The Secret to Keeping Houseplants Alive

2 Materials
5 Minutes

Do you struggle with houseplants? Are you looking for ways to keep them alive? Mine used to struggle for years until I learned the secret to keeping them happy and healthy. And today, I'm sharing that secret with you.

While we could chat about a number of ways to keeping houseplants alive, there is one BIG thing we do wrong without even realizing it.


Did you know that the number one houseplant killer is over-watering?

Yep. Rethinking how we water our plants will save a lot of heartache when a houseplant succumbs to pest and disease problems.

It is so important not to allow plants to sit in soggy roots.

Why? Because soggy roots promote pest and disease problems.

Keeping Your Houseplants Alive by Watering the Right Way

In general, and I do mean "in general," water houseplants roughly 1x per week. But this type of watering schedule may not work for all plants. So it's important to understand when a plant does not need to be watered.

NOTE: If you have succulents or cacti, water 1x a month or less. These plants typically thrive on neglect. For my cacti and succulents like aloe vera, cacti, etc., I don’t water them much at all and almost leave them alone.

Why We Mistakenly Over-Water

Most people water because the soil looks dry or it's that day of the week when they are scheduled to water.

The problem with both of these methods is that the soil where the roots are may not actually be dry.

And if the soil is not really dry, then plant roots sit in a wet soggy mess that promotes pest and disease problems.

So just because the top layer of soil looks dry doesn't mean it is. And, the plant may not "need" to be watered on the scheduled watering day.

How Does Soil Retain Water and Still Look Dry?

Wet soil is very similar to a sponge. If you soak a sponge and hold it upright, water collects at the bottom while the top dries out. Thus, the soil surface may look and feel dry, but may not be dry where the roots are located.

How to Determine Whether Houseplants NEED to be Watered

While I mentioned having a scheduled watering day could be harmful to plants, it is good to plan one so that watering is on your radar.

So choose a day of the week when you want to water. Then check each plant using the cake batter test.

  • use a finger, plastic knife, popsicle stick or something similar.
  • insert it in to the soil about an inch down
  • if the tester comes out clean, it's time to water
  • if the tester comes out with some wet soil, do not water yet
  • Re-check using the same process in another day or two if the tester comes out with some wet soil.
Step 1 - Get a plastic knife, popsicle stick or you can use your finger
Step 2 - Insert the object into the soil about an inch or more down
Step 3 - Remove the object and see if if comes out dry or with wet soil

I know this sounds like a task but you will get to know your plants and their watering needs after a few weeks.

Pro-Tip for New Plants: It’s a good idea to use the cake batter test for the first few weeks of care so you get to know the plant and its watering requirements.

To learn more houseplant tips and tricks, click here.

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Have a question about this project?

3 of 8 questions
  • Debi Coish
    Debi Coish
    on Sep 14, 2020

    Is the picture in step 3 of a dry or damp knife?

    • Jackie Sylvia
      Jackie Sylvia
      on Sep 21, 2020

      Try doing ther knife trick with both a wet potted plant and a dry one, this way you can see the difference.

  • Rosiepozzi
    on Sep 15, 2020

    how often do I water my orchid?

  • Kris
    on Sep 16, 2020

    I've used popsicle stx & fingers and my plants still keep dying. The soil under the 1st cpl inches holds the water. I follow the guide of water til it comes out of drainage holes, and there are plenty of them, but I guess it still stays wet all around root ball or something. Have used all types of pots,clay, ceramic, plastic,all of them.Have gone to ridiculous lengths trying to have houseplants. Haven't had any success. I have 1 right now and if it goes, won't be trying anymore. What else could it be?

    • Joanie
      on Oct 11, 2020

      I have a jungle of plants. They fill your home with such a homey feeling. Recommendations apply to different plants: Make sure it is in the correct size pot. When it out grows, it will let you know. Dropping leaves or yellowing. Over watering will also turn leaves yellow. Make sure it is in the correct light. Make sure it is in the right temp. Stick your finger down in the plant., if dry it is ready for a watering. Some plants require a full watering, some not so much. Caring for plants is like caring for children. Learning as you go. I've raised plants for 47 years and have about 40 throughout my entire house. I have them hanging......on tables and on the floors. I have had many starters and passed them on to neighbors, friends and relatives. Some are huge rascals. They all have names of girls. For instance, if it is an English ivy. I call her Ivy. I have a Peace lily or many and they are my Lilies. Chinese evergreens I call China. My Christmas cactus.....I call Mary. My Rubber trees I call Roberta and Ruby. I love my plants and they are part of my life....Talk to your plants and enjoy their beauty.

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