It’s not aphids, beetles, or even hungry, hungry caterpillars. No, improper watering is the primary reason for the death of houseplants. Overwatering to be specific. New gardeners are often obsessed with providing their new plants with enough water, treating them as a pet with an empty bowl. But house plants, well, they’re different from dogs, cats, and especially goldfish. Too much water can kill a plant…
Unless you know how to save them. Move over John Taffer. This is plant rescue.
How Much Water Do Plants Need?
How often should you water your plants? Well, it’s different for each of them. You wouldn’t give a fifty-year-old Irishman the same amount of whiskey as you’d give a twenty-one-year-old American, right? You wouldn’t give an African Milk Tree the same amount of water as an Alocasia either.
The amount of water to give a houseplant largely depends on the climate that the plant naturally thrives in. Desert plants tend to need less water, as they grow in ecosystems with hardly any rain. Succulents like the Pencil Cactus (native to semi-arid regions in South Africa and India) store water in their leaves and stems, allowing them to go months without a drink.
Meanwhile, tropical plants require much more water than cacti and succulents. Rubber trees, for example, can be found in the rainforests of South America, and therefore are used to heavy precipitation. You’ll want to water them at least once a week—but remember, it’s still possible to overwater tropical plants. Don’t get carried away!
A plant may prefer more or less water depending on the weather (sunny or cloudy), the time of year, and other circumstances. For instance, in the summer, when it’s hot and growth is fast, house plants will need more water. Meanwhile, in the wintertime, it’s preferable to space out your waterings. Also, after a heavy flowering or a period of heavy growth, a plant will become dormant and need less water than before.
A good barometer for watering houseplants is testing if its soil is dry to the touch. If it’s still moist, don’t tip that watering can. You can also use a handy moisture meter to tell you exactly when it’s time to water.
Tips To Avoid Overwatering
With a few easy tips, you’ll be much less likely to overwater your plants in the first place.
- Make sure the soil is dry by sticking a finger in and feeling the moisture.
- Carefully lift the plant and judge its weight. After doing this a few times, you’ll be able to tell when the pot is full of heavy water and when it’s okay to water again.
- Make sure your pot has proper drainage. All good pots should have drainage holes. If yours does not, either drill drainage holes or double pot your plant.
- Use soil that drains well. Potting mixes deal with overwatering better than regular old dirt.
- Add accessories like Lava Rocks that are meant to absorb water and prevent root rot.
Signs You’ve Overwatered
Signs that a plant has had too much to drink are not quite as distinctive as the signs for humans. Plants don’t get pounding headaches, upset stomachs, and a strong desire to crawl into a ball in bed. However - there are clear signs if you know how to recognize them.
Yellow or Brown Leaves: If your plant’s leaves develop brown spots surrounded by a yellow ring, it could be a sign of bacterial infection. While leaves turn yellow due to overwatering, they can also turn yellow due to underwatering, so check that soil for a proper diagnosis.
Wilting or Falling Leaves: While too little water may result in your plant’s leaves feeling dry and brittle, overwatering will cause them to become soft and wilt. Old leaves will sometimes fall off, but if a plants' new leaves are falling as well, it’s a sign of overwatering.
Slowed Growth: Slowed growth, or stopped growth altogether, can be a symptom of many different problems, from a need for sunlight to lack of fertilizer, to over-watering. If you notice slowed growth combined with other symptoms on the list, you’ll be able to piece together the mystery.
Mold, Fungus, Warts: Overwatering can cause symptoms such as mold, fungi, and powdery mildew to emerge on your plant and in your soil. Mold and fungi grow best in humid conditions and are often a sign of root rot. If you notice fungi and mold around your roots and stem, be sure to re-pot your plant in fresh soil.
Pests: Insects like gnats, mites, and aphids are attracted to wet soil over dry soil. Springtails are known to love a good mud bath. If a plant is attracting pests, there’s a good chance you’re over-watering.
Constantly Damp Soil: Perhaps the most important sign. If you catch this one early, you can prevent or fix your problem before it gets worse and leads to other symptoms. Constantly wet soil means your plant isn’t absorbing water properly, and that the soil doesn’t have enough air pockets. In short, it means your plant is drowning.
Fixing Overwatered Plants
Okay, now that you know the signs that you’ve overwatered, it’s time you learned how to fix it. We’re not just here to lecture you about what you’ve done wrong—this article is about solutions! There are a few different methods to fixing overwatered plants, and they all may come in handy.
The first step to fix overwatering… drumroll, please…
- Stop Watering the Plant
Okay, there’s a little more to it than this. But stopping your watering is always the first step. If you’re overwatering, you’ll likely notice that the soil is wet, so you want to make sure that soil is bone dry before you’re ready to break out the watering can again.
- Allow Proper Drainage
As we mentioned earlier, you may be watering the correct amount, but improper drainage is still causing your plant to drown. If you notice signs of overwatering, you’ll want to take these steps to dry it out:
- Elevate the pot to make sure the water drains out of it.
- Make sure your pot has a drainage hole. If it does not, move your plant to a new pot with drainage.
- Check the soil. If it’s too compacted, you’ll want to carefully poke holes and shake up the soil so that air is able to reach the roots. But be careful not to damage them.
- Change to fresh soil. Not all soil is the same, and some soils are better equipped for drainage. Rooted’s organic potting mix is best for nutrient absorption
- Optimize Your Environment
You can make the environment around your plant ideal for drying out or getting rid of that excess water.
- Move your plant into the light to stimulate growth and water usage.
- Dehumidify. It goes without saying, but the drier the air, the drier your plant will get.
- Increase air circulation and heat. Just like a blow dryer, air circulation and heat allow for quicker drying. But don’t make it too hot. And don’t actually blow-dry your plant, please.
- Treating Overwatering Diseases (Like Root Rot)
One of the most common types of plant disease, root rot occurs when a fungus attacks a plant’s roots. Overwatering is the main cause of root rot. And while root rot can quickly and permanently take your plant out of commission, it’s possible to treat it.
The first step to treating root rot is to remove the plant from the soil. This way, you’ll be able to see the roots and discover which ones are still healthy.
Next, you’ll want to use clippers to carefully cut away bad roots. Healthy roots will be white and thin, while unhealthy roots will look brown or black, and wilted in comparison.
Use a fungicide solution or bleach to carefully clean the roots.
Repot the plant in a drainage-friendly potting mix, like the Semi-Hydro Tropical Mix. Do not re-pot the plant in the same soil you removed it from!
Just a Sip
Remember, plants are resilient. They can deal with dry soil for a few days. But if you drown them in water, it quickly becomes a problem. It’s best to be cautious about watering, and take preventative steps to avoid overwatering.
This will save you the trouble of having to go full-on Plant Doctor, MD later. So check out those stems, leaves, and roots, and if you notice signs of overwatering, wheel your Watermelon Peperomia into the operating room—you have work to do.
Indoor Plants – Watering | Clemson University