How To Tell The Difference Between Overwatering And Underwatering?


I was a bit confused about how much to water my plants. So I researched some tips to understand if you’re overwatering or underwatering the plants.

Symptoms of overwatering:

  • Rotting roots
  • Wilting leaves that are soft and limp
  • Leaf blisters
  • Foul smell from the soil
  • Fungus on top of the soil

Symptoms of underwatering:

  • Stunted and slow growth
  • Wilting leaves that are dry and crisp
  • Brittle stems
  • Soil pulling away from edge of the container
  • No blossoms on flowering plants

The problem is that many of the symptoms can be similar between overwatering and underwatering. But let me show you how to use the moisture level of the soil to understand the problem.

How to find out the moisture level of your soil?

You can use a tool like a moisture meter to figure out the exact moisture readings in the soil. But that’s not mandatory.

You can find the moisture in the soil using your finger. Just poke your finger 1-2 inches into the soil.

If you feel the moisture and see some soil sticking to your fingers, that’s a sign the soil contains a good amount. You don’t need to water it for a while.

But if you don’t feel the moisture and there’s no soil sticking to your fingers, that’s an indication your soil is drying out and needs watering.

How to know whether you’re overwatering or underwatering?

The first step is to understand the moisture content of the soil. Use the method mentioned above to figure this out.

Now let’s look at some common symptoms and figure out the problem in your plants.

Rotting roots

This is the most common symptom of overwatering your plants. The soil in your container requires space for air and moisture to reach the roots.

If there’s too much water in the soil, it blocks these pathways and spaces. This chokes the roots as air does not reach them and they start to rot.

You can lift the plants out of the pots to check whether the roots are rotting.

Wilting leaves that are soft and limp

When water does not reach the roots, it cannot provide the required nutrients to the plant.

The first problem that occurs is leaves start wilting. This is an occurrence for both overwatering and underwatering.

However, in the case of overwatering, there’s a lot of water that’s been pushed by the roots which causes the leaves to go soft and limp.

Leaf blisters

A lot of excess water reaching the roots means it sends it to the upper parts of the plants like the stem and the leaves.

Too much water in the leaves means they cannot take the stress. The water bursts out of the leaves and you can see leaf blisters on them.

Foul smell from the soil

A lot of water in the soil means the roots don’t get to breathe. But this also means it becomes a thriving ground for all sorts of organisms.

The decaying of the roots and other matter by such organisms will cause a foul smell from the soil.

Fungus on top of the soil

When you overwater the soil, there’s a good chance of fungus growing on top of the soil.

The fungus might not be harmful to the plant but eventually the dampness may cause other types to attack the foliage.

Stunted and slow growth

If you find that your plants are growing slowly or their growth is stunted, there’s a high chance that you’re underwatering the plants.

The roots are not getting sufficient moisture and cannot provide the required nutrients to the plants to grow their foliage.

Wilting leaves that are dry and crisp

Wilting leaves can be a symptom of both underwatering and overwatering the plants. The leaves may turn yellowish or brown in color.

But in the case of underwatering, the leaves will tend to be dry and crisp instead of soft and limp.

Brittle stems

Too little water reaching the stem is a problem of underwatering. And the result is that the stem will turn brittle.

Have a look at the stem or touch it to understand whether it’s dry and brittle.

Soil pulling away from edge of the container

When you’re growing plants in a container and underwater it, the soil will tend to compact.

As part of this problem, the soil will pull away from the edge of the container. This is an easy and common symptom to spot when underwatering is the issue.

No blossoms on flowering plants

Flowering plants will not be able to grow blossoms for lack of water.

This is another common symptom that will help you figure out that you’re underwatering the plants in your containers.

How to solve the problem of underwatering?

Once you have understood that your plants are suffering from the problem of underwatering, it’s quite easy to fix.

Just start watering the container until the water runs out from the drainage holes. This just means that the soil is getting wet. But the water may not have reached throughout the soil.

Water the soil once more till the water runs out from the bottom. And you’ll need to do this a third time to ensure the soil has regained its moisture and texture.

How to solve the problem of overwatering?

Once you know your plants are suffering from the problem of overwatering, you can fix it with a few steps.

If you can, lift the plant gently out of the pot. Tilt the pot sideways and tap the plant out without damaging it.

Remove any unwanted soil sticking to the roots without damaging them. Check for roots that have rotten or are dead.

You can cut them off with a pair of garden shears. Make sure to sterilize them before use so you don’t introduce diseases to the roots.

You can clean the pot with a mixture of bleach and water and let it dry out. Then you can put some potting soil in the pot.

Place the plant back in the pot and spread the soil over the roots. Make sure to add the soil to cover all the roots.

Add enough soil so the plant is at the same depth as it was before removing from the pot.

Now you can water the soil lightly. Make sure the soil is dry enough before you water it well the next time.

How to water the plants once you have solved the problem?

Now you have solved the problem that underwatering or overwatering had caused to your plants.

It’s important that you water the plants well but don’t end up with the same problems again.

The best way to do this is to check the moisture levels in the soil at least once every day.

Use the simple method of sticking your finger a couple of inches in the soil. Or you can invest in a good moisture meter if that’s what you prefer.

Just make sure to keep the soil moist without allowing it to get too dry or too wet.

What to do if your plants continue to have problems?

So you’ve figured out that your container plants were overwatered or underwatered. And tried the above solutions.

But maybe your plants continue to show the same symptoms even after this. What may be the problem?

The container plants can suffer symptoms like yellowing leaves, root rot, wilting, and stunted growth due to other reasons.

This could be problems like pests and diseases attacking the soil or plants, lack of nutrients in the soil, or unfavorable temperature.

You need to continue isolating the problems till you figure out what’s happening with your plants.

Start by checking the temperature requirements of your plants and whether it’s optimal or not.

Take a look at the plants carefully whether they have some pests and diseases on them. Look underneath the foliage and on the stem to see if it’s infected.

And you can try adding the required fertilizer to try and give your plants a boost.

Kevin

Kevin’s sick of eating mass-produced vegetables that contain harmful chemicals and lack nutrition and taste. He wants to grow his own food and help others do the same even with limited growing space.

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