Houseplants

Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

The Golden Rule of Watering

283.KSo many gardeners complain they have a hard time correctly watering their houseplants. Yet it is so easy! Just remember the Golden Rule: water deeply enough to moisten the entire root ball, then allow the soil to dry before watering again.

The Golden Rule works on 99% of indoor plants because it automatically takes into account the needs of each one. What novice gardeners don’t always understand is that the soil of each plant dries at a different speed. Thus, the potting mix of a florist’s hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) may be bone dry in just 3 or 4 days, while an African violet may take 7-8 days and a cactus, 2, 3 or even 5 weeks. And the technique even takes into account the plant’s growth cycle: the same plant may need watering after 8 days in summer when it is growing rapidly, but only every 90 days during its winter dormancy. The Golden Rule again? Couldn’t be simpler: wait until the soil is dry to the touch, then water thoroughly.

By “dry to the touch”, I mean that you have to literally stick your finger into the mix, ideally to the second digit. If you don’t like getting your finger dirty, you can learn to weigh the pot: when soil is almost dry, it weighs much less than when it is moist. Some people are whizzes a pot-weighing! You can even go by eye: dry soil is lighter in color than moist soil. A warning though: judging watering needs from the color of the soil is most effective in the case of small plants because their root ball is smaller and dries out fairly equally. The soil in a large pot can be dry on the surface and still very wet deeper down. That’s why, for larger plants, checking with a finger or weighing the plant is more effective.

Note that you can’t water plants on a schedule. The “I water only once a week” gardeners will lose most of their plants over time. If you check your plants every 3 to 4 days and always apply the Golden Rule, watering only those that are dry and watering thoroughly when you do, you’ll find yourself with the greenest thumb in town!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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