Should You Believe These Houseplant Myths?

by | May 19, 2020 | 2 comments

I’m a member of a lot of Facebook houseplant groups and a few weeks ago, one group asked people to comment about the houseplant myths or practices they have heard/used. I was appalled by some of them. Like, WOW! I probably won’t discuss a couple of them, but I thought I would address a few common myths discussed in the group.

#1 Drainage material in pots i.e. gravel, pot shards (my pet peeve)


Gravel is not needed for drainage in your houseplants

I have a lot of people tell me they use “drainage” material, whether it is pea gravel or pot shards or packing peanuts in the bottom of their pots. It isn’t necessary. Water does not pass easily from one layer in a container to another, so the water will thoroughly soak the potting medium before it enters the gravel. It also shortens the soil column of your plant, which is needed for better root growth. I explain this phenomenon in greater depth here. If you don’t believe me, here is a link to a paper by Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, a horticulturist,  who says the same thing.

#2 Watering on a Schedule

watering houseplants

Water your plants when they NEED it, not on a schedule

Many of the myths or practices involved watering -“Only Water on a Sunday”, “Thirsty Thursdays”, “W”ater on “W”ednesdays, water between 6-10 am ONLY. All these practices involve watering your plants on a schedule. I prefer that plants are CHECKED on a schedule to see if they need water. Maybe there has been a week of cloudy days and because of that, your plant isn’t photosynthesizing as much so it is using less water. Therefore it may not need water on its regularly scheduled day. Days are longer in the summer (here in the midwestern United States), shorter in the winter and we have a lot of cloudy days in the winter, or at least we have the last few years. Therefore, checking your plants on a schedule and giving them water when they NEED it is the best practice. This was a cute one- “Plants don’t want to go to bed with their feet wet.” My take on that- don’t let your plant stand in water longer than 30 minutes or so and definitely don’t let them stand in water overnight with their feet wet.

#3 Water from the bottom only

Another watering myth- you should only water your plant from the bottom. Watering your plant from the bottom is fine, but it isn’t a must. I think this practice came from the myth that you can’t get African violet leaves wet. See that myth busted below. So bottom watering entails setting your plant in a basin of water, the sink, or tub and letting it soak up water until the top of the potting medium is wet. This is a great thing to do if you have a plant that has dried out to the point the medium has pulled away from the sides of the pot. When you water the plant it all runs down between the pot and the medium, never wetting the plant. If you let it sit in water and slowly soak it up, the medium may rehydrate and fill the pot again.

#4 You can’t get African violet leaves wet

cold water damage on an African violet

Cold water damage on an African violet leaf

Okay, I don’t mean to be too sarcastic, but really…..there aren’t any “native” house plants. Every plant lives outside somewhere in the world AND it rains! That being said, African violets in the wild aren’t being watered with cold water coming out of the ground, like the water from our faucets and hoses. The key is not to use cold water. It will mar the leaves like the one above. I also don’t leave water sitting in the crown of the plant or put it back in the sun while it is still wet. Also, if you continually bottom water, the excess fertilizer salts will keep coming to the top of the pot. If you bottom water, the plant should be top watered once in a while to flush all the yucky stuff out of the medium.

#5 Shine your leaves with mayonnaise or milk

Henry the kitty

Henry the kitty looking out the window. Right after this, he came through the plant to get to me.

I have Henry the kitty, and he likes to knock my plants over and rip leaves off. He is a year old now and has settled down quite a bit. My plants and I are thankful.) If I put milk or mayonnaise on the leaves, it would be like ringing a dinner bell. I don’t use anything but water and occasionally a lemon to get the water stains off. I have never used plant shine and don’t intend to. It seems like it would just attract more dust.

I hope this helped clear up some common myths associated with houseplants. I have a few more I will address at another time. Do you have any myths or practices you can share with me?

Have a blessed week!


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  1. Vanessa Simones

    What a great discussion! When I took the next step to studying my houseplants. I would use more then one Internet source. For comparison. I joined a FB group and there were so many opinions! some contradicting one another. It was to much for me. Now, I just look at the pretty plants and not really rely on the comments. But I had finally decided to do it the right way. I read your book! It has changed my house planting techniques completely. I even recommended it to my local flower shop! Ever since I’ve read your book I’ve examined all my plants, quarantine newbies, and place plants were they need to be not were I think they look the best. I’m seeing many changes and I’ve a lot more to learn. That’s why I follow your blogs.

    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Hi Vanessa,
      Thanks so much for reading my book and recommending it and for following my blog! I really appreciate it. Plants are fun and everyone is different. Paying attention to them and how they react to their environment is the best thing you can do. Have a great day!


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