Indoor House Plants

All plants need water and light and air, including houseplants, of course. The question we hear most often is, “How often do I water my houseplant?” Our answer: Get to know your plant. (Read our post about watering your garden, too.)

   ABOVE: On the left, a  Sansevieria cylindrica  shoots up from a composition of jungle cactus and gasteria. On the right, a crassula. Succulents prefer to dry out between waterings and can survive neglect.


ABOVE: On the left, a Sansevieria cylindrica shoots up from a composition of jungle cactus and gasteria. On the right, a crassula. Succulents prefer to dry out between waterings and can survive neglect.

Before you take your new plant home, make sure you find out from your salesperson whether it prefers to

1) dry out between waterings,
2) almost dry out,
3) dry out in the top layer of soil while retaining deep moisture, or
4) stay evenly moist.

Knowing its preference for light is crucial, too.

A weekly watering cycle is a good place to start. Get familiar with your new plant by poking around its soil with your finger to find out how moist it is every two or three days after bringing it home, keeping in mind what its preference is.

Succulents grown in non-draining containers require very careful watering in small quantities. Many of our dish compositions fall into this group. It’s easy to drown a plant in a container with no drainage holes.

The best set-up for most houseplants is to place the black plastic grow pot into a decorative container (“cachepot,” if you want to sound fancy), with a waterproof saucer underneath the grow pot but inside the decorative container.

Think of watering your plant the way you’d pour milk into your cold cereal. When your plant reaches the lowest level of dryness that it prefers, give it some water. Start with a small amount, wait for one or two minutes to see if the water drains out into the saucer. If it does not, add more water. If it does drain, you might wait for an hour before checking again to see if the roots have absorbed that saucer water; if they have, you can give more water to those plants that prefer to stay moist, or get dry only on the surface. Just be careful not to overflow the saucer!

Here some plants that like to…

Dry out completely:
sansevieria (snake plant), cactus, agave, succulents with no drainage, cattleya orchids

Almost dry out:
Dracaena fragransD. massangeanaD. marginataYucca elephantipes, bromeliads, phalaeonopsis, lady’s slipper & cymbidium orchids

Dry out in the top layer:
Most plants – ficus, philodendron, pothos, kentia, rhapis, chamaedorea, alocasia, masdevallia orchids

Stay evenly moist:
Fishtail palm (Caryota mitis), selaginella, ferns


Through the week and through the seasons, carefully observe how your plant responds to your watering. Many plants’ lose their lush sheen as they get too dry, even before they wilt. On the other hand, a plant that stays wet for too long may stop growing and lose roots to rot, while foliage develops yellow edges or spotting.

Several factors influence a plant’s thirstiness:

Plants in brighter light, near a heater or a fan, or in a warm room will tend to be thirstier. Those in lower light with little air movement will drink more slowly. If your home is in the fog belt, humidity and reduced sunshine will make your plants less thirsty; inland areas with hotter temperatures and low humidity will make them thirstier, especially when subject to air conditioning and heating systems.

A large plant in a small pot will be thirstier than a small plant in a large pot. Thus, as plants grow, they can become thirstier, and a plant shifted into a larger grow pot may require less-frequent waterings.

As daylight lengthens in spring, plants will drink more; as autumn darkness descends, less. As seasons change, check back in with your plants at the very least when you stop using the heat in spring, and when you start using heat again in fall.

If you’re new to plant care, you’ll be taking on a new, satisfying ritual of attending to and caring for your plants. It’s like getting a goldfish. Outdoor plants are somewhat less demanding (though the ones in pots need more attention than those in the ground).