Work Hard, Plant Hard

watering plants


Plant CareChristine K1 Comment

Last year, while researching the best care for my Fiddle leaf fig (Ficus lyrata), I came across a lot of sources that said these plants prefer filtered water. As an alternative, one could let the water sit out for 24 hours to “evaporate the bad stuff.” I proceeded to usually use filtered water from my refrigerator. However, the water comes out cold (and somewhat slowly) so I would either let it sit out to warm or even sometimes microwave it. Occasionally I would use tap water that I would sit out because I’d read that would work. As someone with a science background, I probably should have questioned that to begin with.

My collection of watering cans. I use them all - the larger ones I fill with filtered water from the garden hose (read on), bring inside then fill the smaller ones. I prefer the smaller, long narrow spout for watering container plants.

My collection of watering cans. I use them all - the larger ones I fill with filtered water from the garden hose (read on), bring inside then fill the smaller ones. I prefer the smaller, long narrow spout for watering container plants.

Hard Water

What is “hard” water? Some of us have a lot of calcium and magnesium carbonates in our tap water. The water tends to be more alkaline. Calcium and magnesium are not bad for plants (or us) in and of themselves, however theoretically if you are using them all the time on your plants you could be throwing the balance of your minerals and pH off. Some plants prefer less alkaline water as well. As for drinking, I prefer to filter it since I don’t like the taste. These compounds are not gas, and therefore they don’t dissolve if you let the water sit out. In fact, they will concentrate since they are salts.

Softening your hard water (using a water softener) does not help this issue. Water softeners contain salt and this alters your plants’ abilities to use the water that’s available to them.

Treated Water

Most people living in developed countries have treated water. I don’t want to minimize how important it is to have our water treated. There are many water-borne illnesses that kill millions of people around the world every year. Many of these diseases happen in places with untreated water.

Most water is treated with cholorine. Chlorine comes in many forms, including compressed gas. This is where I believe the myth of letting water sit out came about. The chlorine in gas form will dissolve. However, most water treated with chlorine nowadays is in the form of chloramines. These are solid compounds, not gas. Not only will they not dissolve, they will concentrate if you let water sit out because some water evaporates.  Some of us also have sodium fluoride in our water. I won’t get in to the debate over that here, but the idea is that chlorine and fluoride regularly used on (especially container) plants can concentrate over time. Results can be browning/yellowing of leaves. There are other potential ill-effects such as killing some of the good microbes in the soil.

Bottom line: I’d rather not take the chance. Based on my research, my new system is to use a carbon filter. I’ve attached it to my garden hose so I can easily and quickly fill all of my watering cans and have them ready when I need them. You can find the filter I’m using on my Planty Products Recommendations page on amazon: There are other filters available, including ones for your sink in case you don’t have an outdoor hose.

This is the filter I’m using, recommended to me at my local hydroponic store. Not all carbon filters are the same but I haven’t fully researched that issue yet!

This is the filter I’m using, recommended to me at my local hydroponic store. Not all carbon filters are the same but I haven’t fully researched that issue yet!

I hope this helps dispel the myth of “dissolving the bad stuff” by letting water sit out. Have fun planting!

Moisture Needs of Plants and Skin

SkincareChristine K

I see so many similarities between skin care and plant water needs. Many of us know our plants vary in the amount of water they need/use. In fact, the first steps in being a good plant parent are knowing what level of light your plant needs and how the soil should feel before you water it again. Some plants, such as ferns and calatheas/marantas, should be somewhat damp to the touch – they enjoy a humid climate and really don’t like to dry out. (There are many ways to create humidity even if your air is dry, but I’ll let you research that on your own and maybe touch on it myself in a future post). Others, such as the ever-picky fiddle leaf fig, like to have dry topsoil before being watered again. The worst mistake I ever made was watering my first fiddle fig too much. No, I didn’t kill it---it’s hard to kill a plant from overwatering if it is getting enough light-- but it did shed all of its underside leaves and ceased new growth. The whole reason I bought a water meter was because of my fiddle fig. Since the first 3-5 inches like to be dry, I didn’t feel I could reliably determine when it was time to water again without a tool. image1

Succulents, widely thought of as “easy” to care for because they “don’t need watering” can survive on very little water and lots of sun, but they often won’t thrive under these conditions. I’ve been guilty of forgetting about some of my succulent plants for months (such as my postpartum periods – no time or energy for plants!). Living in San Diego, I always found them alive but definitely not thriving. The good thing is they are almost always easy to perk back up with a bit of TLC that includes occasional watering.


