9 Signs You’re Overwatering Your Houseplants


You should water your plants every day, or maybe even every other day, right? Sometimes you just eyeball whether your plant needs water based on the condition of its soil. You think you’re doing alright, yet each time a plant dies, you can’t help but wonder if maybe you overwatered it. Can that hurt a plant? We did extensive research to bring you more info.

Are you overwatering your plants? If your plants exhibit any of these nine warning signs, then you’re overdoing it on the water:

  • Root rot
  • Slower growth
  • Leaf yellowing
  • Leaf browning
  • Edema
  • Falling leaves
  • Wilting
  • Mold growth
  • Floppiness with brown, stagnant shoots

In this explorative guide, we will elaborate on each of the above symptoms that prove you’re watering your plants too much. By recognizing these signs early, it could be possible to turn your plant’s health around for the better, so let’s get started.

9 Warning Signs You’re Overwatering Your Plant

Root Rot

The first symptom of an overwatered plant is one we’ve discussed several times on this blog already. It’s root rot.

Root rot can occur for a handful of reasons. For instance, perhaps you have plants with an unhealthy root system. If you use damp soil for your indoor plant and the water cannot drain properly, then root rot is also likely. Too much water will also damage the roots, of course.

Okay, so what happens during root rot anyway? That’s a very good question. When you water a plant, the soil should pass that water to the plant’s roots to maintain health. If the soil isn’t in the right state to do this, then that doesn’t happen. For instance, there’s too much water in the soil and it becomes waterlogged.

Now root aeration cannot occur. This decreases the roots’ oxygenation, sort of strangling the plant. The roots, as a result of this stress, will begin decaying. That’s why root rot is often a fatal affliction for your plant. The plant normally lives for about 10 more days after root rot begins, sometimes fewer.

What’s worse is that even healthy, previously unaffected roots can develop root rot, as this has the capacity to spread. Before you know it, your whole plant is dead.

Slow Growth

Do you know how fast your plant should grow? You probably have a pretty good idea.

You thought you were taking good care of your plant, but it’s not fitting that growth timeline at all. In fact, your plant has sprouted up quite slowly. It’s kind of disappointing.

You have to consider that perhaps you had a role in this. A plant that grows slowly on its own maybe isn’t caused by overwatering, but if it has yellow leaves (more on this momentarily) as well, then you have narrowed down your culprit. It’s too much water.

You’ll also find that leaves cannot stay on the plant when it gets too much water. Even new ones pop right off and sit sadly around the plant’s base. Old leaves don’t stand a chance.

Leaf Yellowing

Okay, let’s circle back around to leaf yellowing now. Most plants have green leaves in all different shades, not yellow ones. Why have your plant’s leaves yellowed?

Plants are susceptible to what’s known as moisture stress. This can occur if you overwater and even if you underwater the plant. Go to your plant with the yellow leaves and press a finger into the soil now. It feels damp, even wet, right? That’s about as clear-cut an indicator that you’re overdoing it with the water as you’ll get.

We do want to mention that a plant’s leaves can turn yellow for other reasons, too. For instance, if you fertilize too often or not enough, then you’re limiting the nutrition your plant can get. In such a situation, you might notice yellow tissue but green leaves, so it looks different than a case of overwatering.

The temperature can also influence plant leaf color, as can a lack of light. Plants need light to photosynthesize, as we’ve covered here before. They will still photosynthesize in low-light conditions, but at a lesser rate that can contribute to leaf yellowing.

Leaf Browning

Now, sometimes, it’s not yellow leaves you’re dealing with, but brown ones instead. Although you might not think it, this too is another symptom of overwatering your plants. Sometimes it’s just the leaf tips that go brown and other times it’s the entire leaf.

Most people associate leaf browning with death or decay. That’s not entirely wrong. While we mentioned above that moisture stress will yellow plant leaves, that’s not why plant leaves go brown. Instead, there are two chief reasons.

The first is lack of humidity. If you move your plant to a shallow tray with water and pebbles or you simply mist it, that should hopefully reduce the browning.

