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How do I know if I’m overwatering my houseplants?

Updated: Mar 30, 2021

Overwatering is often the culprit for killing our beloved houseplants. It’s easy to give your plant babies too much attention, particularly when you're at home more often than usual.

The first step when overwatering is to identify this bad habit - below is a checklist of symptoms often found on an overwatered plant, so if that's you put the watering can down!

Am I overwatering?

Common signs of an overwatered and unhappy plant include: when the lower leaves start to turn yellow, the stem or stalk starts to blacken, dropping and droopy leaves, when the soil looks compacted, or a white fungus growing on the top of the soil. Another sign can be fungus gnats which feed on fungi that grows in moist soil.

To confirm your suspicions, feel the soil (but not straight after a watering). Put your finger into the pot, dig it down to your middle knuckle. If it feels moist, thick or wet, it is most likely overwatered.

How did I get here?

Overwatering can be boiled down to two things:

  1. You are just giving the plant too much water or too often

  2. The potted soil is not drying out fast enough

I could be watering too much:

  • Most indoor plants will need water only once or twice a week. If you are watering most days, put down the watering can!

  • Identify your plants' water needs by reading the care cards they came with (or do some Googling!)

  • Use this guide as a rule of thumb and start a routine: if they need water once a week, set a reminder in your phone!

  • However, this shouldn't be a hard rule. You should only give the plant water when the potting mix is dry, so check your plants regularly and always touch the soil before topping up.

  • Get to know your plants beyond their name. A lot will tell you when they need your attention if you start to look for signs. For example, the leaves on Watermelon Peperomia will feel thin and almost bendable when they need a drink. A Peace Lily's leaves will droop down with they are thirsty.

I think I'm watering properly, but the soil still isn't drying out:

If you water a plant with the appropriate amount of water, but it is still suffering from overwatering, it could be because the plant isn't getting enough natural light or the soil has become too dense and compacted.

Here's some tips to help:

  • Try watering in the morning, allowing for the heat of the day to dry out the soil.

  • Make sure your plant has proper drainage - it shouldn't ever be potted directly into a pot without drainage holes.

  • Check that the bottom of your decorative pot / saucer isn't filled with water.

  • Repot the plant into a terracotta pot - terracotta dries the soil out faster and doesn't retain moisture like ceramic.

  • Report the plant using a mixture of perlite to help absorb moisture. Start with 1/4 mix as a rule of thumb.

  • Add a layer of lava rocks to the bottom of your pot to stop the soil compacting against the holes (and blocking water flow!)

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