I’m planning to start my own container garden growing several vegetables like cilantro, radish, tomatoes, and spinach in it. Watering the potted plants is going to be one of the most important activities to grow them well.

That’s why I researched all there is to know for a beginner about how to water potted plants. I’ve written my research in this article so it can help others who want to start their own collection of potted plants.

How do you know if a potted plant needs water?

It’s important to know whether your potted plant needs water before you start reaching for your watering can. Overwatering is a common problem that a lot of beginners face because they become eager to water their potted plants.

Some plants prefer to remain in moist soil to grow well. But other plants like the soil to get a bit dry before you water them. And succulents really like the soil to completely dry out before you water them.

The first thing you need to do is keep a schedule for checking your potted plants. I suggest taking a walk around your potted plants every morning to check if they need watering.

Even if the surface of the potting soil appears wet, you should check a bit deeper into the soil whether there’s sufficient moisture.

Use your finger

The simplest and cheapest method that I recommend is using your finger to check the moisture level in the potting soil.

Stick your finger 1-2 inches into the potting soil. If the tip of your finger does not feel moist, it’s time to water the potting soil.

Use a chopstick

If you don’t feel comfortable sticking your finger in the dirt, you can make use of a chopstick. Stick it deep into the potting soil and keep it there for a few seconds.

Take it out and check whether there’s soil stuck to the surface. If the chopstick comes out clean, it’s time to water the potted plant.

Check the condition of the leaves

Healthy plants will have healthy leaves that are vibrant in color and grow tall. Leaves that are having problems will be drooping, turn brown or yellow in color, or even fall off.

The leaves will face this problem when the plant is not receiving sufficient water. But that’s not the only situation. These problems can occur with overwatering, stress on the plant, pests, and diseases infecting the plant.

That’s why I suggest using this method just as an initial guess. Then use another method like sticking your finger in the potting soil to know whether it’s caused due to a lack of moisture.

Check the weight of the pot

If you have a few pots that are small, you can use this method. For a few days check the weight of the pot before and after watering.

Soon you’ll be able to identify whether the plants need water just by lifting the pot and checking the weight. If it feels lighter than what you remember, it’s time to water the plant.

I would suggest using this method just for a quick guess. Then use the finger or chopstick method to really find out if the moisture level is insufficient in the potting soil.

Use a moisture meter

A moisture meter is a gadget that will give you an accurate measurement of the moisture in the potting soil.

This is an inexpensive device you need to stick into the soil to check the moisture. Remember to push the moisture meter deep into the soil and let it stay for a few seconds.

Take it out of the soil and let it stand for a few seconds before you check the readings.

What is the best water for potted plants?

I have answered this question already in my post about the type of water that is best for potted plants. So check that out if you need more details. But I’ve written a brief summary in this article.

The best water you can use for your potted plants is one that is free from chemicals, minerals, and impurities that can harm your potted plant.

Rainwater and snow will give you the purest form of water that is free from these impurities. The problem is you need to collect such water and from a clean place.

If you live in a polluted environment, the rainwater will not be a good choice as it will include the pollutants. But if that’s not the case you can collect rainwater using a rain barrel.

You can collect snow from an area that is clean. Make sure it’s not from the sidewalk where salt might have been sprinkled or pets might have urinated.

The next best option is to use distilled water that is free from chemicals and impurities. You can either buy bottled water or use a distiller. Using bottled water is an expensive option that you might not find suitable. It may be cheaper to get a distiller in your house.

Another good source of water for your potted plants is cooking water. You can use water that you used to boil eggs, vegetables, rice, or pasta.

The water is free from chemicals and rich in nutrients that would be beneficial for the potted plants. Just make sure to cool the water to room temperature before using in the potted plants.

The final choice that most of us may use is tap water. The problem with tap water is it could contain chemicals like chlorine or fluoride that are harmful to the plants.

You can avoid this problem by keeping the tap water in a container for 24 hours before use. This dissipates most of the chemicals from the water.

The other problem tap water could have is that it is hard water. This contains lots of minerals and salts that will harm your potted plants over time.

You can use hard water for a certain period of time. But after a few months, it’s best to flush out the minerals from the potting soil using rainwater or distilled water. This will help remove the minerals and salts from the potting soil and restore the pH levels.

Water sourcepH levelNutrients available
Rainwater5.0 to 5.5Nitrates
Snow5.0 to 6.0Nitrates
Bottled water6.5 to 7.5Calcium, magnesium, sodium
Distilled water5.0 to 7.0None
Cooking water6.4Vitamins, minerals, fiber
Tap water7.5Copper, calcium, magnesium, sodium

When should you water potted plants?

I think the best time to water your potted plants is in the morning before the sun rises. This gives the roots plenty of time to absorb the moisture.

Once the sun comes out, it will evaporate all the excess water that may be on the plant. This prevents a humid and moist condition forming on the plant that can cause fungal diseases.

I don’t recommend watering the plant when the sun comes out. The water will evaporate much faster from the soil. And it might happen before the roots can get a sufficient amount of the moisture.

If there’s excess water on the leaves of the plant, the sunlight can cause it to heat up and burn the leaves.

