How to Water Houseplants (and How to Know if You’re Overwatering)
Watering your houseplants sounds simple enough, yet it's something many of us struggle with doing correctly. That's because there are actually many variables that can make it tricky to know exactly when to water and how often, never mind how much each particular plant needs. We'll help you get a better feel for how to water your plants properly. Plus, we have tips on the best kind of water to use for houseplants and how to recognize the dreaded signs of overwatering. Once you start following our guidelines, you may never have to be haunted by the memory of crispy, dried out leaves or mushy, brown plants again.
Best Water for Houseplants
Wondering if tap water is OK for your plants? The short answer is, it depends. Most tap water should be fine for your houseplants unless it is softened because it has salts that can build up in the soil over time and eventually cause problems. Chlorinated water is also safe for most houseplants, but if you have a filtration system, that's even better for your plants. Another option is collecting rainwater to use.
No matter what type of water you choose, the room-temperature liquid is better than either warm or cold. Either extreme can damage your houseplants' leaves, so it's best to refill your watering can ($28, Bloomscape) right away after each session and let it sit until next time. That way, it has plenty of time to even out to the right temperature.
How Much to Water
Not all plants need the same amount of water, so if you're not sure how much yours need, take cues from nature. Many popular houseplants like philodendrons come from tropical regions of the world where it rains regularly. These species usually have big leaves that use up a lot of water to look good. Plants like these will need more water than desert denizens like cacti and succulents, which often do better when you let the soil dry out between waterings.
If you notice less growth than usual, ease up on how much water you give your plants until they start growing more again.
The time of year can make a difference, too. Many houseplants grow more during the spring and summer, but not as much in the fall and winter. If you notice less growth than usual, ease up on how much water you give your plants until they start growing more again.
When to Water Your Plants
If you see any wilting leaves, it's time to water your plants. But you don't want to let your plants get to this point because they won't look as good, and it makes them less able to fend off diseases. Instead, try making a habit of checking on your houseplants at least once a week to see if they need a drink. You can use an app like Waterbug or Happy Plant to help remind you when to make your rounds.
Make a habit of checking on your houseplants at least once a week to see if they need a drink.
The best way to tell if your plants need water is to stick your finger about an inch into the potting mix ($10, The Sill), and if it feels dry, break out the watering can. If you detect dampness, check back again in a day or two. For smaller houseplants, you can also pick up the whole container. If it feels light for its size, add water. Then lift it up again, and you'll get a sense of how heavy the pot should feel when the soil is saturated.
Watering in the morning is preferable to evening. That way, any splashes on the leaves have a chance to dry and evaporate faster throughout the day when temperatures tend to be warmer. The longer that wetness sits on plant leaves, the higher the risk of diseases taking hold.
Best Ways to Water
You have room temp water ready to go, and the soil feels dry, so now what? You might be tempted to just dribble on a bit, so you don't risk overwatering. Unfortunately, this won't help your plants much at all because most of their roots aren't right up at the soil surface. It's better to pour enough on to fully soak the soil around each plant, continuing until water starts to run out of the container's drainage hole. If you catch the extra water in a saucer, sometimes your plant's soil will absorb a bit more while it sits in it. However, make sure to dump out the saucer after about 10 minutes, or your plant's roots may rot.
Another option is to fill the saucer or another type of basin under your containers with water. You'll see that in a few minutes, the water will soak into the soil through the drainage holes. Keep filling the saucer until the water no longer gets absorbed. This is the ideal method for watering certain plants such as cacti, succulents, and African violets that don't like wetness near their stems.
How To Protect Grass Seed From Heavy Rain
Rainy days are a boon for any plant-loving homeowner. They help lower your water bills by providing additional moisture for gardens and lawns and save you the time you would have spent breaking out the sprinklers.
However, heavy rain can also harm your newly planted grass. Here’s what you need to know about how to protect grass seed from heavy rain.
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Is Too Much Rain Bad for Grass Seed?
Choose your planting season carefully. Constant, heavy rain after planting grass can undo all of your hard work.
