The Most Common Plant Mistake Has a Really Simple Fix

updated Dec 30, 2019
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Chinasa Cooper

You just got home from buying the plant of your dreams. You find the perfect spot for it in your home and proceed to give it the love that it needs. You’re mindful not to give it too much light and you’re super careful not to overwater it because you know that’s a one-way street straight to root rot. Good for you! But now you’re noticing that your plant is showing signs of distress like dry or dull leaves. What gives? 

Even though you may think you are doing a good thing by using a delicate hand to water plants, they actually love to be soaked all the way to the roots. When you don’t give a plant enough water, it can develop a shallow root system which affects everything from its health to its appearance.

“Underwatering becomes an issue over time because you aren’t providing the roots with the hydration they need to help the plant grow,“ explained Briana St. Holder, a plant consultant in Atlanta who creates green spaces for individuals and events. “Weak, shallow roots not only make it difficult for your plant to stay healthy, it creates greater risk for diseases and issues like spider mites and other bugs.” 

You can see the signs of shallow watering, according to Lamar Thompson-Hightower, a plant and self-care consultant from Detroit. “When your plant is in need of more thorough watering, you may notice that it starts to droop or wilt,” they said. “Sometimes the leaves can become discolored and might even be crunchy on the tips. That’s a sign that the roots are thirsty.” 

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

So, what’s the best way to water a plant and avoid a shallow root system? Both St. Holder and Thompson-Hightower agree that knowing how to correctly care for your plant—like how much water it really needs, and how often—is the first step. A little research can help you understand how often and how much to water your plant so that the roots are thick, healthy and encouraged to grow deeply 

If you need more help driving the water deeper, you can also try burying a tube or water bottle (or plant bulb) into the soil when you pot. Just make sure that you have well-draining planter with a hole in the bottom where the water can escape. You can also try bottom watering, where you leave the planter in a dish of water to absorb from below. If you go with this method, St. Holder suggests that don’t leave your plant soaking for more than 30 minutes.