All living things need both water and air to survive and thrive. For this reason, your plants must be able to breathe both above and below the soil level. Over-watering plants stop plants from “breathing.”
Even specimens needing consistently moist soil also need light soil that allows roots to breathe.
Over watered plants do not have any defense against disease.
Heavy, waterlogged soil compacts and smothers plant roots causing suffocation, root rot and plant death by drowning, disease or infestation.
One of the most common reasons hopeful gardeners fail with specimens is over watering plants.
It is important to know the water needs of each type of plant in your care and water accordingly.
Unfortunately, many gardeners take an overly enthusiastic one-size-fits-all approach.
In this article, we’ll look at the problem of overwatering plants and share advice to help give your specimens the right amount of water at the right time. Read on to learn more.
Good Timing Is Essential To Correct Watering
Just as different specimens have different water requirements, different times of the year also affect the amount of water you should give a plant.
For all plants, you should water more during the growing season and less during the dormant season.
For most plants, this means watering more in the spring and summer and less in the autumn and the winter.
Specimens that bloom and flourish in the winter months such as orchids, azaleas, Christmas cactus and the like require a reversed schedule.
Understanding the natural yearly cycle of your plant is of the utmost importance when determining when and how much water it needs.
Do your homework whenever you add a new plant so you will know how to care for it correctly.
Choose indoor specimens that thrive with the kind of care you want to give. [source]
Over-Watering – What To Look For
Overwatering and waterlogging can lead to pest damage, but very often the damage caused by overwatering can be mistaken for pest damage.
Remember that pest damage rarely takes place on the roots at soil level. This kind of damage is usually root rot caused by fungus.
Specimens habitually kept in waterlogged soil lack oxygen, and this condition stunts the growth and causes yellow leaves.
Yellowing of leaves is often the first noticeable sign people see since yellowing leaves are the most visible.
Some specimens experience leaf burn or leaf scorch. Other symptoms include edema or blistering on the leaves and the stems.
When fungal infection caused by overwatering sets in, root ball rot, and the crown of the plant may also rot.
When watering, give them a thorough soaking when needed, this is better than a little very often.
How To Water Plants Successfully
To prevent root rot problems and pest invasion, it is important to establish good watering practices.
Don’t just give your specimens a little drink.
It is far better to give almost any plant a thorough soaking occasionally than a light drink daily or several times a week.
When you water deeply and infrequently, it encourages the roots to grow deep to access moist, cool soil.
This establishes strong root systems and healthier specimens while discouraging the development of fungus.
Generally, for mature potted and container specimens (with some exceptions) you should wait until the soil is quite dry several inches down.
Then water until the water runs through the container’s drainage holes.
Let the plant sit and soak in its saucer for half an hour, then pour off the excess so the plant does not drown. Growing the Hibiscus is a good example. The tropical hibiscus plant likes plenty of drink but does not like to sit in it.
To avoid root rot, never let a plant stand in a saucer full of water on an ongoing basis.
There are several steps you can take to avoid accidentally leaving a plant sitting in water for too long.
- Make the soil light and airy by mixing in gravel, sand, perlite or other fine, light ingredients.
- Include drainage in the bottom of the pot with a layer of pot shards, large gravel or Styrofoam peanuts.
- Be sure any pot you use has good drainage holes.
- Use terra cotta or wood pots or baskets lined with coconut coir fiber or peat to allow good air circulation to the roots.
- Establish a pebble tray under the plant. Fill the plant saucer with pebbles to hold the bottom of the pot out of the water.
This allows evaporation, which improves humidity levels immediately surrounding the plant. For larger areas, such as entire plant shelves, invest in a humidity mat.
Self Watering Systems Helping Prevent Over Watering
There are quite a few excellent self-watering systems on the market today. There are also lots of good DIY projects you can pursue to make your own.
The concept behind self-watering systems (SIPs) is that it allows you to place a measured amount in a reservoir.
Then on a regular basis, the wicking or misting system will deliver it to your specimens as needed.
These systems can work by natural means, such as a wick or sponge automatically drawing moisture into the soil by capillary action when it becomes dry.
