You can’t just dump water on your plants and call it a day. I’m here to tell you that there is a method to the watering madness.

Water is the most essential element for sustaining life. To survive, we need water. To thrive, we need consistent access to a water source. You are that source to your plants. When brought indoors, plants rely on you as their sole caretaker to provide them with all their needs.

Now that I’ve scared you enough about the importance of water, here are some common mistakes to avoid when watering.

Too little, too late

Less is more, especially when it comes to watering your plants, but this doesn’t mean forget about them completely. But what exactly does it mean to water your plants less? It would be so much easier if our plants could just tell us when they’re thirsty, right? Well, what if I told you that they do?

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Plants actually have their own language. I’m not saying your plants can speak Norwegian or Portuguese. Don’t get too excited and search on Duolingo for a course on how to speak plant. While plants cannot give us verbal cues like, “Hey man, I’m thirsty,” they will give you subtle signs if you pay attention.

Plants have a noticeable way of telling you when they are thirsty. The leaves will droop, the tips can turn brown, and the stems will become floppy. Next time you walk by your dry-as-a-bone plant and think, Et tu, planta?, try looking for these signs ahead of time before it reaches hat point.

Too much too soon

On the other hand, we have that person who loves their plants just a little too much: The Overwaterer. Sometimes less is more in terms of watering your plants, especially when it comes to cactuses and succulents.

Nature’s fine design has allowed these plants to store water in their leaves. In their natural environment, cactuses and succulents grow in dry, barren deserts where it doesn’t rain for months. When you overwater these plants, it stresses them out because they have nowhere else to store that water.

A healthy jade plant with plump leaves.
A healthy jade plant with plump leaves. (Courtesy of Ryan Rhodes)

Water is relevant to light. Generally, the more light the plant gets, the more water they will need. The less light they get, the less water they will need. Let’s say you have a beloved plant in a south facing sunroom.That plant will dry out much quicker than if it were in a dark corner of a room with a north facing window.

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The myth of routines

Routines are a great habit to have except when it comes to watering your plants. Plants are their own unique, individual beings. There are so many species and varieties of plants and they all require slightly different methods of care. Not only that, the environment you decide to place them in plays a big factor. Dedicating a Sunday afternoon to watering all your plants could put your green friends at risk of root rot from overwatering. But other plant routines are great! Instead of having a routine or schedule for watering, try a routine of checking in consistently with your plants instead.

Hilton Carter examines his monstera.
Hilton Carter examines his monstera. (Courtesy of Ryan Rhodes)

Terra firma

The best tip for watering your plants is to always check the soil before you water. Different plants require different amounts of water, have different types of soil and receive different amounts of light. It’s a good idea to test the moisture of your soil before watering. Checking the soil of each plant individually will give you a better understanding of how much water that particular plant needs. I highly recommend using a moisture meter if you’re not sure when your plant is thirsty.

Hilton Carter feels for moisture in the soil.
Hilton Carter feels for moisture in the soil. (Courtesy of Ryan Rhodes)

A thorough watering

Now that you know the do’s and don’ts of watering your plant, we can talk about the strategy. How do you water your plants? Do you dump what’s left in your cup in that one plant in the corner you always forget about? Do you use a watering can, a pitcher, a rain bell or a hose? Whatever vessel you use to water your plants, make sure you give that soil a nice, even layer of water, evenly distributed around the plant. Plants take up water through the root, so make sure to give that little green dude an even pour.

If your pot has a drainage hole at the bottom, water thoroughly until water seeps out into the tray. If your pot doesn’t have a hole, water enough so all the roots in the pot have access to water.

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The only way to get better at something is to give it a try, so go at it! I hope you find a rhythm and balance that works for you, and develop a newfound relationship with your leafy friends.

Hilton Carter is a plant and interior stylist, artist and author from Baltimore.