In addition to purifying the air and breathing new life into our homes, plants tap into our innate desire to nurture. As living, breathing organisms, indoor plants of all sizes require our attention, care, and water to survive.
But as any snake plant or succulent owner can attest, not all plants require constant attention. In fact, many prefer to be ignored altogether. “Plants can and will die from overwatering,” says Bloomscape’s plant mom Joyce Mast. “If the roots are in waterlogged soil, they won’t be able to breathe and will drown.”
This issue is especially prevalent during summertime and quarantine, as plants are in their growing season and their owners (you) are spending more time at home looking for something to do. To save your greenery from death by H20, put down the watering can and read up on the signs of overwatered plants.
How to Prevent Overwatering
Fortunately, you can educate yourself about this common faux pas and prevent overwatering from happening in the first place. First and foremost, it’s important to read each plants’ care instructions and adjust your watering routine accordingly — For example, a snake plant will not need the same amount of water or be watered as frequently as a Parlor Palm. Each Bloomscape plant comes with a detailed care card, which you should hold onto and reference as needed.
Secondly, you should always purchase a pot with drainage holes. “One of the main reasons a plant becomes overwatered is because the pot does not have the proper drainage holes. These allow excess water to seep out of the bottom of the pot,” notes Mast. “People tend to think their plants need to be watered every day, especially in the summer months, and a pot with no drainage holes exacerbates this problem.”
Signs of Overwatered Plants: What to Look For
According to Mast, keep an eye out for the five signs of overwatered plants to keep your greenery in good health:
Sign one: If a plant is overwatered, it will likely develop yellow or brown, limp leaves as opposed to dry, crispy leaves (which are actually a sign of too little water). Wilting leaves usually mean that root rot has set in and the roots can no longer absorb water.
Sign two: If your plant is dropping old and new leaves alike, you’ve likely overwatered. Remember that the shedding leaves can be green, brown, or yellow.
Sign three: If the base of the plant stem begins to feel mushy or unstable, you’ve overwatered. The soil can even begin to give off a rotten odor.
Sign four: If the leaves develop brown spots encircled by a yellow halo, that’s a bacteria infection due to overwatering.
Sign five: Similar to sign number three, fungus or mold can grow directly on top of the soil if you’ve overwatered time and time again.
How to Nurture Overwatered Plants Back to Health
Now that you’ve identified your overwatered plants, it’s time to nurse them back to health. In mild cases, you can simply stop watering for the next few weeks and wait for it to recover. “Do not water until the soil is completely dry at the root level, which is at the bottom of the pot,” instructs Mast. “If the drainage hole is large enough, you can lift up the plant and feel the soil from the bottom to get an accurate moisture reading. If it’s still wet, do not water — even if the top soil is dry.”
If your plant has all five signs of overwatering, “you will need to be more aggressive,” notes Mast. She recommends repotting the plant and trimming away all the affected roots to keep it alive. Healthy root systems are white, while waterlogged roots are black or brown. “Carefully remove the plant from its pot and trim away any black or mushy roots with sharp gardening trimmers. Be sure to use an alcohol wipe in between each cut to avoid the spread of root disease.” If you choose to re-pot in the same vessel, be sure to wash it thoroughly with disinfectant soap and refill it with fresh, clean potting soil. “Once this is done, water until you see it flow through the drainage holes.”
How to Water Your Plants in the Future
Once you’ve rescued your plants from waterlogging, it’s time to make amends. “In the future, let the soil tell you when it needs water. Always push your finger about two inches deep below the surface of the soil, and if it feels moist, wait a few more days and check again. If the soil is dry, water until it flows freely from the bottom of the pot and remove any standing water.”
Check out our Indoor Plant Expert, Cecilia demonstrating how to properly water your plants in the video below!