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Are you over watering your plants?

Are you over watering your plants?

Some of the main factors that contribute to the strength and quality of your plant could be: Too much sun or not enough. Too much water or not enough. But how can your plant ‘tell’ you what it needs? Have you been too generous with the watering can – or completely forgotten about it?

Always remember that healthy roots are critical to your plant’s life, as they’re the primary source of water, food and oxygen. They don’t only take up water for the plant, they are where your plant breathes. If there is too much water or there are not enough air pockets, there will be limited oxygen supply and the plants will end up unhappy.

To assess if there is too much or too little water, you could try doing the fingertip test but this alone may not be enough. The first two centimetres may feel dry, but the drainage hole may have clogged up and your plant is unable to breathe through all the water surrounding the roots. Alternatively, your soil has compacted and either isn’t draining properly, lost its vitality, or not holding enough moisture and nutrients for your plant to thrive.

You need to take into consideration which plants need what amount of water. Some are quite happy to dry out between waterings, while others (whose natural home may be in a rainforest), such as ferns, will need a steady stream of moisture.

How do you know if you plants been over watered? 

Firstly, you may see the leaves turning brown and wilting. This can happen when the plant has too little water or too much water. Which could it be? 

When there is too much water, the leaves will feel soft, mushy and limp and so will the stems. Whereas too little water will leave them feeling dry and crispy to the touch. 

If there is too much water building in the plant’s cells, the roots absorb more water than they can use, causing them to burst and brown spots on the leaves will appear (sometimes blisters and spots that look like lesions). When these burst, there is no more strength in the tissue to hold the leaves upright. When it comes to under watering, the rule of thumb is that you will find browning along the leaf’s edges, while white splotches often signal too much water.

Another sure sign is that the growth of the plant may be stunted. When plants are overwatered their growth is hindered, along with yellowing leaves and new leaves which fall off before growing enough. (And yes, leaves turning yellow is also a sign that they don’t have enough water!)

If you notice small insects hovering around your plants, do a little inspection! Fungus gnats and other little pests thrive in damp soil and will happily live in it and eat away at the roots and leaves. 

Make sure you check your soil regularly to find out just where the sweet spot is. If you do not have a moisture metre, perhaps use a chopstick or a pencil and gently press about 3cm into the soil and feel how moist (or not) it is down there.

If the stick is a bit damp and your plant is exhibiting some of the symptoms, then you’ll need to reduce your watering. Especially if you haven’t watered recently and it still feels moist.

The best thing to do is to gently remove the plant from its container and inspect the root system. If the roots are dark, feel mushy and give off a sour, unpleasant smell, there is a good chance that water-loving bacteria have been having a whale of a time in the soil. Keeping your plants as healthy as possible gives them a better fighting chance against pests and diseases.

How to save an over watered plant:

Don’t freak out – yet. You may be able to save your precious plant. Once you have it out of the pot or container, remove any really damaged soggy roots. You can repot the plant in new soil after you’ve cleaned out the container properly. Ensure that your pot or planter has enough drainage holes and that they’re not blocked. 

Make sure the drainage allows any excess water to escape and don’t leave the pot standing in a drip tray that’s full of water. Place the pot in a position that receives more sun (but not direct sunlight in as you may run the risk of burning the leaves), making sure that there’s good airflow around the pot. Then hold off on watering until the soil feels dry to the touch going forward. Make sure you understand the specific conditions you plant needs in case it may not want it’s soil to ever dry out and prefers a constantly moist environment.

A plant that gets too little water will usually suffer less damage than one that gets too much. The signs that you’re under watering start with drooping leaves and they will perk up well after you’ve watered. The Peace Lily is one that lets you know that it needs a drink by all the leaves lying flat, but the moment you water it, they come back to attention. 

The leaves likely won’t turn yellow, but they may get brown edges, curl under, and will feel paper-thin and crispy. The soil in the pot may compact somewhat, leaving a gap between the soil and the inside of the pot wall. Of course, many of these signs are similar to plants that are getting too much water, so always check the moisture content first. 

If the soil on the top feels a tad hard, break it up so that the much-needed water will be able to penetrate down. Ensure you’ve soaked all the soil, not just the top couple of centimetres, allowing it to drain out the bottom of the pot.  If you’ve had the plant for a while and haven’t re-potted it as it’s grown, the roots will become pot bound and won’t have enough access to water in the soil to support the plant, so it may be time to up-size your pot.

Another factor to consider is the temperature surrounding the plant. One living in a warmer environment will mostly grow faster and use up more water. If your over watered plant is having issues drying out, it may just be too cool, so move it to a slightly warmer spot. Take notice of the amount of heat generated by sunlight, air conditioner or heater and where your plant is positioned in relation to these as the humidity or dryness of the area can affect the plant too. 

An important thing to note is that smaller plants have shallow root systems, thus they require more frequent watering. When the plant begins to grow, so will the depth of the root system. When the root system is deeper, they would require longer but less frequent watering. Don’t forget that during winter your plant will naturally slow its growth rate, so won’t need as much water during that time compared to your warmer summer months (unless it is a winter bulb).

It may take a while if you’re working with an unfamiliar variety to get your watering regime spot on. Once you get that going, you will have one happy plant pal!

If you’re still unsure about anything to do with your plants, pop us an email with some images and we’ll assist right away!

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