Over watering a plant

Too Much = Certain Death

While “certain death” may seem a bit extreme, it isn’t far from the truth when it comes to watering your plants. So what actually happens when your plants have too much water?

  • The soil becomes saturated
  • Saturated soil prevents the plant from drawing much-needed oxygen
  • The roots begin to decay, also referred to as “root rot”
  • Your plant is more susceptible to fungal diseases

Pythium, Rhizoctonia, and Phytophthora are the culprits behind root rot. While root rot is difficult to reverse once it has set in, Hygrozyme, an enzyme that breaks down old root mass and stimulates new root growth, can certainly help. Not only does Hygrozyme eat dead roots that provide protein for your plants, it also helps prevent disease and helps plants absorb more nutrients from the soil.

Time to Water?

Interestingly enough, the signs of over-watering your plants resemble the signs of a lack of water. When there is too much water, the leaves will wilt and droop, turn yellow, and will fall off the plant. So how do you know when your plants need water? Well, there are a few ways.

The Finger Test

The simplest way to find out if your plants need water is to put your finger in the soil at the base of the plant, up to your second knuckle. If there’s soil stuck to your finger, your plants don’t need water. However, if your finger is relatively clean, it’s time to water.

The Dig Test

A little more complicated and requiring a tad more effort is the dig test. The point here is to determine how long it takes the water to soak the soil. Before you start watering, check the moisture level about 6 to 12 inches below the surface. Start watering and take note of the time. After a few minutes (depending on the flow rate), shut the water off and check the moisture level again. If the soil is saturated, then you’ll know just how long to water your plants without overdoing it.

You know how they say you can love something to death? Well, that’s probably what’s going on with your rapidly declining plant friends. “Overwatering is the easiest way to kill a houseplant,” says Jesse Waldman from Pistils Nursery in Portland, Oregon (one of our favorite places to order plants online). See the leaves getting a bit mushy when they used to be quite pert? See it wilting, some brown spots appearing on the once-green parts? “It might look like it’s thirsty, but it’s actually drowning,” Jesse says, which sounds dramatic, but it’s just the facts. When a plant is overwatered, its roots will actually start to rot, allowing fungal and bacterial issues to creep in and make a mess of things. From there, it’s all downhill—rotting roots don’t take in water at all, so the plant can’t rebound because it can’t drink.

First things first, check to be sure this is the case. “People are really afraid to mess with their plants once they’re in the pot,” Jesse says, “but you can carefully pop your plant out of its pot and take a look at the roots to get an idea of whats going on.” If said roots are black or brown and mushy, they’re rotting—but it’s not (necessarily) over yet. Prune the bad spots off using a sharp set of shears, tease out the remaining roots with your fingers, and repot.

A Monstera in a very lovely planter with drainage—you can tell, because there’s a saucer!

Photo: Courtesy of Pistils Nursery

Let’s Talk About Drainage

Now, it’s also time to learn from your mistakes. Obviously you need to lighten up your watering habits: A good rule of thumb is to feel the plant’s soil and only water again when it’s a bit dried out. This will take more or less time depending on the type of plant and its location; a plant that’s sitting in bright sun will probably dry up faster than one in a dim corner.

The other key to preventing root rot is to make sure your plant isn’t sitting in a puddle of water. “For long-term success, pretty much every plant will want drainage,” Jesse says. That means that 9.5 times out of ten you want to be using a planter that’s got a hole in the bottom and a little tray that goes underneath it—this will give you way more control over how much water your little buddy is taking in. (We know, we know, lots of cute planters exist that don’t have holes in the bottom. Don’t buy them!) Some people like to add a layer of pebbles to the vessel before adding soil, but the effectiveness of this as a drainage technique is debatable. Instead, Jesse says he likes to place a little square of burlap over the planter’s hole to keep the soil from falling through, then he skips the pebble step entirely and fills the whole thing with high-quality potting soil. In goes the plant. Now the odds are in your favor.