Like plants, we all have slightly different skin that will alter its moisture based on our environment. You might notice that plants that like to dry out between waterings have thicker/denser leaves (peperomias, succulents); they have good storage mechanisms for water, preventing evaporation. Thin-leaved plants (ferns, calatheas) can’t store as much water in their leaves and allow for more evaporation, so they rely on having a more constant source from the soil.



Skin is one of our main barriers to infection. This is such an important job! So it’s important to keep skin moist. Moisture helps preserve its integrity. Even if you were born with naturally moist or even oily skin, I would still recommend moisturizing after every shower (which sucks moisture out of our skin) with a lightweight moisturizer. In fact, keeping oily-prone skin properly moisturized can actually balance the surface oil production. If you’re prone to dry skin, you will need a heavier moisturizer or even cream. Parts of your body may even need ointment (think Vaseline consistency). This is especially true on the heels, which can dry out and crack easily. Nightly ointment on the heels works wonders for this. For the body, buy a large bottle of moisturizer with a pump and have it readily available by the shower. Get in the habit of using it every time everywhere you can reach. I also recommend avoiding very fragrant moisturizers that often can be quite irritating to the skin (and sometimes to those around you). If you have very dry skin, especially eczema (see below), you should stick to ONLY fragrance-free, sensitive skin products such as Cetaphil, Eucerin, Lubriderm, CeraVe and some Neutrogena products.

Part 2 – Common Skin Problems.

“Doc, I have a rash.” One of the most common rashes is caused by eczema, a common skin condition. In simplified terms, eczema is a sign the skin cannot hold on to moisture well in those areas. This causes inflammation resulting in redness, flaking, and cracking. Preventing eczema flares requires constant attention to skin moisture and regular use of lotions/creams/ointments. Treating flares may require anti-inflammatories (steroids) for short courses.

What about oils? Essential oils are used all the time on the skin. Keep in mind, though, that these can be irritants as well. Lavender is a classic one. You can develop a skin sensitivity at any time to an ingredient. Lavender is great for your aerometer but not necessarily as a topical ingredient. Despite this, many skin products have lavender in them because of the lovely smell. Beware. Similarly, many people use avocado as a facial moisturizer or even mask. I have seen countless cases of “contact dermatitis” from this – an itchy, red, sometimes painful rash. Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s harmless!

Can our skin have too much moisture? In a way, yes. Fungus infections of the skin can be a sign of too much moisture. Patients always ask “How did I get that? Who gave it to me?” In reality, fungus is everywhere around us in our environment. It’s just looking for opportunities to overgrow and cause problems. Loving moisture and heat, it will thrive in places on the body that trap moisture/sweat such as under the arms, under the breasts, and in the groin. Candida (fungus/yeast commonly found in these areas) will cause a red, sometimes itchy rash. Simply making sure to dry under the breasts (for large-breasted women it may help to use a blow dryer on a cold setting), around the groin and under the arms can help prevent candida. Changing clothes after a sweaty workout is equally important.

Tinea, also caused by fungus, results in circular lesions that are usually about coin sized, typically red but sometimes white, in the case of tinea versicolor. My husband has a symbiotic relationship with this fungus due to all of his surfing – the moisture and warmth inside his wet suit creates the perfect environment for it to thrive. Treating and preventing tinea can be as simple and inexpensive as using a selenium sulfide based shampoo (such as Selsun Blue) as a body wash in affected areas (the fungus don’t like this). Apply and leave on for several minutes before rinsing off.

I’ll save plant fungal infections for a future post. For now, I hope this helps you keep your skin (and your plants) thriving, not just surviving!