Why is Overwatering Houseplants So Common?

Overwatering is one of the most common problems people experience with their houseplant care. Even many people who are aware of the danger can sometimes end up overwatering their houseplants. Troublesome signs of overwatering include pale, waterlogged leaves; soft, mushy stems; a moldy or rotten smell; yellow or brown discoloration; stunted growth or dropped leaves. If you believe overwatering houseplants is keeping one of your plants from living its best life, consider whether one of these common causes may be the culprit.

  • Overwatering vs. Underwatering Houseplants: Because many of the signs of overwatering houseplants may also describe what happens when underwatering plants, it’s important to look at the entire plant and your recent watering schedule to recognize the difference between the two. You should also recognize that if you’ve been neglecting your houseplants to the point that they are underwatered that you can’t fix the problem by overcompensating and overwatering the plant.
  • Amount vs. Frequency: How often and how much water you give a houseplant is not the same thing. Many people give their houseplants a small amount of water at frequent intervals, when the plant would prefer deep watering spaced out over more time. Misting houseplants is not the same as watering. In extreme cases, it’s even possible to overwater a houseplant and create root rot or mold in the topmost layers of soil, while the bottom of the pot and root system is bone dry.
  • Poor Drainage: Often, signs of overwatering houseplants isn’t about the water at all but is rather a consequence of excessive moisture in the soil. This can happen because the pot doesn’t have drainage holes, the soil doesn’t have enough aerators and fast-draining amendments. If you’re seeing clear signs of overwatering despite only infrequently watering the plant, consider whether the underlying cause is insufficient drainage. Repot the plant and/or amend the soil to improve drainage.
  • Summer Loving: When most people think of their houseplants, they imagine the plant as it looks and acts in spring and summer when bright light and warmer temperatures create the highest watering level needs for the whole year. Many people fail to adjust their watering schedule for the season or else they mistakenly reset their watering schedule after being away from home to this higher watering level.

What to Do for an Overwatered Houseplant

First and foremost, you need to accurately recognize the signs of overwatering houseplants. If there is serious discoloration or damage, that part of the plant is unlikely to recover and should be excised and thrown away. Keep any part of the plant that looks green and healthy. If the damage is minimal and the pot already has good drainage, you may be able to let the soil dry out and then resume a watering schedule tailored for that type of plant. In a more severe case, you should remove and repot the least damaged or discolored part of the plant in fresh potting soil with good drainage.

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