Don’t Drown Your Gardens! How to Avoid Overwatering Plants

You want to make sure your gardens are receiving an optimal amount of moisture, but you’re not sure how to avoid overwatering plants? We have all been there before. Every gardener has killed a plant or two with kindness. Sometimes we learn, and sometimes we keep repeating the same mistake until someone teaches us how to water plants properly.

Watering the garden via Ramon Gonzalez

Here’s a simple and easy-to-follow guide on how to avoid overwatering plants:

New (and inexperienced) gardeners often want a timetable of when to water plants. The truth is that every plant is different. Different species of plants have different watering requirements. A potted clump of bamboo will need a lot more water than a potted cactus. The correct amount of water your plant needs depends on several variables. For example, the species, where the plants is located and the time of year. If you’re watering plants on a schedule (M-W-F) without knowing the requirements of the plant: stop doing that today.

Signs of overwatered plants.

You know you’re over-watering plants when the leaves start to look limp, turn yellow, and eventually fall off. Yes, plants that don’t get enough water will also turn yellow and fall from the plant, but those leaves usually turn dry and brittle. You’re looking for limp and sagging leaves and stems. Kind of how your cat and dog look when you bathe them, or when they get caught in the rainstorm.

Soil and containers.

  • Moss, mushrooms, algae, mold and fungus gnats on the soil of your plants are all signs that your plants are getting too much water. The soil is waterlogged allowing these problems to occur and lead to health problems for your plants.
  • If you start getting whiffs of a bad odor emanating from your plants, that’s another sign that you’re overwatering. The funky smell coming off of your plants is the smell of roots and organic matter in your soil rotting.
  • Choose a light and airy potting soil mix for plants in containers. For plants in garden beds, you’ll need to amend the soil with compost and other soil amendments to provide drainage. Terracotta pots are great for gardeners who have a tendency to overwater plants because they allow moisture to evaporate in ways plastic pots don’t. If you’re upcycling your own garden pots, create a lot of drainage holes. The more the merrier.
  • Sub-irrigation (self-watering) containers are great because you really can’t overwater plants in them. You fill the water reservoir at the bottom of the container when it starts to run low, or you look at the little water gauge and add water when it dips below a certain level.

Preventing overwatering of plants.

  • There are water meters on the market you can stick in the soil to measure how much moisture it holds. But nothing is cheaper and easier to use than your finger. For potted plants, stick your index finger into the soil down to your first knuckle. If it feels moist, hold off on watering for a few days.
  • Stop watering your plants on a specific schedule. Instead, lift potted plants and learn how heavy they are when recently watered and when they are dry.
  • Don’t buy cheap potting soil for potted plants, and avoid cheap topsoil and bagged soil when starting a garden bed at all costs.
  • Build the foundation of your garden with compost you produced yourself.
  • Learning where your plants come from and what conditions they grow in is the best way to avoid overwatering plants, and group plants with similar watering needs together.

6 Signs You Are Overwatering Your Plants

Author: Richard Restuccia January 12, 2015 3 min read

Over watering plants is one of the biggest issues I see in landscapes today. When plants don’t look healthy it is tempting to give them more water and
often this is a mistake. A mistake not easy to diagnose because in many instances too much water mimics the signs of too little water. Below are six
signs you can easily recognize to determine if you are giving your plants too much water.

1. Your plant is wilting but it looks like it has plenty of water

The roots of plants take up water and also oxygen to survive and thrive. Over watering, in simple terms, drowns your plant. There is space between the particles of soil in your garden. Oxygen fills this space. Soil that is constantly wet won’t have enough air pockets and plants will not be able to breathe by taking up oxygen with their roots. When this occurs, your plants will wilt (giving the appearance of too little water) even though the soil is wet. Here is a great video from our friends at Denver Water about the negative side effects of too much water for your plants.

2. The tips of the leaves turn brown

One of the quickest, first signs of overwatering to observe occurs at the tip of the leaf. If the tip of the leaf is turning brown this is a sign of over watering.

3. Leaves turn brown and wilt

Leaves turn brown and wilt when plants have too little and too much water. The biggest difference is too little water will result in the leaves feeling crispy when you hold them in your hand. Too much water and the leaves will feel soft and limp in your hand.


