Knowing when and how much to water your plants is the one of the trickiest parts of plant parenthood. Because overwatering and underwatering are equally tough on your plants, finding a good balance - the sweet spot where your plant is happiest - is essential. Let’s take a look at how to diagnose whether your plant needs more or less water, and tips for finding that perfect balance.
Symptoms of underwatering and overwatering can look similar, so we’re here to shed some light on what each symptom can mean! Inspect your plant for the following signs of water stress and find out which you’re dealing with.
Wilting: Plants will wilt when they’re overwatered and when they’re underwatered, so check the soil to determine which it is. If the soil is wet, it’s overwatered - if it’s dry, it’s underwatered.
Browning edges: Another symptom that can go both ways. Determine which by feeling the leaf showing browning: if it feels crispy and light, it is underwatered. If it feels soft and limp, it is overwatered.
Yellowing leaves: Usually accompanied by new growth falling, yellow leaves are an indication of overwatering. However, yellow, curling lower leaves can also be an indication of underwatering. Check the soil for moisture to decide which it may be.
Foul odor from the soil: A foul smell coming from the soil can indicate roots are rotting beneath, indicating overwatering.
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Mildew, mold, or fungal growth: If fungal growth appears on the plant or the soil, that indicates overwatering.
Slow, stunted growth: If your plant is growing slowly or failing to flower, it may be underwatered.
Brittle, crisp stem: Healthy stems should be strong and flexible, so if stems are snapping or looking especially brittle, your plant may be underwatered.
Soft, mushy stem: An indication of the presence of root rot beneath the soil due to overwatering. Root rot will appear as mushy, slimy black, grey or brown roots (not the healthy white they should be).
Soil pulling away from the sides of the planter: This is a sign of underwatering.
Dropping leaves: Plants dropping leaves can be an indication of either overwatering or underwatering, so check for other symptoms and check the soil moisture.
Blisters on the leaves: If you see growths or blisters on the undersides of leaves, you may be dealing with plant cells that have burst because they contained too much water, a sign of overwatering.
Pests: Depending on the pest, pests may be an indication of either over or underwatering. Pests like fruit flies and fungus gnats thrive in moist conditions, possibly indicating overwatering, while pests like spider mites prefer dry conditions, possibly indicating underwatering.
If your plant is underwatered, give it a good, thorough drink of water, making sure to get water to the roots, and consider shortening the length of time between waterings. A good rule of thumb is to check the soil with your finger for moisture. As soon as you feel it’s dry at least 2” down, go ahead and water. If your plant is regularly drying out far too quickly, consider repotting your plant - it may need more room!
Overwatering can cause plants to drown from lack of oxygen in the soil, can cause root rot and fungus to grow in soil that isn’t drying out, and can be misdiagnosed as pest damage. Here’s how to avoid overwatering your houseplants.
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1. CHECK THE SOIL FIRST
Before you water each and every plant, check the soil individually. Using your finger, test about 2” down in each planter and feel for moisture. If the soil is dark and you feel even the slightest bit of moisture, don’t water - most plants only need water when the soil is dry and light in color. Of course, every plant has individual care requirements, so keep that in mind!
If you can’t tell with your fingers how moist the soil is, use an unfinished wooden chopstick (check for the wood getting wet) or you can always get a soil moisture gauge or meter that can help take the guesswork out of watering!
2. AVOID WATERING LEAVES
Sometimes, when leaves are splashed with water too often, they can develop mold, so try to avoid getting leaves wet when you water. Water from the base of the plant, or if you’re using a Wally Eco, water directly into the reservoir channel at the back of the planter, behind the perforated divider. Check out our detailed watering tips for the Wally Eco for more information!
3. WATER DURING DAYLIGHT HOURS
Try to water when the sun is out so that moisture can evaporate more easily. If you water at night, the soil will remain moist for too long and can encourage rot and fungus to occur.
Drainage is key when considering how to avoid overwatering. If your planter can’t drain excess moisture, the moisture will be trapped in the soil and lead to root decay and all sorts of problems.
If you suspect your plant has been overwatered, it may not be too late to save it! Here’s what you can do to bring your plant back from the brink.
1. REMOVE DECAYING LEAVES
Prune away any dead or dying leaves. Dead leaves can fall, rot, and encourage pests, and dying leaves are sapping nutrients that could be used elsewhere in the plant.
2. REFRESH ROOTS AND SOIL
To check for root rot, dig a little ways into the soil and look at the roots. If you find mushy, black roots where healthy white roots should be, you will need to remove the root ball from the planter entirely, remove any dead or dying roots manually, and refresh the soil completely with dry, fresh soil after removing as much moist soil from the roots as you can. Spread the roots apart to create some additional air space (but not too much) that will allow oxygen to reach the roots.
Note: Root rot is a fungal disease that can spread to other plants, so make sure to isolate any plants you find root rot in.
If you see signs of fungus or root rot, you can also treat your plant with a spray-on fungicide. Just follow the instructions on the bottle to get rid of any mold or other fungi you may see.
4. DON’T WATER OR FERTILIZE FOR A WHILE
Once you’ve given your plant a fighting chance, avoid watering or fertilizing it again until you’re positive it’s going to survive. Wait a week or longer and make sure the plant is healthy before resuming your plant care, and make sure to always check the soil for moisture first!
For more tips for watering Wally Eco planters, see our Wally Eco watering guide!