A Tale of Overzealous Nurturing
It’s spring and my wife, Lea, and I are in the Family Consumer Science classroom at a local junior high school. We’re volunteering in the Community Education program through the Boise School District. This program opens up District facilities to the public to provide volunteer-instructed classes ranging in topics from budgeting to Barbie collecting and gardening to geo-caching, and so much more! Our topic for the evening, beloved succulents.
The class begins with each of the participants introducing themselves and the reason for joining the class. As each person gives their reasoning for attending, a familiar pattern emerges. Most of them are in the class because they have also been inspired by the Pinterest boards and Instagram feeds of beautiful succulents and purchased some of their own. While some of the participants experienced success, many of them experienced the loss of their plants. And what is the number one culprit for the demise of these easy and forgiving plants? This may sound familiar (it was for me). Water. Simply put, unintentional, overzealous nurturing caused this life-giving liquid to drown the succulents.
Three Basics of Plant Care
So how do we avoid unfortunate pitfalls like this? It starts with the three (3) basics of plant care: soil, water, and light. We already covered the basics of soil in our post, Let's Talk Dirty! The Basics of Potted Plant Soil. In this post, however, we’ll pore over the basics of watering and the factors that affect it, so we can keep our plants thriving.
My Most Frequently Asked Question
Not long ago, I walked into my office and found a potted plant left on my desk. Soon after, I received a phone call from the plant’s owner. She let me know she left the plant for a check-up. Scenarios like this have sprouted here and there as others learn of my office jungle. Although I’m far from being any kind of doctor, I give the plant a good up and down and report it's healthy. Her next question was, "how often should I be watering?"
This is a familiar question to many and it’s my most frequently asked question. My response is always the same. And always atypical. That’s because I don’t believe there is a hard-and-fast rule when it comes to the frequency of watering. Rather, it’s a matter of having an understanding of the plant to be watered, the soil it’s planted in, and the environment in which it’s living. So my response, “it depends!”
Get to Know Your Plant
First, it depends on the plant to be watered. In the class Lea and I were teaching, the common theme was overwatering. Overwatering of plants that typically require dry soil in between waterings. Many succulents can even go months without water. That’s why many succulents, including cacti, are found in dry, arid, desert regions, where water is scarce and thus stored in their fleshy bodies and leaves (hence the name "succulents"). This low need for water greatly contrasts other, more tropical-based plants such as the coveted Monstera or the finicky Calathea. To put these plants through the same watering regimen as succulents would quickly lead to their shrivel from existence. Get to know the plants you are watering, they depend on it.
Let’s Talk Dirty
Next, it depends on the soil. Some soil mixtures dry faster than others. In our post, Let's Talk Dirty! The Basics of Potted Plant Soil, we learned the characteristics of good potting soil, one of which is moisture retention. Moisture retention doesn’t mean keeping your plant’s soil soggy and their feet wet, rather it means when watering, your potting soil retains moisture long enough to keep the plant hydrated while still being able to dry. Nonetheless, this can undoubtedly be affected by the last it depends.
Know Your Environment
As I’m writing this post, it’s snowing outside. Not much, but it’s cold enough that the plants I brought indoors earlier this year wouldn’t be growing outdoors otherwise. And it’s cold enough that we have our heat turned up keeping us cozy-warm. While we’re cozy from the heater, it’s busy zapping the humidity from the air. This humidity-zapping is taxing on our more moisture-loving and humid-thriving plants (not to mention our skin! A humidifier makes this a quick resolve for all) and can thus potentially lead to the need for more frequent watering. While the heater isn’t the only environmental factor that could affect your watering regimen, it’s easy to see how the environment is a deciding factor in watering.
My Promise to You
We’ve seen how the plant you’re watering, the soil in which it’s planted, and the environment in which it grows, are all deciding factors in your watering regimen. And because of these factors, it’s difficult to wrap rules around watering. Instead, if you have an understanding of how all three of these factors play a role in your watering regimen, you will better understand how frequently to water. I know this might sound a bit ambiguous at first, but I promise you, as you gain more experience with your plants, your confidence in knowing their needs will strengthen.
Wet Your Plants
When it is time for you to wet your plants, I will leave you with one rule. Soak the soil in the pot. Ensure it all gets wet. If your pot or container has drainage (a hole), you can’t overwater in one sitting because all the excess water will drain out leaving behind only the moisture-laden potting soil. If your pot does not have drainage, still fill ‘er up, only without leaving your plant sitting in a pool of water (and no, the pot does not require drainage, but that’s for another post).
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