When roots of plants absorb more water than they can use, water pressure begins to build in the cells of the leaves. The cells will eventually burst, killing them and forming blisters and these areas will look like lesions. Once the blisters erupt, tan, brown or white warty growths begin to form where the blisters originally were. Plus you will see indentations forming directly above the growths on the top sides of the leaves.

5. Yellow leaves

Stunted slow growth with yellowing leaves is a symptom of over watering.

6. Leaf fall

Leaf fall occurs in both situations of too much water and too little water. When both young and old leaves are falling prematurly combined with buds not opening, this is a sure sign of too much water. Check your soil regularly. Don’t be afraid to push you finger into the soil and see how moist it is an inch or two down. If the soil is moist and you have some of the conditions above it’s a sign to reduce your water. Also, many
stores sell inexpensive and accurate moisture meters. You simply insert them in the root ball and they will tell you how much water is in the soil. This is a simple and inexpensive tool that will take much of the guess work out of watering your landscape. I hope these tips are helpful and please share a few of your own in the comments area below. If you enjoyed this post please consider subscribing to the blog and follow me on twitter at H2OTrends.

Water issues are a major concern around the country. Population growth and increased urbanization put increasing pressure on water supplies, making it increasingly important to use water more efficiently.

It’s not just the quantity of water that matters, water quality is important as well. Excessive irrigation inevitably results in leaching of water and fertilizer. This results in runoff that can end up in the ground or in surface water if it is not captured on site. Fertilizer runoff, especially nitrogen and phosphorus, can result in algae growth in ponds and lakes. Many growers face strict fertilizer runoff regulations. The best method to minimize runoff is to water more efficiently.

Less water needed

Although the question about how much water your plants really need is simple, the answer is not. Surprisingly, there is little information on plant water needs. The last few years, researchers at the University of Georgia and University of Maine have been studying the water needs of annuals and perennials. The good news is that many plants need much less water than most people expect. For example, we have grown petunias in 4-inch pots from seedlings to marketable size with about a half gallon of water applied over 40 days. The plants were not given just enough water to survive, but all the water they needed to grow. However, they were only watered when they needed to be and no excess water was provided.

Two soil moisture sensors were used for each group of 12 petunia plants, which were irrigated when volumetric substrate water content dropped below 40 percent.Determining water needs

Since each greenhouse environment is unique, and weather changes daily and differs from region to region, it is important to have some idea of your plants’ water needs. There is a simple way to determine this.

Thoroughly water the plants in the morning and let them drain for at least 30 minutes. Then weigh the pots, come back 24 hours later and weigh the pots again. The decrease in weight is the amount of water that has been used by the plant. Water use will differ from day to day.

The main environmental factors that affect water use are light, temperature and relative humidity. Plant size also plays an important role with larger plants needing more water than smaller ones. Determining daily water use several times during the production cycle, both on warm, sunny and on cool, overcast days will provide you with valuable information for water management.

In order to use this information to water more efficiently, you also need to know how much water your irrigation system delivers in a given amount of time. With drip irrigation, this is simple. Put a few drippers in a beaker, run the drip system for a specific period of time and measure how much water was applied per minute.

For sprinkler systems, an easy method to determine how much water each pot receives is to line the inside of the pots with plastic bags, and then put a second pot inside the plastic bag. Trim the excess plastic. This creates beakers that are the same size as the pots the plants are growing in. Run the irrigation system for a specific period of time, and then weigh the pots before and after irrigation to determine how much water the plants receive per minute.

Now that you have determined how much water the plants use and how much water is applied per minute, you should be able to make better decisions about how much water to apply. However, dealing with day-to-day fluctuations in plant water use due to changing weather conditions may make frequent adjustments necessary. If you prefer to not have to make these adjustments manually, it is possible to automate your irrigation system in a way that assures that the plants receive only the water they need.

Sensors improve efficiency

We have developed an irrigation system that can water plants when needed with the appropriate amount of water. This system uses sensors to measure substrate moisture. Soil moisture sensors have become available that are relatively inexpensive ($60), reliable and low maintenance.

