Misting is a hot topic in the houseplant world. On one hand, many plant owners mist their plants because indoor humidity levels are usually much lower than what these plants prefer, and misting can provide some much-needed hydration.
However, the opposition insists that misting can attract pests as well as promote the growth and spread of fungus, bacteria, and other harmful pathogens on your houseplants.
Both of these things can be true. While misting isn’t without its risks, it can also provide a lot of benefits for your houseplants when done properly, and many of the risks can be easily mitigated with a little care and observation of your plant’s condition.
Misting is primarily for rainforest plants (which covers a LOT of houseplants). Rainforests typically boast humidity levels around 88% while the average home has a humidity level of around 30-40%. A lot of houseplants adapt fairly well, but most would do well with higher humidity levels.
If you notice signs that your plants want more humidity (drying leaf tips, curling leaves, crispy light-brown spots), you may want to consider misting.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the benefits of misting, how plants absorb water through their leaves, and how to mist your plants properly for maximum benefit with minimal risk.
Why Mist Plants?
There are a few different reasons why misting can be beneficial to your houseplants and why you might want to make this practice a regular part of your indoor plant care routine.
Here are the top three benefits of misting your houseplants.
Misting can be especially helpful on warm days when temperatures may get too high for plants and they may lose a lot of water.
If you mist your plants in the morning, the water will evaporate off the surface of the leaf during the day. As the liquid turns to vapor, it absorbs heat from the leaf for the energy required to fuel evaporation and, in turn, cools the leaf.
The most common reason for misting indoor plants is to increase relative humidity around the plant and provide some hydration in our otherwise dry indoor climates.
When there isn’t enough humidity in a plant’s space (which is common with constantly running heaters and air conditioners), leaves can dry out, curl, and develop ugly brown spots from the tips. Not good!
Not only does this look bad, but it can snowball into major health problems for the plant because those leaves do a lot to keep the plant alive. When the leaves are damaged, the whole plant suffers, right down to the roots. Humidity helps keep a plant hydrated and its leaves healthy and functional.
When a plant is well hydrated, it will continue to readily absorb and use water more efficiently. When done regularly, proper misting can help keep your plant hydrated and growing, with beautiful, healthy, and supple leaves.
Improve Soil Moisture
This is a lesser-known benefit of regular misting, but still an important one!
Plants absorb water through the roots and the leaves, and much of this absorption depends on what the plant actually needs. If a plant is able to absorb more water through its leaves thanks to sufficient relative humidity or misting, it may regulate root absorption and the moisture content of the soil as well. When you mist regularly, you may notice that your plant needs to be watered less often and that the moisture content of your soil seems more consistent.
How to Mist Plants the Right Way
Misting is simple, but there are a few things to remember if you want to do it correctly and gain the most benefit. This includes knowing the best times to mist and which parts of the plant to mist for optimal water absorption through the leaves.
When to Spray Mist
The best time to mist your houseplants is in the morning before the sun gets high in the sky, typically between 7 and 9 a.m. The evening, after 5 p.m., is also a great time for misting. If you mist during the hottest, brightest part of the day, the water may evaporate off the leaves before it can be properly absorbed by the plant. These are also the times when plant leaves are most absorbent because the stomata on the leaves are open to catch morning dew and evening mist. (We’ll talk more about stomata a little later).
It’s also a good idea to mist your plants when you water them because it will allow the roots and the leaves to absorb water more efficiently. It’s also convenient to do both at the same time!
And how often should you be misting? The answer varies depending on the time of year and how dry the air in your space is. It’s a good idea to mist a few times a week, at least, but it won’t hurt to mist every day if possible.
If you live in an arid climate and use a lot of climate control, you should probably be misting more often. If your climate is a little more humid and you aren’t constantly running the heat or air conditioner, you might be fine to mist just once or twice each week.
Experiment with frequency to see what works best for your plants and schedule.
Which Part of the Plant to Mist
This is where a lot of houseplant owners get it wrong! It’s crucial to mist the right parts of the plant, otherwise, the water won’t be absorbed.
Top of Leaves
Most plant owners only spray the tops of the leaves. While this does help with leaf cooling as the water evaporates, it does little for water absorption because the majority of the stomata, the pores through which a plant absorbs and expels moisture and that are also responsible for respiration, are located on the undersides of the leaves.
