How to Save an Overwatered Plant

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22-09-2019, 09:00
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Updated: August 28, 2019 When you’re trying to take good care of your plants, it’s easy to overwater them. This typically happens to potted plants because the water can’t drain away from the roots. Unfortunately, overwatering can drown your plants and kill them. Luckily, you may be able to save your overwatered plants before it’s too late by drying out the roots.

Recognizing an Overwatered Plant

  1. Check if the leaves are light green or yellow. When a plant is overwatered, the color of the leaves starts to change. Look to see if the green is leaving the leaves, turning them pale green or yellow. You may also notice splotches of yellow on the leaves.
    • This happens because the plant’s normal photosynthesis processes can’t happen if it’s too wet. That means the plant isn't able to get nourishment.
  2. Notice if the plant isn’t growing or has brown spots. When the roots are drowning in water, they can’t supply water to the upper parts of the plant. Additionally, the plant can’t get nutrients from the soil. That means it will start to wilt and die. Check to see if your plant is struggling to produce new leaves or stems or has foliage that is dying.
    • Since your plant can also die from not being watered enough, you might feel unsure about whether or not it’s under or overwatered. If you know you’ve been watering the plant but it’s still dying, overwatering is likely the culprit.
  3. Look for mold or algae at the base of the stem or the top of the soil. When there’s too much water in the pot, you may see green algae or fuzzy black or white mold starting to grow on the surface of the soil or on the base of the stem. This is a sign that the plant is being overwatered.
    • You may see tiny spots of mold or algae, or it could be widespread. Any mold or algae is cause for concern.
  4. Sniff the plant to see if there’s a foul, musty odor. If water sits on the roots for too long, it will start to rot them. When this happens, the roots will give off an odor of decay. Place your nose close to the top layer of the soil and sniff it to see if you detect an odor.
    • It’s possible that you won’t be able to smell root rot if it’s just started or if your soil is very deep.
  5. Check for drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. If your pot doesn’t have holes at the bottom to allow for drainage, it’s likely that your plant is getting overwatered. That’s because water gets trapped at the bottom of the pot. It’s best to remove the plant from the pot to check it for root rot. Then, create holes in your pot or transfer the plant to a pot that has holes.
    • You can create holes in a plastic pot using a knife or screw driver. Use the knife or screwdriver to carefully puncture the bottom of the pot.
    • If your pot is ceramic or clay, it’s best not to try to make holes. You'll likely end up breaking or damaging the pot.

Drying out the Roots

  1. Stop watering the plant while it dries out. If you think your plant is overwatered, take a break from watering it. Otherwise, the problem will continue to get worse. Don’t add more water to the pot until you’re sure the roots and soil are dry.
    • This can take several days, so don’t worry if there’s a big gap between waterings.
  2. Bring the plant into the shade to protect the upper leaves. When a plant is overwatered, it has trouble transporting water to its upper extremities. This means that the top of the plant is vulnerable to drying out if it’s left in the sun. To help preserve the plant, bring it into the shade if it’s not already shaded.
    • You can put the plant back in the sun once it’s stabilized.
  3. Tap the sides of the pot gently to loosen the plant and soil. Use your hand or a small shovel to gently tap the sides of the pot. Do this several times on different sides to loosen the soil and roots. This can create air pockets that will help your roots dry.
    • Additionally, tapping the sides of the pot will make it easier to remove your plant from the pot.
  4. Slide your plant out of the pot to check the roots and speed up drying. While you don’t have to remove your plant from the pot, it’s best to go ahead and do it. This helps your plant dry out faster and allows you to re-plant it in a pot that has better drainage. To remove it easily, use 1 hand to hold the base of the plant just above the soil. Then, slowly turn the plant over and shake the pot with your other hand until the root ball slides out.
    • You should be holding the plant upside down in your hand.
  5. Use your fingers to remove the old soil so you can see the roots. Gently break up the soil so that it will fall away from the roots. Lightly brush it away with your fingers so that the roots don’t get damaged.
    • If the soil looks moldy or green from algae, discard it because it will contaminate your plant if you re-use it. Similarly, throw it out if it smells like decay because it likely contains root rot.
    • If the soil looks fresh and clean, you may be able to re-use it. However, it’s best to use fresh potting soil just to be safe.
  6. Prune away brown, stinky roots with pruning shears or scissors. Healthy roots are white and firm, while rotting roots will be soft and look brown or black. Use pruning shears or scissors to trim as much of the rotting roots away as possible, saving the healthy roots.
    • If most or all of the roots look rotten, you might not be able to save the plant. However, you can try trimming it down to the base of the roots and then replanting it.
  7. Trim away dead leaves and stems using pruning shears or scissors. Cut off brown and dry leaves and stems first. If you trimmed off a lot of the root system, you’ll also need to prune away some of the healthy part of the plant. Begin trimming at the top and remove enough leaves and stems so that the plant is no more than twice the size of its root system.
    • If you’re not sure how much to cut off of the plant, prune away about the same amount from the plant as your did from the roots.

Re-Potting the Plant

  1. Transfer your plant to a pot that has drainage holes and a tray. Look for a pot that has tiny holes on the bottom so that excess water can drain away from the plant. This prevents the water from settling around the root ball and rotting it. Get a tray to put under your pot if it doesn’t come with one. The tray will catch the excess water so it doesn’t stain the surface below your pot.
    • Some pots have a tray attached to them. If this is the case for your pot, check the inside of the pot for drainage holes, as you won’t be able to remove the tray.
  2. Add 1 to 2 in (2.5 to 5.1 cm) of mulch at the bottom of the pot for drainage. While this is optional, it will help you prevent overwatering in the future. Simply layer the mulch at the bottom of the pot, estimating about a 1 to 2 in (2.5 to 5.1 cm) layer. Leave the mulch loose instead of packing it down.
    • The mulch will help the water drain out of the pot faster so it doesn’t drown your roots.
  3. Add new potting soil around the plant if necessary. If you removed moldy or algae-covered soil or your new pot is bigger, you’ll need to add fresh potting soil. Pour the new soil around the roots of your plant. Then, fill up the rest of the pot until you reach the base of the plant. Lightly pat the top of the soil to make sure the plant will stay in place.
    • If necessary, add a little more potting soil after you pat down around the plant. You don’t want to see any exposed roots.
  4. Water your plant only when the top layer of soil feels dry. When you first re-pot the plant, pour water over the soil to moisten it. Then, check the soil before you water the plant again to make sure the soil feels dry, which means the plant needs water. When you water the plant, pour the water directly over the soil so that it goes to the roots.
    • It’s best to water your plant in the morning so that the light from the sun will help dry it faster.

Tips

  • Read the care instructions for your plant to make sure you’re providing it with the proper amount of water. Some plants don’t require as much water, so it’s easy to overwater them.

Things You'll Need

  • Shady area
  • Pot with drainage holes
  • Tray for under pot
  • New potting soil
  • Mesh baking rack
  • Spray bottle
  • Small pruning shears or scissors
  • Small shovel or trowel (optional)
  • Mulch (optional)
  • Water
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