How do you know if you’ve overwatered?
There are ways to detect if you have overwatered without waiting until the plant is out of breath. When it comes to recovering an overwatered plant, time is of the essence, because if you wait too long, the consequences will be devastating. Open your eyes and pay attention to the following signs: Your plant is not growing. There is no new growth, but rather a thinned or sickly appearance.
- The plant looks weak, sickly, not straight and beautiful. It looks wilted, but the substrate is moist.
- The leaves are turning yellow. But also watch out for texture, as soaking also changes the color of the leaves but makes them dry and crunchy. In case of excessive watering, the leaves are rather swollen, pale yellow and soft.
- The lower leaves are the first to be affected, they turn yellow and look droopy.
- The stem starts to shrink from the base, it becomes thinner, almost as if it wants to cut the upper part of the plant.
- Loss of leaves and flowers. Excess water affects the growth processes of the plant, so the flowers start to fall off.
- You see shallow roots, almost poking out of the substrate, trying to escape the excess water.
- The leaves and/or fruit appear full of strange little blisters or warts. This phenomenon is known as edema and occurs because the plant has so much water that it is trying to get rid of it by any means.
- Presence of flies or mosquitoes. This occurs because puddles form in the substrate, making it a perfect habitat for the larvae of these insects.
- Touch the substrate. It will be wet, waterlogged, very compact, almost like mud. Sometimes the top may have a greenish appearance. Don’t limit yourself to the top, check the deepest part of the pot or substrate. You can use a wooden stick or dig a little with a spade.
You will find that the symptoms of an overwatered plant are too similar to those of an underwatered plant. And it is precisely this detail that causes many people to water again, thinking that this will help the plant recover. The cause of this phenomenon is not a coincidence, because overwatering and underwatering have more or less the same consequence: a lack of oxygen and nutrients.
In the case of a dry plant, this is due to a lack of water, but overwatering leads to waterlogging and compacting of the substrate. This prevents the correct exchange of gases at root level, it does not allow the plant to breathe; in addition to being suffocated, the roots are not able to properly absorb nutrients, which are also not in the right concentrations in the substrate because they are washed away by the excessive watering, so it ends up suffocating and dying.
The asphyxiation of the roots is not the only negative consequence of excessive watering, but this exaggerated humidity also makes the plant an ideal environment for the growth and development of fungi, which will spread in the roots of the plant and lead to its certain death. This is why it is essential to make a good diagnosis, for which you must know the needs of the plant and your habits, as well as carefully observe your plant for the telltale symptoms we have already described.
7 Tips for recovering your overwatered plant
It is much easier to recover a plant that has been left dry than a plant that has been overwatered, as overwatering causes damage that becomes visible when it is too late. Remember: the secret to the success of these tips is early detection of a plant that has been overwatered. Don’t get discouraged and try to get it back on its feet.
- Avoid exposing it to the sun
I know the first impulse when you see the plant and the waterlogged substrate is to put it in full sun so the soil dries out, but this is harmful and will eventually kill your plant. The problem is that the plant, its stems and leaves, could not absorb moisture, nutrients and oxygen properly because of the excess water. For this reason, it is weaker than usual and is vulnerable. If left in full sun, it will dry out more quickly and die. Place it in part shade or under cover in a well-lit area.
- Remove the plant from the pot
You should remove the plant from the pot, trying to loosen the substrate by gently tapping the sides of the pot on the ground. Turn the plant over by holding the top of the plant with the palm of your hand, so that gravity will work. The goal is to remove it without damaging the vulnerable roots.
- Remove waterlogged substrate
Some people leave the plant in a safe place with soil to dry for a few hours or overnight. This seems risky to me, so I prefer to remove the wet substrate. I do this carefully, placing the plant with its root ball on a newspaper or planting blanket and gently removing the soil from the roots with my hands. This is done in a shady area, to avoid the roots being damaged by the sun. This substrate can be left to dry, provided that there is no fungus. For safety reasons, it is better to get rid of it.
