Overwatering potted plants – 6 common signs you're giving them too much water

Overwatering plants is one of the top ways plants die, especially in the care of new plant parents. So, if you've found yourself in this position, giving your plant so much love that it dies, just know you're not alone.

What is overwatering?

First, let's define the term "overwatering" because it may not mean what you think it means. Often times people will think overwatering refers to the amount of water you give your plant in one watering session, but that's not the case. Overwatering refers to the amount of times you water a plant. If you water your plant on Monday, I wouldn't recommend watering the plant again on Wednesday just because that's the watering schedule you set for your plants. If the soil is still moist and your plant isn't showing signs of being thirsty, avoid overwatering and don't water the plant.

Watering plants too frequently will give the plant waterlogged soil which will lead to waterlogged roots, or, root rot.

Overwatering your plants is quite easy to do, especially if it's a new plant and you don't quite understand it's needs. Not all plants are the same and not all plants need the same care. You can't water a Snake plant the same way you water a Calathea. Another reason your soil might be holding on to too much moisture, is if the soil is too compact or you don't have additives in your soil to add enough air pockets for the roots to breath.

If you want to learn more about making the right soil mixture for you plants, click here.

How do you know if you are overwatering your plants?

There are many different ways your plants may indicate it's being overwatered. Here are just a few signs of overwatering plants.

healthy plant roots

Healthy plant roots

Fungus gnats

Fungus gnats is usually one of the first signs of overwatering plants. Fungus gnats are weak fliers so they stay close to the soil as well as lay eggs inside any organic matter. They feast on plant root or any decaying materials and need soil moisture to thrive in their larvae stage. So, if you notice a sudden influx of these little bugs, maybe you're watering that plant too much. Give the soil more time to dry in between watering.

To learn more about plant pests, how to identify and eradicate them, click here.

Wilting leaves/yellowing leaves

Another sign of an overwatered plant, is wilting leaves even after it's been watered. These soft and limp leaves will look exactly like the leaves of an underwatered plant but the plant will still have moist soil. These leaves may also turn brown or yellow and eventually fall off.

Additionally, you may notice water type blisters form on the surface of the leaves. This is a way a plant deals with excess water.

The base of the plant roots

If you notice the base of the plant is mushy and the plant is suddenly unstable, this is due from the soil being constantly wet and not having enough time to dry out.

How To Prevent Overwatering

Now that you know some of the telltale signs of overwatering your plants, it's time to understand how to prevent overwatering in the future.

What type of plant parent are you?

First, understand the type of plant parent you are, do you have overwatering or underwatering tendencies? Do you have a really busy schedule that prevents you from hovering over your plants? Or are you a helicopter plant parent and want to monitor everything? Try to curate your collection to the type of plant parent you are. If you're a chronic overwaterer, try plants like Calatheas, Anthuriums and Syngonium. However, if you're on the other end, collect Monsteras, Pothos, or Snake plants.

Providing the right type of soil mixture

Next, provide your plant with the correct type of soil mixture. Soil that is too dense and lacking any amendments, will hold onto excess water and may not even dry out in regular house hold conditions. Adding stuff like perlite, orchid bark and charcoal will do wonders for your plant and provide enough air for those plant roots to breath.

chunky soil mixture for house plants
Chunky soil mixture for plants

Learn more about how to make the perfect soil for your plants in our blog here.

Pick the right type of planter

Consider the type of planter your indoor plants are growing in. Ceramic, plastic and glass will hold onto a lot of moisture. While, terra cotta pots will wick away moisture. You'll have to water a plant in terra cotta a lot more frequently than one planted in ceramic. And always make sure they have drainage holes.

Adding air flow

Some extra things your can do to ensure you don't overwater plants is adding air flow to your plant area. This will drastically help with moisture levels. Not only does the extra air flow help leaves grow stronger, but it will help the soil dry out faster and help your plants stay healthy.

Water at the right time

A good rule to follow to help prevent root rot, is to water your indoor plants when the soil is dry. This is the only way to really make sure you haven't overwatered plants. You can check the soil moisture using an inexpensive tool like a moisture meter. If it reads at anything below a 3, then it's time to water.

Can a plant recover from overwatering?

The short answer is, yes. Almost any plant can recover from overwatering, but it really depends on when the rotting roots are caught. Sometimes, you can get away with just backing off on watering. The plant will slowly acclimate and grow new roots. In my experience, this method has been great with Hoyas.

However, in many cases, if it's too far gone, some intervention is needed. If this is the case, unpot the plant and examine the root ball. If the root ball has a little rot here and there, cut away any mushy and rotting roots with a clean pair of shears.

Next, spray or dunk the roots in a mixture of 50% hydrogen peroxide and 50% water. The hydrogen peroxide will work its' magic and stop any more rot from spreading. Then you can repot the plant in fresh soil, introduce it to a bit of higher humidity and keep an eye on it while it grows more roots.

If, upon examination, root rot has completely taken over the plant roots, then it's time to cut and propagate. if the plant is big enough, you can cut the entire plant and take multiple cuttings, just for insurance. If the plant is smaller, then you'll have to cut the roots off completely and re propagate the plant and hope for the best. There's different ways you can propagate a plant in this condition. I recommend perlite or sphagnum moss. However, you can read more on propagation methods here.