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Nearly everyone knows how important adequate water is to plant growth, but many are surprised to learn that overwatering them can be more harmful than underwatering them. Overwatering is one of the most common problems with houseplants. Occasional overwatering won’t do your houseplant long-term damage, but chronic overwatering will.
Fixing an overwatered plant isn’t difficult if you catch the problem right away. To fix an overwatered plant, you need to stop watering the plant and explore the reason for the overwatering issues. Overwatering can be due to watering your plant too frequently, giving you plant too much water, poorly drained potting mix, high humidity levels, or the lack of drainage holes in the pot.
Determining the cause of your plant’s soggy soil from overwatering is vital to fixing the underlying cause and returning your plant to good health.
How do I know if a plant is overwatered?
Some signs of overwatering, like wilting and dropping leaves, are similar to symptoms of underwatering, but there are some differences, too.
- Wilting — Wilting occurs when the foliage on your plant does not receive enough water. It is natural to assume that it means you should water the plant. However, an overwatered plant sitting in soggy soil cannot transport water to the plant. The water in the soil chokes out oxygen to the roots, rendering them ineffective in transporting water and nutrients. Your plant will react with wilted or drooping leaves.
- Dropping Leaves — Both overwatered and underwatered plants will drop their leaves if wilting is ignored. However, the leaves on an overwatered plant may turn brown or yellow and drop from the plant, but the leaves will still feel soft and pliable. Yellow or brown leaves dropping from an underwatered plant feel dry and crispy.
- Soggy Soil — Soggy soil is a telltale sign your plant is overwatered, but not all soggy soil is the same. Sometimes, the surface of the soil appears and feels dry, while the soil in the bottom of the pot never dries out and stays soggy all the time. This is typically due to poor drainage or improper potting soil mix. Use a moisture meter (or remove the plant from the pot) to check to see if the soil is soggy in the bottom of the pot.
- Mold on Top of the Soil — Mold, mildew, or fungi on the top of the soil is an indication the soil is too wet and your plant is being overwatered. Mold or fungi on the soil typically looks fuzzy or hairy and may be green, white, or gray.
Does overwatering hurt houseplants?
Over-watering your plants can lead to wet, soggy soil that chokes out oxygen to the roots of your plants. When caught early, an overwatered plant will revive in a week to 10 days, but if left untreated, it can lead to dreaded root rot which can kill your plants.
What is root rot?
Root rot is a disease that affects the roots of plants caused by several fungal infections that thrive in wet soil. Root rot causes the roots to decay and turn to mush. If left untreated, root rot will kill the plant.
How do you treat root rot?
Root rot is treatable if caught in the early stages, and your plant should survive. However, treatment must be prompt to prevent the disease from destroying your plants’ entire root system (and stem). Treating root rot involves removing the plant from the pot, removing diseased roots, and repotting the plant in new soil. Here’s how.
- Remove the plant from the pot.
- Remove the soil from the roots with your hands and then rinse the roots to remove any remaining soil.
- Examine the root carefully. Roots affected by root rot will appear discolored, black, or mushy. Healthy roots are white or tan and are firm and pliable.
- Trim away any discolored, black, or mushy roots with a pair of sterilized clippers or a sharp knife.
- Fill a new plant pot with fresh potting soil. If you wish to reuse the current plant pot, it must be sterilized first. Scrub the pot clean and soak it in a solution of one part household bleach to nine parts water for 20 minutes. Let the pot air dry.
- Position the plant into the soil, so the crown of the plant (the point where the roots meet the stem) is at the soil level
- Fill in around the roots with fresh soil and press it down lightly to secure the plant and remove any air pockets in the soil.
- Water lightly to moisten the soil but do not saturate the soil.
- Water the plant when the soil is dry 2 to 3 inches below the surface.
How do you fix an overwatered plant?
The first step in fixing an overwatered plant is to stop watering the plant and let the soil dry out. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a wilting plant needs more water. Your overwatered plant is wilting because there is too much water in the soil, and the plant cannot breathe.
- Move it to less light.
You may think that moving your plant to more light so that it will dry out quicker is a reasonable solution, but this really isn’t the case. Plants need more water to regulate functions like photosynthesis when they are in more light. Because your overwatered plant cannot access the water in the soil because the roots are drowning, moving it to more light will cause your additional plant stress. Moving it to less light reduces stress to your overwatered plant while it recovers.