But still get the tops of those leaves!
Underside of Leaves
It’s critical to spray the underside of the leaves because this is where much of the stomata reside. For best results, work your way through the plant, being sure to lightly mist each leaf on the top and then the bottom.
Root Base and Soil
Some plant owners mist the base of the plant and the surface of the soil, but this has little benefit.
Don’t worry about misting the soil because the water won’t make it to the roots to be absorbed. Just keep watering your plant as usual and be sure to focus your misting efforts on the leaves.
How Much Mist Is Too Much?
This is a tricky question because the plant will only absorb as much water from misting as it needs, so you won’t notice the effects of overwatering or anything like that by misting too much. It won’t cause any internal damage to the plant.
However, very high relative humidity can promote fungal growth in an indoor setting with limited airflow, which can damage the plant. Water dripping from leaf to leaf can also spread pathogens like harmful fungus and bacteria from leaf to leaf. Therefore, you shouldn’t mist a plant with a condition like powdery mildew or a bacterial infection.
Generally, you want to avoid misting so much that water is dripping off the leaves. You’re going for a light coating on the tops and undersides of the leaves without a lot of large droplets. The leaves should look like they have morning dew settled on them, not like they’ve been in a rainstorm.
This will also help you avoid water dripping on your flooring or furniture, which is a whole other issue, but one worth taking care to avoid.
Tips for Misting
Another drawback to misting is that it can cause buildup on the leaves, especially if you don’t clean your leaves regularly or if you have hard water. After all, mineral deposits and built-up gunk on the leaves not only look bad, but can clog the stomata which interfere with water absorption, photosynthesis, and respiration.
To mitigate this, be sure to use rainwater or distilled water when you mist your plants. Avoid filtered water, as the salts in many water filters can be damaging to plant roots and leaves.
It’s also important to regularly dust and clean your leaves. To do this, simply use a soft cloth to gently wipe your plant’s leaves at least once per week. If that doesn’t quite do the trick, spray a little water on the leaves (you can include a few drops of detergent-free liquid soap if the buildup is severe) and let it sit for five minutes, and then wipe the tops and bottoms of the leaves with the cloth.
This will keep the leaves free of any debris or substances that could create harmful deposits on your leaves when you mist.
Types of Misters and Sprayers
You’ll find a few different types of misters and sprayers on the market.
The cheapest and easiest type of mister is a simple spray bottle with a squeeze nozzle. You can buy a brand-new one or reuse an empty cleaning supply bottle as long as you thoroughly clean it, which includes spraying clean water through the nozzle several times to clear the sprayer of any lingering chemicals.
You can also find pressurized sprayers that you can pressurize with a manual pump or even electronically. These can be handy if you have a lot of plants because you can just hold down the trigger or turn on the mister instead of squeezing the trigger over and over.
Humidifiers can also be a handy alternative to misting by producing a steady stream of light mist to increase relative humidity around your plant.
As long as your misting apparatus produces a nice, fine mist instead of a spray of large water droplets, you’re good to go!
Do Plants Absorb Moisture Through Their Leaves?
While we often think about plants absorbing water through their roots, which they absolutely do, that’s only part of the story.
Plants also absorb water through the leaves through stomata, which are tiny pore-like openings on the surface of the leaf. The stomata can open and close using guard cells, which allow water and carbon dioxide into the leaf depending on what the plant needs. The plant absorbs more water when there is more moisture in the air than there is in the leaf. This ratio of moisture inside and outside of the leaf is called leaf-water potential or the leaf-water differential.
The absorption of water through the leaves can also be prompted by low soil moisture, which means that misting can counteract some of the adverse effects of underwatering. (If your plant does become underwatered, it can be a good idea to mist it as well as water it.)
Houseplants That Benefit From Misting and Humidity
Another tricky part of misting houseplants is knowing which plants appreciate a good misting now and again and which don’t.
As a rule of thumb, avoid misting plants with fuzzy leaves like Ficus Audrey, piggyback plant, or African violets. Also refrain from misting drought-hardy plants from arid climates, which includes succulents, cactuses, dracaenas, spider plants, pothos, and ponytail palms.
(Side note: There’s some division over whether fiddle leaf figs enjoy misting, which may come down to a plant-by-plant basis. Some fiddle owners avoid misting while others swear by it.)
