You’ve Been Watering Indoor Plants the Wrong Way—Here’s What to Do Instead

Hint: Step away from the tap water.

Are You Watering Your Indoor Plant Properly?

indoor plant wateringWestend61/Getty Images
Avoid using tap water on indoor plants

If you have a single potted succulent on the windowsill, or a room full of houseplants, it’s important to know how to care for them. Of course, proper watering is one of the most important basics all plant parents need to know. Are you watering your indoor plant the right way? Here’s what our garden expert has to say.

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Stop Watering Your Indoor Plant With Tap Water

“I read that fluoride in tap water can turn leaf tips brown. Is this true? If so, is my only solution to catch and store rainwater?” asks Birds & Blooms reader Gail Powell of Homerville, Ohio.

Melinda Myers responds, “Dracaena, spider plants, ti plants, prayer plants, palms and some others tend to be sensitive to the chloride and fluoride in tap water. Rainwater and distilled water are two alternatives; I use water from my dehumidifier for these plants. When none of these is available, keeping the soil slightly moist helps to prevent the brown tips.”

Birds & Blooms reader Sharon Woodworth of Georgetown, Kentucky, agrees. “Collect rainwater and use it on your houseplants. I’ve been doing it for years!”

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Why Are My Palm Leaves Turning Brown?

14 Brendanelson Bbxnov22Courtesy Brenda Nelson
Fluoride in your water can damage palm leaves

“What’s wrong with my indoor palm tree,” asks Brenda Nelson of Shakopee, Minnesota.

Melinda says, “Browning tips on houseplant leaves can result from inconsistent watering, salt buildup in the soil or fluoride damage. Water your palm thoroughly when the top inch of soil is starting to dry, then pour the excess water out of the saucer. You can also place pebbles in the saucer so the pot sits above the excess water that collects in the pebbles. As the moisture evaporates, it increases the humidity around the plant.

Try leaching the soil in case it has a buildup of mineral salts from fertilizer and water. Scrape off any crusty white salts that may have accumulated on the soil surface or the edge of the pot. Water thoroughly, allowing the excess to drain out of the container. Repeat two more times.

Finally, certain plants—including palms, ti plants, spider plants, dracaenas and prayer plants—are sensitive to the fluoride in tap water. Too much of the chemical can cause browning similar to your plant’s. Consider watering your palm with distilled water or rainwater.”

When is the best time to water plants?

More Indoor Plant Watering Tips

Avoid using hard water and use water that is room temperature for best results.

Next, check out 15 ways to conserve water in the garden.

Lori Vanover
Lori has 20 years of experience writing and editing home, garden, birding and lifestyle content for several publishers. As Birds & Blooms senior digital editor, she leads a team of writers and editors sharing birding tips and expert gardening advice. Since joining Trusted Media Brands 13 years ago, she has held roles in digital and print, editing magazines and books, curating special interest publications, managing social media accounts, creating digital content and newsletters, and working with the Field Editors—Birds & Blooms network of more than 50 backyard birders. Passionate about animals and nature, Lori has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural and Environmental Communications from the University of Illinois. In 2023, she became certified as a Wisconsin Extension Master Gardener, and she is a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology and sits on the organization's Publications Advisory Committee. She frequently checks on her bird feeders while working from home and tests new varieties of perennials, herbs and vegetable plants in her ever-growing backyard gardens.