How to Properly Water a Houseplant

This article will discuss the optimal ways to provide water for a houseplant. While these aren’t the only ways to water a plant, they are the ways that I’ve had the most success with and believe to be the healthiest for our plants.

You will notice that this article assumes that you are using a pot with drainage holes. That’s because many watering issues are avoided when excess moisture is able to be easily drained from a pot.

Is it possible to keep a plant in a pot without drainage holes? Yes, some people do.

But I’ll be honest, I don’t ever keep plants directly in a pot without a drainage hole because I don’t want to have to guess how much water I need to add to the pot.

If I do want to use a pot without drainage holes, I will keep the plant in a plastic pot that has drainage holes and then slide that plastic pot into the pretty pot. Then I can easily remove the plant in its plastic pot to water it and drain excess moisture.

Okay, back on track with the point of this article: how to properly water a plant!

Table of Contents

The way to properly water a houseplant is to thoroughly saturate the plant’s potting mix. Here’s how:

#1 Thoroughly saturate the potting mix until water runs out of the drainage holes

When you water your plant, you want to water the entire root ball.

To ensure that you provide all of the plant’s roots with ample water, it is best to water the plant until you see watering running out of the drainage holes.

If the potting mix is super dry, it’s possible that you may need to run water through the pot several times before the water starts to saturate the potting mix.

Why? Peat moss, which is the base ingredient of most potting mixes, actually repels water when dry. So the water will run around the mix, but not through the mix.

How do you know if the water is saturating? The easiest way is to pay attention to the weight of the pot. Keep lifting up the pot after adding some water to see if it feels heavy. If it doesn’t, keep running water through the pot.

Using the weight is extremely easy when using plastic or terracotta pots.

It is a little more difficult if you are using a pot with a heavier material. In those instances, you could:

  • Stick your finger into the middle of the potting mix to see if it is thoroughly wet.
  • Insert a chopstick into the mix and see if it comes out wet or dry.
  • Use a moisture meter to check how wet the mix is.
  • Observe the color of the potting mix.
    • Potting mix that is mostly peat and super dry will be a very light brown.
    • Potting mix that is mostly peat and thoroughly saturated will be a nice dark, chocolatey brown.
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#2 If the plant is small enough, do this in the sink where it can drain directly into the sink and you can shower the plant off.

It is so beneficial to water plants right in the sink.

If the plant is super dry and you have to run water through the pot a bunch of times to saturate the mix, its very easy to do it right where the faucet is and to let the pot drain right in the sink.

You can also use this opportunity to shower off the entire plant. Showers are super healthy for the plant because they remove dust and grime and wash away some bad bugs. Regular showers can often prevent a lot of pest problems.

And, you get the benefit of seeing a healthy, shiny plant after its thorough watering and shower!

#3 If the plant is too large for a sink, drain excess water from the saucer by removing the saucer and dumping it or by using a baster or another tool to remove the water.

Very few plants enjoy sitting in standing water. Most plants, if left to sit in standing water, will rot and perish.

Leaving extra water in a saucer beneath the plant can damage the roots, especially if it is a common occurrence. Why? Now the plant not only has to use up the moisture in its potting mix, but it also needs to use up the water sitting in its saucer before root rot sets in.

Occasionally plants may not mind the extra water. Particularly if they are root bound or if their potting mix didn’t get saturated enough in the initial watering. So you could consider letting the water sit in the saucer for a couple of hours before draining.

Most plants, if given an appropriately sized pot do not want that extra water.

You can use lots of techniques to remove extra water. Here are just a few:

  • Remove the saucer and dump it in a sink or bucket
  • Use a baster to suck up the extra water from the saucer
  • Use a towel to suck up the extra water
  • Add pot feet between the bottom of the pot and the saucer. This will hold the pot up above the saucer so that a little standing water in the saucer doesn’t even touch the pot and therefore doesn’t ever harm the plant.

I’ll include a picture and link to an example of the pot feet from Amazon you can use to lift your plant off of the saucer. The product is linked via the Amazon Affiliate program.

POWELL Gardening (12pc Pack) Plant/Flower Pot feet


Why is a thorough watering better than providing a little water at a time?

Assuming that the roots of the plant are healthy, we want to ensure we give the entire root system the water that it needs to grow and thrive.

If we don’t the parts of the roots that aren’t receiving moisture will begin to dry up and die.

This can cause lots of health issues for the plant and can begin to cause issues for you as the grower too.

For example, if the plant only receives water on one side of the pot, the other side of the root system will die. Now the plant doesn’t have the roots to anchor it on the side that has died and the plant may topple over.

Will a thorough watering overwater the plant potentially?

No. If you are watering a plant that is ready to be watered, it will always prefer to be thoroughly watered.

In other words, if the plant is thirsty, it wants a good thorough drink.

The only way to overwater a plant is to provide water in times when the plant isn’t thirsty.

How do you know if a plant isn’t thirsty?

Check out these blog posts which discuss how to know when most common houseplants need to be watered and some troubleshooting tips:

Houseplants & Water 101: A Guide to Understanding Watering for New Plant Parents

How to Know Whether You are Watering Your Plant Too Much or Too Little



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