Watering Houseplants Lightly: How Often To Water Indoor Plants

Watering Monstera adansonii houseplant with a small metal watering can
(Image credit: Andrey Zhuravlev)

Some houseplants are easy to grow and tolerate neglect, while others are pickier. It can be frustrating to try to grow plants indoors only to find they wilt, yellow or even die. While several factors go into growing a healthy plant, watering properly is often the most critical. We all know it is possible to kill with kindness where our watering cans are concerned. Knowing how often to water indoor plants and how much, is essential for success. 

The Dangers of Overwatering Houseplants

Understanding how much to water houseplants is important mostly because of the harm that too much can cause. Yes, underwatering can be damaging, but many plants can bounce back after being neglected a little. Recovering from overwatering is usually more difficult. So as well as thinking about water as a way to boost your houseplants, you should consider how to use it sensibly.

Deciding how often to water indoor plants begins with assessing the plant's surroundings. If you’re new to houseplants, it’s important to appreciate the difference between watering plants indoors and outside. Outside in beds, water drains away into the soil. In a container, a plant can get waterlogged because there is nothing to absorb the excess water. 

Too much water can harm a container plant in several ways: 

  • When the soil is waterlogged, the roots can't take up oxygen. 
  • Excess moisture encourages root rot and fungal growth.
  • Overwatering supports the growth of certain pests, like fungus gnats. 
  • Excess water can wash out nutrients from the soil or from any fertilizer you've applied. 

Signs You Need to Water Plants Less

Watering houseplants lightly is often a case of following the maxim 'less is more' in order to get the balance right. If you are watering houseplants too much, they will soon let you know about it. Many of the first signs of ailing houseplants are also signs of overwatering. So if you see any of the following, it's time to reassess how much you water your houseplants: 

  • Blisters or bloating, known as edema in plants, usually on the undersides of leaves.
  • Yellowing leaves (this can also indicate underwatering, so check for other signs).
  • Brown, rotting leaves (these will be limp or droopy as opposed to crispy).
  • Mushy stems or mold on the surface of the compost.
  • Sudden or dramatic wilting or stunted growth.

Many people assume that signs of distress must mean houseplants need more water. It’s more likely that your plant is being overwatered. Know your plant’s specific needs, and never let any plant sit in water or soggy soil. 

houseplants on windowsill being watered lightly with watering can

Olga Prava / Getty Images

So How Often Should You Water Houseplants? 

Knowing how often to water houseplants is often more of an art than a science. There is no magic number of times per week or month to follow. Instead, it's vital to know the needs of your particular plant types and check the soil regularly to determine when it’s time to water. 

Plants usually fall into one of the following categories for water needs: 

  • Heavy – This doesn’t mean that your plant’s soil should be waterlogged, but it should be consistently moist. Water as often as needed to keep the surface of the soil moist, but not soggy. 
  • Medium – A plant with medium water needs should be watered when the top of the soil has dried. 
  • Moderate – These plants need less water, so wait until the soil has dried a couple of inches below the surface. 
  • Light – For a plant with light water needs, let the soil dry completely before watering again. 

For plants with heavy to moderate water needs, water thoroughly, letting it drain out of the pot completely. For those with lighter needs, you don’t have to completely soak the soil. A good way to water these plants is to set the pot in a dish of water and let the roots soak up what they need. Just don’t let them sit until they get soggy.

If you are still unsure about how much to water indoor plants, a good rule is to check the soil moisture a couple of inches below the surface. When the top layer is dry, water the plant. 

houseplants on kitchen table being watered lightly with a mister

Kseniya Ovchinnikova / Getty Images

How Much Water Do Houseplants Need in Winter? 

Most plants need less water in winter, as active growth slows or stops for the season. So even if you are already watering houseplants lightly at other times, you need to reduce further when the plant's growing season ends. Cut back and water as sparingly as you can during the winter months. 

Tropical plants need more water during winter than other houseplants, but you can still reduce watering a little. Air can be dry indoors during the winter, so provide moisture through added humidity. You can mist your tropical plants to boost humidity levels. Alternatively, place the plant on a pebble tray with water to keep the air around it consistently humid. Get this right, and knowing how often to water indoor plants will start to feel more intuitive – and hopefully much easier!

Mary Ellen Ellis

Mary Ellen Ellis has been gardening for over 20 years. With degrees in Chemistry and Biology, Mary Ellen's specialties are flowers, native plants, and herbs.