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Watering Houseplants - Indoor plants.

Begonia Rex spectacular foliage

How to water houseplants is one of the most asked questions for our advice service. Without knowing the growing conditions of the particular indoor plant - everyone places them in different positions in different rooms - it is an impossible question to answer. However, there are some guidelines to help which we set out below.

In reality, many people forget about their houseplants until they see them drooping, from lack of moisture. Whilst too much water is a certain killer of many plants indoors, the lack of moisture can also have a detrimental effect on the health or otherwise of you houseplant.

When a houseplant dries out indoors, the compost in the pot invariably shrinks. This is turn, damages the root system so the whole plant suffers and is more susceptible to ailments such as fungal diseases and of course damage to the houseplant's foliage.

Conversely, when a houseplant becomes flooded with over-watering - or is permanently stood in a saucer full of water - the root system cannot get the air it requires for healthy growth, and the first signs are a rapid drooping of the plant above. Just like it has been throttled! Deprived of air!

Watering from Top or Bottom?

In nature, most plants get watered from the bottom - the soil. Yes, they get rained on from the top, but in the wild, most plants form a canopy of leaves which shed the water off into the surrounding soil, and the root system usually travels outward from the main stem, to capture that water from the soil at the perimeter of the leaf canopy. (There are exceptions)

This cannot be the case with indoor houseplants, for whilst the foliage canopy often expands outwards, the roots cannot follow, for they are constrained be the sides of the pot. Basically, we cannot replicate the natural root growth with plants grown indoors in pots.

Some plants should always be watered from the bottom - via a saucer. Cyclamen are such plants, together with some of the begonias. The reason for houseplant cyclamen being watered from below, is that if watering from the top, then water can collect in the crown of the corm and cause it to rot - usually starting as a rot at the base of the foliage stems.

Begonia Rex are best watered from the bottom via a saucer

Exceptions to the general rule on watering houseplants, are the wide group of plants that have lanceolate foliage that will normally capture water in the wild and funnel it into the base area of the plant. The Chlorophytum - spider plant is a typical example. Also the Elephant's Foot Tree. As you will see from the photographs, these plants are purposely formed to gather the rain water in towards the trunk or base of the plant! The foliage on both of these plants, do not branch out, but are confined to a small area around a small non-reaching root system. So that is where the plants direct the rainfall.


Another group of houseplants needing different watering habits, are the bromeliads - Urn Plants. This group of plants often grow in the crotches of tree branches, or in cracks in rock faces, so are unable to collect rainwater through a far reaching root system. They normally collect water in their 'urn' formed by the crown of leaves. More often than not, they will live quite happily with just a little drop of water collected in the urns! Again, in indoor conditions, it would also be wise to keep the pot compost slightly moist - but certainly not over-moist, or there will be a case of stem base rot to deal with.

Foliage or Flowering Plants.

As a general rule, flowering house plants tend to grow quicker than those which are grown for foliage effect. They will require more water as a result. Foliage houseplants are mostly more amenable to being neglected as far as watering is concerned. But don't take them for granted!

Plants with thinner leaves usually need more watering than the plants with thick fleshy leaves. Those with thinner leaves usually have much larger leaves that their fleshy leaved counterparts, so they cannot store so much water in their thinner leaf structure. Cacti and succulents are the typical example of thick leaved plants not wanting as much water. To a lesser degree, the same is true of the fleshy leaver African Violet - Saintpaulia.

So, before asking the question again " How often should I water my Houseplant?". Study it, and then refer to the cultural notes on the rest of the houseplant section of


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