- Let it dry out.
Let the soil dry out naturally over the next week or ten days. Under normal conditions, the soil will dry out on its own.
- Check the drainage holes.
Sometimes problems from overwatering are the result of poor drainage. This can happen if your plant pot does not have adequate drainage holes or if the holes get clogged by roots or rocks in the bottom of the pot. Make sure your plant pot has sufficient drainage for excess water to drain through the bottom of the pot.
- Repot the plant.
Drainage problems can also be due to a potting mix that does not drain well. This can happen if you use an all-purpose potting mix in your plant pots. If poorly draining soil mix is your issue, repotting the plant in new soil often corrects the problem.
To make a potting mix that drains well, mix equal parts of all-purpose potting mix, peat moss, and perlite. Potting mixes with shredded bark also make a well-draining soil mix. Fill a new plant pot with the mixture and repot your plant.
What causes overwatering of plants?
There are several reasons your plant is overwatered. Consider these common reasons your plant’s soil may be wet and soggy.
- Watering too frequently.
Many people make the mistake of trying to adhere to a strict watering routine, like watering the plant once a week all year long. This can lead to overwatering as your plant’s needs change throughout the year.
During the spring and summer, when it is actively growing, your plant may need to be watered every week, but during the fall and winter, when the plant rests, it requires less water. It may need watering every ten days or may even be able to go two weeks without needing watering during the fall and winter.
Always check the moisture level in the soil before watering your plants, and forget about adhering to a strict watering schedule.
- Giving it too much water.
Giving your plant too much water when you water it can also lead to overwatering, especially if you forget to empty the water from the saucer or catch the basin under your plant when you water it. Ideally, you should water your plant until water runs through the bottom of the pot and then empty the saucer when you are finished. Letting your plants sit in a saucer of water can lead to overwatering.
- Poorly drained potting mix.
Plants need well-drained potting soil that holds some moisture but lets excess water drain through the bottom of the pot. All-purpose potting soil is often too heavy and dense to drain well. Either buy potting mix specific for your type of plants, such as cacti or African violet mixes, or make your own with equal parts all-purpose potting mix, peat moss, and perlite.
- Lack of drainage holes.
Drainage holes in the bottom of your plant pot are essential to promoting good drainage and preventing issues with overwatering. If you prefer to use a decorative pot that lacks drainage holes, place your plant in a plain plant pot with drainage holes and nestle the pot inside the decorative pot. This will allow the soil to drain properly.
- Too much soil.
Sometimes the issue of overwatering results from too large a plant pot that holds more soil than your plant needs to thrive. Because the soil will hold more water than your plant needs, it will remain wet for a longer time. Check that your plant pot and the amount of soil aren’t too big for your plant. As a rule, your plant pot should hold enough soil for the roots to grow and should allow no more than 2 to 3 inches between the root ball and the sides of the pot.
- High Humidity
Air that is too humid will prevent the soil in your plant’s pot from drying out sufficiently between waterings. Plants grown in terrariums or window greenhouses may struggle when the air is too humid. Likewise, grouping plants closely together can raise the humidity levels around your plants.
If you suspect high humidity levels are preventing the soil from drying in your plant’s pot, use a dehumidifier or use a small fan to circulate the air near your plants. Move the plants further apart to ensure they get adequate air circulation.
How often should you water houseplants?
How often houseplants need to be watered depends on the type of plant, its size, and the time of year. Most plants prefer soil that partially dries before they are watered again. When the soil feels dry to the touch, 1 to 2 inches below the surface, it is time to water the plant.
How long it takes for the soil in your plant’s pot to dry out depends on the type of soil, the size of the pot, and the plant’s growth rate. As a rule, plants need more frequent watering from spring until fall when they are actively growing and need less water in the fall and winter when they are resting.
Trying to stick to a regular watering routine without checking the condition of the soil in your plant’s pot can lead to over (or under) watering. Always check the soil before watering your plants to avoid issues with overwatering.
Overwatering your plants can happen for several reasons, from watering them too frequently to poorly drained soil. The problem is relatively easy to correct in most instances, and your plants will revive in a week to 10 days. Severely overwatered plants, or plants left untreated, can lead to issues with the dreaded root rot, which can kill your plants. Getting into the habit of checking the soil’s moisture level before watering your plant will save your headaches and prevent issues with overwatering.