We all love Philodendrons because they are usually pretty easy to care for, and their abundance of leaves adds interest to our homes. We know we have to take good care of them to keep them looking good, which includes watering them correctly, but what exactly does that mean? What is the proper way to water a Philodendron? How much do they need? And, does humidity make a difference?
Almost all varieties of Philodendron like to live in soil that stays evenly moist, meaning there is always some water content that the plant can utilize. Rather than watering on a set schedule, wait until the top one to two inches of soil has dried out before watering your plant. Even though the topsoil has dried out, moisture is still available to the plant lower in the pot.
If you’ve read articles from this website, you’ve probably realized how important watering is to the overall health of most houseplants, including Philodendrons. This point is always stressed because overwatering is often the cause of many of the most common care issues people experience.
In this article, we’ll go through the importance of watering Philodendrons, and we’ll cover all the important questions, like how much, how often, and the best watering method to use. We’ll also touch on the topic of humidity and its role in your Philodendron’s health and growth.
Philodendrons in the Wild
As with most tropical houseplants, the Philodendrons we see in the plant shops have been cultivated from varieties found living wild across the globe. In fact, with almost 500 different species in the genus, Philodendrons have quite the native range, typically found across the tropical Americas and Caribbean, as well as in rainforests across Asia.
Mainly, what all of these areas have in common are warm climates, lots of humidity, and of course, a good amount of rainfall. Because of this, most Philodendrons have adapted to grow in moist, well-draining soil, where there’s always water available to be taken up by the plant.
It’s a good idea to keep this in mind when creating a space for your Philodendron in your home. By mimicking the attributes of its natural habitat, you’ll be setting your plant up for success in terms of health, growth, and size.
How Much Water Does a Philodendron Need?
While researching this article, I ran across many inquiries requesting specifics on exactly how much water a Philodendron needs or how often you need to water a specific variety. How much and when to water plants can’t be that exact. There are lots of factors that go into how much water a plant can utilize over a period of time, including temperature, humidity, plant size, pot size, soil conditions, and so on.
Unfortunately, plant care isn’t often as easy as setting a weekly watering schedule and sticking to it. In fact, that can lead to some serious issues, most commonly overwatering.
In general terms, Philodendrons need enough water to keep the soil evenly moist, so there’s always water for the plant to utilize for important systemic functions. Overall, you see the best results in terms of health, leaf production, and growth rate when you optimize how much water is available for use.
Philodendrons can handle underwatering to some extent, but I wouldn’t consider them to be drought tolerant, like say, a ZZ Plant. In most cases, Philodendrons will still perform okay when subjected to conditions drier than their preferred “evenly moist” soil, but if you push it too far, you will quickly notice signs of underwatering, mainly wilting, shriveled leaves, leaf curl, or burnt leaf tips.
Ultimately, you need to find the right balance to achieve “evenly moist” soil. So, what does that even mean, and how do you go about doing it?
How to Tell When It’s Time to Water Your Philodendron?
First of all, let’s talk about “evenly moist” soil. All this really means is that Philodendrons love to have a little bit of moisture in the soil at all times. They don’t like it too wet, when their root systems can get waterlogged, and they don’t like it too dry, when there’s a danger of dehydration.
As you can see, there seems to be a fine line between too wet and too dry, but luckily, there is a general rule of thumb that can make determining when to water super easy for you. Throw out your set watering schedule and say goodbye to “Watering Wednesdays”, because from now on, you are only going to water your Philodendron when the first one to two inches of topsoil have dried out.
About once a week, you should actually stick a finger down into the topsoil of your planter to feel the dirt. If it is still wet to the touch or bits of soil are sticking to your finger, your plant likely doesn’t need any extra water. Continue doing this every few days until the topsoil is dry. Then, and only then, should you water your plant.
This method works well because, even though the topsoil is drying out completely, there is still plenty of moisture lower in the pot, so your plant isn’t in any immediate danger of drought-like conditions. On the other hand, if there is too much moisture in the soil, it will continue to absorb into the topsoil, keeping it wet to the touch, and you’ll know to wait it out a few more days.
Also, this helps eliminate variables that can affect how often your plant needs water. Regardless of whether it’s been cold or hot, dry or humid, winter or summer, by testing to see how dry the topsoil is, you’ll always know when your plant needs water. Just be aware that these variables will increase or decrease your plant’s need significantly, so be sure you are checking the soil frequently enough.
Using the finger test, you’re essentially safeguarding your Philodendron against overwatering and underwatering conditions, which can be detrimental to your plant’s health.
How to Properly Water Your Philodendron
Once you have determined it is time to water your Philodendron, give your plant a deep drink. The idea is to saturate all the soil with water, allowing it to absorb as much as it can before the excess liquid drains from the bottom of the pot. Some people like to give all of their houseplants smaller sips of water more frequently in an effort to keep the soil moist, but that is a risky practice since it’s hard to tell how much water is in the pot when the topsoil is always wet.
