Overwatering is the most common problem we face as beginners growing plants in pots. But that’s a problem that can be quite dangerous for your plants.
If a potted plant is overwatered the roots will drown in the moisture. The plant won’t get the required oxygen and nutrients from the roots. The moisture will cause fungus to infect the roots and cause root rot. Once all the roots have died, the plant will die as well.
Several signs will show you that your potted plant has been overwatered. If you understand those signs, you can take the required action as soon as possible and save the potted plant.
Leaves will start yellowing or wilting
The overwatering will drown the roots and they won’t be able to provide oxygen or nutrients to the plant. This is seen when the leaves start turning yellow or wilting even when you are providing plenty of water.
The soil will appear dark in color showing that it has plenty of water and the plant will feel soft to touch. The leaves and stem may even develop blisters with all the water reaching them.
The color of the leaves and stem may turn light green because the plant is not getting the required nutrients.
Potting soil will start to smell
The overwatering will drown the roots and cause a humid condition surrounding them. This will invite fungal diseases that will attack the roots and cause root rot.
The fungal disease and anaerobic bacteria will cause the potting soil and the roots to smell.
Mold may start growing on the soil
The overwatering will keep the posting soil soggy with the excess water. This humid condition will attract fungi like mold that will start growing on the potting soil.
The fungal infections and mold may even start growing on the foliage of the potted plant as it comes under stress due to the overwatering.
Stunted growth of the plant
The plant will not receive the required nutrients and oxygen due to the problem of overwatering. This will stunt the growth of the plant even when you seem to be providing sufficient water.
Discolored roots of the plant
If the roots are healthy they will be white in color and dry rather than full of moisture. But once they are attacked by root rot, the color will be black or brown. And the roots will be soggy with a bad smell.
You can take the plant out of the pot and check the roots for signs of such root rot that indicates overwatering.
How do you save an overwatered potted plant?
If your potted plant is suffering from overwatering, you can save it. But this depends on how fast you react to the problem and how much damage has been done to the plant.
You can check this by removing the potted plant out of the pot and inspecting the roots. If all the roots have turned black or brown in color, you cannot save the plant and need to dispose of it.
If some of the roots are still white in color and healthy, there is a good chance the plant will bounce back to health.
You still need to do some actions that will help the plant recover from the overwatering.
Cut off the diseased roots
The first step is to take the potted plant out of the pot and check the roots. Use a sterile pair of bypass pruners to trim the diseased roots of the plant.
You can sterilize the pruners using rubbing alcohol or a mixture of bleach and water.
Cut off the dead foliage
Since you cut off the roots, the plant cannot sustain all of its foliage. So cut off any dead or yellowing leaves and stems from the plant.
I would also suggest cutting off healthy leaves from the plant so the size of the plant is reduced a bit. Don’t trim more than 1/3rd of the plant when do this or you will stress the plant.
Repot with fresh potting soil
You should throw away the potting soil as it may contain fungal diseases and moisture. Sterilize the pot before you can add fresh potting soil to it.
You can soak the pot in a mixture of 1 part bleach and 9 parts water. Keep it in this mixture for at least 1 hour. Then rinse it with clean water. Let the pot dry before you add the potting soil to it.
You can now place the roots of the plant in the potting soil and cover them up with more soil.
Place the plant away from sunlight
You should place the potted plant away from sunlight for a couple of days till it can recover. The sunlight can encourage plant growth that you don’t want to do immediately.
Don’t add any fertilizer to the potting soil or plant for the same reason. Let the plant’s roots recover from the stress before they can start growing new foliage.
Water the plant well
Once you have placed the potted plant in new potting soil, you can give it a good watering. This will encourage the roots to start recovering from the stress.
You can add a little hydrogen peroxide to the water if you wish. This will give a boost of oxygen to the roots and the plant and help them recover faster.
How to avoid overwatering potted plants?
Check the soil moisture before watering
The most common reason for overwatering is we think the plant is receiving less water. We don’t measure how much water is actually present in the potting soil.
The simplest way to fix this problem is to use a moisture meter in the potting soil before you water it. You will know when you should water the plant and when you should not.
The other method is to stick your finger in the potting soil so you can check the moisture to a depth of 1-2 inches. If the tip of your finger feels dry, then you can give the potting soil good watering.
Ensure pot has sufficient drainage holes
Another common problem that leads to overwatering is not having sufficient drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. This often happens when you choose a decorative pot that does not come with such holes.
If there are sufficient drainage holes, the excess water can drain out from the bottom. But if there are no drainage holes, you need to be careful about how much you are watering. If you water a lot, the excess water will collect at the bottom and drown the roots.
So it’s always good to have drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. If you want to use a decorative pot without drainage holes, it’s best to grow the plant in another pot that has drainage holes. Then place the pot in a larger decorative pot.
When you want to water the plant, you need to take the inner pot out of the decorative pot and give it a good watering till the excess water drains out from the bottom. Then you can place the pot back inside the decorative pot.
Use the right sized pot
I recommend growing the plant in a pot that is 1-2 sizes larger than the plant itself. If you use a very large pot, the plant’s roots will not be able to absorb all the moisture.
This will cause the excess water to remain in the potting soil for a longer time and you risk the problem of overwatering.
If you already bought a pot larger than the plant, you can place filler material at the bottom of the pot instead of potting soil. This will reduce the volume of the potting soil and avoid the problem of overwatering.
You can use filler such as packing peanuts, broken pot pieces, small plastic containers, crushed cola cans, or milk jugs.
Make sure to use good potting soil
You must use potting soil that is specifically for growing plants in pots. Do not try to use garden soil as that may lead to overwatering.
The garden soil may contain clay that will reduce the flow of water in the pot and lead to the collection of moisture. The garden soil may also be heavy causing it to compact as you keep watering it.
The garden soil may also contain rocks and debris that will block the flow of water from the top of the pot reaching the drainage holes at the bottom.
Here are some of my favorite container gardening tools
Thank you for reading this post. I hope it helps you with your gardening needs. I’ve listed some tools below that can help you with container gardening. These are affiliate links so I’ll earn a commission if you use them.
Gardening Gloves – I find the Pine Tree Tools Bamboo Gardening Gloves really good for both men and women. It’s made from bamboo so helps absorb perspiration. They are also comfortable and fit very well.
Containers – You know picking the right container is crucial for your container gardening. I’ve written a detailed post on the best containers you can choose from. If you’re happy with a plastic container, you can check out the Bloem Saturn Planter.
Watering Can – This is a must-have tool when you’re growing plants in pots or grow bags. It helps to water the potting soil without splashing on the foliage. The Kensington Watering Can is stylish, strong, and can provide precision when watering potted plants.
Trowel – Garden Guru Trowel is my favorite because it’s durable and comfortable to use. My gardening friends really love having a trowel because they use it for digging soil, mixing fertilizer, moving seeds, leveling out the soil, mixing compost or mulch, and also dividing tubers
Bypass Pruner – I really like the Corona Bypass Pruner because it’s durable and gives a clean cut that helps plants recover faster. If you’re looking for something cheap, get the Fiskars Bypass Pruner that is really good as well.
To see an extensive list of the best container gardening tools gardeners recommend, check out this resource that I made for you.
Kevin is the founder of Gardening Mentor, a website that aims to teach people to grow their own food in a limited space. As a self-taught gardener, Kevin has spent several years growing plants and creating gardening content on the website. He is certified in Home Horticulture and Organic Gardening by expert gardeners from Oregon State University.