Plant parenthood

How to save an overwatered plant

Overwatering is often one of the easier mistakes to make when caring for plants.

Giving a plant more water than it can take up means the soil will stay soggy for too long, creating the ideal conditions for root rot.

What overwatered plants look like

If your plant has been overwatered, it paradoxically looks a lot like it does when its been underwatered.

That’s because the problem is much the same – the plant isn’t able to take up enough water – either you’ve not watered it enough and its drying out, or the soil is so damp that the roots are rotting, and they’re not able to take up moisture.

Often this manifests itself as wilting, yellowing, or dropping leaves (though this can also be a symptom of a number of other issues.)

These Scindapsus Treubii ‘Moonlight’ (back) were discounted because they’d been overwatered, so I bought them to try and save them

Plant surgery

The only real way to know is to get stuck into your plant’s soil and see what’s going on down at root level. Find some space, get it out of its pot, and get digging.

If you find black or dark mushy bits on the roots or stem, those are almost definitely rotting. Get some sharp clean clippers and chop those off.

Gently loosen the soil to reveal the roots, and take a closer look.

If the rootball is especially wet, leave it on a piece of newspaper to dry out a little.

Use the opportunity to refresh the soil with a fresh free-draining soil mix. With a bit of gentle TLC, the plant should be able to settle back into its pot and regrow new roots.

If the rot is especially bad, it may have started to spread up the stem of the plant. If that’s the case, it’s probably best to cut up the plant up and attempt to re-propagate from healthy cuttings. Find out how to do that for your plant with care advice for different plant types.

Of course there will be plants that can’t be saved, and those are ones to chalk up to experience, and to learn from for next time.

Monstera adansonii cuttings rooting in hydroleca (clay balls) and sphagnum moss

Prevention

Understanding how much water your plants need will help prevent overwatering from happening again. Factors like the type of plant, light, season, the pot its in, and when you last watered it, are all important.

And similarly, being smarter about watering methods will mean you’re less likely to end up under or over watering again.

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