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How to identify an overwatered houseplant and how to save it!

Updated: Feb 9, 2020


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Could you be overwatering your houseplants? Well, if you are, or have done in the past, you’re not alone, we’ve all done it from time to time! Read on to find out what to look out for, why it's detrimental to your plants health and also, how to save your beloved houseplant if it happens to you!


It might be that you’re not sure how much water that plant likes, because yes, they do all like different amounts of water; it might be that you’re so busy, (because lets face it, we all are – life!) that you have forgotten the last time you watered your plant, so figure it’s best to water now or you’ll forget again later, when really you only just watered that same plant yesterday! Maybe someone else is trying to be helpful, and they’re watering the plants the day after you’ve watered them!? Or worse, you trust someone with your beloved houseplants while you go away on a little trip and they overwater them (oh, the plant anxiety whenever I go on holiday is so real!) What ever it is, we’ve all overwatered our houseplants at some point.


My yucca sat in very damp soil

So, what are the signs that your houseplant is having a few too many drinks?! Here are a few symptoms to look out for:

- Chances are, your houseplant is sat in very damp soil, that doesn’t get the chance to dry out.

- Soft, squidgy rotting roots (I know the roots will be hard to see while your plant is in the pot, but if you carefully remove it from the pot, you might be able to see or feel the texture of them).

- There may be mould or mildew growing on top of the soil.

- The base of stem may start to rot, it will start to look a slightly different colour, it will be squidgy in texture, and eventually will not be able to hold your plant up any longer.

- The leaves, both new and old, will start to soften and rot, they may even ooze as they have too much water inside their cell walls and therefore can no longer contain it.

- There will most probably be leaf discolouration and drooping.

- There could be an unpleasant smell coming from your plant.


But why does this happen?! It’s just water, and a plant needs water to survive, right?! Correct, but lets think about what happens when your plant has too much water.


The thing is, as well as water, your houseplants roots need air. Your plant needs oxygen and the roots of your plant is how they get it; air sits in tiny pockets around your plants roots and within the soil. Roots are able to absorb the oxygen that sits in the air pockets, however, if there is too much water within the soil, the water will take up the air pocket space, therefore leaving your plant without oxygen.

Soggy soil also means soggy roots, which can lead to root rot! That is exactly what it sounds like, the roots of your plant will rot and turn to mulch. This is caused by fungi that develop in the overly moist soil. Root rot will render your plant’s roots unable to do their job of absorbing nutrients and oxygen. There is no way to reverse root rot, so it is certainly something we want to avoid!

If your plant sits in soggy soil for too long and those roots start to rot, it will no longer be able to absorb any of the vital things it needs to survive; nutrients, oxygen and water! You heard me correctly, if your plant is sat in water logged soil for too long it will lose the ability to drink it up, kind of like when you’re having a drink out of a paper straw and the straw starts to collapse on you leaving you unable to suck up that delicious drink!

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So, what now?! If your plant isn’t drooping, and you think that perhaps you just haven’t been letting the soil dry out enough between waterings, I’d recommend leaving it alone for a few weeks or until the soil is adequately dry. However, if your houseplant is showing quite a few of the symptoms from above then read on to see how you could save it.


How to save an overwatered houseplant?

- Move the plant to a shadier spot; bright light and heat from the sun will cause your plant to need water to stay hydrated and as we’ve already discovered, your plant can no longer absorb that sweet sweet water.

- Does the pot your plant is sat in have drainage holes? If not, I would recommend transplanting it carefully into a pot with drainage holes, no one likes soggy feet.

- Carefully attempt to create air pockets in the soil. Gently lean your plant to the side and tap the pot, this will hopefully loosen some of the soil, creating air pockets. Creating more air pockets should encourage the soil to dry quicker and also get some air flow to the roots. Another way to add air pockets to your soil is to (very) gently poke holes into the soil, for example with a chopstick. Be careful though! You don't want to damage the already stressed out roots.

- If you can, repot the plant. Gently remove some of the soggy soil (try not to disturb the roots too much), replacing it with dry soil.


Hopefully these steps will help and your houseplant will start to recover, you could notice an improvement in your plant within a week! Just be aware that unfortunately, not all plants will survive being overwatered; you may sadly have to admit defeat.


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So, what next? Maybe you’re someone who hasn’t overwatered their plants yet, but you’re worried you’re going to?! Or maybe you’re someone who has overwatered a plant and has been unable to save it and you’re trying again? Here are some tips on how to avoid overwatering:


- Get to know the weight of your plant. This sounds a bit strange at first, but once you get used to the weight of your plant you can really tell whether they’re in need of a drink. Pick your plant up once its been watered and feel how heavy it is, try to remember that weight and judge whether it needs another drink based on that weight each time you go to water it.

- Get to know how your plant looks when its at its happiest. A lot of plants are really good at communicating when they need a drink; their leaves may droop (I know this is also a sign of being overwatered – it’s tricky sometimes) or their leaves may curl up, the leaves may start to go a bit crispy around the edges or the leaves may get a bit wrinkly (we’re looking at you, succulents!).

- Use your fingers! Sticking your fingers in the soil is a really good way to tell how damp or dry the soil is and whether or not your plant may need a drink.

- If the thought of sticking your fingers in the soil creeps you out, purchasing a moisture meter could be the answer for you. Moisture meters are fairly accurate and cheap devices that could help you to understand the moisture level of your soil.

- Do your research, as I said at the beginning of this post, all plants have different care needs and will require different amounts of water for them to thrive. Researching what type of plant you have and how much water it needs will go a long way to helping you understand when to give it a drink and when to leave it alone for a bit.

-I'd also recommend giving bottom watering your houseplants a go! I almost exclusively bottom water my plants, I just sit them on a plate of water and let them suck up what they need, if they drink all of the water on the plate I fill it up again. I leave them there for a couple of hours sometimes, but would not recommend leaving them there much longer, wouldn't want to risk those roots rotting now would we?


My Calathea Zebrina with its leaves curled up because it needs a drink and a timelapse of my Begonia Rex 'Arctic Breeze' having a drink

Have you been overwatering your houseplants? Were you scared you were going to overwater them? Did you trust someone else to water your precious plants for you? What ever it was that brought you to this blog post, I hope it has helped and you understand your plants needs better. Thanks for stopping by, and don't forget to drink some water!


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