Can I Revive my Plant After Over or Under Watering?
Whether your busy schedule led you to turn into a neglectful plant parent or you tend to kill them with kindness- we all have issues with under or over-watering at one time or another. Before you compost that crispy fern or drooping pothos try some of these tips to see if you can save your leafy companion.
Make sure to check your plants for water on a regular schedule, but only water them when they need it. It is important to be aware of each of your plants’ watering needs so that you can continue to water them correctly. Changes in season can greatly affect how often your plants will need to be watered, so keep external factors like that in mind.
Signs of Underwatering
Common signs of underwatering include wilted or wrinkly leaves, drooping branches, browning leaves and leaf tips, leaf loss, and leaf curling. If your plant is producing small or paper-thin leaves and grows slower than is typical for the season, underwatering could be the cause.
Severe underwatering can cause the soil in your pot to pull away from the sides and become compacted. If this happens it is important to re-expand the soil so that the soil can absorb water again.
One of the first things you will want to try is soaking your plant in a saucer for 30 minutes to an hour. Just as with a dry sponge, a soak helps the soil to absorb water and expand. After soaking, remove your plant from its saucer and leave it for up to 24 hours to see if it has revived. If the plant is still completely wilted after this time you can compost it knowing you tried your best.
Sometimes a soaked plant will partially perk up but still have some wilted leaves; in this case, you will want to trim back the damaged parts of your plant so it can focus its energy on new, healthy growth.
If you have experienced a lot of leaf loss, especially in the areas of oldest growth, most likely your plant will not regrow these leaves. Many plant parents will take cuttings from the healthy new growth points, and root them to start a new plant.
How to Keep from Underwatering
One possible cause of underwatering is if your plant has become root-bound. As plants grow, they break down the soil around them. Eventually, your plant can become so root-bound that there is very little soil that is left in the pot that is helping to hold in moisture. If your plant is root-bound, you should up-pot it into a pot one or two inches larger in diameter from its current container. For more information on up-potting please read our article titled “What are the Signs My Plant is Ready for a Bigger Pot?”.
If you really struggle with keeping your high-water plants happy, you may consider looking into using water globes, self-watering pots, or a potting mix that helps with moisture retention. Be careful, however, as most plants do not want to be left soaking in water.
Additionally, be aware of your plant’s surroundings; drafts, heaters, and low humidity can all contribute to extra moisture loss from your plant. Sometimes a change in scenery can make all the difference.
For certain individuals, it may be a good idea to focus your collection on more drought-tolerant plants. You can always search “low water” on our website to browse plants best suited for your plant care style.
Signs of Overwatering
Overwatering takes place when you water too frequently, let your plant sit in water, or give too much water to your plant that is residing in a low-light location which keeps the soil from drying out in a reasonable amount of time. Common signs of overwatering include browning leaves that turn mushy, yellowing of lower leaves, soil gnats, smelly soil, root rot, and wilted leaves that do not recover after watering. Additionally, if your plant seems to have idled in growing, it may be a sign that it is receiving too much water. Some of these signs overlap with those seen in cases of underwatering, as well as with other issues such as pests and disease. Always check your plants thoroughly for pests and if you notice issues, be sure to treat the problem if this is the case. See our article “Common Houseplant Pests and What You Can Do to Get Rid of Them” for more information.
Getting the soil moisture evened out is important to restoring your plant’s health. If it is warm out, you may place your plant under a covered porch to dry out a bit. You can also use the potato trick- cutting up a potato, inserting it into the soil, and then removing it after an hour, to help remove excess moisture. Sometimes the easiest way, however, is to pull your plant out of its current pot, remove the drenched soil, and replant it in fresh potting mix.
In cases of severe overwatering, you are likely to see root rot. Root rot is dead roots that are mushy and dark in color. You will want to cut off all the rotten roots and then adjust your pot size as needed. Sometimes this requires down-potting from your current container. To choose the correct size pot, you will want to make sure that the healthy roots are about a quarter to half an inch from touching the inside of the pot from all sides. If no healthy roots remain but the plant seems to have life left in it, you can always cut the plant back before a node joint and try to root it in soil or water.
Finally, you will want to remove any damaged leaves so that your plant can focus on its healthy growth. If your plant is wilted beyond repair, it is unlikely to recover.
How to Keep from Overwatering
Make sure that your pot is the correct size for your plant's root system; planting into a pot too large or too soon means the plant cannot absorb water in an adequate amount of time. Read our article “What are the Signs My Plant is Ready for a Bigger Pot?” for tips on choosing the right-sized pots for your plants.
The type of pot and soil you use can also play a part in helping to prevent overwatering. Using pots with drainage holes or choosing to set a grower’s pot into a pretty ceramic pot are always advised for plant health. Terracotta pots are a great option for those who tend to overwater because they will help wick away soil moisture from all sides of your pot. Similarly, you may want to choose a potting mix that contains a lot of aerating materials such as perlite, vermiculite, or sand (as most cactus/succulent mixes do).
You never want to leave your plant sitting in water. This suffocates the root system. Check and empty saucers and reservoirs about 30 minutes after you water.
Overwatering happens more frequently if your plant is in a lower light setting. For plants located in Northern facing windows, further back in your room, or receiving minimal light due to curtain use or small windows, you will only want to give the plant the amount of water it needs to make it through to your next watering. Alternatively, you can move the plant to a higher-light location or supplement it with grow lights.
For those really struggling, it may be a good idea to look for plants that enjoy higher water rather than those that prefer to dry out. Searching “high water” on our website will provide you with many plant options.