Have you ever unwittingly killed a plant by overwatering it? Overwatering plants is a thing (and one of the most common causes of plant problems), and something that all gardeners and plant owners need to be aware of in order to avoid. Often the signs of overwatering look similar to under-watering, and it is too often diagnosed as plant pest damage.
It's important to water your plants properly and to make sure they have plenty of proper drainage.
Can you really overwater plants?
Yes. When you water your plants too much (or if the soil is drained poorly), soils can easily become waterlogged. This is a problem for roots trying to survive because they may suffocate and die due to their inability to absorb the oxygen they need. Longer periods of time with their oxygen supply cut off will result in increasing root damage. Dying, decaying roots cannot supply the plants with necessary nutrients and water.
In addition to receiving insufficient oxygen, plants stressed or injured by overwatering can also become prone to illness, and can attract bugs. Phytophthora spp. for example, can cause root rot in soils that are often waterlogged.
Overwatered Plants Symptoms
Some symptoms of overwatering to look for include:
- Slowed plant growth with yellowing leaves
- Plants may also suffer from leaf scorch/burn
- Water soaked spots and/or blisters (i.e., Oedema) may be visible on plant stems and leaves
- Rotting on the plant's crown (due to root rot)
Some Strategies to Avoid Overwatering
- Appropriate plants. Research and select plants appropriate for your climate and soil (e.g., for poorly draining soil, plant "thirsty" plants). Plant native plants whenever possible, as they will adapt and thrive better to your locality and will have fewer pest problems. They will be lower maintenance!
- Water your plants only as needed. Moist soil will be dark in color. Dry soil will be more powdery and lighter in color. Test each plant individually. Note that plants that wilt in the daylight sun will typically recover on their own later in the day. Be sure that the soil is not too wet based on the needs of your particular plants before watering, as this can quickly lead to overwatering.
- Less frequent watering, but water for longer and deeper. Water at the base of the plant, not the top. Thorough watering promotes healthier plants. Deep watering encourages roots to go deeper into the soil where it is moist and cooler. Water outdoor plants early in the morning, not at night.
- Dry surface soil? Surface soil typically dries out first, but this does not necessarily mean the roots need water. Check your soil before watering. Overwatered soil (i.e., that has gone too long without oxygen) will typically smell sour/rotten.
- Prioritize watering for newly planted trees and shrubs. Young plants are still in the process of establishing their deep root systems, and will depend on superficial water to survive. Don't let the soil around newly planted trees and shrubs dry up too much or become too damp. Before watering, test soil with a probe or a hand trowel. Once plants are fully established, they will need less water.
- "Water drippers" or timed soak hoses. Using instruments to water regularly at preset amounts helps your plants get watered regularly, but not too much, and you'll never forget to water them. You can adjust the watering frequency and amount of watering based on the season and temperature, keeping current rainfall levels in mind. Be sure to water at the base of your plants, as overhead watering might use too much water and end up causing plant fungal diseases. Watch for nearby leaking downspouts and irrigation pipes that might be over-saturating the soil.
- Mulch. Mulch, compost, or rotted manure can improve drainage, especially in heavy claylike soil. Be sure to keep mulch away from plant stems as much as possible.
Rescuing Wilting Plants
- Move your wilted plant to a shady area (even if it is a "sun" plant). Remove any dead or dying leaves.
- Check your pot for proper drainage and, if you can, create additional space for air around the roots. Remove dying/dead roots and keep only healthy roots.
- Treat the soil around your recovering plant(s) with a plant oil-based fungicide/garden spray.
- Continue monitoring the plant(s) for diseases, and treat with a garden spray labeled to control fungal diseases as necessary.
You can never be positive that you can rescue a plant from overwatering. Your plant will revive within a week or so if it is going to survive. If you've relocated your plant, at this point, you can move it back where it was and get back to its regular watering schedule.
Protect Your Plants with a Botanical Garden Spray
To prevent and control common garden insect problems, mite problems and/or plant fungal diseases, try an effective natural plant oil-based 3-in-1 garden spray. Look for a garden spray that you can use for organic gardening, indoors and outdoors, and does not leave behind harmful residues.
What are your go-to yard care strategies? We want to hear about them! Comment below!
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Thanks! Great info. Couldn’t understand what my yellow leaves were from. Now, I know!