Plants make for excellent decorations, as they can add color and beauty to your indoors. Making sure they stay healthy can be a bit of a hassle at times, though. Let’s look at 6 ways to keep your indoor plants from drying out so they continue to thrive, and you don’t have to water them as frequently.
You can keep indoor plants from drying out with the following methods:
- Reevaluate and optimize your watering routine.
- Increase humidity.
- Move your plants out of direct sunlight.
- Reduce exposure to drafts.
- Use moisture-retaining soil.
- Use larger pots and containers.
In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss each of these points in greater detail. I’ll take you through the involved processes step-by-step and provide you with practical tips along the way.
1. Reevaluate and Optimize Your Watering Routine
The first and perhaps most effective thing to do is reevaluate and optimize your watering routine.
If your indoor plants are drying out too fast, the natural response is to water them more often. However, I recommend you water the soil more thoroughly instead of watering it more frequently. You’d be surprised how much water soil can hold at max capacity.
Also, watering the top layer of soil does little to hydrate your plant. Roots are typically much deeper in the soil, so deep waterings are necessary, especially for mature plants.
The only downside to more thorough watering is the risk of overwatering a plant. Overwatering is indeed deadly but can easily be avoided as long as you have a decent-quality potting mix and a pot with a drainage hole. It’s hard to overstate the importance of using a pot with a drainage hole.
Don’t water to the point where the water begins to stagnate on top of the soil. Instead, water thoroughly and let the excess water drain out from the pot.
Note that some soil types may take longer to fully saturate than others, especially for mixes rich in clay. Pouring water too quickly into the soil will likely drain most of it out without being adequately retained in the mix for the roots to absorb. But once adequately saturated, clayey soil mixes also dry out more slowly.
In most cases, you won’t be rewatering until the soil dries out. Indoor cacti and some succulents do well with a brief period (1 to 2 days) of dry soil between waterings. The brief period of dryness between waterings dramatically reduces the likelihood that your plant will suffer from overwatering.
It also encourages the plant to sink its roots deeper into the soil in search of water, which is beneficial in the long run because the plant will have access to more resources (nutrients and water).
There are some plants with which you ideally never want to let the soil dry out, though, so be sure to look up the recommendations for the plants you have. Ferns, for example, are better kept in moist soil at all times.
One great method to ensure your plants are thoroughly watered is bottom watering. I’ve written an extensive beginner’s guide if you want to learn more. Don’t miss it: How To Water Plants From the Bottom (Beginner’s Guide)
Let’s now look at how you can reduce natural water loss by adjusting environmental factors.
2. Increase Humidity
One of the best (and most practical) ways to reduce water loss indoors is by increasing the humidity. I’ll give you a brief explanation of how this works to reduce water loss.
Humidity is a measure of the amount of water vapor in the air at any time. The higher the humidity, the more water vapor in the air, and the harder it is for liquid water to evaporate because the air can only hold a limited amount of water at a time.
Higher humidity directly translates to reduced water loss, but there are other upsides to increasing humidity, too.
Many plants, especially those that have tropical origins, prefer high-humidity environments. In fact, they need high humidity to stay in tip-top condition, and their health suffers when the humidity drops below a certain threshold.
Now, the reverse is also true. Some plants prefer low humidity, but this is a much more limited pool of plants. Succulents and cacti are good examples of plants that don’t like high humidity.
One more thing to mention about humidity is that it increases the odds that your plants will develop a fungal infection (because, unfortunately, fungi love moisture too).
This is usually not a problem for plants that get their fill of sunlight. It’s when you combine moisture with darkness that things go south.
Still, you should avoid placing plants that prefer low humidity and/or plants that are naturally predisposed to fungal infections in high-humidity environments.
You’ll find that it’s not too difficult to manufacture separate low and high-humidity environments in your own house using some of these tips:
Use a Humidifier to Increase Humidity
Probably the most hands-off and convenient way to increase humidity is by using a humidifier. These compact devices increase humidity by continuously releasing controlled quantities of water vapor into the air. The best part is that you can be very precise with the controls to reach your desired humidity level.
Humidifiers can, however, be somewhat pricey, depending on where you live. Don’t worry, though. There are plenty of alternative steps to take.
