How to Water your Houseplant

Last month my mom was visiting to help me with my new little baby girl. While she was visiting, she asked me about one of her houseplants. It was a pretty interesting conversation… and I’ll admit, she’s struggled through the years as many people have with her plants dying. She wasn’t sure how to correctly water plants.

Want to watch different watering techniques? Check out my youtube video below!

So… what was the first question that she asked me? She asked if yellow leaves were a sign of overwatering or underwatering.

My honest reply was that it can be a sign of either over-watering or under-watering.

With an exasperated sigh, she threw up her hands and said “Then how do I know if I need to water it more or if I need to stop?!”

“Well…” I replied, “is the soil wet?”

This question always seems to get people thinking. Hmm… Is the soil wet? Most people wouldn’t know. My mom didn’t remember. She said her plant had died a while back and she couldn’t remember if the soil was wet or dry…

So the moral of this story is that watering can be hard, but ultimately we are trying to find out if our soil is wet or dry.
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Is it wet? Or is it dry?

This is very hard to tell by simply looking at the top of the soil. This is because with gravity, water will naturally sink to the bottom of the pot. And if your pot doesn’t have drainage holes, then it can create a rather large pool of water in the potting mix at the bottom, while appearing to be dry on top of the soil. So, instead of just looking at the soil, I’ve got 3 ways you can tell if your soil is dry, or if it is actually wet down below.

1 – Feel the Soil

Now, I don’t mean just feel the top of the soil. I mean stick your finger as deep as you can down into the soil. This will allow you to usually feel a few inches down into the soil (depending on the size of your pot), and you should be able to feel if there is still moisture. Then you will be able to tell if your plant’s soil is dry all the way through, or if there is still moisture down below the surface of the soil. This method works great for any medium or small plant you have, but it isn’t as effective when you are trying to guage the moisture level in large pots.

placing finger into houseplant soil.

2 – Weigh your Pot

The second way to tell how moist or dry your plant’s soil has become is to pick up your plant and weigh it in your hands. After lifting your plant a few times, you will begin to be able to feel if your plant is heavier than usual, or if it is lighter than usual. A light pot means that your soil is dry. A heavy pot, on the other hand, means that there is still some water in your soil that is weighing it down. This method also works best for medium to small pots, but it can be difficult to constantly be lifting one of your larger houseplants.

hand lifting scindapsus plant in macrame hanger

3 – Use a Soil Moisture Meter

The third way to check if the soil is wet (and my FAVORITE way!) is to use a soil moisture meter. These devices are pretty cheap and can be purchased at any major garden center, or find my favorite one here! With a soil moisture meter, you simply place the probe into the soil (making sure that you push it down enough that it gets an accurate reading of the bottom of the pot), and it will tell you how dry, moist, or wet your soil is! That’s all there is to it!

soil moisture meter reading "moist" in houseplant soil

This brings me to a few questions that people regularly ask about watering…

How often should I water my houseplants?

This question has a lot going on. First, as a plant parent, you should never have a set schedule of watering your plants. This is because there are a lot of factors that will change how often you will need to water. For example, some things that might affect how much water your plant uses is:

  • the soil mixture/type
  • the amount of light it is receiving
  • the size of the pot
  • the general room temperature
  • how much water you added when you last watered

Your houseplant’s watering schedule will even change between the seasons, as it will use more water during the spring, summer, and fall, but will use less water during the winter. So there really isn’t a set number of days you should be watering your houseplant. Instead, the easiest way to gauge if your plant needs soil or not is to follow the guidelines above to determine if you have moist soil or dry soil.

After realizing that you will never have a set plant watering routine, you might be wondering…

What is the Best Way to Water Houseplants?

A lot of plant parents ask if they should be top watering or bottom watering their plants. And I know that bottom watering does have its benefits, but top watering is also very convenient. And top watering is how we water all of our outdoor plants, right?! So let me just say, the best way to water your houseplants is to simply make sure that you water your plant evenly, you add enough water to thoroughly soak the root ball, and you drain off any excess water (so you don’t have root rot issues!). As long as you follow these general rules, than either top or bottom watering can work for you. If you are still unsure, though, check out my video on Should you Top or Bottom Water your Plants?

two snake plants in pots sitting in tupperware full of water. hand lifting one snake plant out to drain excess water.

