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Overwatered Plants? Here’s how to save them

Overwatered Plants? Here’s how to save them

The most common question a garden centre worker is asked is ‘how much do I water it?’ when someone is purposing a plant. We’ve probably at some time all asked it, and to be fair it’s a reasonable question - they’re the experts, right? But from experience, the go to response seems to be ‘about once a week’. It’s understandable (and most of the time probably right), but only last week on picking up a little cactus I was advised to water it every few days. If I would have followed that advice the poor little plant wouldn’t have stood a chance.

We all want to take care of our houseplants, and gauging how much we should water them, even with all the tips online, can sometimes be a nightmare to work out. The general rule is good drainage is key, and you can overwater them as long as the excess water has somewhere to escape from. Houseplants typically struggle with this issue as potted plants have trouble draining away from the roots.

Is overwatering plants really that bad?


Although we love the foliage and leaves on a plant, and pride ourselves in keeping them in tip-top shape, the real work is happening below. Like a duck on water, it’s all calm on top, and panic underneath.

The sprawling and tangled undergrowth of a houseplant is complicated, and extremely delicate. The roots take in the nutrients and delivery them to the rest of the plant, causing yellowing leaves to turn green, and once sorry-looking plants to thrive once again. But overwatering a houseplant means that those roots ‘sit’ in water, and slowly root, going from a healthy yellowy-white, to an awful looking brown (and don’t get me started on the smell). Overwatering can drown your plants and kill them. Luckily, you can save your overwatered plants before it’s too late by drying out the roots. So, how to save an overwatered plant? Read below!

The Water Break


This approach can be incredibly hard to follow through, as it goes against pretty much everything you’re told to do when caring for plants. If you find that the soil is forever moist, and the plant seems to be suffering, then hold off watering, and allow the plant and soil to dry out.

Even when you know a plant is overwatered, your instinct is still to think that it may need some water - but allow it a few days break. Stick your finger in the soil, about halfway into the pot, and test if the soil is still moist.

The Protector


One of the main issues of overwatering a plant isn’t one what you think would be a problem. People assume that when you drown a plant in water, the whole plant will eventually become overwhelmed with h2O, but it’s quite the opposite. Once the roots submerged in too much water, the plant finds it difficult to move the water to its upper leaves. Because of this, you will notice that overwatered plants tend to dry out on at the very top (also a great indicator to work out if you’re overwatering).

This is a pretty serious issue, and your houseplant will quickly dry out at the very top and be far more vulnerable to the sun’s rays. To help prevent lasting damage move your plants into the shade (and always remember that the sun moves throughout the day, so a place that seems good at 10am, may be very different at 2pm).

Tap Tap Tap


When you overwater a plant, the soil clogs tighter together, almost like how cat litter clumps together when used. Because of this, it becomes harder to dry out and can cause rot to the plant’s roots. If you’re look for a quick method of relieving the build-up, try taping the sides of the plant pot softly. This method ‘breaks up’ the soil that is holding together tightly because of the water, and allows it to loosen, creating air pockets that will over time help the roots dry out.

Try tapping around the entire outside of the pot, gradually freeing up the soil (this practice is also a good way to loosen the plant from the pot before removing it).

Slide and dry


If you’re looking to really speed up the process of drying your overwatered houseplant, the best (though messiest) option is to slide your plant out of its pot. You don’t always have to go through this method, but if you’re concerned about the damage you’ve done to the roots this process allows you to check the roots, as well as dry them out faster than leaving them to sit in the soil.

To remove the houseplant easily, use one hand to hold the base of the plant just above the soil and then, slowly turn the plant over and shake the pot with your other hand until the root ball slides out.

From here, you can use your fingers to remove the old, damp soil from the roots. It’s super easy, and the soil should just naturally tumble off the plant. When returning the houseplant back to the pot, you can change the soil if you feel it’s mouldy or damaged or reuse it after an hour or some of drying in the sun. For us, we always use new soil just to be on the safe side.


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