10 Signs You’re Overwatering Your Plants

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Before you water your plants again, check for signs that you may actually be watering them too much.

The only plant I’m sure I’ve never overwatered is a water lily I grew in a tub of water. Aquatic plants are adapted to having their roots in water, but most other plants, both indoors and outdoors, may languish or die when overwatered.

Signs You’re Overwatering Houseplants and Container Grown Plants

It’s easy to overwater plants in containers, so watch for these signs and adjust your watering accordingly.

Yellowing or mushy leaves

Lisa Eldrid Steinkopf, The House Plant Guru and author of Bloom: The secrets of growing flowering houseplants year-round says, “I think the most common symptom of watering too often and allowing plants to stay too moist, is yellowing leaves and/or mushy leaves. Of course, yellowing leaves may also be an indication of it being overly dry or inconsistently watered, but they usually turn brown and crispy, and too wet yellow leaves turn mushy.”

Wilting

Often plants that have been overwatered actually wilt, the same as if they are too dry. The entire plant may wilt or only the tips of the branches may wilt. If you think you are watering only when the top of the soil is dry, check to see if the soil is dry a few inches down from the top. The roots of the plant may still be sitting in water if the container has no holes in the bottom for drainage or the pot is sitting on a saucer that is holding water too long. The best practice is to grow plants in containers with drainage holes and never let the pot sit in a saucer full of water.

Root rot

When roots are constantly wet, they become stressed and are more susceptible to a variety of disease pathogens that cause the roots to rot. When the roots are rotting, they can no longer support the plant. What does root rot look like? Roots will look brown and mushy when infected with a root rot disease. And, once roots begin to rot, it may be difficult to save the plant.

Fungus gnats

Steinkopf also notes that for indoor plants especially, “You may also start to see fungus gnats flitting about before or after yellow leaves appear. They are an indication of the potting medium staying too moist.”

Signs You’re Overwatering Your Outdoor Plants

Outdoors, it takes a lot of water to overwater plants grown in the ground, but it does happen. Keep in mind it is usually better to water deeply less often than to lightly water frequently.

Wilted or yellowing leaves

If the ground around the plant is saturated with water and the plant still has wilted or yellowing leaves, this is can be a sign of overwatering.

Leaves turn brown or drop off

Sometimes when a plant is getting too much water, its leaves may start to turn brown and drop off. This can also happen if the plant isn’t getting enough water. The difference is when the cause is too much water the leaves will still be soft. When the cause is not enough water the leaves turn crispy.

Stunted or no growth

When overwatered, some plants will just stop growing. Many times this is caused by root rot, which is caused by a variety of disease pathogens that thrive under wet conditions, attacking roots that are under stress from too much water.

Signs You’re Overwatering Your Lawn

Many people supplement the rainfall in their area by watering their lawns. If you keep your sprinklers going when there is enough rain to keep your lawn green, you may soon see signs of overwatering.

Lots of mushrooms

A few mushrooms pop up in most lawns, especially during warm spells after a rain. But, if you see a lot of mushrooms in your lawn, it may be a sign you are overwatering. Mushrooms and other fungal growths thrive under wet conditions.

Yellowing or dying grass

All plants uptake oxygen in addition to water but when the ground is saturated with water and never dries out, they grass in your lawn may be suffocating. Signs of this include yellowing or dying patches of grass.

Spongy soil

If you walk across your lawn and the ground feels spongy and has a lot of give in it, you are likely overwatering. Watering less often and allowing the soil to dry out before watering again actually encourages grass roots to grow deeper to find moisture. The result is that your lawn will stay healthy even during short-term dry periods.

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Carol J. Michel
Carol J. Michel is an award-winning author of several books including five gardening humor books and one children's book. As the holder of degrees from Purdue University in both horticulture and computer technology, she spent over three decades making a living in healthcare IT while making a life in her garden. She started writing about gardening on her blog called May Dreams Gardens which lead to numerous magazine articles, her books, and a podcast called The Gardenangelists. She was recently named a GardenComm Fellow by Garden Communicators International.