A deep watering allows the soil to absorb a lot of moisture at once, unlocking micro- and macronutrients, salts, and minerals to be readily taken in by the root system. As the soil begins to drain and dry, gas exchange can resume, and the risk of root rot is diminished. Although a deep watering may sound like overkill, I assure you that as long as your plant has well-aerated soil and a drainage hole, there’s no risk of overwatering.
Another method of watering that many people like to utilize is bottom-up watering. This is essentially watering your plant by sticking it in a water tray and allowing the soil to absorb it through the drainage hole. This is a perfectly acceptable way to water Philodendrons; many varieties respond well to it, so if you have the setup for this or are used to watering plants this way, by all means, continue doing it.
You can still use the finger test to determine when it is time to water but just know that each time you bottom-up water, you’ll want to leave your plant in the tray long enough for the soil to absorb liquid all the way up to the topsoil.
Also, be aware that if you tend to get salt buildups or have particularly hard water, bottom-up watering doesn’t flush the soil as well as top watering does. You may need to pay special attention to any buildup that happens in the soil and be mindful of how often you are fertilizing.
I tend to stick to top watering my Philodendrons mainly because it’s easy. Plus, since I’m always sticking my fingers in the soil, a thorough top-watering session helps smooth out the topsoil for the next week or two.
A Note on Tap Water
I’ve seen a lot of questions about whether houseplants, including Philodendrons, do well when watered with tap water. In my experience, I would say that in most cases, watering your plants with tap water is totally fine. If you are concerned your tap water isn’t all that great, you can always fill a pitcher with it and leave it on the counter overnight before watering your plants. This allows for certain chemical additives, like chlorine, to evaporate out, leaving it slightly cleaner.
If you have hard or soft water, you may want to pay extra attention to your plant’s health. Both mineral and salt buildups in the soil can be an issue if you have particularly unbalanced tap water, so if you’re dealing with one of these extremes, you might want to consider buying some distilled water for your indoor plants.
Drainage: The Other Half of Proper Watering
When speaking on the topic of proper watering, we also need to address the other key component of proper drainage. It doesn’t matter if your watering habits are on point if the drainage in your plant’s pot is terrible. Good watering only happens when the system has good drainage, as well. This means a couple of different things.
First, the container your Philodendron is planted in should have a drainage hole. Yes, of course you can get by without one, but I’ll tell you it is a lot harder to manage your plant’s watering needs when the system is closed. Before you know it, the soil is saturated, and you’re dealing with all kinds of issues, from yellowing leaves to root rot.
So, put your plant in a pot with a drainage hole. If you don’t want to drill a hole in a fancy West Elm planter, at least put your plant into something with drainage that you can slip into your nicer pot. Trust me…it’ll save you from numerous headaches.
Second, you need to pay attention to the condition of the potting soil. Most potting soils are specifically formulated to be well-aerated, porous mediums that allow water to drain through them. This is a good thing and helps regulate how much moisture is held against the root system.
However, over time, either through compaction or depletion, the soil gets tired and dense, creating environments that can either hold too much water or can’t hold enough. This is when things can get really wonky because even if you are watering your plant properly, the soil isn’t allowing the moisture to be available when the plant needs it.
If you suspect your soil has poor drainage, it’s probably time to repot your Philodendron into new potting soil. To ensure superior drainage, consider mixing in extra pumice, perlite, or cactus/succulent soil, all of which keep the soil mixture airy and light.
By addressing both drainage and watering issues together, you can ensure your plant is getting just the right amount of moisture it needs to thrive.
How Does Humidity Fit In?
Just like proper watering, humidity plays an important role in how well your Philodendron performs. Proper humidity levels can create many benefits for your plant, including bolstering its growth rate, aiding in new leaf unfurling, and encouraging larger leaf growth.
Humidity also impacts aspects of watering, as well. Less humid environments tend to speed up evaporation from both the plant and topsoil, impacting how often you may need to water your plant. It can also affect your plant’s rate of respiration through leaf stoma, again impacting how much water is available to the plant.
In general, Philodendrons will do just fine in most indoor climates, where humidity levels tend to hover between 40-60%. If you want to ensure the benefits that come with higher humidity levels, or perhaps you live in a very dry area, you can always supplement with a room humidifier to keep that level closer to 60%.
I tend not to bother with misting my plants or using pebble trays filled with water, as both of these methods tend to make only fractional changes to humidity levels for short periods of time. If it works well for you, by all means, continue to use them, but I like the convenience of my small room humidifier to manage the humidity level automatically.
Another good solution is to place your Philodendron in a bright bathroom. The steam from the shower or bath tends to keep humidity levels higher than the rest of the house. Just make sure your plant still has access to some good sunlight.
When it comes down to it, there’s not a whole lot you need to know about how to properly water your Philodendrons. As long as you are using the finger test to track the moisture content of the soil, you’ll always know the right time to give your plant a drink.
Aside from that, make sure your Philodendron is planted in quality potting soil that is well-aerated and has good drainage. And, once more, please make sure the pot has a drainage hole! As soon as you dial in your watering habits, I am confident you will start seeing a more vigorous, robust, and healthier Philodendron in your home. To further your reading, take a look over the nine tips for encouraging Philodendron growth.