’ become softer when it is time to water.

However, if a hoya has been overwatered, those leaves will stay soft even after watering. So someone may think (after watering), “Oh, the leaves are still soft. My plant needs more water.” In reality, the plant is actually drowning in too much water and adding more will increase the problem.

If your plant has many leaves that are yellowing, developing strange spots, drooping after watering, dropping off the plant, or acting in other abnormal ways, I would recommend using a moisture meter to decide when to water until the plant is healthy again.

The actual tips!

Under each tip I will provide a list of plants I personally use the technique for. I’m positive that there are a lot of other plants that each technique could be used for that I just don’t know about yet!

If you have other techniques that aren’t listed below that work for you or other plants that fit into some of the techniques below, let us know in the comments!

Using a plant’s leaves to know when it is time:

A lot of plants store extra water in their leaves that they continue to use beyond the time the soil they are planted in becomes dry. Watering these plants before they’ve used this reserve is providing them water before they technically need it and increases the likelihood of overwatering your plant.

Here are some ways plants communicate they’ve used their extra water reserves in their leaves:

1. Plants with leaves that become soft or bendable when it is time to water

Some plants have firm leaves when full of water. As the store becomes depleted, the leaves become less firm and pliable.

You can test these plants by seeing if the leaves near the base of the soil (those that are older and more mature) are able to be gently bent. The younger leaves are often less firm and robust and, therefore, less reliable for this test.

I’ve heard one popular YouTuber, Nick Pileggi, in the plant community call this the “taco test” – meaning that you test to see whether the leaf can be bent into the shape of a taco shell.

Plants I use this method for:

Most Hoyas

Most Peperomias

Ceropegia woodii (String of Hearts)

Most Dischidias

2. Plants with leaves that are less thick or succulent when it is time to water

This one might sound similar to the method above, because it is based on the same concept. The difference is that here you aren’t necessarily trying to bend a leaf that is “normally” unbendable. Instead, you are trying to detect whether the amount of bend or give or succulence is different.

For example, common pothos (Epipremnum aureum) has pretty supple leaves when it is freshly watered. When the plant becomes thirsty, the leaves become much softer in texture.

Plants I use this method for:

Epipremnum aureum (leaves become soft and much more bendable; they also droop)

Succulents (lower leaves become softer)
(I am using succulents to represent the rosette-shaped and similar plants which people typically think of when someone says “succulents” – I am aware that this term botanically represents much more than these plants, however)

Elephant bush (leaves become a bit less supple and more moveable)

3. Plants with leaves that curl when it is time to water

Some plants show they are ready for water by curling their leaves (to conserve water). I will write next to each plant below how they curl so you know what to look for.

This particular technique is great because it requires nothing on our part other than to look at our plants and wait for them to signal to us it is time.

Plants I use this method for:

Scindapsus pictus (the long sides of the leaves curl under when thirsty)

Scindapsus treubii (the long sides of the leaves curl under when thirsty)

Epipremnum pinnatum ‘Cebu Blue’ (the points of the leaves begin to curl or sometimes the leaf begins to fold in half longways when in need of water)

Technically Calatheas and Marantas do this as well, but curling leaves for these plants is a sign you’ve waited too long to water. These plants do not function well with drying out so much.

4. Plants with leaves that droop when it is time to water

Plants in this category droop their leaves when they are ready for watering. Some droop very dramatically, leaving little question that they are thirsty; some have a more subtle droop that must be observed over time.

I will describe each below.

Plants I use this method for:

Coffee arabica (this plant droops more subtly at first and then gets increasingly dramatic as it gets thirstier. It always perks up surprisingly well though even after a really sad-looking droop!)

Epipremnum aureum (common pothos has a more subtle droop that might take a little time to get good at identifying, but once you know it you will be able to identify it fairly easily)

Fittonia albivenis (nerve plants have a very dramatic droop where the plant lays nearly flat on the pot, but technically this is the critical point for watering so you want to react to this very quickly)

Spathiphyllum wallisii (peace lilies also dramatically droop, but then quickly perk back up after watering)

5. Plants with leaves that are less bounceable when it is time to water

Okay, this is a particularly weird one that I’ve never heard anyone else talk about. For several of my plants, I will take my finger below some of their leaves and give them a gentle nudge or bump to bounce to leaf.

It’s the motion of the “come hither finger,” which is a gross description I realize, but the only one I could come up with that is accurate.

The way the leaves bounce provides information about how much water the plant still has available. A good, sturdy, buoyant bounce tells me the plant doesn’t need water. A weak recoil tells me it does. It is similar to the difference between flicking a piece of cardstock versus flicking a piece of tissue paper.

This method is my favorite for Syngoniums in particular but also works for the other plants listed below.

Plants I use this method for:

Syngonium podophylum

Monstera adansonii (You can also feel the leaf texture itself, which becomes a bit less firm)

Epipremnum aureum

6. Plants with stems that become softer when it is time to water

If you feel the portions of stem on a Schlumbergera (holiday cactus) that are near, but not the closest to, the soil, they become softer when it is time for water. I find this super helpful, because I find it super easy to overwater these cacti!

Plants I use this method for:

Schlumbergera sp. (holiday cacti)

7. Plants that wrinkle when it is time to water

These plants are all desert species that do great in drought and do not need to be watered until they’ve used up their water reserves typically. They begin to show some wrinkling or shrinking when those reserves have been depleted, letting you know its time for water!