- Check the roots
It’s time to put on your glasses and take a close look at the condition of the roots. The color should be white, they should look solid, more or less thick and of uniform thickness. If you see that they are black or dark, have thinned, have a rotten smell or if you touch them and they crumble like paper left in water, it may be too late. If most of the roots or the main root look healthy and the others are dark and weak, cut them off and leave only the white roots. Don’t worry, the roots can grow back.
- Apply a little fungicide
You may find that the roots look healthy and beautiful, but the fungus is a silent enemy in its early stages. Don’t be complacent or haphazard: apply a little fungicide as a preventative measure. You can apply it directly to the roots to eliminate those pesky visitors, if they are present. It’s also a way to prevent further attacks and strengthen the plant, which needs a little boost to get going again.
- Transplant to a new home
Just like a person suffering in a toxic place, your plant needs to start a new life, away from the environment that was harming it. You can reuse the pot it was in, but wash it thoroughly with a little bleach to kill any fungus it may contain. Don’t forget to rinse it thoroughly. Next, check the drainage holes, place a layer of gravel and fill with a new substrate, suitable for the species. Your plant will appreciate the switch to an airy, loose substrate with more nutrients. Do not fertilize the plant, this is not the right time as it is sensitive and fertilizer can burn the roots.
- Wait to water
It is better to let your new plant dry out a bit than to drown it again. Wait a few days, make sure the top layer of substrate is dry and water properly. If it looks a little dehydrated, you can spray it a little. Remember not to expose your plant to the sun until you see that it has recovered, with new growth. This is a sign that the worst is over and you can continue the fertilization cycle as usual.
Don’t repeat mistakes: what to do to avoid drowning your plants
- Know your plants
You can never have too much knowledge. Read, research and ask questions about your plant species. If you’re not very good at reading and such, you can always use the quick guide we provide with each plant. At Be Green, we make it easy for you and provide a guide to the water needs of the species. Some plants need to be allowed to dry out between waterings, while others prefer to have a certain level of moisture in the substrate and if you let them dry out, they can be affected.
- Adjusting watering patterns
Let’s say you’ve read that this species of plant should be watered twice a week, but that’s not a universal truth, as these settings need to be adjusted to environmental factors and the season. If you are in a very hot location, if the plant is exposed to direct sunlight or if it is summer, you will probably need to water more than recommended, but if the weather is cool or if it is winter, you will need to water less. Don’t be overconfident, check your plant before you water it.
- Get your hands dirty
The best way to tell if your plant needs water is to touch the soil. You can use your fingers, touching the top few inches of soil. If it’s too dry, it’s time to water. I prefer to use a wooden stick (disposable wooden sushi sticks work great), which I stick deep into the soil. If it comes out with soil stuck to it, I wait a bit before watering, if it comes out clean, I go for the watering can.
- Trust the technology
If getting your hands dirty doesn’t work for you and you forget how to water each species, you can always take advantage of technology. You can get a moisture sensor. These devices are a marvel: just stick it in the substrate and let it measure, it will tell you if it needs water or not. They are foolproof.
- Use self-watering systems
A self-watering system can be useful not only for people who are traveling or distracted, but it can also help you maintain a proper watering level, as the plant will take what it needs on its own and you only have to water it regularly. This is very handy for pots and plants that require a constant level of moisture, making it difficult to find that balance.
- Check plant drainage
Before transplanting a plant, always check the drainage holes and put something in the bottom to help remove excess water. I use pebbles or pieces of Styrofoam, but it can also be expanded clay or other materials. Don’t forget to check the drainage of all the pots from time to time, and if you can, use a toothpick to pull up anything that might be blocking them. You should also be careful with the watering saucers, because if they are full, they will come into contact with the plant’s roots and cause them to rot. Place pebbles in the saucers and avoid any risk.