Do you know the feeling when the indoor plants are looking a bit dull, and the only trick you’ve got is to water them? If that sounds familiar, well.. Welcome to the club! There’s a lot of us out there who’s perhaps a bit too excited to take the watering can on a walk around the house.
Overwatering is probably the most common cause of indoor plants dying. The classic method of evaluating whether or not a plant needs water is to stick the tip of the finger into the top layer of the soil. If the finger gets moist it will instantly feel cooler, because water evaporates from the skin, and that’s a sure sign that the soil, at least in the top layer, is moist.
It is however not always the case that the moisture level in the top layer is the same as around the plant roots — in fact, these could be complete opposites! There’s really no chance to feel the soil around the roots in a simple and easy way, so we’re gonna have to come up with smarter ways.
Below you’ll find a list of my best tips along with a warm recommendation for a small garden gadget that has helped save the lives of many of my plants. Because yes, there is an easy way to tell if you are overwatering or under watering your plants.
The moisture meter: every indoor gardeners must-have tool
For anyone who does not feel completely confident with watering, or just wants to eliminate the doubt, the moisture meter is a God sent gadget. It’s not even a gadget because it’s so simple! there’s literally no settings, no nothing .. Just a display that says if it’s wet or dry. What’s not to like?
In the last 5 years, I’ve experimented a lot with Pilea Peperomioides, and back when I first got the plant the common advice I found was “always keep the soil moist”. That piece of advice couldn’t be further from the truth, and as a result, I saw a lot of sad-looking Pileas.
It was around that time I got the first moisture meter, and that at least helped me with not continuously overwatering when the top of the soil felt dry but the core was still wet — meanwhile becoming wiser around the needs of the Pilea Peperomioides.
I’ve used it ever since, and it’s especially helpful for the trickier pots and plants.
Now you may be thinking “Do I really need a moisture meter?” and perhaps the answer is no. I myself do not need one, but it sure does come in handy. So I would imagine anyone who’s new to plants would find this a great tool as well. Besides, it’s so cheap to buy that the money spent on it will be balanced out fast compared to the price of replacing dead plants because of over or under-watering.
3 tips to avoid overwatering indoor plants
Besides buying a smart little device that can help tell whether a plant needs water or not, it’s of course a brilliant idea to educate yourself on watering techniques to avoid soaking the plants, to begin with. Here are a few of my best tips:
Healthy soil is well-drained soil, and I myself have lost a few plants due to bad soil. Over time soil loses its structure and “sinks” to the bottom of the pot. This means drainage holes get blocked, water runs through slower and oxygen levels reduce. This becomes a problem because roots need oxygen to stay healthy.
It can be tricky to determine if the soil is too thick, but the one thing you can do is to check how fast water runs through the drainage holes. If it’s taking longer for the water to run through than what seems logical, pot size considered, consider it a warning signal and give the plant new, fresh soil.
I’ve started mixing my soil with a bit of gravel to make sure there’s enough oxygen around the root system and to allow water to run through more easily. The more gravel the faster it is for water to run through, but this also means you’ll have to water more frequently. But who wouldn’t prefer watering a bit more, than throwing out dead plants?
Be careful with deep pots
When choosing pots there are several things to keep in mind, and one thing is the height of the pot. It can be tempting to buy a beautiful tall plant to go into an equally beautiful, tall pot, but the taller the pot, the thicker the layer of structure-less soil you can accumulate in the bottom, making it impossible for water to pass through.
An easy fix for this is to always add Leca (clay pebbles) in the bottom of the pot, allowing leftover water to float around the pebbles, not the plant roots.
Pots without drain holes are (almost) forbidden
One day at a gardening center I overheard to young women discussing “why on earth the pot had holes in it”, and well, the reason is to avoid overwatering. Having a pot without a drainage hole can seem crazy unless you are a super mindful plant owner. I have however had many successful cases of plants growing in vases, bowls, etc. with no holes in them. It looks cool and can work if you do it right. Take a look at this Pilea for instance;
If you use a glass pot like above, there’s the added benefit of being able to keep track of “what goes on underneath”. Here you can always see how much water is in the pot. Adding Leca to the bottom of these pots will be key in avoiding overwatering. Growing any plant in a closed environment such as a bowl, vase or similar will however lead to growth restrictions down the line, so it’s a time-limited setup.
Learn from your mistakes
As with everything gardening, the best and biggest findings you’ll most likely discover while doing. Learning by doing, simple as that. How much water is enough and how often should you do it all depends on the indoor climate, the specific plant, the soil you’ve used, and the pot you’ve chosen. So keep an eye out for your plants, try to be systematic, and perhaps even do a bit of A/B testing!
FAQ on overwatering plants
How do you know if you are overwatering your plants?
If a plant is being overwatered, it will show it. You will see if the plant is not happy, and this is how you know something is wrong. You might not instantly know to overwater is the problem (unless you use a moisture meter), but you will be able to see, and from there on investigating further.
What do overwatered plants look like?
The first symptoms of an overwatered plant are yellowing leaves that might feel weak (as if they lost all their strength), and look droopy. They will typically lose their green and eventually fall off.
Why does overwatering a plant kill it?
Overwatering can kill a plant because it basically drowns the roots, and no roots = no plant. When the soil surrounding the roots cannot contain more moisture, oxygen will not flow and the roots will die down. The smallest and thinnest roots die first, and the last ones to go are the biggest ones.
How to fix an overwatered plant?
Whether or not you are capable of bringing a plant back from being overwatered depends on the severity of the problem. But it’s always worth a try!
3 things you can try, depending on the severity:
- Let the soil dry up naturally, and NO water until it's dry
- Place the pot (with holes in the bottom) on several layers of newspaper and let the paper soak all moisture
- If the soil is completely drenched, consider repotting the plant into fresh, dry soil.
How long does it take for an overwatered plant to recover?
If a plant has been overwatered you will be able to see it on the foliage. Leaves might drop or get yellow. You won’t see instant results here, but new growth should look better once the maintenance is sorted. From here on, how long it takes all depends on the plant and how fast it grows.