Among these new sensors are EC-5 and 10HS soil moisture sensors from Decagon Devices Inc. The EC-5 sensor works well in 4-, 5- and 6-inch pots. The 10HS sensor is suitable for container sizes of 6-inch and larger.

In many cases, the sensors can be connected to computerized greenhouse control systems to directly control irrigation. Sensor operation is simple. When a plant is transpiring, it takes up water from the substrate, which dries out. Since the sensor measures the substrate water content frequently, the greenhouse environmental computer notices when the substrate water content drops below a particular set point and can turn on the irrigation system. The duration of the irrigation period can be either a set amount of time or it can be sensor-controlled. For example, the irrigation system can be turned on when the substrate water content drops below 40 percent and turned off when it has reached 45 percent.

Plants control watering needs

By irrigating based on substrate water content, the plants essentially are in control of their watering. On warm, sunny days the plants use water quickly, which results in a quick drop in substrate water content and more frequent irrigation.

Another approach to using soil moisture sensors for irrigation control is to use them like a cut-off switch. A timer can be set to water at a specific time. At that time the irrigation valve opens only if the sensors detect that the substrate water content is below a designated set point. If the substrate is still moist, the sensor prevents the irrigation valve from opening. If the sensor does allow irrigation to occur, it can then turn off the irrigation automatically when the set point for substrate water content is reached.

A tablespoon per day

We have studied how different irrigation set points affect a variety of plants. Petunias were grown at substrate water levels ranging from 5-40 percent for three weeks. In a peat-lite substrate, a 5-10 percent substrate water level is the lowest most plants could survive and 50 percent is near container capacity. Plant growth increased with increasing substrate water content, although there was little difference between 25-, 30-, 35- and 40-percent treatments. Even in the substrate maintained at 40 percent water level, there was no leaching.

A higher substrate moisture set point resulted in more frequent waterings, so the amount of water that the plants received increased with increasing substrate moisture levels. Over a three week period, plants received anywhere from 3½ to 22 ounces.

A substrate moisture content of 20 percent was enough to grow quality plants. For a three week period, these plants received about 16 ounces of water per plant. This is a little more than 1 tablespoon per day. Water use was not constant during the study; small plants used 1 tablespoon per day, while large plants used slightly less than 2 tablespoons per day. Overall, there was a good correlation between plant growth and the amount of water applied. The study indicated that controlling irrigation can be an effective method of controlling growth.
Marc van Iersel is professor and Jongyun Kim is a PhD student, University of Georgia, Department of Horticulture, (706) 583-0284; [email protected] Stephanie Burnett is assistant professor, University of Maine, Plant, Soil and Environmental Sciences Department, (207) 581-2937; [email protected] This research was supported by the Fred C. Gloeckner Foundation.

Too Much Water: How to Know If You’re Overwatering Your Plants and How to Fix It

The stale brown color of plant leaves and the algae-green color of soil shouldn’t overshadow the vibrant colors you’ve planted around your green space this spring.

If they do, however, you could be overwatering your plants.

So how do you know how much to water your plants, the signs of too much water and what happens if they do get overwatered?

How to Know How Much to Water Your Plants

Take time to figure out how much to water your plants. Feel the surface of the soil before you add water. If it’s dry, then you will need to add water. For a more accurate answer, however, insert a spade into the soil and near the plant. Pull it back and examine the soil. Does it feel moist 6 to 12 inches deep? If so, your plant has enough water. If not, however, you will need to add water.

How to Know Your Plants Are Getting Too Much Water

Figure out if your plants are getting too much water by looking for the following symptoms:

  • Green soil, which is algae
  • New plant leaves are brown
  • No new plant growth
  • Rotted plant roots
  • Wilted plant leaves
  • Yellow lower plant leaves

How to Fix Your Plants that have Gotten Too Much Water

While your plant can still grow after being overwatered, it’s important to address the problem now to save your investment later. Address this problem on a nice Saturday morning or whenever you have a little bit of extra time. Take the plant out of your planter by tapping on each side of the pot and loosening the roots from the sides. Once out, place it on a wire mesh baking rack for several hours. This process will allow your plant to both dry out and breathe for a while.

