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How To Tell if Your Plants Are Properly Watered

Oct 8th, 2021

Some of us might say that we don’t have green thumbs because our plants keep dying on us, but it turns out that we may just be over- or underwatering them! 

All plants are different, of course, but when we can figure out whether a plant needs more or less hydration, it’s so much easier to take care of them and keep them alive and kicking. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to tell what’s wrong with your plant and what we need to do to fix it, which is great news for all of us with green-ish thumbs!

Here’s how you can identify an underwatered or overwatered plant, how you can diagnose the problem and how to fix it!

Plants 101: overwatering and underwatering

Diagnosing hydration symptoms in houseplants

Different plants require different amounts of water to stay healthy. Some plants can go weeks without a good bath, and some requiremore hydration than others. There is no one magic schedule that works across the board, so knowing how much water each individual plant requires is a good place to start.

Thankfully, there are pretty clear signs of plants that are over or underwatered. If you’re trying to figure out what’s wrong with your indoor plant, check out these signs below. 

Signs of overwatering:

  • Root Rot. If the plant’s stem is soft and mushy, this could be a sign of root rot due to overwatering. Rotten roots often show up as grey, black or brown, rather than white.
  • Bad-smelling soil. A bad odor coming from the soil is a characteristic sign of root rot, which is a symptom of overwatering.
  • Pests. Although some pests like spider mites tend to thrive in drier conditions, fruit flies and fungus gnats are commonly associated with plants that have been overwatered. You can get rid of these pesky bugs by using hydrogen peroxide or sticky traps!
  • Leaf blisters. If you find small lumps on the undersides of your plant’s leaves, then those are a sign of overwatering, too. Those lumps and bumps are formed when plant cells burst from all the water they are holding, leaving pockets of water within the leaves’ “skin.”

Signs of underwatering:

  • Brittle stems. Healthy plant stems should hold some flexibility, even if the stems are naturally tougher than others. If a plant’s stem is crinkly and brittle, it is a pretty clear sign of underwatering.
  • Slow growth. Not all plants grow at the same rate, but if you’re noticing that a plant has failed to flower or produce new leaves, then it may not have enough water to grow properly.
  • Shrinking soil. If the soil in the pot has become dry and spongy and is pulling away from the edge of the planter, then it’s likely shrinking due to lack of water.

Signs of either under or overwatering:

Some symptoms are analogous with both over- and underwatering. To find out which it’s suffering from, check the soil to see if it’s dry or wet. If it’s dry, then these symptoms are signs of underwatering; if it’s moist, then they’re signs of overwatering. 

  • Yellowing leaves. Generally, if the yellowing leaves are also curling in from the edges, then it’s a sign of underwatering, but usually the yellowing comes from too much water.
  • Wilting. Check the soil to see whether the wilting is due to an abundance or lack of water. 
  • Brown edges. If the leaves look like they’re singed on the edges, then there’s a watering issue for sure. Underwatered leaves will also feel crisp and crunchy, while overwatered leaves will be softer and more limp. 

How to fix an overwatered plant

Although fixing an overwatered plant does take a bit of time and commitment, it’s certainly not impossible!

Overwatered plants are damaged by not getting enough oxygen to their water-logged roots, so the key to bringing the plant back to life is to allow it to recover a bit. You can do this by:

  • Avoiding watering until the soil has completely dried out. 
  • Pruning dead or dying leaves
  • Refreshing the soil by removing the root ball from the pot and brushing away any fungus. 
  • Allowing the roots to aerate before repotting in new soil.
  • Treating the plant with fungicide, if necessary.

The best way to fix an overwatered plant is to prevent overwatering in the first place. This means making sure the plant is in well-drained soil in a well-drained pot, as well as making sure to only water the plant when the soil two inches below the surface is dry. To aid in healthy water evaporation, water your plants during daylight hours so that water doesn’t linger in the soil too long. 

How to fix an underwatered plant

Fixing an underwatered plant is a fairly easy thing to do, and most indoor plants can tolerate a decent amount of underwatering before it becomes too large of a problem. 

Here are a few ways to rehydrate a thirsty plant:

  • Allow the soil to completely soak through before draining completely. You want the soil to be evenly moist but not hold excess water. 
  • Make sure the plant isn’t root-bound. Some plants fill their pots with roots after a while, which means that any water is absorbed too quickly for it to get to all the roots. You can fix this by aerating the roots and repotting it in a larger pot.
  • Check to see that it’s getting enough humidity. Tropical plants require a humid environment to stay healthy, so consider finding a way to increase humidity around your plants!
  • Set reminders to water your plants so that you never have to think about it until it’s time!

Most of the time we think our plants are dying, they’re probably just suffering from an improper watering routine. And while our plants may be in distress, this does mean that there are easy ways to fix the issue without needing to search for fancy plant food or treatments. 

Good luck!

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Featured photo courtesy Unsplash/Kaufmann Mercantile

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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