WATER KILLS: How to Water Indoor Plants

Words by
Georgina Reid
| December 5, 2016

Most indoor plant fatalities occur due to drowning. I know, terrible, huh?! Those poor little things – all their roots want is a big drink of water, then a few deep breaths of oxygen but just when the potting mix dries out enough to get some air they’re inundated again. Surprise! Their leaves start shrivelling, and they look sadder and sadder as the days pass. Their very caring human is also surprised. Surprised by their beloved plant’s sudden downfall. Human waters plant again, and again, to solve the problem. Unsurprisingly, the plant dies.

Most plant’s root systems, unless they’ve evolved to live in water, need air. The practical implications of this are as follows:

Pots need drainage holes. When you buy a plant in a plastic pot from the nursery, it will always have holes in the bottom of it, right? This is very important as it allows the water to drain out of the potting mix so the roots can breathe. DON’T PLANT YOUR NEW LEAFY FRIEND IN A POT WITHOUT A DRAINAGE HOLE. It will probably die.

Use potting mix, not soil, in pots. Potting mix is engineered to be lightweight, and allow for good drainage. If you use soil in a pot it will be incredibly heavy, and will not drain very well (unless it’s very sandy) meaning your plants will most likely drown. DON’T LET THEM DROWN.

Know your plant. Some plants like more water than others, some like less. If you treat your Boston fern the same way you treat your succulents, the fern will die. It likes lots of water and the succulents don’t really care for the liquid. So, like you’d do before a first date, get googling! Do your research, and get to know what your green friend needs before it’s too late. PLANTS AREN’T OBJECTS, THEY’RE LIVING BEINGS DESERVING OF DIGNITY AND RESPECT. Yes?

But back to water. Here’s a guide to help you know WHEN to water your indoor plants.

Firstly, stick your finger into the potting mix, down to your knuckle.


If the mix is wet, don’t water.

If its damp, don’t water.

If it’s a tiny bit moist and your plant is a big drinker like some ferns, water it. If your plant is an average to low drinker like a succulent, don’t water it.

If the mix is dry as a bone, water.

This guide will most likely mean that you’ll be watering your plants around once a week in summer and once every 10 days to two weeks in winter.

Now you know when to water, how do you know how much? Well, I reckon a big soaking is best. When you water, make sure you saturate the entire potting mix, not just a little bit on top. Soak your plant, even put it in the bath or shower, and then let it dry out completely before watering again.


– Don’t leave water in the saucer of the pot. Around ½ hour after watering your plant tip out excess water in saucer. This will help your plant not drown.

– Some plants, like begonias, don’t like having their leaves wet, according to my favourite indoor plant book – The Care of House Plants by David Longman. These guys can be soaked in a bucket of water for 15 minutes or so, and then drained as usual, rather than watered from above. I’m a slack gardener, and my begonias get watered from above like all the rest of my plants and they seem fine, so, you know, do what you want… But be warned.

– Cactus are great, but they’re generally not brilliant indoor plants. They really don’t like water, and they really love sun. Only grow them indoors if you can fulfil their desires, otherwise they’ll rot. Quietly, slowly, surely.

Clear as mud? Great! Happy watering.

The image used to accompany this post is by  Jacqui Turk, and features The Fortynine Studio’s Desk Top Pot range. The pots are made to neatly fit a standard 140mm plastic pot available from any nursery. This allows the plants to easily be swapped out and changed when needed. The feet allow airflow under the pot so there is no build-up of condensation, making the pots safe for any surface. The pots are glazed internally to ensure they are watertight. Each pot is hand decorated with slip in various patterns, giving each its own unique character.