Side note, however, is that if you are struggling with fungus gnats, then I suggest you only bottom water for several months. This is because these gnats lay their eggs in the top few inches of soil, where the larvae need soggy soil to survive. When you top water, you are giving these fungus gnats exactly what they need to survive. If you switch to bottom watering, however, this will keep the top of your soil relatively dry, which will in turn keep the gnats away!

Next I get asked a lot about watering types…

What is the best type of water?

To this, once again, it depends! A lot of plants will do okay with tap water (as long as you don’t have too much chlorine and chemicals within your water). But there are a few that specifically HATE the chlorine that is found in tap water. For people with these types of plants, (or with hard chlorinated water), the best option is to water your plants with either filtered water or distilled water. This will help keep the mineral levels low.

You can check out my post on 5 Signs your Plants need Filtered Water if you’re unsure.

Some people also swear by leaving their water out for a few hours to let the chlorine evaporate into the air, and this might work for you, but with those of us who have multiple plants, this watering method simply isn’t reasonable… unless you want me tripping over buckets of water all through my house! Haha!

You can also check out my video where I tested my own water filter to see if it really removed the chemicals or not…

The next question that I wanted to address is when people ask the following…

What does it mean to water thoroughly?

This is a phrase that plant people LOVE to throw around and it can make beginner plant parents confused… What does it mean to water a plant thoroughly?! But all we are saying is to water around all sides of the pot, with a large enough amount of water to soak into the entire rootball (from top to bottom). Then as long as you have good drainage, your house plants should drain off any extra water and you will be left with the perfectly watered plant!

watering can spout adding water to ivy plant sitting in sink

And the last tip that I wanted to leave you with, is to…

Know Your Plant!

I know this might take a little research, but it is extremely important!!! The type of plant you have will help decide how wet or dry you leave the soil in between watering. Some plants like it more moist (like african violets and spider plants), but the majority of indoor plants need it to get a bit dry before watering again (like snake plants and money trees). (Don’t let them get too dry though! We don’t want them to feel like they’re living in the Mojave Desert!)

If you want the shortcut, I have a special deal for my readers on the Indoor Plant Guide A-Z. This is a comprehensive care guide to over 130+ popular houseplants. So you can cut the endless google searches and have everything you need to know for your houseplants all in one spot.

And now, to state this once again as the ULTIMATE GAME-CHANGER for all plant parents…

Soil Moisture Meters

The last thing you need to do if you struggle with knowing how to water houseplants is to purchase a water moisture meter. You can stick your moisture meter (also called a soil moisture gauge) into the soil and the meter will tell you exactly how wet or dry your potted plant is. Then as soon as the meter gets into the dry portion of your gauge, you add water. And if it isn’t in the dry portion, then please don’t add water! 

This moisture meter is the #1 tool that I recommend to all plant parents. Why? Because it works! (And I also love that it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to purchase, either!)

hand holding dry soil above houseplant in pot

So to wrap everything up… if you know what type of plant you own and you know what kind of watering it likes, and then you follow these general guidelines to water the correct way, and if your plant is still dying… Well then you at least know that it isn’t because of water. Try something else. And check out my post on 10 quick tips to keep your indoor plants alive! Or join the Facebook group, Houseplants for Plant Killers and let me know what’s going on! I absolutely love helping people with their plant questions!

Happy digging!

P.S. – For more watering specifics, check out my posts below!

How to Water Air Plants the RIGHT way!

How Often should I water my Succulents?

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The 5 Signs your Plants Need Filtered Water

Do you REALLY need filtered water for your plants? I know there is a huge controversy about benefits vs costs, but after doing some research (… a LOT of research…), I’ve found that yes, effects can be small. But small things add up. 

A favorite podcaster of mine always stresses this when he points out that if you had a penny that doubled every day for only 30 days, by the end of the month you would have over 5 MILLION dollars! Just from a single penny! (Rob Dial, The Mindset Mentor)

So when I think about watering my plants, I think about how many drops I am giving them every day, every week, every year. It really adds up! And that’s why I use filtered water.

But the decision is ultimately up to you. I’m just here to point out the 5 signs that your plants might need filtered water. 

*Note: This post contains affiliate links, which if purchased, I will receive a small portion of the profits. This helps me keep providing this information to all of you. But, I only promote products that I have personally tried and love!*

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Sign #1 – Brown leaf tips, or brown, dying spots

Brown leaf tips and brown, dying (necrotic) spots can be caused by a few different factors, but they have both been linked to problems with water contamination. Now, this isn’t saying that your tap water is dangerous to drink… instead, it’s just dangerous to some of your more sensitive plants.

These two contaminants are chlorine, a chemical used to kill harmful bacteria in water, and flouride, a chemical that is actually added to water as it helps people have healthier teeth.

An excess of chlorine is what contributes to brown leaf tips in sensitive plants. These plants include: palms, spider plants, dracaena, azaleas, camellias, gardenias, etc.

An excess of fluoride, however, causes necrotic spots along leaf edges. These fluoride-sensitive plants include those listed above as well as ti plants, prayer plants, and calatheas.

So if your plants are showing either of these symptoms, then it’s a sign you need filtered water.

Sign #2 – It’s hot outside

You might not know this, but the concentration of chemicals in your drinking water will actually change with the weather. This is because most water treatment plants are outdoors, and the variation in temperatures can cause different levels of bacterial and microbial growth.

It has been seen that as it gets hotter, water treatment plants need to use more chlorine than usual to kill these microbes. So if it’s getting hot outside, then not only will your plants need more water, but they will also have a higher chance of absorbing too much chlorine.

https://medium.com/@HomeWaterPros/chlorine-levels-in-drinking-water-reach-their-peak-during-the-end-of-summer-77e4f8b72358

Sign #3 – Your Soil is Turning White

A common question that a lot of people ask me is… “What is that white stuff on my soil? And how do I get rid of it?” The short answer is, this is a mineral build-up, and you need to leach it from the soil.

The problem with this short answer, though, is that this mineral build-up is most commonly caused by sodium carbonate… a chemical used to “soften” water (which usually makes it taste better when we drink it). 

These salts, while they might not be too harmful to us, can eventually lead to some major problems for our plants, especially if the soil is never replaced or leached. (After all, there’s a reason why the Salt Flats don’t have a lot of vegetation y’all!)

So, I recommend that people leach out their pots… (running a bunch of water through the soil to flush out any harmful chemicals or built-up minerals). This will be harder for those of you with garden plants, but even with indoor plants, it can take a lot of time and a warm location where the soil can dry.

The one problem, though, is how useful is leaching if you’re using the same water that contains the same amounts of sodium as before? So you see how it really is a short-term solution that doesn’t change the root of the problem.

Sign #4 – Your Plant isn’t Growing as Big

This sign is mainly for outdoor and garden plants, but it can also apply to indoor plants.

To dive into the “why” of this sign, we need to remember that water treatment plants have the goal to kill microbes that are living in our water. In fact, it is the water treatment plants that help keep us safe from cholera, E. coli, and Giardia. So they add chlorine, trihalomethanes (TTHM), and haloacetic acids (HAA5) to our water to kill any living microbes.

The problem with this, though, is that it kills beneficial microbes as well.

These beneficial microbes (like mycorrhizae) help break down nutrients in the soil so they can be absorbed by the plant roots. This is one reason why most quality fertilizers contain beneficial microbes.

So if your plants aren’t growing as fast, it could be because the chemicals in your water are killing these beneficial microbes, leaving your plants on their own.

https://extension.umd.edu/resource/chlorine-toxicity

Sign #5 – You’re Not on Well Water

Well water can actually be better for plants than city water because it usually has fewer disinfecting chemicals, less or no fluoride, and higher mineral (a.k.a. nutrient) concentrations. But if you’re on “city” water, then you might like it more, but your plants will get the short end of the stick!

Those are the 5 signs that your plants need filtered water.

And if you’re now thinking you need a filter, I personally use and love this water filter system from GrowMax Water. I chose this one because I can use it for my indoor plants all winter (when it’s cold outside!), and then I can bring it outdoors in the summer to use for my garden!

It’s super light and connects to both under my sink, and onto my spigot! I just love this little guy!

filter option if your plants need filtered water

If you have any more plant-related questions, feel free to comment below or shoot me an email. You can also join my Facebook group, “Houseplants for Plant Killers” to receive personalized help and plant tips whenever you need!

Happy Digging!

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3 Steps to Quickly Save your Overwatered Succulents

Overwatered. The one word that every succulent owner comes to know and fear at least once during their plant journey. But don’t worry. An overwatered succulent is on the path to dying, but by immediately doing these three steps, you might be able to preserve at least a part of your beloved plant! So here are the three things you need to do as soon as you notice that your succulent has been overwatered.

*Note: For those of you who want to watch all of the steps, here is my video where I go through exactly what you need to do to save your over-watered succulents!*

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Step #1: Prepare the Roots

Take your succulent out of its current pot and remove as much of the soil as possible from its roots. This can be done by holding your succulent above a bowl or a tray and gently massage the root system to allow the soil to fall into the tray. If your soil is very wet, then you might have to support some of the roots to keep the wet soil from ripping the roots off when it falls.

Another way to gently remove soil from the roots is to use water to wash off the soil. This is best done outdoors with a hose to avoid getting soil down an indoor drain system.

Overwatered Succulent Roots

Depending on how much root rot has occurred, some of you might still have a root system to work with, while others of you might not have any root system left. This is seen when the stem of the plant is mushy and separates from the root system easily. However, if you do have a root system remaining, then let any roots lightly air dry in a warm location for about 20 minutes to an hour. Make sure that this succulent (and its roots!) stay out of direct sunlight!

Step #2: Remove Dead Portions

If you have a root system that is still attached to your plant, then simply trim off and remove any black or mushy roots. Then pour hydrogen peroxide over the roots that remain. The hydrogen peroxide will help kill any bacteria rot in the roots!

Hydrogen Peroxide on Succulent Roots

If you don’t have a root system left, then assess the stem of your succulent. Trim off any portion of the stem that is discolored. This should leave you with only a top portion of the plant remaining. If the majority of the stem is discolored, try to take off a few of the best-looking leaves to prepare for the third and final step. Try to take leaves from the top of the plant as these are always the last to become affected by overwatering. Just keep in mind that you will want to try to choose any fully-formed leaves as leaves that are just starting to grow from the top won’t be as easy to propagate.

Step #3: Repot or Propagate

If your root system is still intact, then let it lightly dry out before repotting. When placing it back into soil, you will want to correct any issues that were causing it to be overwatered. Three things that you can adjust is to either repot your succulent into a smaller pot, repot it into a pot with better drainage (either switch to a clay pot, a pot with larger drainage holes, or both!), or repot it using a lighter soil (such as a cactus and succulent mix, or a perlite mix).

For those of you who only have a stem or leaves left, then you will need to start by drying your cuttings out for a few days (1-2 days away from direct sunlight). Then propagate them by using the instructions found in my post How to Propagate Succulents.

Another great tool to help you avoid overwatering in the future is to use a soil moisture meter. I have personally never overwatered a single plant since purchasing this soil moisture meter! It really is a game-changer!

Well I hope that this process goes well for you and your succulent. It can be a very delicate process as you save your succulent from being overwatered. I hope that this 3-step process has helped you to have success. And once again, be sure to buy a soil moisture meter to prevent this from ever happening again!

Please leave any additional comments or questions below and sign up for my email list to receive even more tips and tricks to help keep your houseplants alive!

Happy Digging!

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How to Stop Over Watering your Succulents

I get it. You buy a succulent, you lovingly water it, and then three days later it has died… What went wrong?! Then you discover the ugly truth. You’ve been over watering your succulents! Don’t worry. We’ve all been there. But how exactly do you stop? And how do you keep your little guys alive?! Keep reading, cause I’ll show you exactly how to stop over watering your succulents!

There are a couple of different reasons why your succulent is being over watered. First, it could be because you are simply adding too much water to its pot.

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Reason #1: Using Too Much Water

To fix this, only add small amounts of water each time you are watering.

Sounds simple, right?!

Well, it can actually be super difficult if you’re using a regular watering can to water those tiny little pots.

This is why it’s BEST to water your succulents with one of these!

These succulent watering bottles are designed to give you the ultimate control over how much your succulent is watered. It also has a small nozzle, which positions the water stream to exactly where you want it! No more wet succulent leaves, and no more wet plant shelves!

Reason #2: Not Enough Drainage

The next thing to consider with over watering succulents is how fast your water is draining out of its pot.

In a succulent’s native habitat, water will move quickly into, then out of a plant’s reach. This is done either through the water quickly sinking down through the sandy or rocky soil, or water will escape through evaporation due to the sun’s heat. Either way, the soil does not stay wet for long.

Which means… succulents are not accustomed to having their roots constantly wet. In fact, they’re used to having moderately dry roots.

Because of this, we need to allow the water in our own pots to move down and out of the soil.

To do this, we will need:

  1. Soil that drains well
  2. Pots that drain well

Well-Draining Soil

For well-draining soil, either amend regular soil with sand and perlite (at a rate of 1/3 soil, 1/3 sand, and 1/3 perlite), or consider purchasing a pre-mixed soil, such as this cactus and succulent soil!

Well-Draining Pots

To have well-draining pots, first make sure that your pot’s soil-to-root ratio is correct. (A.k.a., don’t use a large pot for a small succulent). This is extremely important!!!

If your succulent is small, use a small pot.

Also, look for shallow pots. Don’t purchase anything too deep.

Then, make sure that your pots have drainage holes!!!

I can’t stress this enough! Succulents NEED pots with drainage holes!

If you want to group your succulents together, get a pot that is specifically made for grouping succulents. These will be shallow, wide, and have drainage holes. Check out these pots for succulent groupings.

And for pot ideas, check out my post on Indoor Plant Pots. Just make sure you pick out pots that are proportionate to the size of your succulents!!!

So remember, add less water, and improve drainage of your soil and your pots! If you do all of these above steps, you will never over water your succulents again! Let me know if you have any more succulent-related questions in the comments below! And for more succulent tips, check out my post on Succulent Care, or my post, How Often should I Water my Succulent?!

Happy Digging!

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How to Water your Air Plants the RIGHT Way!

Hey everyone! I know that we all LOVE air plants, but how the heck do you water something without any roots or any soil?!?! Well today I’m going to tell you exactly how to water your air plants so they stay happy and thriving!

Now there are two different methods. First is if your air plant is mounted/hot glued/fixed in any way to it’s stand. The second method (which is the preferred method) is for if your air plant is separate and can be removed from its mount, or if the mount is waterproof. So keep reading and use whichever method applies to you! But first, before you learn HOW to water your air plants, you need to make sure you’re using the correct TYPE of water…

If you want overall care tips for your air plant, check out my post here on air plant care!

Want to boost your air plant collection?! You can get some awesome air plants here!

**Note: This post contains affiliate links, which if purchased, I will receive a portion of the profits at no extra cost to you. This helps me to keep providing you with such awesome information!**

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What Kind of Water to Use for Air Plants

Unlike most other houseplants, air plants DON’T like distilled water! If it’s a choice between distilled or tap water, go with tap water every time! The main harm with tap water is its chlorine. But for this, you can simply leave your water out for about 30 minutes to allow the chlorine to dissipate. This should be your easiest choice of water.

To go to the next level with your watering, choose a natural source, such as rain water, pond water, or lake water. While the rain water is what your plant is used to in its natural habitat, spring water, pond water, or lake water can also be extremely good for your air plants because it is usually rich in nutrients. Another alternative to these is if you have an aquarium. Aquarium water can also be highly beneficial to air plants as your air plant can get added nutrients from this water as well.

The only recommendation that I have, however, is if you use one of these water sources that already contains nutrients, then hold off on the fertilizer. If you use both, then it could potentially be too much for your little guy!

Now… on to the exact methods!

How to Water Air Plants Method 1: Fixed to a Mount

If your air plant is fixed to a mount or a stand, then the best way to water your plant will be through misting. This can be tricky though as most people who mist their air plants end up with rotted, dead plants. (Trust me! I know from personal experience!!!)

To correctly mist your air plant, the important thing is to think of it more like a shower than a misting. Spray it with a spray bottle or a misting bottle until the leaves are dripping with water. (I would recommend placing it in a sink or on a towel while you do this).

The next two tips are vital to avoid rotting your plant! These two tips are: turn your plant upside down, and give it good air circulation.

After you mist your plant you should place it upside down for 10-15 minutes to allow any excess water drain out of the plant. This is vital! Air plants aren’t like bromeliads that can keep water cupped in their leaves. If you do this to your air plant, it will most likely die on you. Instead, give it a good shake and place it in a position where all of the excess water can drain out.

This was my first big lesson with air plants. My first tillandsia was glued into a hanging glass globe. Little did I know that while I was spraying it down, all of the excess water was collecting in the bottom of those glued-in rocks, which was cradling the very center of my air plant… And let’s just say, it didn’t appreciate the long-term bath! So please remember to drain any excess water off of your air plant!!!

Next, make sure that your plant has good air circulation while it is drying. Normal indoor air circulation is fine, but if your plants are in glass terrariums, or in some of those glass globes (like my first air plant), then you’ll need to help it out a bit with a light fan. This will help to avoid any rotting from excess moisture.

Once it has finished soaking up all of the water and has completely dried, then you will be good to go! Simply follow this spray, shake, and circulate a couple times each week dependent on the temperature and the amount of indirect sunlight. Then watch your beautiful plant thrive!

How to Water Air Plants Method 2: Removable Air Plant

The soaking method, or the water bath method, is the preferred method of watering and I recommend purchasing your air plants separately from their container for this reason. It will be a lot easier for you and your plant in the long run. However, note that the xeric air plants, (most air plants with fuzzy leaves, such as the tillandsia tectorum, or the tillandsia xerographica) don’t like as much water and will do best with the misting method mentioned above.

So what you do for this situation is… once every 7-10 days, fill up a large bowl (or your sink or tub depending on how many air plants you own) with lukewarm water and place your air plants inside. Leave them to soak for several hours. Your goal here is to give your plants a good soak. Let them absorb as much water as they possibly can. I’ve heard of some people leaving their air plants to soak for up to twelve hours!

After they are done soaking, then you NEED to place them upside down on a towel or dish cloth to drain. Let them drain for about 4 hours, or until they are completely dry. If you live in a humid climate, you can also speed up the drying process by placing a fan nearby to increase air circulation.

After the plant is completely dry, then it is ready to place back on its stand and wait anther 7-10 days to water it again. If the tips begin to turn brown, lightly mist your plant a few times during the week, or increase your watering frequency.

How Often Do I Water my Air Plant?

To know how often to water your air plant, you will need to consider several different factors. First, it will help if you know the genus tillandsia that you have. This will help you know if it comes from a humid environment, like south america, or if it comes from a more arid climate, like found in central america. Then, factoring in how much indirect light it is receiving, you can start off with an estimate of whether it would like more frequent or less frequent waterings. A good rule of thumb is to give your air plant small amounts of water. Then, if the tips of the leaves begin to brown, you will know to slightly increase your watering.

I hope this helps! Let’s keep our air plants happy and well-watered (but not rotting!!!) And if you have any questions or comments, feel free to join the Facebook group, Houseplants for Plant Killers or follow me on Youtube! I love hearing from you!

Happy Digging!

Frequently Asked Questions:

How Often do Air Plants Need to be Watered?

The frequency of water will change with both the time of year, the indoor humidity levels, and how much light your plant is getting. As a general rule of thumb, however, you should expect to give your air plant a good soak every 7 to 10 days.

Can you Soak Air Plants in Tap Water?

Yes. You can use tap water to soak your air plants. The best practice, though is to fill your bucket of water, then leave it out for at least 15-30 minutes to let the chlorine evaporate out. This will be much healthier for your plant without you sacrificing too much of your time.

Do Air Plants Need Sun?

Yes. They need sunlight. But not all tillandsia species do well with DIRECT sunlight. Instead, they do much better with lots of indirect, bright light. In general, if your plant has a lighter, pale color, then it will do better with more sun. If your plant is more vibrant in color, then it will most likely be fine in lower light or fluorescent light conditions.

How do you Water an Air Plant without Soaking It?

To water an air plant without soaking it, you can use the spray/misting method mentioned above. This will require more frequent watering, but is necessary for plants that are secured to a non-waterproof base. If the spraying is still getting too much water on the plant stand, however, it would be better off to gently remove the air plant and soak once per week as recommended.

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