When the effects of overwatering have been resolved consider these tips for watering your plants more wisely:

  • Mulch everything to reduce runoff.
  • Only water when needed.
  • Water in the mornings.
  • When you water, focus on the roots and not the leaves. To water this area more efficiently, use a soaker hose.

Don’t let the act of overwatering your plants negatively affect the curb appeal of your entire property and it’s landscaping. Figure out if you’re watering your plants too much and, if so, resolve the issue and begin practicing the healthier watering techniques mention above.

Green wall maintenance mistakes: overwatering vs. underwatering

Getting to know the signs of overwatering and underwatering (and what to do about it) will help you strike the right balance in you green wall – leading to a lush, healthy display.

The biggest risk you face with potted plants (both indoors and outdoors) is overwatering. Overwatering causes plants to drown from lack of oxygen, or suffer from root rot and fungus because they can’t dry out properly. Sometimes, however, in our attempts to avoid overwatering, we end up overcompensating and not giving our plants enough water. Underwatering is equally detrimental to your plants’ health.

Image source: Binley Florist

Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you spot the signs of these two common watering mistakes (and resolve the problem before it kills your plants).


According to the Missouri Botanical Gardens, “Over watering is one of the more common causes of plant problems. The dying roots decay and cannot supply the plants with nutrients and water. Damage caused by overwatering is frequently misdiagnosed as pest damage.”

Drainage is one of the most important parts of your vertical garden. If your system can’t drain properly, you’ll face a constant battle when it comes to perfecting your watering routine. In addition to being bad for your plants, if your system is indoors you run the risk of pots overflowing, leading to spillage and mess.

The best way to avoid overwatering is to choose a system with irrigation which mimics nature’s “flood” methodology: a sudden deluge of water, with a period to dry off afterwards, instead of constant moisture. However, if you’re going to be watering your green wall manually, make sure that you choose a pot system with sufficient drainage.

If you have an existing pot system, and you notice your pots aren’t draining well, you can always drill additional holes in the bottom of each container. Whether you’re working with regular, ground-based cement pots or a green wall, adding some extra drainage holes can save you a lot of money replacing plants if they’re dying because of poor drainage.


  1. Leaves wilt and drop off despite the soil being wet
  2. Yellowing leaves
  3. Leaf scorch, or leaf burn
  4. Water soaked spots and blisters (oedema). Explains Home Guides, “When the roots of over-watered plants absorb water faster than the plant can use it, the water pressure begins to build in internal cells. The cells will burst, killing them and forming blister-like areas, generally on the undersides of the foliage.”
  5. Soft, mushy stem base or rotting roots
  6. Visible fungus or mold forming on top of the soil
  7. Unusually foul smell emanating from the soil


  1. Stunted, slow growth
  2. Brown, dry or curling leaf edges
  3. Flowering plants fail to produce blossoms
  4. Brittle, crisp stems


Image source: Gardenista

Before you water your plants, it’s important to check that the soil is actually dry. If it’s still damp, you shouldn’t water them just yet.

While many tools are available to help you test the moisture in your pots, the quickest way to find out if your plants need water, is by sticking your finger in the soil, approximately an inch or so deep. The soil should feel cool and damp – if you can feel a lot of water, you’ll need to drain the pot.

Note: outdoor plants in pots require more frequent watering than indoor plants as the sun’s heat dries out the soil faster than it would indoors. Home Guides recommends checking the moisture levels of your outdoor potted plants daily (or a minimum of twice per week) whereas indoor plants can be checked once per week.

If you’ve over watered your plants, Home Guides shares some steps you can take to correct the problem:

  • Lift the plant out of the pot gently. Turn the pot on its side and slide the plant out gently to minimize damage to the root system.
  • Work as much soil from the roots as possible with your fingers, taking care not to break the roots.
  • Cut off any overly soft, rotten roots with clean shears. Remove any roots that appear dead or are badly damaged.
  • Fill a new clean pot a third full with pasteurized potting soil. Use a pot the same size as the old one that has at least one bottom drainage hole.
  • Set the plant in the pot, spreading the roots out over the soil. Adjust the depth of soil beneath the roots so the top of the root ball sits 1 inch beneath the pot rim.
  • Add soil to the pot until the plant is at the same depth it was growing at previously. The crown of the plant where the stems emerge from the roots must sit even with the soil surface.
  • Water the soil lightly to settle it. Keep the soil slightly moist. Empty the drainage tray after watering so the soil doesn’t absorb the excess moisture.

