You Have to Stop Overwatering Your Plants
For most of us, this situation is all too familiar: you wake up one morning and pass by your beautiful new ficus, only to notice that it appears to be dying of thirst. You could have sworn you watered it every day—why is it acting like this? Is your budding love story turning into a toxic relationship? What gives?
Chances are, overwatering is to blame.
Can You Overwater Plants?
Yes! In fact, overwatering is the number one reason why houseplants die. In fact, most plants are much more likely to die from overwatering than underwatering.
The reason overwatering is so harmful is because the plant’s roots get waterlogged, which prevents them from taking in the oxygen and nutrients in the soil. It’s the difference between drinking a cool glass of H2O and holding your head underwater.
Signs Your Houseplants Are Overwatered
There are two main ways a plant can become overwatered; either you’re giving it too many drinks back-to-back, or the pot has poor drainage (or no drainage), and water is getting trapped inside. The problem so many people have around overwatering is that its most visible symptoms look very similar to the signs of underwatering, such as:
- Yellow leaves
- Browning leaves
- Leaves fall off
However, there are often other signs that go along with overwatering that are a lot more obvious, like:
- Soggy soil or a heavy pot (from excess moisture)
- Fungus growth on the plant or soil
- Mushy areas of the plant
- Mushy, rotten-looking roots
What can often happen is a well-meaning plant parent will see the yellowing leaves and assume the plant isn’t getting enough water. So, they start watering it more often. The symptoms get worse, the watering gets more frequent, and before you know it, it’s bad news for your plant!
How to Save Overwatered Plants
Luckily, many plants can be saved if you notice the issue in time. At the first sign of overwatering, grab a bag of fresh soil and a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution. Before you attempt repotting, remove all the dead or damaged parts of the plant you can see using a sharp knife that has been disinfected with peroxide or rubbing alcohol.
On a surface lined with non-glossy newspaper or paper towels, gently remove the plant from the pot. When handling the plant, grasp gently around the root ball instead of holding the stem. Be very careful, as the roots will be delicate, and it’s likely some of them will be a little decomposed. If you see roots that are looking worse for wear, wipe the knife with disinfectant again and gently cut off the rotted areas.
Carefully set the plant down on the newspaper or paper towel and allow the excess water to absorb out of the root ball. Do not press, wring, or pat the roots as it will only stress the plant out even more. You may need to replace the absorbent surface once or twice. While the plant is draining its excess water, prepare your pot with some fresh soil. If the original pot didn’t have very good drainage holes (which is likely, if you’re in this situation!), choose one with better drainage that’s the same size as the pot you started with.
Once the plant’s root ball seems to have drained out, carefully remove as much of the waterlogged soil as you can from the root ball. Leave whatever you can’t remove without damaging the roots even more. Finally, position the plant in the pot of fresh soil and backfill evenly around the base. Mix 1 teaspoon of the hydrogen peroxide solution into 1 cup of water and use it to water the soil; enough to settle the soil but not enough to saturate it. The peroxide acts as a soil aerator and will help the root ball to take in oxygen and get it back on the right track.
In many cases, the overwatering may have damaged the plant beyond recovery. Hey, it’s okay, it happens! Take it as a learning opportunity—and an excuse to pick out a new plant!
How to Prevent Overwatering
The best way to prevent overwatering is to pay close attention to your plant’s soil. Unless a plant’s care instructions specifically say it prefers damp soil, most plants do best when the first few inches are allowed to dry out completely. The extent to which depends on the specific plant. For some, it’s 1-2 inches and others prefer to dry out completely between watering.
For plants that only need the top few inches to dry out, try the “knuckle test” before watering—stick your finger in the soil, and if it’s dry up to the first knuckle (for small plants) or second knuckle (for larger plants), it’s time to water. It’s better to water deeply once or twice per week than to water half as much every day.
Another key part of preventing overwatering is selecting a pot with drainage. This is so, so important, and yet it’s hard for a lot of us to do because so many cute pots have no drainage holes. (Especially hanging planters—what a pain!) To deal with this situation, you can drill drainage holes into these pots. Use a diamond drill bit to drill holes in fragile materials, a masonry bit for brick, and a standard bit for plastic. Alternatively, nestle a basic pot inside the hole-less pot. This way, you can remove the plant and let excess water drain out every time you water the plant.
If you’ve followed these best practices and your plant still seems like it’s been overwatered, your soil might be to blame. It’s possible the soil is too heavy for your plant, or it’s too old and has no more benefit for the plant. To avoid this, always pot your plants with a fresh, high-quality soil mix that is appropriate for your plant.
Now that you’ll never overwater a plant again, do your pals (and their plants!) a favor by sharing this article on social media. Make sure to tag the friends who are a little too excitable with a watering can—they’ll thank you later!