Relocate Your Plants to a More Humid Room
Some rooms in your house—typically smaller and with more water use—are naturally more humid than others. Bathrooms and kitchens, for example, are great spots to grow humidity-loving vegetation.
Fun fact: You can significantly increase the humidity in your kitchen by boiling a large pot of water. The more water you boil, the greater the increase in humidity. Air conditioners reduce humidity during operation, so you may want to reserve air-conditioned rooms for your succulents.
Use a Pebble Tray
A pebble tray is a simple tool that can increase the local humidity around your potted plant. It’s a tray that contains water and pebbles and can be easily assembled.
Here’s how to make your own pebble tray:
- Use a wide, shallow container: It should be wider than the pot you’ll place over it. Trays and plates are ideal.
- Place plenty of pebbles in the container: Use sizeable pebbles so that water can evaporate from the gaps that will remain between said pebbles.
- Pour water into the container: Pour until the top of the pebbles is just above the water line.
- All done: Now, place your desired pot over the pebble tray and let your plant reap the benefits of increased humidity.
The pebbles provide your potted plant with elevation and support, keeping it out of contact with the water.
You can’t just use a tray with only water because that would mean the roots of the plant would be in constant contact with water (assuming you have a pot with a drainage hole, which, again, you should.)
This would lead to root rot in the same way overwatering does. Roots engulfed by water cannot access oxygen. Roots need oxygen to live, so without it, they start dying and eventually rot away. Without healthy roots to support itself, the plant follows suit shortly after.
Mist Your Plants Regularly
Misting or spraying is another tool in your gardening arsenal you can use to artificially—albeit temporarily—raise the local humidity around the plant.
There is plenty of debate regarding whether or not misting actually raises humidity for long enough to matter. However, there are additional known benefits to misting.
The water droplets on the surface of the plant act as a buffer. They evaporate before water present inside the plant is lost. When these water droplets do evaporate, they also cool off the plant body, making misting doubly beneficial.
We’ll talk more about adjusting the temperature to reduce water loss shortly.
Of course, misting also adds a slight amount of water to the soil. Not much, but maybe just enough to make for a few extra hours of hydration.
Some plants prefer to be misted daily, such as ferns. Others, you can mist every other day or even once a week.
To make misting extra useful, you can also wipe the leaves with a clean cloth after misting. Doing this at night once a week will remove dust and debris that could otherwise hinder photosynthesis and transpiration.
Group Your Plants
Lastly, you can increase the local humidity experienced by your plants by simply grouping them together.
Plants constantly lose water through transpiration. This differs from evaporation because it involves water loss from the plant body.
The water lost ends up as water vapor in the air, resulting in a marginal humidity increase. This increase is near-negligible when caused by a single, isolated plant. But when you bunch them up, you can increase local humidity by considerable margins.
This may hinder you from achieving your decorative goals, though. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide how you’d like your plants placed.
3. Move Your Plants Out of Direct Sunlight
Indoor plants typically don’t need a lot of sunlight. That’s a large part of what makes them suitable for indoor growth in the first place.
We can divide plants into three categories based on the quantity and intensity of sunlight they need:
- Full sun: Over 6 hours of sunlight per day. Some plants may need as much as 10 hours of bright sun to grow optimally.
- Partial sun/shade: 3 to 6 hours of sunlight each day. Vulnerable to harsh sunlight.
- Full shade: Less than 3 hours of sunlight per day.
Indoor plants typically fall into the last 2 categories. Full-sun plants are almost always grown in outdoor gardens.
Still, some commonly grown indoor plants, such as sunflowers and daisies, need their 6 hours of sun. You should place these plants by a window, under bright sunlight.
South-facing windows are the best for this purpose, as they tend to receive the most sunlight. East- or west-facing balconies are also excellent options.
Most indoor plants need partial shade. This means you don’t have to (and probably should not) keep them in direct sunlight. Plants that can’t tolerate direct sunlight often end up with burnt leaves if left exposed and unprotected.
You want to keep your indoor plants near the sun’s rays but not directly underneath them. A few feet away from the window is ideal. Sunlight bounces and reflects off indoor surfaces, so plants still benefit from reflected light even when they’re not right next to the window.
Reducing exposure to sunlight, of course, reduces water loss.
