How to tell when your plant needs water (without just looking at the soil)

Working out exactly what your plant needs can be surprisingly challenging. Here, an expert explains how to tell when your plant is in need of a drink.

Making sure your plant has enough water is one of the most important things you can do as a plant owner. 

Keeping an eye on its humidity levels and pruning any dead growth will help your plant to thrive in the long run – but it won’t survive long enough to do that if it’s not getting the basics.

That being said, knowing how to tell when your plant is in need of a drink is important. Some plants need more water than others, and your plant’s hydration needs will also change with the seasons. So, how can you tell when it’s time to crack out your watering can? 

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To find out, we asked Dan Bruce, plant expert at Leafy Plants, to share some of the key signs to look out for – and what to do if you think your plant is dehydrated. Here’s what he had to say. 

1. The soil looks dry

Dry soil is a tell-tale sign that a plant needs water.

The number one way to tell whether a plant needs a drink is to check its soil. However, just because the soil is dry on the surface, it doesn’t necessarily mean your plant is ready for a water.

“With some exceptions, such as succulents, if the soil around a plant is dry, this can be a sign that it needs more water,” Bruce says. “Be wary of this though, as the soil surface may appear dry but as soil dries from the surface downwards, there could still be water sitting in the soil towards the bottom of the plant.

“To avoid overwatering house plants (which is a really common and easy way to kill your plants), stick your finger about one or two inches into the plant’s soil. If it still feels dry once you do this, then you should give your plant a drink.” 

2. The plant is drooping and wilting

If your plant is looking a little limp and sad, it could be a sign it’s in need of a drink. However, you’ll need to be careful – drooping leaves can also be a sign that a plant’s been overwatered.

“Houseplants wilt when dehydrated, as when the plant is thirsty, the plant will attempt to retain any moisture it can in its stem and roots,” Bruce says. “This results in the extremities, aka the leaves, lacking enough water, thus causing them to wilt and droop.”

He adds: “Certain plants do have a reputation for being dramatic (the peace lily being one of the main culprits), so be wary not to overwater the plant to make up for heavy drooping. Instead, give the thirsty plant a sufficient amount of water and leave it for a few days to rehydrate.” 

3. The leaves are turning brown at the tips

Brown leaf tips are a worrying sign.

Brown leaf tips are another tell-tale sign that your plant is in need of a drink, so you’ll want to act fast if you see brown patches appearing on your plant’s leaves.

“Crispy, brown tips on your plant are a sure-fire sign that it needs both more watering and higher humidity levels in your home,” Bruce says.

“If this is the case, you should remove any crispy leaves from the plant before watering. Then, after watering, you should make sure you mist your plant more often, at least once a week.” 

4. The plant’s growth has slowed

This is less of a sign that something is desperately wrong and more a sign that you might want to adjust your care routine slightly to help your plant thrive.

“Your plant may seem healthy enough, but if it’s not growing at all or very slowly, then this is a sign that you need to increase your watering,” Bruce explains. “While some plants, like snake plants and pothos, are known for being particularly slow growers, plants such as philodendrons and spider plants can grow incredibly quickly.”

He recommends: “Increase the amount of water you give your plant and that should help return the growth speed to normal. If the problem persists, then it might be time to repot your plant, as it might be pot-bound.” 

How to rehydrate your plant

Avoiding overwatering is essential.

If you think your plant needs more water, make sure not to go overboard straight away. Just because it’s thirsty, it doesn’t mean your plant needs bucketloads of water to survive – in fact, giving it too much water could lead to more problems a couple of days later.

“Be careful not to overwater your plant to rehydrate it,” Bruce says. “Too much sudden moisture can stress your plant out and damage the roots. Instead, you should initially just moisten the soil and then restart a healthy and frequent watering schedule.”

Watering your plant with a watering can or glass from above isn’t the only way to water it either, Bruce explains. “Some plants, such as peace lilies and prayer plants, may benefit from bottom watering as it will only take the amount of water it needs,” he says.

For more information on different watering techniques you can try, check out our article. 

New to plant parenthood? Check out Stylist’s guide to buying, styling and caring for plants to get started.

You can find out more about the most common houseplant problems by checking out our range of plant care content, too. 

Images: Getty

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