You know the second reason leaves will turn brown by now. It’s watering your plant too frequently.

You could also be shallow watering your plant without even realizing it. With shallow watering, you only water the top of the soil. The roots thus cannot get to the water, and a lot of it gets evaporated. If only the tips of the leaves have turned brown, then you’ve affected the root system with your watering habits.

Edema

Does your indoor plant have edema? You might have never even heard of this term before, but it’s one you want to keep in mind going forward.

Edema or oedema (the alternate spelling) impacts your plant’s roots. It occurs when the roots get too much water. This fast rate of H2O is much too fast, enough so that the plant can’t pass the water through to the leaves or use the water in any other meaningful way. Thus, the pressure of the water within the leaves’ internal cells increases and increases. This explodes the cells, killing them instantly.

You can see this for yourself if you overwater your plant too much. Take a look at the leaf’s underside. Do you see a blister or several? Then edema has afflicted your plant.

The blisters will change with time. They too will explode and become a type of growth that looks a lot like a wart. Many gardeners describe the texture like cork. The color of the growth can be brown, tan, or white. As edema progresses, your plant may have falling leaves that look yellow.

If you let edema keep going from there, the plant gets worse still. It will now have stem and petiole blistering. Indentations on the leaves are a clear giveaway that edema has gotten to this point. Luckily, advanced edema of this degree doesn’t happen often, so let’s keep it that way.

Falling Leaves

Although a symptom of edema and slow growth, overwatering in general will cause your plants’ leaves to fall off. This may happen subtly or all at once. As we’ve mentioned already, new and old leaves alike will topple off the plant at an alarming rate. Before these leaves fall, they may have turned brown or yellow.

Wilting

Water is the lifeblood of a plant, hence why you’re so surprised that overwatering has caused the plant to wilt. Shouldn’t more water make the plant stronger and healthier? As we’ve shown you so far in this article, not exactly. It’s true that plants need water to survive, but a reasonable amount of water. Too much or too little will lead to trouble.

A new, relatively healthy plant should not wilt. If yours looks green and has wilted in areas, again, try the soil test. Touch the soil with your finger and see if that finger comes back wet. It probably will.

If the leaves look brown and have wilted, try touching the leaves gently as well. If your leaves feel limp and soft, then you’ve overwatered the plant. If they’re crispy and dry, then it’s a case of the plant not getting enough water.

Mold Growth

Mold, a type of bacteria, just loves moist environments. You know, like your plant since you began accidentally overwatering it. If you look at the top of the soil, you might even be able to see some mold. Unchecked, it can also appear on your plant’s leaves and stems.

Most of the time, you’ll also notice the stems of your plant have a lot of loose bark and a mushy texture. Mold doesn’t exactly grow on overwatered plants often, but if it happens, it’s an undeniable indicator of giving your plants way too much water.

Floppy Plant with Brown Shoots  

Sometimes it seems like your plant is growing almost normally. Shoots appear, which they only would in healthy plants. Well, so you thought. Make sure you watch those shoots carefully, because they’re not always good.

Healthy shoots in a normal plant should sprout and grow up strong. Yours quickly become brown. They also don’t grow very much beyond that initial spurt. If they develop any leaves, these too look brown. These leaves also fall right off the plant.

The rest of your plant, in the meantime, has a texture that you can only describe as floppy. It barely seems able to keep itself upright, and that’s because it likely can’t. All that watering has not only waterlogged the plant, but made its very structure unstable.

What Can You Do to Save an Overwatered Plant?

After reading the above section, you can identify one or more symptoms of having overwatered your plant. You didn’t realize you had done too much, but now you clearly see you’re hurting your plant instead of helping it.

Can you turn the fate of your plant around or are you better off writing this one off as a loss and starting over with a new plant? Don’t give up on your current plant yet. While there are no guarantees you can save it, it’s worth it to try. How? Follow these steps and methods.

If Your Plant Has Wilted

A sad, wilting plant makes you sad in turn. To attempt restoring its health, first you want to put it somewhere shaded. Yes, that’s regardless of if your plant should get lots of sun.

