What happens when your plant has too much to drink?

One too many sips of champagne last night? Caught up in the moment, and you lost track of your refills? It happens to the best of us. But what happens when your plant has had too much to drink?

Overwatering house plants is the most common form of plant distress. The indoor environment may seem stable, but there is a lot of change, especially if the plant was outside for the summer months. Inside has temperature and humidity fluctuations, the amount of daylight changes depending on location and the length of the days.

Knowing the ideal growing conditions will help maintain the health of your plant. This included how much water they need. It is not the same for all plants. Succulents barely need a sip, while vines and peace lilies need more to stay healthy.

Plants that have received too much water can have limp or soft leaves. You may notice the bottom leaves beginning to turn yellow. The soil may appear green from algae forming on the top layer. In an extreme case of overwatering, new growth will stop, and the roots may begin to rot.

When you notice any of these signs or feel that the soil is very wet to the touch, stop watering. This may sound obvious, but to be clear, there is no need to keep this plant in your watering rotation for the immediate future.

I would also suggest moving the plant away from any bright light to a spot where it will receive indirect sunlight. Moving the plant away from the light lets it focus energy on recovery and healing and not producing new growth until it is healthy.

Does the container provide adequate drainage?

This can be tricky with indoor plants. Many containers are ceramic or glass without drainage holes and trays. They are pretty but require you to monitor the soil moisture closely. For my delicate plants, such as African Violets, I slip the plant and drainage container into a decorative pot. Even then, I must remember to check that water is not pooling in the bottom of the outside container.

Next, try to add air to the soil. Aerate the soil by gently inserting a pencil into the soil to create tunnels that will give the roots air. You want to create air pockets for the roots. In well-maintained potting containers, soil is loose and soft so oxygen can move freely to all areas of the root system. When the soil has too much water, the air does not move and give the plant the oxygen it needs to be healthy.

Worst case scenario is that the soil is soaked, and you need to repot the plant. This may not be easy or even possible with a large container. If you are able to pull the plant out of the moist soil, look at the roots. Healthy roots should be white, firm, and flexible. Dying roots will be dark-colored and brittle. Trim off the diseased roots and prep your new container. The potting soil should be loose and filter through your hands easily.  

Repot the plant and give it a small amount of water. Then place it in a spot where it gets its preferred light requirements.

Like outside containers, indoor clay pots dry out faster than glass or plastic pots. Room temperature can play a part in moisture levels too. Expect the plant to dry out more quickly if the furnace is running.

Small pots often need to be watered more frequently, but be sure to check the moisture level below the surface. No eyeballing it; use your finger to check below the top layer.

Different plants have different watering needs. If your plant has been “over-served,” do some work to mitigate the damage, and you should begin to see the plant rebound in about two weeks. With the holidays behind us and a new year beginning, your plants will forgive overindulgence but, like all of us, will prosper with a healthy new routine.