The easiest, and most common, way to kill a houseplant is overwatering. If you are new to owning houseplants, learning to water them properly is the most important step you can take in keeping your plants healthy.
How To Prevent Overwatering
There is good and bad news when it comes to overwatering plants. The bad news first - it can be challenging for a plant to recover once it has consistently been overwatered. And it doesn’t take too many waterings for a plant to become overwatered and die. But the good news is that you can easily learn to water your plant properly and prevent getting to the stage where you are watering it too frequently, too much, or both.
As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Preventing overwatering is so much easier than trying to save a plant that has been overwatered. Start by reading the care card we include with each plant. The care card gives you not only the watering frequency, but also indicates how moist or dry the soil should be before watering. Keep the care card until you feel comfortable knowing what your plant needs to thrive.
Until you are confident in watering, drainage is important. If your plant is in a pot with no drainage holes, there is no where for excess water to go. Potting your plant into a planter with a drainage hole will allow the excess water to seep out the bottom. Alternatively, keep your plant in the nursery pot and place it inside a decorative pot. When watering, you can remove the plant from the pot and water it over the sink. Once the excess has drained out the bottom, the nursery pot can be placed back in the decorative pot.
Signs that your plant has been overwatered
- Insert your finger deep into the soil, 2 to 3 inches, one week after the last watering. If the soil remains heavy and saturated with water, you are likely overwatering the plant. Little flies coming out of the soil when you touch it can also be an indicator of overwatering. These are fungus gnats and they proliferate when soil stays wet for too long.
- The leaves are turning yellow or brown and are limp. If the leaves are wilted, it is likely that root rot has set in and the roots can no longer absorb water.
- Old and new leaves are dropping. If your plant is shedding what appear to be healthy new leaves, this could mean it has been overwatered.
- The base of the plant stem is mushy. Root rot has travelled up the stem and the plant is starting to decay.
- You see brown spots that are encircled by yellow. This is a bacterial infection that has grown from overwatering.
- There is fungus or mold growing on top of the soil.
Nurturing your plant back to health
In mild cases, your plant can recover from overwatering. If your plant looks healthy otherwise, some mold on top of the soil, a few fungus gnats and oversaturated soil can be remedied by simply not watering the plant. In this case avoid watering the plant until the soil has completely dried out, all the way down to the roots. When you resume watering, make sure you follow the instructions on the care card.
In more serious cases, you will encounter mushy stems and/or a large number of wilting leaves. This is likely a sign that root rot has set in and you will have to be more aggressive. Start by removing the plant from the pot and checking the roots. Healthy roots will be white and solid, while roots where rot has set in are black or brown and often mushy. Begin by removing the rotten roots with a sharp knife or trimmer. Be sure to cut up to the point where the root is healthy and wipe the blade between each cut with rubbing alcohol to prevent spreading bacteria. Remove all of the existing soil from the roots. If you are going to repot the plant into the same pot, be sure to wash it out with soap and water. Use fresh soil when repotting. Water the plant again, being sure not to oversaturate the soil by letting the excess water drain away.
Root rot is tricky to recover from. If you manage to save your plant, following the watering tips mentioned above and following the instructions on your care card will save you and the plant from having to go through this experience again!