Cats and dogs train their owners to stick to a regular schedule. But plants are on their own timetable.

Watering every Wednesday and Sunday, like clockwork, doesn’t cut it.

Some (most) plants need to dry out between waterings. Some must never be allowed to dry out.

If a plant is suffering and you don’t know whether you’re watering too much or not enough, unless the plant is potbound, chances are the answer is “too much.”

How do you get a feel for how much water a plant needs? Bone up on the cultural needs of your plant – and feel the soil.

Stick your finger about 1″ down into the pot and feel if the soil is dry or moist to the touch. Don’t water until it’s dry.

For plants from dry environments (cactus and other succulents, Chinese fan palm), feel down into the soil 2″ to determine whether or not it needs water.

Water tropical rainforest plants with high water and humidity needs, (maidenhair ferns, bird’s nest ferns, staghorn ferns) when soil is dry only 1/2″ down. Mist frequently.

Attentiveness counts. Notice how much less a plant weighs when it’s dry, and how listless leaves look, even before they dry to a crisp or turn brown.

Watering Tips for Happy Houseplants

  • Always plant in a container that lets water drain freely out the bottom.
  • Take your plant to the sink, where you can see water drain out.
  • Water until soil can absorb no more. Then let the plant sit until excess has thoroughly drained.
  • Water with a small watering can that directs water to the soil. Don’t slosh it all over the plant
  • Water the entire surface of the soil – slowly – allowing time for water to sink in.
  • When a plant is potbound, water may quickly run out the bottom without being absorbed. Just keep watering, a little at a time, until the soil is saturated.
  • Never let water sit in the saucer or cachepot, in contact with soil for more than an hour. Waterlogged soil causes root rot, #1 cause of death.
  • Use room temperature water, never cold water straight from the faucet.
  • If you have heavily treated water, use distilled water, collect rainwater or let water sit out overnight so some of the chemicals vaporize.

David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth’s What’s Wrong with My Houseplant? Save Your Indoor Plants with 100% Organic Solutions has become my indispensable guide.

They write, “Houseplants satisfy the atavistic need many of us have for contact with green growing things, a need that is apparently encoded in our genes… Even the act of caring for our plant companions is therapeutic.