Overwatered Plants: The Cure and The Cause

Overwatered Plants: The Cure and The Cause

Posted by Alix Francis on 14th Nov 2017

One of the first things you learn when becoming a gardener is that if you don’t water your plants, they will die. However, that being said, it works the other way too, overwatering your plants can also cause them to die early.

Overwatering plants is one of the biggest issues seen with plants today, people often tend to water their plants if they aren’t looking too healthy or have begun to wilt or lose leaves, etc. which could be the beginning of a costly mistake.

You can easily diagnose whether you are overwatering your plants with these 7 signs;

Root Rot

Roots should have a healthy white glow and look rather clean, roots which are brown, grey, black, slimy or non-existent are usually casualties of root rot. More common in houseplants than in outdoor ones, the rotting of roots is usually caused by poor drainage and waterlogging plants. Fungi is another cause of root rot, usually phytophthora, pythium and rhizoctonia which causes the plant to die.

If you think you have root rot, follow the steps below to try and save your plant.

How to treat root rot

Remove the plant from the soil and wash roots under running water. You want to wash away as much soil and affected roots as possible whilst remaining gentle with the plant.

Trim away the remaining affected roots, you may have to trim away a significant amount of the roots if the plant is badly affected.

If that’s the case, clean your shears or scissors by rubbing alcohol and prune back a third to half of the leaves on the plant. This gives the plant a better chance to regrow roots as the plant will not need to support as many leaves.

If you can, dip the healthy roots in a fungicide solution to kill off any possible root fungus.

Be sure to repot your plant in a clean, sterile pot that has good drainage and only water when the top of the soil is dry. It’s also worth noting that whilst your plant is re-growing you should avoid trying to fertilize it as this may stress the plant out.

Lack of Oxygen

Overwatering plants can lead to the plant suffering from a lack of oxygen. By overwatering your plants, you are essentially drowning them, soil which is constantly wet won’t leave enough room for air pockets which means the roots can’t breathe so the plant will quickly become stressed and prone to picking up diseases, in most cases, root rot.

How to fix overwatered plants

Potted plants

Let the soil dry out in the overwatered pot then lift the plant from the container, you will want to remove as much soil away from the roots as you can so you can inspect the roots. Trim off dead, damaged or unhealthy-looking roots so that only white ones remain. Using fresh soil and a fresh pot, carefully repot the plant. It’s best to use a pot which has drainage holes at the bottom as this helps to remove excess moisture.

Garden plants

If your soil isn’t draining quickly and you’ve got pools of standing water around your plant, it’s likely it’s been overwatered. This could be down to you being spray happy with the hose or there might have been heavy rainfall, whatever the reason, it might be worth considering moving the plant until that part of your land becomes drier or assessing whether that area has poor drainage. Carefully check the roots of your plant and rehome it somewhere else, remembering not to overwater the plant in future.

Removes Fertiliser

Fertilizers are added to soil to supplement its nutritional profile and aid the growth of the plant. Overwatering is known to flush out these fertilisers, depriving plants of their essential nutrients.

How to fix removed fertilizer

You will need to replace the missing food source with organic fertiliser. This will ensure your plant has the energy it needs to regain its heath. Topping up with mulch will help too.

If leaves are discoloured and appearing yellow, this usually means your plant is hungry. Use a slow release, powered organic fertiliser and compost to help restore the nutrients.

Foliar spray can also help revive the plant, be sure to spray the foliar spray on both sides of the leaves.


If you notice bumps, blisters or crystal-like growths on the undersides of lower or older leaves, it’s likely your plants have got Edema.

Often, mildly affected plants will recover from Edema however if your plant has been severely affected and its dropping a significant amount of leaves with distorted leaves remaining, this plant is probably not worth saving.

How to fix Edema

It’s likely your watering habits could be the cause of your plants problem, plants should never be sat in water so make sure there is plenty of drainage in your pots and remove any saucers which you sit your pot in.

If your plants are indoors, be mindful of humidity. Humidity can play a big part in Edema, it’s best to assess the air circulation around your plants and make adjustments where needed.

Light intensity will also help many plants which are suffering with Edema, moving your plants to a warm sunny area is advised but gradually as you don’t want to cook your plants or move them too quickly into brighter light.

Keep your plants in this area and monitor closely, you want your plants to no longer wilt, that’s when you know you are making progress.


Plants that wilt can be victims of overwatering, if the soil is wet with water standing on the top, you’re suffocating your 

lants. Roots are unable to get the oxygen they need when plants have been overwatered, leading to root diseases and fungal organisms to attack the plant.

You may also notice that the plants leaves have begun to drop off and foliage is turning yellow or developing mildew and mould.

If you act now you might be in with a chance of saving your plant.

How to fix a wilted plant

Gently remove the plant from its post and turn the pot on its side to slide the plant out. Remove the soil from the roots, carefully trying not to break any roots.

Remove roots that look dead, damaged, rotten or overly soft.

Once you have carefully removed the roots which can’t be saved, add a third full of pasteurized potting soil to a new, clean pot. Make sure you use a pot which is of an equivalent size and has drainage holes at the bottom.

Set the plant in the pot and spread the roots out over the soil. The root ball should sit 1 inch beneath the pots rim.

Continue to add soil until the plant is the same depth it was growing at previously.

Water the soil lightly to keep it moist and remove any drainage trays you have after watering so the soil doesn’t absorb excess moisture.

The plant will need to be kept in a warm room away in indirect sunlight.

Resume plant care once growth appears and shows that the roots have recovered.

Yellow Leaves

If your plants are showing yellow leaves, it’s likely you have been overwatering. If the plant hasn’t started to wilt, fixing this is fairly simple and straightforward.

How to fix yellow leaves

Be sure your pot has drainage holes and only water when the top soil is dry. Stop watering when water comes out of the drainage holes and do not allow your pot to sit in water.

Your plant should bounce back providing there isn’t any unnoticed root damage.

Smell of Soil

If your soil has start to let off a pungent smell, the cause could be from overwatering. The smell is from bacterium growing from the excess water.

How to fix smelly soil

Repot the plant which has been affected with fresh potting soil. The potting soil should be of high quality and made up of peat moss, perlite, vermiculite or pine bark.

If your plant is sat on a drip plate, be sure to wash and clean the drip plate thoroughly, excess water which is left for some time on the drip plate can cause a bad odour and also encourage mould and mildew.

Avoid overwatering the plant by only watering when the top layer of soil is dry.


You will find sometimes that you simply can’t save a potted plant that’s got too wet, try going through the advice in this article to do your best to save them but if it’s too late, learn from your mistakes and try again.

Keep at it and good luck with your plants.