The Problem of Overwatering
Is it possible that you are drowning your plants? It sounds counterintuitive – don’t plants need lots of water to thrive? Yes and no. Despite my good intentions, I tend to overwater my plants more often than I do underwater them. Call me overly enthusiastic or overeager, but the truth remains.
Fortunately, identifying signs of overwatering is pretty simple. While many of these can be confused with signs of underwatering (causing confusion for confused gardeners! ), once you get proficient with this process, you will never have to worry about doing it again.
These signs suggest that you may overwater your plants – and steps you can take to avoid it.
What Are the Effects of Overwatering?
Plants and roots are unable to live their entire lives underwater, just as no creature can live forever under water.
Water is necessary for all plants, but the amount that each type of plant requires will differ. The water requirements of a succulent are much lower than those of a tropical houseplant or a container filled with leafy greens. A succulent only needs watered once or twice a month. They may need weekly watering – or even daily watering in some cases.
The root system of plants breathes through its root system. But when there is too much water, the root system cannot absorb the gases it needs. In essence, overwatering your plants will cause them to suffocate.
Overwatering plants can also cause other problems. Fungi are much more frequently found in plants that have been overwatered. In addition to disease, overwatering can also weaken plants, making them more susceptible to pests and diseases. Your plants will eventually fall victim to these pests and diseases if not already killed by the overwatering.
It goes without saying that all plants need water, but figuring out exactly how much water your plants need is a skill that many gardeners lack – or at the very least, need some practice at.
How to Tell if Your Plants Are Overwatered
There are several signs that indoor plants have been overwatered, so pay attention to them when you water.
Wet and Wilted
Wilting is always associated with overwatering, but is also a symptom of underwatering. You should therefore take this symptom into consideration in combination with the others listed below.
You might have overwatered your plant if it looks like it’s wilting and the soil itself is wet. Essentially the same principle applies to plants that are green and supple yet still wilting. If they have dried out instead they will be brown and crispy.
How about how I mentioned in the last point that brown, crispy leaves can indicate overwatering? Not to stir things up too much, but brown leaves can also indicate that your plants are overwatered, though.
You must feel the leaves first in order to figure out if they need more water or less. Overwatered leaves will appear brown, but they will not be crispy. Instead, they may smell rotten or feel soft.
In addition, you should check the soil for too much moisture. You can tell by sticking a finger in it if it’s too moist. You need to water if the soil feels dry. If it feels soggy, you need to wait for the soil to dry out before you water it again.
Standing Water on the Soil
The plant’s roots appear to be sticking out – that indicates it is overwatered – or that it needs to be moved into a better-draining pot. If you have standing water on your soil (or pools of water on your saucer or container where your plants are nestled), then your plants are at risk. After the soil has finished drying and all puddled or standing water has evaporated, water once again.
A plant’s cells become edematic when they absorb so much water that they expand. This often happens when they are drought-stressed.
This will cause the plant cells to become so filled with water that they are on the edge of rupture.
When your plants have edema, you can tell by the presence of lesions or blisters on the plant. If not treated properly, these lesions will eventually rapture, forming a dark or white scar. You might also notice indentation on the leaves.
When the soil is over-watered it makes the roots unable to breathe, causing root rot. Root rot is almost always the result of overwatering. These roots will eventually rot and drown. For a period of time, their roots will turn brown, gray, and slimy, leading to widespread wilting.
Unfortunately, root rot can never be reversed once it sets in. You will have to remove the plant as soon as possible to prevent the rot from spreading to other healthy plants.
Plants with yellow leaves or leaves that drop off can be afflicted by a number of problems, including pest infestations or diseases. You will often see yellowing and falling leaves when too much water has been supplied to your plant. If new growth as well as older leaves show signs of overwatering, overwatering is likely to be the cause.
How to Fix an Overwatered Plant
To begin with, don’t overwater your plants! Sounds easy, right?
Make sure the soil is actually dry before you water. Feel the surface of the soil. In damp weather, you don’t have to water, but in dry weather, it might be a good idea to water (but some drought-tolerant plants, like succulents, can go for longer periods of drought between waterings).
If you are growing plants in containers (or are dealing with seedlings you have started indoors, then overwatered them), you can fix oversaturation by transplanting. Ensure your seedlings or container-grown plants are placed in new containers and filled with lots of dry yet fertile potting soil. Bury the plant up to a set of new leaves.
Once you know what needs to be done, you can get yourself on a better schedule for watering your plants. No guidelines exist to determine how often you should water the plants in your garden or containers, whether they are grown in the ground or in containers. The reason is that each plant has different watering requirements.
For some plants, it might be necessary to water or mist them daily, but other species may need just a few mists or waterings a month. You should therefore read up on your plant’s specific requirements before deciding how often to water it – so as to reflect those requirements when making your decision. Outdoor plants require tools like rain gauges and sprinkler systems for proper soil moisture management. They can also help you to prevent overwatering.
Don’t panic if you accidentally overwater your plant. If you overwater, often you can remedy the situation by calming down for a few days and allowing the soil to dry out. The sooner you resolve the issue the better your chances are of salvaging the plant.
You can still find plants that thrive in a wet environment even if you are a little heavy-handed with the watering can. There are several plants to choose from, including cranberries, viburnums, hibiscus, swamp azaleas, rose mallow, or asters.
Planting a few of these swamp-loving plants may be wise until you learn how to control your watering habits.