Tips on Properly Watering Plants in Pots


Watering is a crucial aspect of plant care, especially for plants in pots. While some plants may thrive with less water, others may wilt and suffer if not watered well. Knowing how much water to give your potted plants can sometimes be challenging, as there are various factors to consider.

The materials and drainage system of the pot can greatly impact how much water the plants need. Clay pots tend to absorb water, while plastic pots may retain water for a longer period. It’s always important to have a drainage system in place to ensure excess water can easily drain out. This reduces the risk of overwatering, which can lead to root rot and other plant diseases.

When it comes to watering, it’s not just about how much but also how often. The general rule of thumb is to water when the topsoil feels dry to the touch. However, this can vary depending on factors such as the type of plant, temperature, and the size of the pot. Outdoor plants may require more frequent watering, especially during hot temperatures, while indoor plants may need less water.

Gardener Prabal Gangani has some helpful thoughts on watering potted plants. He suggests gathering information about the specific plants in your garden. This includes knowing their water requirements and the best irrigation methods. Some plants, like lilies, prefer a “fill and drain” system, while others may benefit from a “topsoil irrigation” technique to deep-water the entire root zone.

In the mythology of gardening, many have thought that having a layer of floating materials, like mulch or gravel, on top of the soil can help reduce water evaporation. While this may provide a temporary benefit, it doesn’t always result in long-term water retention. It’s best to focus on the quality of the soil and the proper watering technique. This ensures the water reaches the roots and is absorbed by the plants.

Tip: If you’re unsure about how much water your plants need, start by watering them less and gradually increase the volume. This helps prevent overwatering and gives you time to observe how the plants respond.

Ultimately, watering potted plants requires a balance between providing enough moisture for the plants to thrive and avoiding waterlogging the roots. Understanding the specific needs of your plants, the characteristics of your pots, and adjusting your watering routine accordingly will go a long way in ensuring the health and vitality of your plants.

How Not to and How to Water Plants in Pots

Watering plants in pots is crucial for their growth and survival. However, it is equally important to know how not to water them to avoid any potential damage. Here are some tips on how to properly water plants in pots:

1. Drainage is Key

When planting your potted plants, ensure that there are enough drainage holes at the bottom of the container. This will allow excess water to escape, preventing the roots from sitting in standing water and becoming waterlogged.

2. Use the Right Materials

Use a good quality potting mix that retains moisture well, but also drains effectively. Adding some peat moss or vermiculite to the potting mix can improve water retention.

3. Water When Needed

A common mistake is overwatering plants. Only water your plants when the topsoil feels dry to the touch. Stick your finger about an inch into the soil to check for moisture. If it feels dry, it’s time to water.

4. Water Deeply

When you water your plants, make sure you water deeply. This means watering until water begins to escape from the drainage holes. This ensures that the water reaches the entire root zone of the plant.

5. Morning is Ideal

Water your plants in the morning so that they have ample time to dry before evening. This helps to prevent fungal diseases that can occur when plants stay wet for too long.

6. Water at the Base

When watering, pour the water directly into the soil at the base of the plant, rather than over the leaves. This helps to reduce the risk of fungal diseases and allows the water to reach the roots where it is needed most.

7. Think Before Using Containers

Not all containers are suitable for planting directly. Certain materials, such as thick plastic or bronze, can retain heat, causing the soil to dry out more quickly. Use containers made of materials that provide insulation, like ceramic or terra cotta.

8. Reduce Watering in Winter Months

In winter months when temperatures are lower and plants are in a dormant state, reduce watering frequency. Indoor plants might need watering less frequently compared to outdoor ones.

9. Mulch and Top-Up

Applying a layer of mulch, such as shredded bark or pea gravel, on top of the soil helps to reduce evaporation and keeps the soil moist for longer. Additionally, regularly top up the potting mix as it tends to compact over time.

10. Avoid Watering the Leaves

While watering your plants, try to keep the leaves dry. Wet leaves are more prone to diseases and can also attract pests. Direct the water towards the soil around the base of the plant.

By following these tips on how not to and how to water plants in pots, you can ensure that your potted plants thrive and stay healthy.

