How to Water Plants and Herbs

reviewed by Christina Lopez

Although watering seems simple enough, there is more to it than dumping a glass of water in a pot. It is vital to learn how to water herbs and plants correctly. As containerized plantings, they take extra care and practice to get it right. Improper watering is the leading cause of plant failure. Too much or too little leads to death.

I will walk you through some essential tips and tricks that will make watering second nature for you!

Why Are My Plants Dying: Improper Watering

Why Are My Plants Dying: Improper Watering
Why Are My Plants Dying: Improper Watering

I have found that most new gardeners suffer from failures due to water issues. It is often so much love that they water more frequently than necessary. No worries! It is OK. You are learning.

I was learning once, too, and did the same things!

Ways to Avoid Common Watering Mistakes

Ways to Avoid Common Watering Mistakes
Ways to Avoid Common Watering Mistakes

1. First and Most Important Point to Remember About Plant Water Needs!

They are not all the same.

Although many herbs have similar water requirements, some take special care. When it comes to houseplants, there is even more diversity.

Some plants like to be damp all the time, some dry as a desert. Always look up a specific plant type and know their exact water requirements.

2. Secondly, Over-watering can be Worse Than Under-watering

Plants that have been bogged down with swampy soil will limp faster than their dry cousins. Sadly too much water is harder to combat and recover from.

Allowing the plant to dry out well may save it. If the water has sat too long in the roots, it could have caused rot and disease. You need to identify over-watered plants right away. I recommend re-potting for a better chance of recovery when a plant has severe damage.

Allowing your plants to go a little thirsty is easier to recover from. Often an excellent hardy drink will lift them back up into production. They need to be carefully watched after. Repeatedly stressed plants become more vulnerable to disease and pest infestations.

3. Another Rarely Thought-about Factor is Your Water Itself!

Many people have county or Municipal water. Public waters are often treated with chemicals, including chlorine. These are harmful to any plants straight from the tap.

You can help your plant water with these tips:

  • leave the water to sit out uncovered for 24 hours before using it on your plants
  • recycle water used to boil vegetables if it has not been salted. Allow to cool and use on plants.
  • Get a rain barrel. Rainwater is excellent for your plants!

4. The Right Pots!

How to Water Plants and Herbs
How to Water Plants and Herbs

Drainage holes in your containers are essential to ensure balanced watering takes place. When no drainage holes exist, over-watering can occur. Your plant’s roots could rot by sitting in damp soil and a lack of air circulation.

Some containers that black holes can have added. I find an easy way with plastic pots is to use the tip of solder iron. It prevents cracking and provides excellent, even uniform holes. Metal or tins style pots can be drilled or punctured with an awl.

Glass pots become a bit trickier if pre-made holes do not exist. Look for planting inserts that match the size of your pots. These come with drain holes. You can still have your pretty, decorative pots with the benefits of essential drainage holes.

Throw Out the Watering Schedule

Routines make it easy for you, but plants rarely comply. Wouldn’t it be nice to say, “I will water plants on Monday and Friday”? Although this works for you, it rarely works out well for the plants. Your consistent watering could lead to over and under watering issues.

A plant watering schedule will never work! There are too many factors that can influence an individual plant’s water needs.

  •  Size of plant and its roots
  •  Size of container
  •  Type of Plant
  •  Time of the Year
  •  Ambient temperature and Evaporation

This is just an example of the different things that affect the timings of a herb or plant’s thirst. You will even find that some days they are thirstier than others for no reason at all.

Don’t Schedule, Test!

Most container plantings can be tested by sticking your finger in the soil about an inch. When it feels dry down that far, it is time to water. If you still feel moisture, it is not time yet.

They will not stay consistent either. As your plants grow or the seasons change, so will their water needs.

Top or Bottom – How to Water Herbs and Plants

There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods of watering. Nature itself would seem to prefer the top watering method. Think of rain. However, after the rain has passed, we miss that most of the water absorption done by a plant is through the ground moisture.

In containers, retained rainwater absorption is not a natural occurrence. The only way to duplicate that process is through bottom watering.