Lower Temperature Helps
Temperature is directly proportional to the rate of water loss through evaporation. The higher the temperature, the faster your plants and their surrounding soil will lose water.
The thing is, there’s not much you can do—at least practically—to lower temperature other than reducing exposure to the sun.
You could keep your plants in air-conditioned rooms, but, as I previously mentioned, air conditioners suck the humidity out of a room. In this case, the benefit you gain from a lowered temperature will be mitigated by the loss in humidity.
4. Reduce Exposure to Drafts
The wind is another factor that increases water loss. The windier it is, the faster your plants will lose water in the air.
The plants with more of their external surface exposed to drafts are at greater risk. Hanging baskets or containers are particularly notorious for their tendency to dry out completely on a windy day.
Place your plants in spots where they are less exposed to drafts. Take down hanging containers on especially windy days, or provide them with protection in the form of coverage.
5. Use Moisture-Retaining Soil
The next step on our list is using moisture-retaining soil for indoor plants. Soils differ in their ability to retain moisture. Clay, for example, has an outstanding ability to hold water. Sandy soil, on the other hand, holds little water and lets most of it drain out.
Thankfully, most commercially available, pre-made potting mixes have excellent moisture retention abilities to begin with. The key is to make sure you use your plants’ recommended potting mix.
If you find your potting mix doesn’t have the best water retention, here are some steps to improve it:
Add Organic Matter to the Soil
Organic matter is pure goodness for plants. Not only is it a potent, natural, slow-release fertilizer that provides plants with the nutrients they need, but it also improves water retention in the soil. The best way to feed your plants some organic matter is by adding homemade compost to the soil.
You’ll need to mix your compost into the soil by evenly working 1 inch (2.5 cm) of compost into the upper 3 inches (7.6 cm) of your potting mix. You can also use compost as mulch to regulate soil temperature and help with moisture retention.
To create your own compost, collect decaying matter, leftover foods, and dead green matter in a compost bin and wait for it to rot away. The list of items you can add to your compost bin is surprisingly large.
You’ll probably have to wait a while before your compost is ready, especially if you live in a colder region. Compost can take several months to over a year to decay fully. You can buy ready-to-use compost at your local gardening center.
Apply a Layer of Mulch
Mulch, like compost, is made up of organic matter and can be made at home. It helps fertilize your plants, but that’s a secondary benefit.
Mulch is a layer of decayed organic matter that you spread over the soil around the base of your plant. Its primary purpose is to reduce water loss by evaporation by acting as a physical barrier between the air and the soil.
It also helps regulate temperature because of its insulative nature and obstructs the development of weeds, although that’s less of a concern with plants grown in a pot.
If you would like to explore your options on fast-drying soil, check out my article: Potted Plant Soil Drying Out Too Fast? Here’s Why
6. Use Larger Pots and Containers
The last idea I have for you if you find your indoor plants are drying out too quickly is to use a larger pot or container. It’s quite simple, really.
A larger container means you can have more soil in the container. Soil is what holds water for the plant. More soil equates to a larger capacity to store water from each watering.
While using a larger pot won’t decrease how much water your plant needs, it will decrease how often you need to water it.
Getting a larger pot for your plants is something you should be doing every few years anyway. Plants grow in size rapidly, and so do their roots.
If roots run out of space to grow deeper, they grow sideways, in circles, and sometimes pop up above the topsoil. Roots growing in this manner can’t gather nutrients and water from the soil very efficiently, which may be what’s leading your plant to dryness and dehydration.
Stagnant growth is a common symptom in plants that have outgrown their containers. You’ll know that a plant has outgrown its container when you can see roots pop out of the topsoil or out of the drainage hole at the bottom. When you do, it’s time to get a new pot.
However, get a pot that is only 1-2 sizes larger (up to 2 inches or 5 cm) than your old pot. A much larger pot can cause more harm than good, as it keeps the soil moist far longer than your plants need. This can result in overwatering problems like root rot.
To keep your indoor plants from drying out, don’t forget to water generously, increase humidity in your plant’s environment, reduce exposure to sunlight and wind, use moisture-retaining soil, and use larger pots. By following these simple tips, you’ll surely be able to keep your indoor plants from drying out.