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As a soil scientist interacting with the plant community, I get this question on a weekly basis. Most people think if you have over watered a plant all hope is lost. I am here to let you know this is not the case and there are some tricks you can try at home to solve your overwatered plants
The Top Five Solutions For Fixing Over Watered Plants
- Using a fork to ruff up the soil surface.
- Removing any decorative rocks or moss.
- Poking a tampon or any sort of paper towel into the soil.
- Tipping the pot (we will talk about this more).
- Inserting a string in the bottom.
As with anything prevention is the key. Using things such as a good draining soil or a terracotta pot can help alleviate this issue for you in the future. However, in the immediate future it is not a good idea to repot the plant because it is already under immense stress.
If you are wondering how to identify the signs of overwatering a plant check out my article on guttation and why it maybe your number one warning signal.
How Long Does It Take For A Plant To Recover From Overwatering?
The plant begins to recover once the water in the soil pore space is below 80%. This allows for air to be apart of the soil porosity. Overall, this results in better gas exchange between the soil and the plant roots. The best way to speed recovery after overwatering is to remove the excess water and get to the 80%. Once the excess water is removed you are in the safe zone and the plant can recover.
I Keep Overwatering My Plants Why Do I Do?
If you keep overwatering your plants your should consider changing the medium as well as the pot. Overwatering happens because the plant is not quick enough at taking all the excess water in the soil pores. This excess water takes up the entire soil pore and does not allow for oxygen. When the oxygen is forced out of the soil pores anaerobic conditions set in.
Changing to a terracotta pot and a large pore potting soil, such as orchid bark and sphagnum moss, will stop you from over watering. Having a clear pot will also help you see what is happening below the soil surface for moisture. If you see condensation of the sides of the clear pot, do not water.
I like to group people into three plant personalities overwatering, under-watering and normal. You personality will change your potting soil recipe along with your pot type. I have an entire article dedicated to helping you design a potting soil recipe that works for you. Below is a chart designed by a soil scientist (me) to help you determine the best pot and potting soil based on your watering personality.
If this is to overwhelming then Lechuza pon or semihydro will most definitely be the solution for you! You will not be an plant overwaterer forever. Once you get an understanding of what the plant needs your will become a plant watering pro!
|Watering Personality||Recommended Pot Type||Recommended Soil Type|
|Over watering||Terracotta or clear orchid pot||Orchid bark & sphagnum moss|
|Under watering||Plastic nursery pot with cover pot||Straight potting soil, no bark|
|Normal||Plastic pot with or without nursery pot||Straight potting soil with microbes|
How To Tell If A Plant Is Over Or Under Watered?
When you are trying to figure out if a plant has been overwatered we want to look at the potting soil, shoots and leaves of the plants. The leaves of the plant may begin to look droopy and this is a sign of either over or under watering depending on the potting soil moisture. If the stem looks wrinkled or black this again depends on the potting soil. Below is a chart too help you determine if a plant is over or under watered.
|Signs & Symptoms||Cause|
|Drooping Leaves & Wet Soil||Over Watered|
|Drooping Leaves & Dry Soil||Under Watered|
|Wrinkled Stem & Dry Soil||Under Watered|
|Wrinkled Stem & Wet Soil||Over Watered|
|Black Stem||Over Watered|
|Guttation: or water droplets on leaves||Over Watered|
|Sour Smelling Soil||Over Watered|
|Mold: on the soil for more then 3 days||Over Watered|
|Algae: on the soil for more then 3 days||Over Watered|
|Black Mushy Roots||Over Watered|
|White Papery Roots||Under Watered|
|New leaves are crispy||Over Watered|
|Flowers: dropping off & soil is dry||Under Watered|
|Flowers: dropping off & soil is wet||Over Watered|
|Chlorosis or Yellowing Leaves||Over Watered|
How To Not Overwater Plants?
Not overwatering plants is pretty simple to solve. Change your plants into a terracotta pot filled with orchid bark and sphagnum moss. With this setup you could water your plants daily and have not issues.
Will Overwatering A Plant Once Kill It?
No, overwatering a plant once will not kill it. The most it will do is stunt its growth for a short period of time. Once the potting soil is adjusted and the excess water is removed normal plant growth will resume.
Repotting An Overwatered Plant
If you choose too repot an overwatered plant all you need to do is remove the soil around the roots. This is the sight of gas exchange and where anaerobic microbes that cause root rot are located. Once the overwatered potting soil is removed rinse the roots under tap water or soak in a pH balanced nutrient bath. Repot the overwatered plant in a dry potting soil mix, preferably in a terracotta or clear pot.
Using A Fork To Rough Up The Soil Surface
Using a fork to rough up that soil surface will help increase the rate of evaporation from the soil. This is due to the extra surface area you are exposing to the air and sunshine. All you need to do is ensure that the matted surface is now fluffy. Just take care not to damage and roots that maybe near the surface.
Removing Decorative Rocks Or Moss
Many of us enjoy using rocks, moss, and other trinkets to decorate the top of our soil surface. However, if you have recently over watered these trinkets are causing more harm then good. When we have a covering of the soil, we reduce the rates of evaporation. This lack of evaporation will result in the water staying suspended in soil longer and ultimately causing root rot. Removing the decorative rock long enough for the soil surface to dry out is important.
Using a Tampon or Paper Towel with Overwatered Soil
This is pretty self-explanatory, but the absorbing nature of the cloth will take the excess water out of suspension. The problem area in over watered soil is generally the bottom portion of the pot where something called a perched water table resides. This means if you are using a cloth to reduce soil moisture you will want to insert it in the bottom portion of the container. This will work the water out of the perched water table area.
Tipping the Pot to Remove Excess Water
This sounds goofy but it seriously works wonders. When I say tipping the pot, I do not mean tipping upside down. I am referring to tipping it on its side to allow for gravity to overtake the negative pressures in the system. Check out the diagram below to get a better idea about what I mean.
Inserting A String into Your Pot
This ultimately will cause some root damage but if you know overwatering will be an issue for the future then this is the solution for you. Simply take a fibrous string that’s ¼” or more in thickness and hot glue it to a bamboo stake. Take the stack and thread it through the soil until it come out the other end. Simply cut the string and you are officially done. Leaving a little overhang in the bottom is ideal for extra drainage and removal of the perched water table.
Its officially you now have five methods to help ensure you no longer have to worry after over watering a plant. Let me know which method for fixing over watering you enjoy the most and which method you think would be the most effective.