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Signs You Are Overwatering Your Plants

Watering is a crucial aspect to plant parenthood, but it’s not something that comes naturally. When you master this skill, you become a plant guru: Capable of growing just about anything! What are some signs you are overwatering your houseplants? How can you prevent and treat overwatering?

step by step health check for your houseplants

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What’s the Big Deal About Water?

All plants require water. The catch? Each houseplant requires different amounts of water, which means you need to be alert to the signs of overwatering.

Get it right, and you will have a balanced flow of oxygen and nutrients within the soil. Get it wrong, and you will have a dying plant. When your soil is constantly wet, oxygen levels decrease, and root rot sets in. The problem with that? Your roots degrade and can no longer absorb moisture or nutrients.

How to Prevent Overwatering

  • Step One: Learn about your plant’s care requirements from a reliable source.

  • Step Two: Provide drainage: select a pot with a drainage hole and use the proper soil.

  • Step Three: Make sure your plant receives proper levels of light and ventilation, both of which evaporate excess moisture.

  • Step Four: Watch for signs that you’re overwatering your houseplant and be flexible. Regularly make adjustments.

Six Signs You are Overwatering Your Houseplants

#1: Brown Leaves & Spots

If your plant has brown, mushy leaves coupled with wet soil, you are overwatering your plant. The same goes for brown spots with a yellow outline. In contrast, brown, crispy leaves and tips are a sign of underwatering.

#2: Yellow Leaves

Leaves can yellow from age, but more commonly from overwatering. You should be especially concerned if new and old leaves are yellowing. Or if your entire plant has a yellow-overcast in its appearance.

#3: Dropping Leaves

Whether they’re brown, yellow, or green, several dropping leaves can be a tell-tale sign that you are overwatering your houseplant: especially when they’re old and young leaves alike.

#4: Moldy Soil

Does your topsoil have a layer of white mold on it? While the mold isn’t harmful to your plant, it does indicate that you need to change your care routine. Not only are you overwatering, but your plant is likely not receiving proper light and ventilation.

#5: Rotten Base

This condition is especially evident in Crispy Wave ferns and succulents: If “leaves” are falling and the base of the plant is brown and mushy, your plant has rotted. This is called “crown” or “base” rot. In the case of the Crispy Wave, you likely overwatered and watered the rosette center. Sadly, your plant is too far gone for recovery.

#6: Smells & Pests

Healthy soil and plants smell neutral. If you pick up scents of mold or rot, that’s a sign that you are overwatering your houseplant. You may have also noticed an increase in fungus gnats surrounding your plant, which live and feed in moist soil.

Fixing Overwatering Symptoms

If you have detected the signs that you’re overwatering your houseplant early enough, simply stop watering for a time. Allow the soil to dry out thoroughly. If you can easily access your container’s drainage hole, ensure the bottom of the dirt is dry before you rewater. If not, use a clean chopstick to test the soil’s moisture; insert it until it reaches the center of the pot.

For severe cases of overwatering, follow these steps:

  1. Remove your plant from its current container.

  2. Massage the root ball to remove excess dirt.

  3. Inspect your plant’s roots.

  4. Remove brown, rotted roots with sterile scissors. (Tip: Alcohol-based wipes are a handy tool to sanitize your shears quickly.)

  5. Remove any yellowing or brown leaves/stems.

  6. Reevaluate your plant’s soil and container.

  7. Repot in fresh, suitable soil (most tropical houseplants require well-draining soil, making unaltered potting mix unsuitable) and a container that is appropriately proportioned (1-2 inches larger than the current rootball). If you are reusing the current container, sanitize it first.

  8. Leave your plant in a shady area, unwatered for 2-3 hours.

  9. Thoroughly water your plant until water streams from the drainage hole.

Plants that have a rotten base or crown cannot be saved. Dispose of these plants, their soil, and sanitize their container before reusing it.

How to Sanitize Containers

First: Why is it necessary? Root rot is caused by harmful pathogens (aka bacteria), which are highly contagious. Failing to sanitize your pot can result in further root rot issues. A few extra steps are all it takes for prevention!

Step One: Remove all of the loose soil and debris.

Step Two: Fill a bucket with 1 cup bleach and 9 cups of water. (Increase the amount for larger containers.)

Step Three: Allow your planter to soak for a minimum of 10 minutes.

Step Four: Place it in a bucket of warm water and dish detergent.

Step Five: Scrub it with a coarse bristle brush.

Step Six: Rinse thoroughly.

Adjusting Your Watering Routine

You need to break yourself from your overwatering habits. How? Lessen your watering frequency.

Ditch the strict watering schedule. Plant’s water requirements change week to week, depending on several factors (including humidity, light, ventilation, and season). If you are watering your plant daily, stop it. Indoor houseplants do not need to be watered that frequently.

How can you tell when your plant needs water? Water requirements for each plant are different, so do your research. Many houseplants require the first inch of soil to dry out. Do the finger test! Dry soil is a neutral temperature and crumbly. Moist soil is cool to the touch and will stick to your finger.

You will need further to alter your routine with the change of season. Dormant plants do not require as much moisture. Depending on your variety, you should allow the soil to dry out a further inch. Research your specific plant’s dormancy season (usually late fall-early spring).

Get comfortable with this fact: Less is more. Overwatering is the #1 cause of houseplant death, so don’t be scared of underwatering. Symptoms of underwatering are less severe and easily fixable.

And lastly, if you ever find yourself wondering: “Should I water my plant?” Don’t. Wait a few days and test the soil again! With these tips under your belt, you’ll be a plant professional in no time!

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