Watering the houseplants is quite different from watering the garden. Many of the issues plaguing keeping the yard irrigated are functional non-issues for houseplants, while a new host of problems (soil degradation, under-potting) pops up almost as swiftly. In general watering houseplants makes the job smaller but not any faster as you need to be more detail-oriented.

The biggest issue has to do with watering containers instead of the soil. In a garden bed, it is very hard to overwater since excess water will simply drain lower into the soil as time goes on. The only time you can truly overwater the dirt is when there’s an impermeable layer in the soil that traps the water, or the water level is already so high it’s easy to top it off to cover the surface.

While these two issues can easily happen in the right areas, in general overwatering the yard has no lasting issues at all, and may even improve plants given that rarer, deeper waterings encourage root growth. Plants in containers are far more vulnerable to overwatering, since the “impermeable layer” is right there in the form of the pot holding your plant.

This means that houseplants are a balancing act between letting it get too dry and letting it stay soaking until it rots. This is exacerbated by houseplants having much broader watering needs than most garden plants, as desert succulents and tropical vines mix freely in the home environment.

Your best tool in this challenge is pot choice and soil choice. This has been mentioned before, but pots are generally plastic, glazed clay, or unglazed clay. Each of these is more permeable to water than the previous, so the same plant and soil in a plastic pot will stay wet for longer than in a clay pot.

Similarly, organic material (like peat moss) will hold water longer than stone or sand. Thus, you can control the amount of water a pot holds by cutting in sand or compost as needed. The number of drainage holes in the bottom of the pot also has an effect, but it can be difficult to size them correctly such that water but no soil exits without making them so small they plug up.

Placing a layer of gravel at the bottom of the pot can help in this regard. Since each plant will have a different ideal wetness, it can be hard to make any blanket recommendations on how much to water.

How each plant is watered at least becomes a non-issue. Unless you have dozens or hundreds of houseplants, hand watering will easily care for them all. If you do have enough plants to make hand watering unwieldy, you can simply place sets of plants in the shower for a gentle, thorough wash and watering from time to time.

Ecologically, it becomes harder to recycle water for use with houseplants, though instead of tossing used aquarium water down the sink this can work as free water and fertilizer both. Keep in mind that plants grown in a low-tech hydroponic system (such as a vase of water) don’t appreciate fertilizers of any kind in their water. Similarly, when watering, make sure to provide enough water that some drains through the bottom. This will prevent various salts and minerals from building up in the soil over time.

One issue that houseplants have to deal with unique to them is humidity. Many houseplants, being from the tropics, do best when given a higher relative humidity. One way of providing this is using a spray bottle mister to provide water, an elegantly direct approach that you can accidentally overdo. Be careful when spraying down plants to have a light touch. Alternately, you can place humidity-hungry plants on a shallow tray of rocks and water to let ambient humidity from evaporation do the job. This is a much lower-maintenance approach that sometimes isn’t enough. Depending on your houseplants either approach may be better, but an excellent compromise position is just to cluster your houseplants together somewhat. Plants indoors provide humidity as they transpire, so you can harness all that humidity floating around for the benefits of other plants easily. The key is the same as always: a little planning before ensures success with whatever you plant.

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