Newly planted seeds need a lot of moisture to germinate, so a bit of light rain won’t kill them. However, a flooded lawn can negatively affect the germination rate and drown your seeds.
You should also watch out for soil erosion. Until your seeds germinate and form strong roots, downpours can wash them away.
Seed Germination Time
The act of sowing seeds might be relatively easy, but keeping them in place until they successfully germinate comes with more challenges.
Depending on the type of grass, germination time can take between five days and a month. Several factors, including temperature, sun exposure, humidity, and seed age, affect this rate.
Take extra care of your lawn during this growing stage.
How to Keep Seed from Washing Away
Even if you plant your seeds in the optimal season, not every day comes with perfectly moist conditions. You can follow the tips below to protect your grass from flooding and erosion.
Compacted soil makes it harder for water to drain correctly, leading to flooding and pooling.
Properly aerating your soil doesn’t just help protect your seeds from rainfall. It also improves overall grass growth. This process allows air, water, and nutrients to reach your plants, leading to healthy root growth.
Loosen your soil with a pitchfork or rake by poking three-inch holes throughout your lawn. For dense soil, you might need to use a tiller or an aerator machine.
Change Your Soil Composition
The best lawns use loam soil because it can hold moisture and drain well if flooding occurs. It also retains nutrients and allows sufficient airflow.
Loam soil has three main components:
- Sand has the biggest particle size. It drains well, warms up quickly, and is easy to cultivate.
- Silt has medium-sized particles to promote water and air retention.
- Clay has the smallest particle size. It’s sticky when wet, retains a lot of water and contains plenty of nutrients.
Clay-heavy loam soils might create a problem during heavy rains. You can add sand or silt to improve the layer for where you’ll be sowing your seeds.
Clean Your Gutters
Drainage systems require proper maintenance to function correctly. If you have clogged drains or gutters near your lawn, they may cause water buildup. Clear them of leaves and other debris to ensure that doesn’t happen.
Level Your Lawn
Your lawn slope determines how and where water drains, making it the most critical factor to prevent flooding and pooling.
You can add soil to low-lying areas to make your lawn as level as possible. However, properties with extreme sloping might require other solutions, like a new drainage system.
Install Adequate Drainage
A long-term fix for persistent flooding is to install new drainage for your lawn. If your sits in a low lying area, a drainage system can divert accumulated water to another location.
Installing one may take time and money, but it’s worth it if you live in an area prone to rain. Standard drainage systems include:
Swales are depressions that guide excess water to a particular area. The bottom has a lining made from deep-rooted plants and rocks to slow the flow of water.
French drains are an excellent option if you don’t want a drastic change to your lawn’s appearance. It’s essentially an underground creek, with a drainpipe under the soil that diverts the water to other areas.
Sump Pump System
Sump pumps are electric devices that pump away accumulated water. While this solution is more effective at preventing flooding than a French drain or swale, it’s also more expensive and requires additional maintenance.
Use Protective Covering
Many options are available for covering grass seed. However, many homeowners prefer using mulch because it’s cheap, eco-friendly, and effective.
A light mulch covering protects your seeds from hungry birds, rainy weather, and colder temperatures while still allowing moisture, sunlight, and air to reach your seeds. It can also improve soil quality by providing nutrients once fully decomposed.
A word of caution, though. Mulch may contain weed seeds that can quickly spread throughout your lawn, so use a weed-free version if you can. When using mulch, apply just enough until the soil below is slightly visible.
Another natural covering you can use is straw. You can purchase some in the form of “erosion blankets” that are specifically built to protect your plants from harsh weather.
Like mulch, straw decomposes after some time and leaves nutrients for the soil.
You can purchase fabric rolls at home improvement stores and garden centers to cover your grass seeds.
When using these covers, lay them over the planted seeds and tack them down at the corners using tent spikes.
If you have a sloped lawn, you can bury the edge of the covers at the top portion of the slope under a few inches of dirt to prevent water from running underneath them.