Watering can be one of the most difficult things to get right in the garden or in our homes. Fortunately the plant will always give you early warning signs that the watering is either too great or too little.
Brown crispy dropping leaves often indicate too little water, as the plant starts to drop leaves it is preserving the little water it does have for maintaining the roots and a smaller number of leaves. Yellowing or soft limp foliage can often be a sign of the opposite, too much water is effectively drowning the plant and rotting the roots.
Getting watering right in the first months of planting is key to establishing a healthy happy plant, which if in the ground will become less reliant on you, as its roots will have gone out in search of water, building a stronger self-sufficient root system.
Often people will spray the foliage with water as it is easy - we have all had lazy days - but you want that water to be administered to the roots, so using a watering can with a sprout, a longer hose attachment or spray nozzle, or a lance you can get right up to the soil and water more efficiently, saving water and the plant from becoming soggy and limp. Spraying the foliage can not only cause the foliage to rot, but can also scorch the leaves under the bright sun as the water becomes a magnifying glass on the surface of the leaves.
That brings us to our final outdoor tip - water when the sun is low or even at night if you have light and the energy, as less water will evaporate, the plants will receive the water more effectively. You can also set automatic watering timers to run in the early evening or at night to achieve the same benefits.
With house plants the best way to tell if a plant needs water is to feel the soil, if it is moist then don't water as for most houseplants, especially from Southern Asia, like to dry out between watering as they would in nature. Once dry to the touch give the plant a good soaking. Often social media promotes #plantcaresunday, which is well-meaning, and will work with some plants in your collection, but remember they don't all need water like clockwork, some in one part of the house that is humid like the bathroom might not need it this week, while those in the bright conservatory might need more than once a week. It is best to let the plant tell you what it needs.
An exception the rule, and unfortunately in the plant world there always is, the alocasia and other tropical plants like to be kept moist at all times, but not soggy or drowning.
Good drainage can solve all these houseplant conundrums for you as the water a plant needs is taken up by the roots and the rest can run away. A saucer is good for this, a tray with pebbles (which will also increase humidity), or if your plant is in its growing pot in a decorative pot then the sealed pot can be emptied.
The most important thing with water is to take into account where the plant comes from and the current climate. An arid Mediterranean plant doesn't need more water because it is 25 degrees in London, because it is happy with 30 or even 40 degrees in Spain, or the desert.
In our experience the most overwatered and underwatered plants are...
Top Five Most Killed By Overwatering
- Aloe Vera
- Succulents of any kind really
- Pachira Aquatica - bit unfair, it has 'aqua' in the name
- Olive trees
Top Five Most Killed By Underwatering
- Areca Palm
- Fig Tree
- Arum Lily