If you just don’t have the time in the morning, it’s OK to water the potted plants in the evening or at night. Just make sure to be extra careful with the watering.

You don’t want to spray a lot of water on the leaves of the potted plants. This water will stay on the leaves overnight. The humid and moist condition is favorable for fungal growth like powdery mildew.

If you’re extra paranoid about this problem, you may also wipe the water off the foliage with a clean cloth.

If the temperature rises above 85 °F during summer, just one watering might not be sufficient for the potted plants. You might need to water the potted plants in the morning as well as the evening.

How do you water a potted plant?

It’s important to use the right technique when watering a potted plant. You want to be thorough with the watering so the water reaches the bottom of the pot.

If you water lightly, it will only reach the top of the pot. The roots of the plant will be shallow as they only grow to the level of water. And there’s a high chance the plant will die if you miss a few days of watering.

Watering from the top

You want to do a deep watering from the top. This means you keep watering the plant till the water flows out from the drainage holes at the bottom.

It’s not sufficient to just do this one time but you need to keep repeating the watering till the entire soil is drenched with the water.

Make sure to remove any trays at the bottom of the pot. Otherwise, the roots will stay soaking in the water and develop root rot.

Keeping the drainage holes free helps the excess water to flow out of the pot. And your potted plant will never face the problem of overwatering.

When preparing the pot, you need to leave 2 inches of space from the top of the pot. So when you’re watering the pot, you can fill the pot up to the top with water. This will help you water the plant thoroughly and with fewer rounds of watering.

You can know the plant needs another round of watering by checking the water coming out of the drainage holes. If you can see bubbles coming out, it means there are air pockets and you need to continue watering.

Keep repeating the process of watering until you no longer see the air bubbles in the water from the drainage holes.

Watering from the bottom

There could be situations where you may need to water the plants from the bottom. This could be due to some plants being sensitive to water splashing on their leaves.

Or you might be growing the potted plants indoors and not have the benefit of allowing the excess water to drain out of the drainage holes at the bottom.

To water plants from the bottom, you will need a saucer that is wider than the pot with the plant. And you need to be able to lift the pot and place it in the container.

Once you know that the potted plant needs watering, fill the saucer with water till it’s halfway full.

Place the potted plant inside the saucer for 10 minutes so the potting soil and roots can soak up the moisture from the drainage holes at the bottom.

Stick your finger 1-2 inches into the potting soil and check if the moisture has reached a sufficient portion of the soil.

If the tip of your finger still feels dry, keep the potted plant in the saucer with water for another 20 minutes.

Once you find that the soil has enough moisture for the plant, you can take the pot out of the saucer.

The disadvantage of watering a plant from the bottom is that the salts may accumulate on the top of the potting soil. You will need to water the potted plant from the top once a month just to flush out these excess amounts of salts.

This method of watering from the bottom is also not a good option for a large potted plant as you need a large saucer. And you need to be able to move the pot in and out of the saucer.

Can you overwater potted plants?

Yes, you can definitely overwater potted plants. But there can be several reasons why this happens.

One of the most important aspects of a potted plant is to have good drainage holes at the bottom. One of the common reasons for overwatering happens because pots don’t have them.

Without drainage holes, you need to be precise with your watering. Even a little bit of excess water will start getting collected at the bottom of the pot and lead to overwatering.

The other reason for overwatering potted plants is frequent watering. Even with drainage holes present, if you are watering your potted plants a lot, you may end up overwatering.

You need to water the plant only when the plant needs it. You can check this by observing the surface of the potting soil.

If the surface appears dry, you can put your finger 1-2 inches into the potting soil and check for moisture. You need to give your potted plant a good watering only if there’s a lack of moisture.

Another reason for overwatering your potted plant could be in the rainy season. If your potted plants are outdoors, they may be getting their fill of water from the rain.

You should check the moisture in the soil and only water the plant when the inside of the soil feels dry.

How do you tell if a potted plant is overwatered?

The plant’s roots need moisture, nutrients, and oxygen to be able to deliver the nutrients to the plant for growth.

When you overwater the potted plant, the air pockets in the soil remain filled with water. The lack of air will cause the roots to drown. It also invites an anaerobic environment that is suitable for fungus to grow and causes root rot.

When a potted plant is overwatered, the most common symptom is rotted roots. If you take the root ball out of the pot, you’ll see the roots are brown, soggy, and slimy.

The overwatering will cause fungus to grow inside and on top of the soil. This will result in a noticeable smell coming from your potted plant.

Another common sign of overwatering is when the leaves are wilting or turning yellow. This is also a sign of underwatering but when it’s a problem of overwatering the wilted leaves will be soft and limp.

My holy basil plant that was wilting due to underwatering

If the overwatering is severe, the leaves will develop blisters. A lot of the water is sent by the roots to the leaves causing them to swell and burst with blisters.

If you find your potted plant not growing well and the leaves looking unhealthy, you need to check the soil. If it appears moist, you need to hold the watering till the soil can get a bit dry.

How to save an over watered potted plant?

If your potted plant is suffering from the effects of overwatering, you might be able to save it as long as it’s not too stressed.

