“How to tell if plants need water?” is probably the most useful question any plant owner can ask. You will be surprised to find out how many people need clarification regarding the suitable watering schedules for their plants.

How to Tell if Plants Need Water PlantAmerica

In this explanatory guide, we will be discussing all the different ways one can tell when a plant needs to be watered. Read on to find out some rather unconventional ways of figuring out the watering needs of houseplants.

How Can You Tell if Plants Need Water?

💥 You can tell if plants need water by directly checking the moisture content of the soil. The simplest way is to push an index finger into the soil or use wooden skewers, pencils, etc. Battery-operated gadgets like moisture meters or system sticks also give accurate results.

– Touch to See if the Soil Is Dry

The easiest method is to check the soil moisture levels by touching it directly. For experienced plant keepers, this is their go-to method of confirming the moisture status of the soil before watering. Put a finger over the soil to see if it feels moist or dry to the touch. If the soil surface feels damp to touch, then the plant most definitely does not need to be watered.

Most plants need watering when the top two inches of their soil becomes bone dry. To gauge this, you must fully put your index finger through the soil. You can quickly tell if the soil is completely dry or not by using this method. Some people don’t like this method as they do not like to get their hands dirty.

– Put Something in the Soil as a Test

It’s okay not to stick your finger in the ground or pot soil around plants. A more sophisticated method of checking the soil’s moisture level is to use something else instead.

We like to use wooden skewers, pencils, or leftover ice cream sticks for this purpose. Just take care to stick the skewer away from where the roots are supposed to be.

Testing Moisture Level of Soil PlantAmerica

Take a clean skewer or pencil and stick it within the top two inches of the soil. The skewer can be marked in your measurements if you want to be exact. Check the skewer when it comes out for wet soil or potting media attached to it. A skewer coming out dehydrated means the plant potted in this soil must be watered.

The moisture meter was invented for perfectionist plant owners who want to be scientifically exact when it comes to watering. It is a battery-powered tool like a thermometer with a moisture reading probe at one end. This probe is usually two to three inches long and is supposed to go into the soil.

It takes a few minutes to determine how dry the soil is accurately. The meter is then taken out of the soil, giving a particular reading from one to 10. Usually, a reading of one means that the soil is arid, and the plant must be immediately watered. A reading of 10 means that the soil is super wet and in need of better drainage,

– Use Plant Watering Indicator Sticks

These sticks are a more modern and easy-to-interpret variation of moisture meters. Instead of giving readings in the form of numbers from one to 10, they use color indicators. It, too, has a small probe on one end that is meant to be inserted into the soil.

Plant Watering Indicator Sticks PlantAmerica

A tiny opening on the tip’s end draws moisture into the stick. The window on the top portion of the stick then changes to a particular color. Read the package in which these sticks come in to determine what each color means.

These sticks are also known as system sticks and are being sold by several companies these days. They come in three standard sizes, medium and large, and must be used according to the size of the pot. Most of them are battery-operated and need to be charged regularly.

– Take a Glance at the Soil’s Color

Wet and recently watered soil looks darker than dry soil. This color change is an easily recognizable sign that a plant needs to be watered. Most seasoned plant owners look at the soil and know it’s about time it got watered!

How Can You Tell if a Plant Needs to Be Watered?

You can tell if a plant needs to be watered by looking at its overall condition. Its leaves will become dry, wrinkly, and brown around the edges. In severe cases, the plant might begin to die or stop growing properly. Its pot will also be light upon lifting it up.

– When the Plant Begins to Droop

Many of you ask us, “How to tell if outdoor plants need water?”. The answer to this is that both outdoor and indoor plants will begin to wilt and droop when they are dehydrated. Plants need water to hold their stems and leaves upright.

Plants that have gotten dehydrated will have their leaves drooping down instead of being upright. Of course, several plant problems can cause this thing to occur. When the plant perks up again after watering, this means that the plant was starved for watering.

– Lift the Pot to See How Light It Is

Here is a quick little tip to see if the plant needs watering or not: lift its pot up. Of course, this method only works on a small potted plant or plants potted in the soil. This method gives a reasonably good estimate for smaller plants potted in containers.

Lifting Pot to See How Light It Is PlantAmerica

When any plant is watered, some of this water is absorbed by the soil and taken into the roots. As a result, there is a measurable increase in the weight of the pot compared to how it was before watering. You can feel the weight more accurately as you become regular with watering.

– If the Leaves Are Turning Yellow or Brown

If you are wondering how to tell if a plant is overwatered or underwatered, then look at the color of its leaves. Brown leaves are almost always because of either sunburn or dehydration. The leaves begin to get dehydrated by turning crispy around their edges. On the other hand, the sunburnt leaves turn brown in the form of large spots.

Interestingly, plant leaves may turn yellow in both underwatered and overwatered conditions. When plants need water and are chronically deprived of adequate hydration, their leaves become thin and yellow. Sometimes, the leaves become so crispy that they break into small pieces.

The leaves of a healthy plant are supposed to be plump and shapely. Thin leaves with a paper-like texture indicate that the plant is not receiving adequate water. Simply fixing a dry plant’s watering will cause the dry leaves to become plump again.

– See if the Plant Has Stopped Growing

Of course, there are several reasons why plants stop growing, but underwatering is at the top of them all. Many of you need clarification about how much water to give plants in pots or on the ground. The result is that the plant is always left starving, and its growth suffers.

Plant Stopped Growing PlantAmerica

Even desert plants like succulents need to be watered when their soil dries up halfway from the top. Not to mention that the water needs of all plants increase during summer and hot weather. Watering is the issue if your plant is not growing despite good lighting and feeding.

How Do You Water Plants That Need Water?

Plants that need water should be watered during cooler times of the day with light but consistent watering. If the soil is dry from the top two inches, then water the soil around the plant. Always use a copious quantity of water and allow the rest to drain.

– Check the Soil First

Check the soil first before you water your plants at a set time. The soil needs to be dry at least two inches from the surface towards the bottom. It takes longer for the soil to dry this much during winter time as compared to summer. That is why it is safer to use a finger or a moisture meter to determine exactly how dry the topsoil is.

– Water the Soil Thoroughly

Take at least three to four minutes while watering any plant. This ensures that the soil is adequately moistened from top to bottom. The volume of water used each time should be almost as much as the container in which the plant is potted.

Watering Soil Thoroughly PlantAmerica

Do not worry about overwatering the plant this way. If the drainage capacity of the pot and the soil is adequate, all the extra water will drain out and collect in the tray underneath. While watering, the water beam should be aimed towards the soil around the plant stems. The stem and the leaves do not need to be bathed with water each time.

– Use the Right Type of Water

Once you determine whether plants need water or soil food, the next step is choosing the right type of water. Only a few houseplants are hardy enough to withstand all kinds of water. Water filtered through reverse osmosis is very safe for plants but might lack certain essential nutrients.

Studies show that rainwater collected and used soon after causes the plants to grow most healthily. Fortunately, tap water in most US states is fit for use on plants. This saves a lot of money on watering, especially for those who own indoor plants that need water every day.


Let us quickly summarize how to determine the water needs of any plant here:

  • When the soil looks light in color and is dry to the touch, it is time to water it.
  • Most plants should be watered when soil dries up in the top two inches.
  • How to tell if a plant is overwatered or underwatered? Lift the container up and see if it feels heavier or lighter. Overwatered soil not only causes root rot but also leads to the production of fungus gnats.

This comprehensive article taught you how to tell if a plant needs water or sun. Use any of the above mentioned methods and see how much your watering improves!

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