In general, most tropical plants and trees with soft leaves enjoy misting. This includes most ficuses, most aroids, orchids, begonias, palms, calatheas, etc.
It’s a good idea to do a little research and maybe even ask around some houseplant forums to determine whether a particular plant should be misted or not.
When NOT to Mist
When should you not mist a plant that otherwise might like to be misted?
You shouldn’t mist plants with any current bacterial or fungal infections. How do you know if your plant has a bacterial or fungal infection?
Soft, dark-brown spots on the leaves can be a clue. If you notice these symptoms, refrain from misting until you’re able to treat the issue and the symptoms clear up.
Also, if you notice white, powdery residue on the leaves or stems that’s easy to rub off, it could be powdery mildew, a common fungal infection that’s exacerbated by humidity and a lack of airflow and can easily be spread by misting.
Houseplant Location and Environmental Humidity
Increasing the relative humidity is a great reason for misting plants, but there are other ways to increase humidity.
Location choice can make a huge difference in the humidity levels around your plant, so it’s helpful to consider different locations and factors in your home that can affect humidity.
Kitchens tend to have higher humidity levels than most other areas of a home due to things like dishwashers, water running in the sink, things simmering on the stove, etc. This can be a good place for houseplants if you have the room and sufficient light! Consider placing humidity-loving plants here if possible.
Bathrooms are also humid places thanks to steamy showers and baths! Though bathrooms tend to have less room for plants, this is an excellent location for tropical, humidity-loving plants if you have the space.
A major factor that can decrease humidity in your home and potentially lead to plant dehydration is heating. Not only do space heaters, fireplaces, and central heating vents raise the temperature (which can cause your plant to lose more water or even scorch the leaves if your plant is too close!), these appliances can blast very dry air that can dry out your plant’s leaves.
Try to keep your plants well away from heaters and vents, and be sure to mist daily during the winter to keep your leaves well-hydrated.
Drafts are also damaging to plant leaves because, at best, they can dry out the leaves; at worst, they can actually freeze your plant’s leaves and cause irreparable damage. Keep your plants far from air conditioners and drafty doors or windows.
Alternatives for Increasing Humidity
If misting isn’t for you because you don’t want to deal with the risks or even just because you don’t want to have to think about humidity that often, there are lower-maintenance ways to increase the relative humidity around your plants!
Here are a few tricks to boost humidity:
Group plants together: Plants “breathe” in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, and as they do so, they also emit water vapor. Therefore, plants will increase the relative humidity slightly with their respiration. Take advantage of this by placing plants close together. (But not if a plant has a bacterial or fungal infection or an insect infestation, which could spread to your other plants!)
Humidity trays: This works best for smaller plants, but you can also make it work with larger ones. You can purchase humidity trays online or at just about any nursery or garden center. You can also make your own DIY humidity tray by filling a shallow plastic tray with pebbles and water and then sitting your plant’s pot on top. Don’t let the roots or soil touch the water. As the water evaporates, it will increase the relative humidity around the plant. Keep this water topped off for a steady supply of humidity.
Water bowls: Placing bowls of water around your plants can also increase humidity levels slightly as the water evaporates.
Humidifiers: Arguably one of the most effective solutions, a humidifier near your plant can provide steady humidity in a fine mist similar to what your plant would experience in a tropical rainforest. Prices and sizes range greatly for humidifiers, so you can almost always find something to fit your space and budget.
Final Thoughts on Misting Plants
Misting comes with risks and advantages, so it’s up to you to decide whether you want to make this a regular part of your plant care routine or if you’d rather increase humidity in other ways. You have options!
To summarize the whys and hows of misting:
- Misting your houseplants can be helpful to hydrate the leaves, cool the plant down in warm temperatures, and regulate water absorption.
- You should mist in the morning, taking care to spray the tops and bottoms of the leaves, and go for a nice, light coating. You don’t want dripping!
- Misting can also spread fungus and bacteria, so don’t mist if you notice any signs of potential infection on your plant.
- Research your plant to make sure it actually likes to be misted, and if you want to skip misting altogether, you can also opt for another method of increasing humidity.
Whether you choose to mist or not, you should be aware of the humidity levels in your space and take steps to make sure your plants are getting the humidity they need. This should be part of your care routine just as much as watering and fertilizing.
If you want a simple, easy, and effective way to increase plant health and hydrate those leaves, give misting a try!
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