Next, you want to tackle those leaves. If you see any dying ones or those that already died, trim them off. These may have brown tips or look entirely brown.

With that taken care of, move on to the pot. Can the water drain or has something blocked up the drainage holes? If so, then remove the obstruction(s).

Check the roots as well. If the plant’s roots have died, they’re no good, so you might as well get rid of them. With those roots gone, dig out some space around them. This lets air in so oxygen passes to the root zone easily.

Now you want to begin correcting the mistakes you had made before. Namely, in the future, touch the soil before watering your plant. If it feels dry, then proceed with watering. Damp, even moist soil does not need watering. Give your plant a fungicide at this point as well.

If Your Plant Has Yellowed

Look at the soil before doing anything. Does it have a moist, almost dark look? Then it’s okay for now and doesn’t need watering. It’s only when your soil looks light and dry that you should water your plant with yellow leaves.

As you water, cover the root zone with just a sprinkling of H2O. Target the plant’s base, not its top, as you water. Make sure the water goes through the pot’s drain zone, and if it can’t remove any obstructions.

Then, check that the water gets absorbed. If it’s just sitting there, the plant can become waterlogged, so repot if necessary. Also, unless your plant calls for it, avoid nighttime watering. There’s not enough light for water absorption to occur, so your plant can get waterlogged and diseased. We wrote a great post about this on the blog, so make sure you check it out!

If Your Plant Has Decayed

Has your plant began decaying because of too much water? Again, you want to begin by relocating your plant to a shady space.

Next, if you see any top growth on your plant, including fruits and flowers, cut them off. The plant needs to take care of rebuilding itself, not growing extraneous parts. These will grow back someday when the plant is in better standing.

From there, take your container or pot and pat it down, focusing on its sides as you do so. This loosens the roots, aerating the soil. Then let the plant sit and dry.

After about six hours of waiting, you want to get back to the soil. Begin digging around for mold, removing any parts of the soil that have this. To help you, turn on your kitchen sink and keep the roots under the water, as they come out much easier that way. Make sure you leave the healthy roots alone.

If you have stubborn dead roots, get out a pruning tool. Sterilize it before working, then trim the roots. Don’t be surprised if these have a dark color and feel slimy and mushy. They may also smell awful if they’re dead or decaying.

Repot your plant. If you want to administer a fungicide, try chamomile tea. It’s antimicrobial and mild enough for a recovering plant such as yours.

From this point forward, get into a good watering schedule. Like we said above, touch the soil before watering. If it’s dry, then water the plant. If the soil feels moist, then skip watering for now.

Related Questions

Can an overwatered plant be saved?

While we wish following the above steps could guarantee the future of your plant, the answer is no, not all overwatered plants can be saved.

Whether the plant lives or dies has to do with how badly damaged it is from overwatering. If it’s gotten to the point where root rot has occurred, edema has developed, or the plant has grown mold, then it’s pretty far gone. You could possibly save it, but it’s hard to say with certainty whether that’d happen.

The sooner you can tell something is wrong with your plant, the better. It’s also important to establish good watering habits, as we’ve said. This way, any of your future plants have a much higher rate of survival.

How can you tell you’re underwatering your plant?

You might also have the opposite issue. To avoid overwatering your plants, you overcompensate and do too little. Now you’re worried you’re underwatering instead, which isn’t stellar for plant health.

Here are some signs of underwatering to look out for:

  • If you press your finger into the soil, that indentation doesn’t go away for a while
  • The leaves of your plant may curl up with edges that are very dry to the touch
  • Plant leaves may also turn yellow
  • The plant doesn’t grow at nearly the rate it should (sound familiar?)
  • Wilting occurs, typically accompanied with crispy, dry leaves

Fred Zimmer

I'm a lover of plants, animals, photography, & people, not necessarily in that order. Currently, I'm focused on photographing indoor plants & chachkies. I write & rewrite articles about creating an environment where indoor plants can thrive. I'm good at listening to music but bad at shopping to muzak.

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