When Potted Plants Are Too Wet: How To Avoid Overwatering Container Plants

Watering Of Potted Plants
watering containers
(Image credit: eurobanks)

Even the professionals may have trouble determining the exact water needs of a plant. The results can be disastrous due to the stress from over or underwatering. Overwatering potted plants is of the most concern, as they are in a captive habitat. Nutrients are washed away, and mold or fungal issues may develop with overwatering. Underwatering creates an inhospitable environment where plants can't intake nutrients and wither or die. A few tips and tricks can teach you how to avoid overwatering container plants for healthy, no-fuss greenery and ways of treating overwatered plants. Overwatering really is a fine line with many plant species. While we know plants need water, even cacti, the exact amount and frequency may be something of a mystery. Container plants with too much water may experience foliage die-off, rotten roots and tubers, and promotion of some pests or mold issues. All of these stress the plant and compromise its health. Potted plants that are too wet may even simply rot off at the crown or base.

How to Avoid Overwatering of Container Plants

An obvious method to prevent overwatering in potted plants is the use of a moisture meter. You also need to know your plant species and its watering needs. A broad guide for plants is to keep the top few inches (8 cm) of soil moderately moist. When this area is dry, apply water deeply and then allow the soil to dry to the touch again, before adding more water. A low-tech solution is to get your fingers grimy. Push a finger into the soil up to the second knuckle or test the bottom of the post through a drainage hole. Never let the bottom of the container rest in a pool of water unless it is an aquatic plant, and even then, drain and refill the saucer frequently to prevent fungus gnats and root rot.

What Plants Like it Wet and Which Like it Dry

Broadly speaking, even moisture is the best option for many container plants.

Low Moisture Plants

Cacti and succulents should have dry periods in the winter when active growth is not occurring but they need moderate water during the growing season. Examples of other low-moisture plants are:

Moderate Watering Needs

Tropical plants and understory specimens will need moderate water and high humidity. These include:

You can increase humidity with misting or by placing the pot on a saucer filled with pebbles and water.

High Moisture Plants

Extreme moisture needs are found in plants like:

Treating Overwatered Plants

There are some ways to save overwatered plants.

  • Changing the soil to a grittier mix with better drainage may help.
  • Check the drainage holes at repotting and ensure they are open.
  • Use containers that help evaporate excess moisture, such as terra cotta and unglazed containers.
  • Remove the plant from its growing medium and rinse the roots to get off any fungal spores that may be forming. Then dust the roots with a fungicide and repot.
  • Move your plant to a shady location. A plant in shade uses less water and you can let it dry out a bit. After a few weeks, move it back to its preferred lighting level.

Sometimes you simply can't save potted plants that are too wet. Container plants with too much water need to be treated as soon as possible, as the longer the situation continues, the less likely there is to be a full recovery.

Bonnie L. Grant

Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.