Tips for recovering an over-watered plant

One of the key points for the survival of a plant lies in the quantity and frequency of watering. Finding that middle ground, that perfect balance that responds to the plant's needs and environmental factors is often one of the most delicate and difficult aspects for those starting out in this marvellous world of plants. We all go through that rite of passage of watering so little or so much that the plant ends up on the other plane of existence.

It is also typical that, as soon as we see that the poor plant is on the verge of death for reasons related to watering, we decide to throw it away and the truth is that there is a chance to save it. While it is easier to rescue a plant due to underwatering, it is possible to recover an overwatered plant if you follow our advice.

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how do you know if you have overwatered?

There are ways to detect if you have over-watered without waiting until the plant is on its last legs. When it comes to recovering an over-watered plant, time is of the essence, because if you wait too long, the consequences will be devastating. Open your eyes and pay attention to the following signs:

-Your plant is not growing. There are no new shoots, rather it looks thinner or sickly.

- The plant looks weak, sickly, not upright and beautiful. It looks wilted, but the substrate is moist.

- The leaves turn yellow. But pay attention also to the texture, because underwatering also alters the colour of the leaves but makes them dry and crunchy. In the case of overwatering, the leaf is rather swollen, pale yellow and soft.

- The lower leaves are the first to be affected, they change colour to yellow and look droopy.

- The stem starts to narrow from the base, it becomes thinner, almost as if it wants to cut off the upper part of the plant.

- Loss of leaves and flowers. Excess water affects the growth processes of the plant, so the flowers will start to fall off.

- You see shallow roots, almost sticking out of the substrate, trying to escape the excess water.

- Leaves and/or fruits look full of small blisters or strange warts. This is known as oedema and occurs because the plant has so much water that it is trying to get rid of it by any means.

- Presence of flies or mosquitoes. This occurs because puddles form in the substrate, making it the perfect home for the larvae of these bugs.

- Touch the substrate. It will feel wet, waterlogged, very compact, almost like mud. Occasionally, the top may look greenish. Don't limit yourself to the top, check the deepest part of the pot or substrate very well. You can use a wooden stick or dig a little with a spade.

You will find that the symptoms of an over-watered plant look too much like those of a plant that is under-watered. And it is precisely this detail that causes many people to water again, believing that this will help the plant to recover. The cause of this is no coincidence, as both overwatering and underwatering have more or less the same consequence: a lack of oxygen and nutrients.

In the case of a dry plant, this is caused by a lack of water, but overwatering causes the substrate to become waterlogged and compacted. This prevents the proper exchange of gases at the root level, it does not allow the plant to breathe; in addition to being choked, the roots are not able to adequately absorb the nutrients, which are not in the right concentrations in the substrate because they are washed away by the excessive watering, so it ends up suffocated and dies.

Root asphyxia is not the only negative consequence of overwatering, but this exaggerated humidity also makes the plant the ideal environment for the growth and development of fungi, which will spread through the roots of the plant and lead to its certain death. This is why it is essential to make a proper diagnosis, for which you must know the plant's needs and your habits, as well as carefully observing your plant in search of the tell-tale symptoms we have already described.

Tips for recovering your over-watered plant

It is much easier to recover a plant that has been left to dry out than one that has been over-watered, as over-watering causes damage that becomes visible when it is too late. Remember: the secret to the success of these tips lies in the early detection of a plant that has been over-watered. Don't be discouraged and let's try to get it back on its feet.

- Avoid exposing it to the sun

I know that the first impulse when you see the plant and the waterlogged substrate is to put it in full sun, so that the soil dries out, but this is harmful and will end up killing your plant. The problem is that the plant, its stems and leaves, have not been able to absorb moisture, nutrients and oxygen properly because of the excess water. For this reason it is weaker than usual and is vulnerable, if left in full sun it will dry out faster and die. Place it in semi-shade or under cover in a well-lit area.

- Remove the plant from the pot

You need to remove the plant from the pot, try to loosen the substrate by gently tapping the sides of the pot on the ground. Turn over while holding the top of the plant with the palm of your hand, so that gravity takes effect. The aim is to remove it without damaging the vulnerable roots.

