Probably everyone's least favorite aspect of caring for houseplants is watering them, and yet it's the most important. Overwatering is the number one cause of houseplant failure, which results when the plants are allowed to sit in water. It is important to give enough water that it runs out the bottom of the pot, but it is essential to drain off the extra water that accumulates in the saucer within an hour or so.
There are all kinds of gizmos and gadgets to make watering easy. But if you have a lot of pots or very large pots your best bet is a watering can and many trips back to the water faucet for refills. One trick is to replace all your pot saucers with flexible clear plastic saucers that have a tall rim, about an inch high. Water your plants until the saucer fills with water or water them from the bottom and let the plant pull up the water it needs for a while. Then, using a mixing bowl to catch the water, hold it near the bottom of the plant and pull the saucer edge down so the extra water can drain off (remember, you need to use saucers made with flexible plastic). You can also use a turkey baster to draw the excess water out of the saucers with your floor plants.
The size of the pot, how pot-bound the plant is, the type of soil mix used, and the location are just some of the influences on how often you'll need to water. A location near a heat source will use a lot more water, as will a sunny location. The best way to tell is to stick your finger a good inch into the soil. It may not be good for the manicure, but it sure is good for your plants!
Amy Ivy is executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. CCE offices may be reached in Clinton County at 561-7450 and Essex County at 962-4810. More information may be found on-line at ecgardening.cce.cornell.edu or by sending an e-mail to a Master Gardener volunteer at askMG@cornell.edu.