‘Best’ method for watering houseplants to avoid ‘rotting the plant’

Houseplants: RHS advises on watering techniques

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With so much to do outdoors, many gardeners are guilty of either neglecting their houseplants or “killing them with kindness”. In a 2018 clip from ITV’s This Morning, David Domoney shared his “top tips” for keeping houseplants “healthy, happy and alive”. The horticulturalist is known for co-presenting Love Your Garden alongside Alan Titchmarsh and is the resident gardener on ITV’s This Morning.

Here are David’s top six tips:

1. Don’t kill them with kindness

David said: “Most houseplants are in fact killed by kindness. It’s not the neglect, it’s by giving [them] too much water.”

Houseplant owners who have plants in decorative pots with no holes in the bottom, run the risk of drowning the plant.

Often, the plant will be inside the decorative pot and it will continue to be filled up with water.

David continued: “That water gets sucked up by the compost, it displaces the air and starts to rot the plant.

“You’re better off to almost see the plant wilt and then water to recover it because if you overwater it, it’s difficult to take the water out again.

“A great tip is to put your plug in your sink. Fill up about an inch or two of water. Then stand all the houseplants in the sink.

“Leave them for about an hour to take what water they need and then let them drain and put them back on the windowsill.”

2. Positioning

Most people who have windowsills will be tempted to put their houseplants on them to decorate a room while giving plants the sunlight they need.

However, David warned window ledges can be a “disadvantage” to some houseplants, especially if the window is always in “full sun”.

Plants like succulents and cacti can survive well in full sunlight, but many other plants won’t do well at all and could end up with problems like scorched leaves.

The gardening expert suggested putting plants into “bright but not direct” sunlight which will “do a lot of good for the plants”.

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Window ledges and window sills can also pose other problems for houseplants – draughts and changing temperatures.

He added: “Remember, if there’s a window there and there’s a draught, the changes in temperature can also harm the plant.”

3. Humidity

“One of the things to really keep your houseplants nice and healthy is making sure there’s a lot of humidity around the plant,” David explained.

“The secret here is to get hold of a saucer, then some gravel into that saucer. Then, water so water is in and around the gravel, not above it.”

Using gravel benefits plants in two different ways – it ensures the plant isn’t sitting in water and creates a humid “microclimate” around the plant.

Rather than the plant sitting in water, the plant’s potting mix will suck up the moisture when it needs it.

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David said houseplant owners should “never let plants sit in water”. Allowing plants to sit in water could lead to problems like root rot.

To create the “microclimate”, the water in and aeons the gravel will eventually evaporate creating humidity which David claimed is “perfect for your plants, especially the ones that are sitting above a radiator.”

4. Watering

The gardening expert claimed it’s “always best” to water plants with rainwater as it has less chemicals in it when compared with normal tap water.

He continued: “Certainly things like Venus flytraps will in fact be badly hurt by water taken from the tap.

“So anything you collect in a water butt or pans outside does a lot of good for your plants.”

5. Let them rest

David said another “key thing” people need to remember the caring for houseplants is allowing them to have a rest time.

During the spring and summer months, the plants are active and can be fed on a regular basis so they thrive.

But during the autumn and winter, it’s best to trail off the food, lessen the amount of water and give them the rest period they need so they will “perform well the next year”.

6. Care for them on holiday

For those going away on holiday, who want to keep plants alive without giving a front door key to a neighbour and asking them to come in and look after them, there’s a “simple way” of doing it – using a bath.

David said: “All you’ve got to do is get hold of some old towels and put them in the bottom of the bath, put the plug in and turn the water on so the towels are splashy.

“Not that they’re sitting in water, but that water is absorbed into them and then go around and get all your houseplants and just sit them in the bath on the damp towel.

“Now, this does a couple of things. Firstly, as the water evaporates it creates this nice microclimate of humidity for the plants.

“Secondly, the plants will be able to suck some water from the damp towel. And usually, baths are quite bright either white or the bathroom is white so sunlight reflects pretty well around.

“So when you come back from holiday refreshed and revitalised your plants should look better than before you went away.”

David said “really tough plants” include cheese plants, Jades and money plants.

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