- Remove waterlogged substrate

Some people leave the plant in a safe place, complete with soil, to dry out for a few hours or overnight. This seems risky to me, so I prefer to remove the wet substrate. I do this carefully, place the plant with the root ball on a newspaper or planting blanket and gently remove the soil from the roots with my hands. This is done in a shady place, to avoid sun damage to the roots. This substrate can be left to dry, as long as there is no fungus. For safety's sake it is best to discard it.

- Check the roots

It is time to put on your glasses and take a close look at the state of the roots. The colour should be white, they should look strong, more or less thick and of uniform thickness. If you see that they are black or dark, have thinned out, have a rotten smell or if you touch them and they crumble like paper left in water, it may be too late. If most of the roots or the main root looks healthy and the others are dark and weak, cut them back and leave only the white ones. Don't worry, the roots can grow back.

- Apply a little fungicide

You may see that the roots look healthy and beautiful, but fungus is a silent enemy in its early stages. Don't get complacent or leave it to chance: apply a little fungicide as a preventative. This can be applied directly to the roots so that you can eliminate these pesky visitors, if they are present. This is also a way to prevent other attacks and will strengthen the plant, which needs a little help to get going again.

- Transplant to a new home

Just like a person suffering in a toxic place, your plant needs to start a new life, away from the environment that was harming it. You can reuse the pot it was in, but please wash it thoroughly with a little bleach to kill any fungus it may have, remember to rinse it thoroughly. Then check drainage holes, place a layer of gravel and fill with new substrate, suitable for the species. Your plant will appreciate the change to an airy, loose substrate with more nutrients. Do not fertilise the plant, this is not the time as it is sensitive and fertiliser can burn the roots.

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- Wait to water

It is better to let your new plant dry out a bit rather than drown it again. Wait a few days, check that the top layer of the substrate is dry and water properly. If it looks a little dehydrated you can spray a little. Remember not to expose your plant to the sun until you see that it has recovered, with new shoots. This will be the sign that the worst is over and you can continue with the fertiliser cycle as usual.

Don't repeat mistakes: what to do to avoid drowning your plants

- Know your plants

You can never have too much knowledge. Read, research and ask questions about your plant species. If you're not very adept at reading and such things, you can always make use of the quick guide we provide with each plant. At Be Green we make things easy for you, so we provide you with a guide to the watering requirements of the species. Some plants should be allowed to dry out between waterings, while others prefer to have a certain level of moisture in the substrate and if you let them dry out, they can be affected.

- Adjust watering patterns

Let's say you have read that this species of plant should be watered twice a week, but this is not a universal truth, as these parameters should be adjusted to environmental factors and the season. If you are in a very hot place, if the plant gets direct sun or if it is summer, you will most likely have to water more than recommended, but if the weather is cool or it is winter, you should water less. Don't be overconfident, check your plant before watering.

- Get your hands dirty

The best way to find out if your plant needs water is to touch the soil. You can use your fingers, touch the first few centimetres of soil. If it's too dry, it's time to water. I prefer to use a wooden stick (disposable wooden sushi sticks work very well), I stick it deep into the soil. If it comes out with soil sticking to it, I wait a bit before watering, if it comes out clean I go for the watering can.

- Rely on technology

If getting your hands dirty doesn't suit you and you forget how to water each species, you can always take advantage of technology. You can get a moisture detector. These devices are a marvel: just stick it in the substrate and let it measure, it will tell you if it needs water or not. They are infallible.

- Use self-watering systems

A self-watering system can be useful not only for people who travel or are distracted, but it can help you maintain an adequate watering level, as the plant will take what it needs on its own and you just have to keep it topped up. This is very practical for pots and plants that require constant humidity levels, so it is difficult to find that balance.

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- Check plant drainage

Before transplanting a plant, always check the drainage holes and put something in the bottom to help remove excess water. I use pebbles or pieces of polystyrene, but it can also be expanded clay and other materials. Remember to check the drainage of all the pots from time to time, and if you can, use a toothpick to push up anything that might clog them. You should also be careful with the watering saucers, because if they are full, they will come into contact with the roots of the plant and cause them to rot. Place pebbles in the saucers and avoid any risk.

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About the author
Ame Rodríguez

Dedicated to creating an army of cacti, succulents, poodles and cats to help me conquer the world. In the little free time I have left, I play, write and dance.

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