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November 26, 2018 4 min read

Have you ever loved a houseplant to actual death? I have.

It all started with a peace lily and the best of intentions. You see, I had just read an article about the health benefits of keeping plants in your home. I decided to give it a try. How hard could it be? All I needed to do was make sure I watered it, right? As the weeks passed by, it started to look worse and worse. My solution? Water. I even bought myself a cute watering can from my local plant shop. I was bound and determined to be a great plant mom. Little did I know, I was slowly watering my beloved peace lily to death.

Why is Overwatering a Problem?

You might be thinking, “wait, plants need water to survive so how could you possibly over water one?” Valid question, my friend! First, let’s take a behind-the-scenes peek at what happens when a plant is over watered.

Every plant has a ratio of roots to leaves. This is how the plant receives water. When you come along and water your plant, the roots absorb the water and send it up to the leaves via the stems. An efficient system, right? Remarkably so! But what happens when a plant’s roots receive too much water? The system does what it always does: it sends that water up to the already well-watered leaves. Now the leaves’ cells have to deal with the excess water. Here’s the thing - they can’t. When more water floods a leaf’s cells, the cells burst, resulting in yellow spots on the leaves. What happens if this continues? The plant’s roots begin to rot, eventually killing the entire plant (RIP peace lily).

You might be wondering how to know if you’re giving your plant too much water. Too much water really means water too soon. When a plant is in a healthy state, it’s watering system works like a charm, ensuring each leaf receives the water it needs. Problems arise when we get too eager to care for our beloved plant via the watering can.

When to Water Your Houseplants

Now that we’ve unpacked what’s happening when a plant is overwatered, let’s discuss when you should water. As much as I’d love to tell you to water every houseplant you own once a week, that isn’t going to help you (or your plants).

Think about it: plants are living, breathing things just like you and I. They have different needs. Yes, they each need water to survive but this doesn’t mean they need water at the same time. So how do you know when a plant does need water? Check the plant’s soil. Either using a moisture meter or your finger, check the first few inches of soil to see if it’s moist or dried out. Has it dried out? Then you’re probably safe to water. Is it still pretty moist? Wait another day or so and check again.

With all this talk about the danger of overwatering your precious houseplants, it can be tempting to hold back on watering. Your plants still need plenty of water to survive! When they are good and ready to receive water, you want to ensure you water them thoroughly.

How to Water Your Houseplants

Enter: the two-drench method. It’s a simple method that takes the guesswork out of watering. Go ahead and grab your plant and place it in a sink. Give it a good douse of water. Now if the plant is really dry, you may notice water running out of the bottom of the pot really quickly. Ah, but we’re not done! Let it sit for 15 - 30 minutes or so. This is preparing the soil and roots to truly absorb the water it needs. You see, when the soil dries out, it becomes compact allowing water to quickly pass through the pot without getting down to the roots. The roots are the part of the plant that needs water the most! After that 15 - 30 minutes, come back to your plant and thoroughly drench it with water once more. Allow it to fully drain and then set it back where it belongs. Now you have a properly watered plant.

Keep in mind that plants have growth and rest periods. Their growing season is in spring and summer, and the rest period is in fall and winter. During their resting period, you’ll want to water less often. This is because the plant isn’t actively growing, so it doesn’t need as much water.

Symptoms and Remedies for Overwatered Houseplants

Honesty hour: overwatering is hard to come back from. Sad but true. Does that mean you should just give up if you have some soggy, yellow houseplants on your hands? No! Not every over watered plant is too far gone.

If you suspect you’ve been overly eager with the watering can, take a close look. Does the plant have yellowed leaves? Is it kind of mushy or soggy? Slightly wilting? If so, you probably have a victim of overwatering. First things first: stop watering. This doesn’t mean forever, it just means for now. Remember that every plant has a ratio of roots to leaves? If the plant has some very dead leaves, this most likely means that those roots have rotted. You may need to do some pruning. If the plant seems moderately over watered, you may want to prune off 1/3 of the plant. If the plant is extremely wilted and a yellowed, mushy mess, you may want to cut back 1/2 of the plant. Pruning helps reduce the stress of the plant and gives it a better chance at survival. If your plant is too far gone, there’s no reason to give up plant parenthood altogether. Every plant parent has been there! Head back to your local garden center and try again.

And there you have it, my friend! Now you know how to avoid overwatering your dear houseplants.

Happy indoor planting!

*This post was originally written for and published at Greenthum.


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