Where you should Water your Plants

When it comes to watering your plants in pots, it’s important to know where and how to water them to ensure their health and growth. Here are some tips on where you should water your plants:

  1. Around the container: Watering around the container rather than directly onto the plants can help to reduce the risk of over-watering and allow the water to reach the roots more effectively.
  2. In a watertight basin: Placing your pots in a watertight basin or tray can help to collect excess water and prevent it from draining away too quickly, allowing the plants to absorb the moisture over time.
  3. On the surface of the soil: Watering directly on the surface of the soil can help to moisten the topsoil and provide hydration to the plants’ roots.
  4. In the morning or evening: Watering your plants in the morning or evening is often the best time as the cooler temperatures can help to prevent the water from evaporating too quickly and ensure that the plants have enough time to absorb the moisture.
  5. Thoroughly and evenly: When watering, make sure to thoroughly and evenly moisten the soil to ensure that all parts of the plant receive the necessary hydration.
  6. Avoid standing water: While some plants, like aquatic ones, may require standing water, most plants do not thrive in wet conditions. Avoid allowing water to stand in the container for extended periods as it can lead to root rot and other issues.
  7. Choose the right container: The type of container you choose can also affect where you should water your plants. Porous containers like clay pots may require more water as they tend to dry out faster, while non-porous containers like plastic pots may retain moisture for longer.

By following these tips and being mindful of your plants’ watering needs, you can ensure that they receive the proper care and thrive in their pots.

When to Water your Plants

Knowing when to water your plants is crucial for their health and survival. Overwatering can lead to root rot and other problems, while underwatering can cause wilting and stunted growth. Here are some tips to help you determine when it’s time to water your potted plants:

Visual Inspection

One way to determine if your plants need watering is to visually inspect the soil. If the top layer of soil is dry, then it’s time to water. However, if the soil is still moist, it’s best to hold off on watering.

Weight Test

Another helpful method is to lift the pot and feel its weight. A dry pot will be much lighter than a pot with moist soil. By getting familiar with the weight of your pots when dry, you’ll be able to gauge when it’s time to water without having to rely solely on visual cues.

Floating Method

A floating method can also be used for plants that are in pots without drainage holes. Fill a basin with water and place the potted plant on top of it. The water will slowly seep through the bottom of the pot, watering the plant from below. This is especially useful for indoor plants or containers with thick walls that don’t allow for easy drainage.

Watering System

Investing in a watering system can make watering your plants much easier. There are various options available, from simple drip irrigation systems to more advanced automated systems. These can help ensure that your plants receive the right amount of water at the right time, reducing the risk of over or under watering.

By following these guidelines and observing your plants closely, you’ll develop a better understanding of when and how much water your potted plants need. Remember, each plant has different watering needs, so it’s important to consider factors such as the type of plant, potting mix, and environmental conditions.

How to Water your Plants

Watering your plants is an essential task that helps them thrive and stay healthy. Proper watering ensures that your plants receive the right amount of moisture they need to grow and prevent wilting. Here are some tips to help you water your plants effectively:

1. Understand your plant’s water needs: Different plants have different water requirements. Some plants, like succulents, prefer dry soil, while others, like ferns, prefer moist soil. Take note of your plant’s specific watering needs and adjust accordingly.

2. Check the moisture level: Before watering, check if the topsoil is dry. Stick your finger about an inch into the soil to gauge its moisture level. If it feels dry, it’s time to water your plant.

3. Choose the right container: Make sure your pots or containers have drainage holes at the bottom to allow excess water to escape. This prevents over-watering, which can lead to root rot. If your pots don’t have drainage holes, consider using a plastic liner or adding a layer of gravel at the bottom for better drainage.

4. Water at the right time: Water your plants early in the morning or in the evening when temperatures are cooler. This helps minimize water loss due to evaporation and allows the plant to absorb water more effectively.

5. Water deeply: Rather than giving your plants a light sprinkling, water them thoroughly. This ensures that the water penetrates deep into the root zone, encouraging healthy root growth. An hour of running water or slow drips is usually sufficient for most plants.

6. Use the right technique: When watering, aim for the base of the plant, not just the foliage. This helps prevent fungal diseases and encourages the roots to grow deeper into the soil. Avoid getting water on the leaves, as damp foliage can attract pests and promote fungal growth.

7. Use the right amount: Avoid over-watering your plants, as this can lead to waterlogged roots. As a general rule, water until you see it coming out of the drainage holes, but not to the point where the entire pot is filled with water.

8. Mulch the surface: Applying a layer of mulch on the surface of the soil can help retain moisture and prevent evaporation. Mulch also helps regulate soil temperature and suppresses weed growth.

9. Consider the season: During hot summer months, your plants may require more frequent watering. In cooler months or during periods of rain, you may need to water less often. Take into account the weather conditions and adjust your watering schedule accordingly.

10. Fertilize wisely: Watering is an excellent opportunity to apply fertilizer to your plants. Choose a granular or liquid fertilizer and dilute it according to the instructions. Fertilize your plants only when they are actively growing, typically during the spring and summer months.

By following these watering tips, you can ensure that your potted plants receive the right amount of water to thrive and stay healthy.

✿ Read More: Gardening Tips and Advice.

Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.