Getting the watering balance right when it comes to potted plants can be challenging. If you’re a first timer or don’t really have a green thumb, it’s a good idea to choose a simple system that’s easy to maintain and does most of the work for you. Choosing the right system from the start will ultimately save you hundreds of Dollars replacing dead or dying plants, and lower your overall cost of green wall ownership. You’ll also have the added benefit of a lush, healthy display to wow your visitors.

Signs of Underwatering Trees or Overwatering Trees

Trees can’t tell us when they’ve had too much to drink–or when they’re dying of thirst.

Instead, trees leave subtle clues that we need to decode. Look at your tree’s leaves, and let’s solve the mystery!

Is your tree getting too much, not enough or just the right amount of water?

The Difference between Overwatering and Underwatering Trees

Signs of Underwatering Trees

  • Wilted or curling leaves that may turn brown at the tips or edge
  • A sparse canopy of off-color and undersized leaves, leaf scorch or yellowing leaves
  • Untimely fall color and early leaf drop
  • “Even if you run a sprinkler in your yard, your trees likely need additional water,” said Rick Castro of Davey’s Northwest Seattle office. “The grass quickly slurps up the sprinkler’s water, leaving your tree thirsty. Plus, trees prefer to be watered deeply.”

Signs of Overwatering Trees

  • The area around the tree is constantly wet
  • New growth withers before it’s fully grown or becomes light green or yellow
  • Leaves appear green but are fragile and break easily

Is your tree getting too much water or not enough?

In both cases, the trees can look eerily similar. Luckily, there are two ways you can determine once and for all if your tree needs more or less water.

  1. Quick and easy check: Stick a long screwdriver into the soil below your tree. If that’s hard to do, your tree needs more water.
  2. Precise-as-can-be check: Below your tree, dig 6-8 inches deep and grab a handful of soil. Your soil should be cool and moist. If it’s sopping wet, you’re overwatering. If your soil isn’t drenched or sandy, roll into a ball. If it crumbles, your tree needs more water. Poke the soil ball a few times. If it doesn’t budge, you probably have clay soil.

How to Fix or Save Overwatered Tree

If your tree has too much water, it’s struggling to breathe. That excess water commandeers spots air pockets previously held. So, your tree roots are getting too much water and not enough oxygen. That’s a double whammy that could lead to root rot, fungi or long-term tree stress.

Here’s how to fix an overwatered tree:

  1. Stop. Don’t water your tree for a week or two. Before watering again, do the screwdriver test mentioned above. Only water your tree when it needs it.
  2. Fix. If you have clay soil, mix in compost to help it drain better.
  3. Inspect. After it rains, see if there’s water pooling around your tree and find out where it’s coming from. Is water running downhill and landing at your tree’s base? Does your rain spout empty right near your tree? If you spot an environmental cause like this, it may be best to move the tree entirely.

Are You Overwatering or Underwatering Your Indoor Plants

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Too much or not enough water? This is a common dilemma for indoor gardeners.

The challenge in diagnosing the cause is the symptoms look very similar.

Wilting can be due to the soil staying wet or dry for too long. The same is true for stunted growth. Small leaves can be the result of watering issues or potbound plants.

Soft yellow leaves are usually the result of overwatering. They are often accompanied by brown leaf edges. Cold drafts and insufficient light can also cause leaves to yellow.

Brown leaf tips are often caused by a lack of water, overfertilization and chemicals in the water.

Both the old and new leaves typically drop off overwatered plants. But the older leaves are the first to drop on underwatered plants.

Start by evaluating the growing conditions and your watering practices and make needed changes.

A bit more information: Check plant tags, books and reliable internet sites for specifics on the care and maintenance of your plants. Tropical plants need more frequent watering than cacti and succulents that like it drier.

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