Top Watering


  • Can be the easiest and most common way to water
  • Less likely to overwater if proper drainage holes exist in the container
  • Easier to monitor how much water has been absorbed by the soil


  • More difficult to tell that a plant has been watered to the bottom roots
  • The top layer of soil stays wet longer, providing perfect breeding grounds for bothersome fungus gnats.
  • The wet top layer also more conducive to molds and fungus

Bottom Watering


  • Stronger roots because they are constantly growing naturally down towards the water source
  • Better assurance the root ball of the plant has been saturated
  • Less likelihood of gnats and mold issues due to dryer topsoil
  • Uses less water


  • Overwatering can occur if allowed to soak too long
  • Mineral and salt deposits can build on top of the soil and will need to be washed through with occasional top watering
  • Not all soil types absorb water properly, making bottom watering difficult

The Verdict – Do Both!

Not at the same time! Whenever possible, try to do a combination of both methods. I water from the bottom with most of my plants. Every third time I will water from the top. I use this as a method to bring balance to watering. It gives me the advantages of both approaches.

How to Water from the Top

  1. Use Room Temperature water or rainwater when possible.
  2. Pour the water over the top of the soil all around the total area of the top of the container giving it a quick drench. It will pool up a bit but not overflow the pot.
  3. Allow the water to settle into the soil for a few minutes
  4. Watch for air bubbles to emerge from the soil. These air bubbles are indications of penetration into dry areas of soil.
  5. Look for drainage from the bottom of the pot coming through the soil. If your plant was parched, drainage could start immediately upon pouring water. This can happen because it seeps allow sides of the pot. The drips you are looking for should be coming from the heart of the soil.
  6. Add more water if a lot of air bubbles and no drainage occurs.

How to Water from the Bottom

  1. Find a container large enough that your potted plant or plants will fit in. I often water multiple plants at the same time by using a large flat tub.
  2. Place the plant or plants in the container and be sure they will not tip over.
  3. Fill the bottom container with water about 1 to 2 inches up the side of your potted plants. Shallower water levels for smaller plant containers or seedling start trays. Keep it down to about a 3rd the size of the planted containers.
  4. Leave it alone for 10 minutes.
  5. Stick your finger about an inch into the top layer of the soil to check for moisture. When no moisture presents, leave for up to 20 minutes more, checking every 5 to 10 minutes.
  6. Once moisture is detected, remove the pots from the watering container and allow them to drain.

Self-Watering Plants

You could easily save yourself a lot of time and hassle with self-watering containers. They will work with most plants. Stress for the most part. Plants that prefer dryer soils or have other specific soil and water needs do not fare well in these types of planters.

  • You can learn more about Self Watering Planters by visiting this review I recently posted on site. It will help you get a better perspective on how these kinds of containers work. Algreen Self Watering Planter Review – A Windowsill Herb Planter
  • Follow this great link from Wikipedia that gives more information and an excellent tutorial on constructing your simple SIP container.

Give Your Plants A SIP

A sub-irrigated planter or SIP is a type of self-watering container. The SIP method, like other self-waterers, introduces water from the bottom of the pot. In higher-end landscaping projects and production gardens, these can be automated water dispensers. Comparable to some hydroponics systems.

Getting Too Big for Their Pots

A special watering tip!

Plants that begin to have an increase in water demands may simply be outgrowing their pots. They could be giving you a great indication that they are getting too big for their pots. Significant watering changes can be early alarms alerting you to possible upcoming root bound issues.

Give a quick check –

  • Before the next watering
  • Gently loosen the pot from the base of the plant by giving a gentle squeeze and gentle taps.
  • Placing your hand on the top of the soil while supporting the plant at the same time gently tip it over. Your plant should loosen and pull out of the container.
  • Check the root. If they are dense and tightly wound around the soil, it is time to transplant them into an enormous container.

Watering is Easy When You Know How

Knowing how to water herbs and plants is truly easy when you know the right way. I hope that this article helps you from making the same mistakes I made starting.

It is possible to love your plants too much sometimes. Water is one of them!

What gardening tasks have you thought should be easy but have proven more difficult for you? Remember that you learn as much from failures as you do from success. I wasn’t born with green thumbs. I had to grow them!

Could you drop me a comment? I want to help and hear from you!

Happy Gardening!

About Christina Lopez

Christina Lopez grew up in the scenic city of Mountain View, California. For eighteen ascetic years, she refrained from eating meat until she discovered the exquisite delicacy of chicken thighs. Christina is a city finalist competitive pingpong player, an ocean diver, and an ex-pat in England and Japan. Currently, she is a computer science doctoral student. Christina writes late at night; most of her daytime is spent enchanting her magical herb garden.

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