Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Watering House Plants

Many people have asked about the care of indoor plants, “How often should I water?” The answer I give will apply to plants in the house, in an office setting  or on the lanai or porch.

1)  Do not water plants by the calendar, even though it seems the easiest way. Using this method assumes that environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, wind, etc., each day of the year will be the same.

2) Water by inspection of the soil. If the soil is wet, wringing wet, don’t water; if it’s dry, water the plant.  If it’s moist but not soaked, wait a few days and check again. If you actually observe the plant wilting, you should have watered yesterday! When assessing the soil, do not test the surface, which usually dries out rather quickly.  To truly evaluate the condition the soil of a potted plant, place your finger about a third of the way down the pot or take a mini trowel and pull up some dirt.  In reality, you may end up watering somewhat by the calendar, but you will have arrived at it through observation and inspection. 

3) The lifting method also works well. If the pot isn’t too big, simply lift the pot off the ground; if it’s heavy, it has plenty of water. In comparison, if it’s relatively light, it’s time to water. Putting these methods together, you’ll soon get the hang of it.

A major problem lies in the fact that wilting and slow growth can be symptoms of both under watering and over watering. In the case of over watering, the roots will begin to rot, with or without the help of soil pathogenic fungi. Once some of the roots are gone, the plant will not be able to pick up enough water, especially on hot days, and the leaves wilt.

Whether under watering or over watering, the leaves wilt. It is important to note that under watering a plant will lead to  non-vigorous growth and low fruit production for fruit producing plants, but over watering can easily lead to the death of the plant.

Knowing when to water will take some experience, and some trial and error.  It is important to use a well-drained potting mix and never leave water standing in the tray. (Discard the water; don't reuse it.) Plants that have been in the pot a long time may become pot bound, meaning that most of the space in the pot is occupied by roots rather than soil. If this is the case, you will find that these plants need very frequent watering, because there is simply no soil to help hold the water.