Overwatering your plants can be a huge problem. It’s especially common with new gardeners and people that have a lot of house plants. Different plants have different needs. While under watering your plants can be extremely detrimental (or even fatal) so can overwatering. Roots need air. If a plant is overwatered or the area becomes flooded for a prolonged period the root system won’t get adequate oxygen and the plant will die.
However, before we start I want to be fully transparent. I have a confession to make. I don’t water my plants every day. I used to when I just started but now I usually water every 2-3 days if it hasn’t rained. I know that sounds crazy but we will get into it in this post.
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How Much Water Do My Plant Actually Need?
Seedlings and young plants need to be watered more frequently. Since the plants are still developing they will have a very shallow root system (2 to 3 inches). Because the top layer of the soil is what is going to dry out first young plants are more susceptible to under watering and should be watered 2 to 3 times per day.
Fruiting plants generally require more water than leafy greens. If the plant is in the fruiting phase it may require more water when the fruits are forming. However, you should generally water less once the fruits have developed to their full size and begin to ripe. Overwatering while the fruits are ripening can significantly affect the quality of the final fruit.
When is Overwatering Most Likely to Happen?
Overwatering is more common with indoor plants or after heavy rainfall. It is actually much easier to overwater your plants with tap water than it is with the same amount of rainwater because rainwater has a higher amount of oxygen. If you are in a temperate climate, overwatering can also happen during fall and winter because the plants just aren’t growing as quickly and there is less water evaporating from the soil’s surface in colder months.
What Happens When You Overwater?
When you overwater plants there isn’t the right balance of water and oxygen in the soil. This can cause undesirable (primarily anaerobic) bacteria a well as fungus and/or mold to grow in the soil. Plants become susceptible to disease due to the imbalance of the bacteria in the soil and roots can also begin to rot. The stem and the leaves of the plant may also start storing too much moisture, resulting in the leaves turning pale yellow or even brow and falling off.
Signs That You Are Overwatering Your Plants
There are some common symptoms to look out for if you think you might be overwatering your plants. If you are overwatering you may notice:
- The leaves will become yellow and start falling. If overwatering continues the leaves may progress from yellow to brown. After this the roots and the stem will also begin to rot.
- Mold growth on soil. If you see green or white mold growing on your soil the soil is staying too wet for too long.
- Bumps, blisters or crystal-like growth on the undersides of lower or older leave. This is a disorder called Edema (or oedema). It happens when a plant takes up water faster than it can be used by the plant or transpired through the leaves (transpiration is essentially the process of plants loosing water through their leaves….think of it like perspiration or sweating in humans….but for plants). Water builds up underneath or within cells of the plant, causing the cells to stretch and collapse.
- Tips of leaves begin to turn brown. While this can also be a sign of under watering, if you check the soil and realize it is very wet it’s easy to deduce that overwatering is the problem. If the soil is already moist you can be pretty sure you are overwatering your plant
- Leaves feel limp.
- The plant has a foul odor due to Root rot. If you remove the plant form its container the roots would be black and mushy and have a rotten smell
Signs That You Are Underwatering Your Plants
There are also some common signs that you may be underwatering your plants. If you are you may notice:
- The soil will always be dry.
- The pots or containers will be lighter than expected.
- The plant will begin to wilt and look lifeless
- The leaves will become yellow, then brown and crispy
- The plant will stop growing and start wilting get crispy and eventually die
- Plant dampening off and falling off at the base
Trouble Shooting Common Watering Problems
One of the first things you should do if you are unsure if your plant needs water is the “Finger Test”. Put your index finger about 2 inches deep into the soil. If the soil is damp then there is enough water. If it’s dry you should water your plants.
Soil drying too quickly
If the soil is drying quickly check the roots of the plant. If the plant is root-bound it will lose moisture quickly. The simplest solution to this is to transplant into a bigger bot
If you haven’t watered in a while and the soil is still damp it could be that the water is not draining properly either due to the soil mixture not letting enough water drain or the drainage holes in the pot are clogged. To address this issue you may need to change the potting soil to something that drains more easily.
Soils with small grain sizes can easily absorb too much water. What you can do is add something to the soil to increase the grain size. This will allow more spaces between the grain sizes to get more air into the soil. Clay pebbles or LECA pebbles for plants that don’t need much water or perlite or vermiculite for plants that need more water. LECA pebbles are great for absorbing water but not oxygen. While perlite and vermiculite would be my recommendation if you want something that absorbs both water and air. 20 to 30 % of the substrate (by substrate I just mean any of the items I mentioned above to help increase grain size) with 70 to 80% of the soil you were using previously.
|Perlite||Vermiculite||Leca Clay pebbles|
There are 3 things that can lead to root rot:
- Too much moisture
- Not enough oxygen
- Weak roots
If the plant starts to smell that’s a strong indication that roots have begun rotting. Check the soil to see if there are rotten roots. If this is the case take the plant out of the container (if it is in a container) and wrap the bottom in some sheets of newspaper. Take a larger container and stuff that with new paper at the base and around the root ball. Leave it in the container overnight so that as much moisture as possible will absorb into the newspaper. The next day, inspect the roots. Cut off any rotten roots and repot the plant into a bigger container.
- Water as wide as the leaves spread. The root system of your plants below ground spread at least as wide as the plant canopy above the soil. Use this as a gauge to help you determine where you should water.
- The best times to water 1. Early morning 2. Early evading 3. Late evening 4. When the plants need water. Try not to water in the heat of the day. Never water at night.
- Apply a suitable mulch to keep soil moist for longer periods
- For seedling, water from the bottom using a seedling tray. This results in less soil disturbance and a better, consistent amount of moisture in your soil.
- Water, wait and water again. When you are watering your plants wait for all the water pooling on the surface to disappear before you decide to add more water.
- After you water do the finger test to ensure that the water went down far enough
- Empty your saucer. If you leave the water in the saucer and the roots have grown to the bottom of the container you could leave the roots sitting in water. This will cause root rot
- Don’t water the top of the plants. There is only so much water a pant can take up through their leaves. Plants that are susceptible to disease…when pathogens from the soil gets splashed up on the leaves. This is especially true for plants like tomatoes, and basil.
- If you get a lot of rain in your area and you native soil doesn’t drain well ( like the heavy clay soil found in most of Trinidad) consider using raised beds or containers so you can have better control over your soil.
- Look out for pests. Snails and slugs like moist environments and can sometimes be found hiding in plant much
- Be where of fungal problems as well. Fungal problems tend to happen after heavy rains and when soil is left wet overnight (see my point on never watering at night).
Plants need water. However watering too much, or too little, too often or too infrequently can be detrimental to plant growth or worse, kill your plants. I very rarely need to water my plants more than every few days because of the high percentage of organic matter I’ve built up over time from adding compost to the soil. Additionally, a nice thick layer of mulch will go a long way to keep the soil cool and reduce the amount of water evaporating off of the soil’s surface.
A well-drained soil means that the soil has the right balance of oxygen and moisture in the soil. While the amount may vary from one plant to another, all plants need both of these to develop a healthy root system.
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