The first thing you need to do is take the potted plant away from sunlight to a cool place indoors. This is because when overwatered, the roots cannot send water to the top of the plant. This can cause the leaves at the top to dry out.

You’ll need to take out the root ball from the pot and place it on top of a newspaper. Tap the sides of the pot with a shovel or your hand. You’ll need to do this several times at different sides of the pot. This will allow air to flow and dry the roots. And make it easy to take the root ball out from the pot.

To remove the root ball, place your hand on the base of the plant just above the soil. And with the other hand, shake the pot till the root ball comes out.

Once the root ball is out, place it on top of the newspaper. It will act as a wick and draw the excess moisture from the soil. You may need to replace the newspaper multiple times for all the excess water to drain out.

You need to remove the soil from the roots but be careful so as to not damage the healthy roots. Use your fingers to break up the soil from the roots. Remove the soil that looks moldy or green.

Now you need to cut off the diseased and damaged leaves, branches, stem, and roots. They can be visible by looking at their color. The diseased leaves will be wilted or yellow in color. The branches will be brown and dried up. The roots may be soggy and smelling due to root rot.

You can cut off the diseased parts of the potted plant using a pair of gardening pruners.

You can then place the plant in a new pot with fresh and clean potting soil. Do note that there is always a chance that the stress is too much for the plant and it may die.

Don’t water the plant as soon as you’ve placed it in the fresh potting soil. Don’t add fertilizer to the potting soil as this will stress the plant even further.

It would be good to add less than 1% peroxide to the plant because that will help the roots get oxygen flowing into the system.

Let the plant’s roots heal and avoid watering the potting soil for a few days. Once the plant has recovered, you can start watering only when the soil is dry and needs it.

How to water potted plants while on vacation?

Growing potted plants is a responsibility because you need to take care of them. Watering your potted plant needs to be a regular activity especially for plants that need a lot of water.

But you might need to travel whether on a vacation or a business trip and leave your potted plants behind.

If you can get someone to take care of your plants that would be the best option. But it may not always be possible and you’ll need to rely on other options.

Water wicking system

The simplest method is to create a wicking system using a water container and a cotton rope. The rope should be long enough to reach from the container to the potted plant.

Before you leave for travel, water the potted plants well. Then put one of the cotton rope in the container that you’ve filled with water. Push the other end of the cotton rope deep into the potting soil making sure not to disturb the plant roots.

The wicking action will pull the water through the rope and into potting soil making it available to the potted plant’s roots.

Your potted plant will survive for many days by making use of this automatic watering system.

Saucer system

You can use a saucer that is larger than the pot and the pot needs to have good drainage holes at the bottom.

Place the pot on the saucer and fill the saucer with water. The roots of the potted plant will slowly absorb the water from the saucer.

This method will keep your potted plant alive and healthy for many days till the water runs out from the saucer.

Self-watering container

You can get yourself a self-watering container to use for the potted plant. This works similarly to the saucer system.

The self-watering container contains a pot that sits on top of a water reservoir. You need to fill the reservoir with water instead of directly watering the plant.

The roots of the plant will absorb the required moisture from the water reservoir with the help of the wicking action.

You can leave your plants for several days when you’ve set them up with a self-watering container.

Bottle drip system

Another method of automatic watering is to use a plastic bottle to drip water into the potted plant.

Before you start using this method and leave for vacation, make sure to give the plant a good watering.

Make some drainage holes at the top of the plastic bottle cap and fill it with water. Now invert the bottle and stick the top into the potting soil far from the base of the plant.

Make sure the holes you made in the plastic bottle cap go deep into the potting soil. The water will slowly drip from the holes and be available to your potted plant for many days.

If you have a large potted plant, you can use a wine bottle instead of the plastic one. Fill the wine bottle with water and stick it headfirst into the potting soil.

Plastic bag greenhouse

Another simple system is to create a mini-greenhouse for the potted plant. You can use a transparent plastic bag for this.

Make sure to water the potted plant well before using this method. Put a stake in the potting soil that will help avoid the plastic bag from touching the leaves and the plant.

Now cover the plant with the plastic bag and blow air into it so the plastic bag does not stick to the plant.

It’s important that you keep the potted plant indoors away from direct sunlight. Otherwise, the heat will cook up the plant and kill it.

When the plant is kept indoors with indirect light, the evaporated water will condense and fall back on the plant.

Your plant will have water available for several days using this method.

Use a drip-irrigation system

If you have many potted plants, it can be a pain setting up the several methods that I mentioned above. That’s when a drip-irrigation system with a timer will be the best choice.

It’s easy to set up a drip-irrigation system for all of your plants and it’s quite inexpensive as well. The drip-irrigation system will help you water the plants not only when you’re on vacation but even when you’re at home.

You can set up the system with a timer that will drip the required amount of water for the required amount of time to all of your potted plants.

You can go on vacation for months and your potted plants will be growing healthy and happy with a drip-irrigation system.

Further Reading

Watering potted plants is one of the most crucial activities that determines the health and longevity of your container garden. You will need to use other maintenance activities like mulching, fertilizing, pruning as well and you can find the details below,

Learn The Basics Of Creating A Vegetable Container Garden

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