Scott Eckert: How do you kill a houseplant?

Scott Eckert
Special to The Newton Kansan
Don’t torture houseplants by overwatering them.

How do you kill a houseplant? One way is to water it improperly. I have had people tell me they give it a cup of water a day or a cup every week on Tuesday if it needs it or not. These are not the best watering methods for houseplants!         

More houseplants die from overwatering than from any other cause. Adjusting your watering routine once houseplants are moved back inside the house is essential for the plant's continued survival. Most plants benefit when the soil is allowed to dry slightly between waterings. This dryness ensures that oxygen penetrates to the plant's root system, oxygen that is just as essential for good plant growth as water. Often a plant can be allowed to wilt slightly before it is watered; thus giving an indication when water is needed.

No matter if the plant is a cactus or an azalea that needs continual, even moisture, always water plants thoroughly. A thorough watering wets the entire soil ball in the container and leaches away excess fertilizer salts built up in the soil. Fertilizer salts can burn roots, resulting in burnt or dried leaf edges and plants that wilt, even though they seem to have plenty of water.

The following two methods are great for watering houseplants. First, place the entire container in a sink filled with water and do not remove it until air bubbles have stopped coming from the planting container. Then place the container in an empty sink and allow it to drain for several minutes.

A second method is to place the container in an empty sink and pour water on top of the soil until water begins to drain from the bottom of the pot. Water the container once more and allow the excess water to drain away.

Reducing the frequency of watering is the best way to limit the amount of water a plant receives. A plant that needed watering once a day while outside in July and August may only require watering once a week in the house during winter.

Monitor plants carefully in the weeks following a return to indoor conditions, and test soil moisture levels before watering. If the top 1 inch of soil feels dry or the plant begins to wilt slightly, most plants will be ready for another watering.

Scott Eckert

Scott Eckert is a Kansas State Research and Extension agent for Harvey County. Horticulture is his specialty. He can be reached at 316-284-6930.