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Watering Houseplants

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
December 20, 2017        
Source:  Beth Berlin, Extension Educator-Horticulture
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton, & Morrison Counties

Watering Houseplants
By Beth Berlin, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (12/20/17) — Our attention this time of year is often focused on the holidays and hosting family and friends, but don’t forget to take care of your houseplants.  Humidity in our homes tends to drop to uncomfortable levels in the winter, especially for our plants.  This brings up a few very good questions, “how much and how often do I water”? It is important to water the plant before signs of wilting and yet making sure we do not overwater.
Unfortunately there is not a simple answer for all houseplants. Houseplants can differ greatly in their need for water depending on the type of plant, as well as the size, age, and growth stage.  The specific temperature and humidity in your home also can affect the plant’s needs.   Plants placed near a heat vent can dry out more quickly. Winter dryness and low humidity in our homes will cause the plant’s need for more water to increase.  A simple tip is if your skin is dry, your plants probably are as well.  Plants are not growing as vigorously in the winter months due to the cooler temperatures and lack of light, therefore it should require less water, but depending on the humidity in your home their watering needs may be more than you think.
Overwatering can also cause damage, if not death to your plant. It is a common mistake to believe that the plant’s soil needs to be wet at all times; this can actually lead to root rot of plants. A little investigative work needs to be done to determine if your plant needs watering.  The first step is to look at the leaves.  Water is absorbed through the roots of the plant and the plant breathes or releases air and moisture through tiny pores in the leaves called stomata.  Watching your plant’s foliage color is important to determine its watering needs. Succulent plant’s foliage may become slightly rubbery, and other foliage plants may turn a dull or less vibrant green when water levels are low.  Another way to determine water needs is simply by checking the weight of the entire pot and plant, if it is light when picked up, the soil is likely dry and watering is needed.  One of the best ways to determine if a plant needs watering is to feel the soil; if it feels dry to the touch that can be a sign the plant is drying out.  However this should be done below the surface level of the soil and can be done by inserting a finger down to the second knuckle. If a plant requires moist soil, the surface should be damp. If a plant should dry somewhat between watering, the top inch or two of soil can be dry, but if it’s dry beyond that point, it is time to water.   Letting a plant dry out completely can damage roots. 
Good advice is to check the soil often; houseplants may suffer in situations such as going from extremely dry to extremely wet soil conditions.  Keep in mind certain plants such as succulents and cacti may still thrive with drier conditions and may be allowed to dry between watering.
So even though you may be distracted with the holidays, don’t forget about checking your houseplants. A good tip is to closely monitor your plants and determine each ones needs throughout the different seasons. When and how much to water is plant specific and the best answer will come from watching and investigating the plant itself.