Can Plants Drown?

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By Emily Cooper

Plants love water, but did you know there’s such a thing as overwatering?

In fact, overwatering is actually the leading cause of early plant death. Many of us are so afraid of not watering our plants enough that most of us end up overcompensating by watering too much.

How Can You Tell If Your Plant Is Drowning? 

The first sign that you’re watering too often is to ask yourself how often you’re watering your plant. The general rule of thumb is that your plants need watering when the surface of the soil is dry. If you water when the soil is damp, there’s a strong chance that you’re overwatering your plant.

Another tell-tale sign is that your plants have a light-green appearance and look generally unhappy. One of the most common indicators, however, is that a plant has wilted even though the soil is still wet.

Or if you have an air plant – check here for the specific details of how to care for an air plant.

Why Is Overwatering So Bad For Plants?

Having healthy roots is the most important thing for healthy plants, as they are their primary source for water and food. Roots take up the water you pour into the soil, but they also need room to breathe.

By overwatering your plant, you are basically drowning it. This is due to the fact that soil that is consistently wet won’t have enough air pockets which will allow the root to breathe. This puts a lot of stress on the plant and leaves it more susceptible to root diseases, such as root rot.

Many plant owners are unaware their plant is suffering from root rot until the plant wilts.

What Is Root Rot?

When a root has rotted, it has been taken over by several different fungi. The most common fungi found in diseased roots are Rhizoctonia, Phytophthora, and Pythium.

When a root is healthy, it should have a clean, white appearance. Roots that seem to be suffering from root rot will look grey, brown, or black, and will be slimy. Sometimes, the root may completely disappear.

When you overwater your plant, you’re actually robbing your plant of the proper nutrition. Either the roots will become damaged, or they’ll no longer be able to absorb any fertilizer in the soil, which leaves the plant without the food it needs.

Learn more about root rot

What To Do If You’ve Overwatered Your Plant 

If your plant has started to yellow but has not yet wilted, you should be able to quickly bring your plant back to full health.

Start by following proper watering techniques, which means only water your plant once the top of the soil has dried out. Make sure your pot has drainage holes, and don’t let your plant sit in standing water.

Don’t add any fertilizer until you’ve noticed new growth. Once new growth has started, add a water-soluble fertilizer, and use it for an additional 3 times to increase the fertility level. Then return to fertilizing once every 7 to 10 days.

If your plant has wilted but the soil is still wet, the problem is far greater, and you will have to be more aggressive in your approach.

Can Plants Drown2

How To Save a Drowning Plant

Step 1: Dry The Plant Out 

If you think your plant is overwatered, it’s important to take a break from watering it whilst you wait for it to dry out, otherwise, you could end up making the problem worse.

This may take a few days, so don’t worry if there’s a long gap before the next water.

Step 2: Move The Plant into the Shade 

Even if your plant loves the sun, it’s important to move it to a shady area to protect the upper leaves as they will be vulnerable to drying out. Also, plants in shady areas take up less water than plants in direct sunlight.

Once the plant has stabilized you can place it back into the sunlight.

Step 3: Create Air Holes In The Soil 

An easy way to do this is to tilt your plant on an angle and begin tapping lightly at the sides of the pot. This should loosen the soil ball, so when you re-stand the pot, there should be small air pockets between the soil ball and the wall of the pot. This will help the soil to dry quicker and bring oxygen to the root zone.

It’ll also make it easier to remove the plant from the pot.

Step 4: Check The Roots 

Carefully slide your plant out of the pot to check the roots, and speed up the drying process. This isn’t a necessary step, but it does help the plant dry out and gives you the opportunity to repot your plant. Just make sure you’re holding the plant upside down in your hand.

Step 5: Remove Old Soil

Use your fingers to gently remove any old soil you can see around the roots. If the soil looks moldy or green, remove it completely as it will contaminate your plant. Also, if the soil smells like decay, remove it as it will most likely contain root rot.

If the soil looks healthy you can reuse it, however, it’s always best to use fresh soil when repotting.

Step 6: Cut Away Dead Or Decaying Roots 

If you notice any brown or smelly roots, use scissors to trim as much of the rotting roots away as possible. Make sure you save as many of the healthy roots as you can.

If most or all of the roots are rotten, the plant may not be able to be saved. However, you can try trimming the plant down to the base of the roots, and replanting them.

Step 7: Remove Dead Leaves

Just like you need to remove dead roots, you also need to remove dead leaves as they will infect the healthy leaves that are left. Cut off any brown or dry leaves and steams first.

If you cut away a lot of the roots, you may also need to cut away a tiny portion of the healthy part of the plant too, as the plant should be no more than twice the size of the root system.

How To Repot A Plant 

Your plant should now be ready for repotting.

  • Step 1 – Transfer your plant to a pot that has drainage holes and a tray.
  • Step 2 – Add around 1 to 2 inches of mulch at the bottom of the pot to encourage drainage.
  • Step 3 – Add new potting soil around the plant, and fill up to the base of the plant.
  • Step 4 – Only water your plant when the top layer of soil feels dry to avoid drowning your plant again.