You’ve probably been told countless times not to overwater your house plants. This is probably the number one rule when it comes to house plant care and for good reason. Overwatering is the number one house plant killer and the reason so many people struggle to look after their plants. They just simply don’t understand how much water to give their plant or spot the size and they’ve given them too much. Well, I’ve got a definitive guide on the signs that your plant is overwatered so that you can spot the problem early and save your plant. As well as some tips on the watering best practices.
Wet plant soil seems like the most obvious sign that you have an overwatered house plant. But this can be misleading especially for beginners. Different plants have different watering needs, this is key.
A Calathea needs moist soil most of the time to not develop those Infamous brown tips on the leaves, while an echeveria which is a type of succulent, when not like having wet soil and will start to suffer if sat in soggy soil. This is why we need to spot the signs that our plants give us when they’re not happy and not simply rely on our perception of wet soil.
Whenever we water our plants it’s best practice to saturate the soil completely and then let them dry out until the next watering. We therefore can’t really rely on the wetness of the soil to tell us if our plant is unhappy because of over watering so we should look for other signs of unhappiness.
7 Signs to tell if a plant is overwatered
1. Yellowing leaves are a sign of an overwatered plant
One of the first signs that something might be up with your plant is yellowing leaves. Now, this can be tricky for beginners because rather unhelpfully for us yellowing leaves are also an indication that we are underwatering.
Overwatering simply means that we are giving the plant water too often. The soil is constantly saturated and this leads to eventual root rot and plant death. Your plant is essentially drowning.
When the soil is constantly saturated the roots draw up too much moisture for the plant and the leaves start to turn yellow. There’s literally too much water in the cells and leaves.
If the soil was too much water then this also dilutes the amount of nutrients that the plant can draw up. Plants need three macronutrients for strong Healthy Growth: nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus.
It’s nitrogen that feeds growth and makes foliage green. With a lack of nitrogen in the soil because of excessive water, the plant starts to turn yellow.
2. Edges to turn brown
After the leaves have turned yellow the next stage of an overwatered plant is for the edges to turn brown. This is where we can normally tell if the plant is under or over-watered.
A severely underwater plant with brown leaves will be crispy and the leaves will fall off the plant easily. I think we’ve all seen this when we’ve forgotten about a plant in our home.
The brown leaves on an overwatered plant will feel moist and soft as if they’re holding on to too much water.
The edges of the leaves turn brown because there is too much water in the cells and they literally burst to cause damage to the leaf tissue. This damage is irreversible and will need to be cut off.
3. Droopy appearance is a sign of an overwatered plant
As well as yellow and brown leaves, an overwatered plant will also have a droopy appearance. You might mistake this for a lack of water but droopy leaves are also an indication of over-watering.
Drooping because of underwatering happens because the plant is essentially going into survival mode and conserving as much energy as possible until it next gets a good drink.
On the other hand drooping because of over-watering happens because the plant is drowning and the stems and leaves are too wet, weakening them and turning them droopy.
4. Soft stems and soft leaves
Droopy leaves will also be accompanied by soft stems and soft leaves because of too much water in the cells. This is essentially the stems of leaves rotting from the inside.
The stems of your plant should feel firm to the touch and you shouldn’t be able to easily bend them and squish them.
Soft leaves are a particularly over-watering problem for succulents such as echeverias and Jade plants. Succulents store water in their thick leaves so they tend to go yellow and mushy when we give the plant too much water.
The leaves on your jade plant should be firm and erect. If you can bend them easily this suggests that they are thirsty. Similarly, if you can squish them easily and water seeps out they have too much water and are slowly rotting.
5. Leaf drop
Leaf Drop is a good indication that your plant is suffering from over-watering. This happens when the roots of the plant push too much water into the leaves rotting them from the inside side leaving them to fall off.
Don’t confuse this with Leaf Drop from aging, which normally affects the lowest leaves first as the plant pushes its energy into top growth.
Leaf Drops because of over-watering will occur all over the plant and will be accompanied by yellowing leaves.
6. A buildup of fungus or mold on the soil line
Another sign of overwatering is a buildup of fungus or mold on the soil line. Have a close look at the soil line of your plants and see if you have any mold issues.
This is essentially the Dead Leaf tissue that has fallen onto the surface of the soil rotting due to the constant presence of moisture.
You should also notice a foul odor. So get your nose right in there and give it a good sniff.
7. Fungus gnats all over your house
Fungus gnats love a wet top two inches of soil to invade your plant and lay their eggs. If you’ve got fungus gnats all over your house then chances are you’re watering too much.
The top of the soil shouldn’t be wet all the time. Soil is wetter the lower down the pot you go, so if the top two inches are always wet then you’re giving it too much water and fungus gnats will invade. They don’t need much of an invite.
A good tip here is the bottom water your plants to allow you to control how wet the top of the soil is.
If your plant is exhibiting most of these symptoms then the final check is to look at the roots. Pull your plants out of the pot and inspect the roots.
Healthy Roots should be bright beige and plump. If some turn dark brown, they’re on their way to rotting. So it’s best to dial back the watering.
If any roots are black as well as mushy then they’re rotten and should be pruned to stop the issue from getting worse.
If your plant is suffering because you’ve been inadvertently overwatering your plant then all is not lost. Even if the roots are showing signs of rot.
Plants are robust and do normally bounce back when we correct the problem. So how do we save an overwatered plant from the compost bin?
Please read our detailed guide on How to save an overwatered plant [Easy Guide].
What’s the best practice for getting the water invite for our house plants
Now the first thing we should do before watering our plant is to understand what the plant needs and wants. As I said earlier all plants are different and all need different levels of water in the soil.
For example, I find all my Ficus plants tend to need less water than my rather thirsty peace lily. There’s tons of information online about pretty much every plant you can buy so there is a wealth of information at your fingertips including watering requirements for your plants. If you’re not sure what plant you have then you can check out Google lens which will help you identify your plan you can go from there.
After that, the easiest way to not overwater your plant is to Simply check the soil before you add water. This is where most people become stuck they assume because they haven’t watered their plant in a week and a half they must need water.
This is a bad habit to get into that will make your plants suffer. Stick your finger two inches into the soil and feel if it’s wet. If it is then wait another few days and check again you want to wait until the soil feels dry to the touch.
I use my water meter to tell me exactly how wet the soil is and I found this to be a real game changer. I’m no longer guessing how wet or dry the soil of my plants is.
When your plant is dry take it over to your sink area and give it a thorough drench multiple times to ensure that all the soil is fully saturated. You can drench the soil as many times as you like, it really doesn’t matter. This is when your plant needs a really good drink so don’t you can give it too much water at this point.
The key thing though is to not water it again until the soil is dry. Watering a few days later when it doesn’t need it will lead to the problems I’ve mentioned in this article.
Another great tip is keeping your plants in plastic pots with drainage holes will really minimize the risk of over Watering your plants and it’s something I recommend for all beginners. I keep most of my plants in plastic pots for drainage holes and sit them on top of a saucer or inside a decorative pot.
This allows excess water to drain out of the pot and be discarded and will stop the roots from sitting in standing water which leads to eventual root rots. To really take your watering habits to the next level you really need to read this article where I talk about 4 tips to master watering that my plants have absolutely been thriving from ever since.