There are also systems that work by a timer, apps that inform you when it’s time and a wide variety of other interesting options.
This type of system is handy, but you should not rely on it entirely. It is still necessary to give your specimens an occasional thorough drink to flush out any salts and excessive fertilizer buildup.
Plant Watering FAQs
Is it possible to set a plant watering schedule?
Once you have familiarized yourself with the needs of your specimens, you may be able to establish a weekly or bi-weekly schedule. Even so, you should check the soil and observe the condition of your specimens. Your schedule will need to be adjusted to take weather and season changes into account.
How can you tell if a plant needs water?
There are several ways to tell if it is time to water:
Before providing a drink for any plant, feel the soil. Poke your finger into the surface of the soil an inch or two. If it’s dry, your plant needs a drink.
With clay pots, you can thump the outside of the pot (as you would when testing a watermelon for ripeness).
If you hear a dull thud, it means the soil is damp under the surface and you don’t need to provide a drink.
If your thumping produces an empty, hollow sound, it means there is a hollow, empty space at the base of the pot and you need to water.
Wilted leaves. If your plant is wilted, it may very well need a drink. Check the soil to be sure it is dry because there are other problems (pests or disease) that may cause wilting.
What if a plant becomes very dry?
If you are away or neglect a plant for some other reason, you may be able to revive it (even if it seems dead) by soaking the whole pot in a tub.
It’s best to use water that has set out for 24 hours to allow chemicals to dissipate and to attain room temperature.
Put the whole pot into the tub and allow it to sit for half an hour or until all bubbling stops (whichever comes second).
By doing this, you can be sure that all of the soil has been soaked and the roots have had a chance to revive and get a good drink without suffocating.
7 Tips To Help Avoid Overwatering Outdoor Plants
Overwatering your yard and garden can be expensive in terms of waste, killed specimens and even damage to your property and the foundation of your home.
#1 – Choose plants that agree with your tendencies. Look for outdoor specimens that naturally prefer the type of soil, light and other conditions in your yard.
Native plants are sure winners in this respect.
#2 – Maintain your downspouts and your irrigation pipes properly to prevent leaks that may cause soaked spots in your yard and garden.
#3 – It may seem as if your outdoor plants need attending to if the surface of the soil is arid. Check the surface to determine if they really need a drink.
Use a soil probe to check or a trowel to dig down a bit. If the soil at the root zone is still moist, you don’t need to do anything.
If the soil smells rotten or sour, you know that you have watered too much.
#4 – Don’t mistake natural wilt for lack of water. If your outdoor specimens wilt when the sun is hot, wait to water them.
Observe them after the sun goes down and the day cools.
They may perk back up on their own. If not, drench deeply, early the next morning and observe again.
Even with water, they may wilt in the heat of the day. Knowing your plant’s habits helps prevent over doing it.
#5 – Remember that recently planted shrubs, trees, and bedding plants do have more need for water than established specimens.
Once a plant has set down roots, it is better able to tolerate some drought, but until then it is important that you provide ample water to keep the roots moist and encourage solid rooting. [source]
#6 – Automatic systems can be used indoors or outdoors. In your garden and around your yard, you can use soaker hoses or drip emitters set on a timer.
Avoid using sprinklers and other overhead systems because of their waste and make it more likely that your specimens will develop fungal disease.
#7 – You can make the most of deep outdoor proper watering by mulching heavily around your outdoor specimens.
Use rotted manure or compost to help improve soil drainage and prevent fast evaporation after watering.
Be sure to keep your mulch away from the stems of your specimens as contact can cause fungus to develop.
In this video, Dave of Growing Wisdom shares more information about recognizing and dealing with overwatering.
Plant Problems Can Usually Be Traced To Too Much Water For Plants
Many people feel very challenged by plant care, and it can seem as if all kinds of problems are plaguing your specimens.
Remember that, more often than not, the symptoms you are seeing are actually caused by overwatering.
Less is more, and most healthy flowers will be happier with you if you just give them a deep drink from time-to-time rather than frequent inundations. [source]