Plants I use this method for:

Some cacti

Lithops

String of pearls, dolphins, tears, bananas, and hooks

Huernia

8. Plants I use the weight of their pot to know when it is time to water

If your plant requires drying out completely between watering, then the weight of the pot is drastically different between fully saturated and completely dry. Once you become familiar with what dry versus saturated feels like, you can use the weight to decide whether it is time to water.

I do this for a few plants in my house. Those that are still in their plastic nursery pots are great candidates because the plastic pots are so light that it really amplifies the weight difference between wet and dry soil.

I also use this particularly for my Philodendrons which need to be promptly watered when dry but do not have a visual tell (that I’ve found yet anyway – if you have one, please do tell!).

Plants I use this method for:

Philodendron

Plants that are still in their plastic nursery pots and do not have other obvious tells

9. Plants who have roots that show when it is time to water

I use this technique for my orchid. The color of its roots can be used to determine whether it needs to be watered. When the orchid is not in need of water, the roots are plump and rich green in color. When the orchid is ready for a good soak, the roots become a faded, silvery-green color.

I can see the roots because my orchid is potted in a clear orchid pot like the ones I will link here on Amazon (this is an affiliate link).

All the credit for this tip goes to MissOrchidGirl on YouTube.

Plants I use this method for:

Most orchids

10. Plants I use a calendar to know when it is time to water

Plants that fall into this category are those that rarely need to be watered or don’t show signs they need to be watered very often. Because of this, I have a calendar reminder to water the majority of the plants once per month, with occasional exceptions for more water-loving cacti and euphorbia.

Plants I use this method for:

Snake plants

Cactus

Euphorbia

ZZ plant

11. Plants I actually use soil moisture level to determine when it is time to water

These plants I use a moisture meter or my finger to decide when to water. All of these plants need to be watered more often than most of my plants and will suffer if I don’t water them close to the time they are dry.

The one I worry about the most is my Alocasia ‘Frydek’, which will drop leaves if it isn’t watered as soon as it dries out. I use my finger to check this guy and if the soil is dry as far as I can check with my finger, he gets watered.

Most of the others on this list I use a moisture meter to check because I feel the meter is more accurate and prevents me from overwatering. I’ll link a moisture meter on Amazon here, in case you are interested in picking one up. It requires no batteries and is very inexpensive.

Plants I use this method for:

Alocasia

Oxalis

Begonia

Calathea

Maranta

Rhaphidophora tetrasperma

Often I use multiple methods – here’s why

While there are many plants on this list that I only use one of these methods for, you may have also noticed that there are quite a few plants that fall under multiple categories. I do use several different techniques sometimes to check whether the plant needs to be watered to ensure I am not overwatering.

For example, if I think the leaves on a plant seem less succulent, but I am not absolutely positive, I will grab my moisture meter and check that the level reads dry.

If I think that the soil seems dry using my finger, but I can also check how bouncey the leaves are, I will do that too.

I’d rather double or triple check before watering than accidentally kill a plant due to overwatering, which I have certainly done… many times.

I was recently gifted a pink splash Syngonium (which I love). I watered it one day this week and checked it the next day to find that its leaves seemed ready for water again.

I quickly became worried that it was showing signs of overwatering rather than the need for more water. Needing water after only one day is strange for most plants.

I checked with a moisture meter and the soil was completely dry (it is in a very well-draining mix and tiny terracotta pot), so I decided to listen to the plant and give it some water.

To my pleasant surprise, the leaves perked up and became more buoyant. It’s been a couple of days since I watered it and the leaves still seem happy. I must have waited too long to water initially and the plant needed a little extra to rehydrate. What a relief that it is healthy and that I was able to listen to what the plant needed!

I hope you find these tips helpful when caring for your plants. If you have others that you find helpful, share them below so we can use them as well!! Have a great week!

Click to read last week’s post: 5 Plants that Make the Perfect Gift!

Want to learn more about houseplant care? Check out these posts:

Lighting: How to Choose the Perfect Houseplant for the Lighting in Your Home!
Bright Indirect Light: Houseplant Care: What is Bright Indirect Light?
Watering: How to Water Your Houseplants Correctly Every Time
Passive Hydro: How to Propagate Houseplants Using Passive Hydro
Potting Mix: What Potting Mix Will Help Your Houseplant Grow and Thrive
Choosing a Pot: Pick the Right Pot For Your Houseplant
Exposing My Mistakes! Sharing My Biggest Houseplant Mistakes So You Can Avoid Them!
Propagation: How to Propagate a Hoya Lisa Cutting in Water
Fertilizer 101: Answers to the Most Common Questions About Fertilizer

Want to learn about botany for plant lovers? These posts are for you!

Why bother with Botanical Latin: Why You Need to Know Botanical Latin When Shopping for Houseplants
Botanical Latin 101: For People Who Want to Understand Botanical Latin
What Causes Leaf Variegation? What is the Cause and Controversy of Variegated Houseplants?
What is Tissue Culture?: Are Tissue-Cultured Houseplants of Poor Quality?

Want to learn about the benefits of nature-centered activities? Click on these posts:

Health Benefits: Why We Find Nature Therapeutic + Ways to Benefit Daily
Embracing Imperfection: Taking Care of Nature is NEVER Perfect + Why That’s Okay!
Growing Patience: When You Garden, You Grow Your Patience Alongside Your Plants
Building a Relationship with Nature: 6 Simple Reasons to Photograph Your Plants

%d bloggers like this: