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Watering Houseplants

Are your plants getting too much water or not enough?

By: Sandy Feather 2009
Penn State Extension


Q. We have a very large Jade plant that we purchased at a garage sale last summer. It did well on our back deck for the summer. Its previous owner told us to water it "occasionally." We moved it back indoors for the winter, and it was fine for the first month or so. Now it is drooping and losing many of its leaves. It does not receive nearly the amount of light inside as did outdoors, so we put a lamp next to it. Should we fertilize it? Anything you can recommend would be appreciated - we would hate to lose it.

A. Drooping and leaf loss can be signs of drought stress. I am concerned about the previous owner's suggestion to water it "occasionally." Although jade plants (Crassula argentea) are succulents, they require as much water as any other houseplant. Unlike desert cacti that can get by on one or two applications of water a month, jade plants probably require weekly watering. It is always hard to say exactly how often a plant should be watered because so many factors come into play:
  

  • Time of year
    Actively growing plants use more water than those that are dormant (houseplants generally quit growing actively in the winter, even though they keep their leaves)
      
  • Room temperature
    Plants use more water in warm rooms than in cold ones.
      
  • Humidity
    Lack of humidity in our homes in the winter can mean you have to water more often than you realize.
      
  • Sun exposure
    Plants exposed to a lot of sun use more water than those grown in more shade.
      
  • Potting mix
    Heavier potting mixes that contain real soil hold moisture longer than artificial mixes composed of perlite, vermiculite, sand and/or bark.
      
  • Type of pot
    Clay pots dry out faster than plastic ones.

 

The easiest way to determine if a plant needs to be watered is to stick a finger down into the potting mix. If the top few inches of the potting mix have dried out, go ahead and water. If they are still moist, wait until they dry out before watering. It probably should be watered more frequently when it is outdoors and getting much more sun. Feel the soil to see how quickly the potting mix dries and water accordingly.

Jade tree

Jade plants prefer full sun in winter, and would be happiest in a south- or west-facing window. In summer, filter the sun from those exposures with a sheer curtain to avoid sunburned leaves. When putting it outside for the summer, chose a place where it gets full morning sun, but shade from the very hot afternoon sun. The lamp may not be sufficient to replace natural sunlight. If you can move it to a brighter location, that may help with the leaf drop, too.

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