Most potted plants—whether they live indoors or outdoors—require some level of maintenance. Even succulents, air plants, and others you can essentially neglect for long periods of time, need to be watered occasionally. Plus, over time, dirt, dust, and other debris may end up settling on (and under) the leaves.
To handle these, and other hydration-related issues, some gardeners opt to dunk their plants in water. Here’s what to know.
Why dunk plants?
Dunking plants is exactly what it sounds like (we’ll get into the process below), but why do it?
As we’ve mentioned before, houseplants get dusty, and if enough dust accumulates on their leaves, it may block light from getting through, potentially preventing photosynthesis. Dunking will get rid of the dust and anything else that shouldn’t be on the leaves (or stems) of the plant.
Similarly, if any insect pests have made your plant their home, dunking will evict them, effective immediately. This is especially important if you’re moving outdoor plants indoors for the winter.
Finally, dunking is a way to rehydrate houseplants in soil that tends to repel water—also known as “hydrophobic soil.” This is a common problem with potting soil that contains peat (which is a lot of it). While peat does retain water, when it dries out, it can be very hard to re-wet, and can result in hydrophobic soil.
How to dunk plants
Before you do anything else, take a minute to look up whether dunking is recommended for your specific type of plant. This is especially true for succulents, because gardening experts aren’t all on the same page when it comes to whether dunking them is helpful or harmful. When in doubt, giving the leaves a quick dip for cleaning purposes should be fine.
Now, for the dunking:
- Fill your sink or a basin or bucket with lukewarm/room temperature water.
- Place your hand on the plant and soil to keep it in place, and to prevent the plant from floating. Some gardeners recommend inverting the plant, while others dunk right-side-up. Use your judgement.
- Fully submerge the plant in the water.
- Gently give the leaves a quick swirl underwater to ensure that any dust, dirt, or pests (living or deceased) are removed.
- Bubbles should be coming from the plant up to the surface as water replaces the air in the pot.
- When the bubbling stops, remove the plant from the water. Hold it over the sink/basin for a few seconds to let it drain.
- Place the plant on a flat surface that you don’t mind getting wet, as the plant will continue to drain. When water stops coming out of the bottom of the pot, it can go back to its usual location.
Larger houseplants and outdoor plants
The process for dunking larger houseplants and outdoor plants is basically the same as the one described above, except using a larger container (like one of those large plastic totes), and not attempting to invert the plant when it’s underwater. Also:
- Larger potted plants that are too big or awkward to dunk can take a shower instead.
- If you are dunking outdoor plants before moving them in for the winter, one gardening expert suggests adding a few squirts of a non-detergent, natural soap/cleanser to the container (this is the one she uses), dunking the plant, then rinsing out the container, filling it with fresh (non-soapy) water, and dunking the plant again.
How often should plants be dunked?
Let’s say you’ve just given your plant a bath (or shower). When are they due for their next one?
You definitely don’t want to over-water your plant, so dunking on a daily or weekly basis isn’t a good idea. One gardening expert recommends dunking your houseplants monthly (in addition to your usual watering schedule), while others suggest doing it on an as-needed basis.