Improper watering is the prime suspect of plant wilting, yellowing, or browning — silent but deafening cries of houseplants that are screaming for help. It can be distressing for a newbie as the symptoms of overwatered vs. underwatered plants are pronounced. They could be easily misidentified with other issues, even for a master gardener with collective experience. Various tell-tale signs of underwatering or excessively drenched plants are to look out for. To simplify these, we will discuss and have a deeper understanding of whether a single droplet or an entire can of water is detrimental to your indoor ornaments.
Is Overwatering Worse Than Underwatering?
Overwatering is as equally lethal as underwatering in plants. The colossal factor is blamed on the length of exposure: the more time the soil was soggy or dry, the more a plant is likely not to survive. Boggy earth arrests the gas exchange happening in the roots, while underwatering can lead to the loss of hydraulic pressure within and between the cells, hence the wilted look. Desert and aerial plants tolerate relatively dry soil for a few weeks. In contrast, most houseplants that are tropical in origin would suffer both from overwatering and underwatering. However, with clogged soil drainage, usually, soil-dwelling molds are reactivated and can infect the plant roots. Because of this, you get two issues with one cause: overwatering.
How to Tell if a Plant Is Overwatered or Underwatered?
The signs of overwatering and underwatered plants can be observed in the photo, with peace lily as the model plant. Most houseplants have a moderate watering regime. What happens when you over water a plant? The leaves are to look out for, with brown tips and a yellowish border, often feeling soft and moist. In contrast, plants with parched soil exhibit rather dramatic symptoms, such as droopy leaves showing yellowing or partially browned foliage. Usually, signs can be quite deceiving if your green buddy drank too much or less water. In this case, how to tell if a plant is overwatered or underwatered? One fool-proof way of differentiating is to touch the soil, or if you are fancier, a soil moisture-detecting device becomes handy.
What Does an Overwatered Plant Look Like?
We have been frequently asked what does an overwatered plant look like in our Ask-an-expert feature. To make things less complicated, we simplified the list associated with signs of overwatering of an unhappy plant.
Signs of Overwatering Plants
- Brown tips with yellow margins. It does not happen overnight but likely with repetitive fluctuation of soil moisture. Excess water escapes at the guttation glands on the leaves' ends at night, and when reabsorbed, the dirt and germs can enter–killing the nearby cells as the plant's response against invaders.
- Soft edges. When the dead leaf tips are excessively rehydrated, the crips-dry area is moistened, making it soft and moist, in contrast to the underwatered plants.
- Yellowing or chlorosis of the entire leaf blade. Typically confused with dry plants, this dramatic color change is often observed in a few or most of the leaves in response to poor gas exchange in the roots.
- Rotten stems or petioles. The signs of over watering can be easily distinguished by the putrefaction of organs close to the soil, like petioles or the stem. Water molds usually proliferate and attack the roots and nearby parts, turning them as mushy as mashed potatoes.
- Wilting. Symptoms of overwatering plants also include general wilting. Although it is associated with other plant issues, we highly recommend starting to troubleshoot the problem when this particular sign is apparent.
- Edema. Perhaps one of the uncontested symptoms of overwatered vs. under watered plants is edema. Observed commonly in Fiddle Leaf Figs and Camellia, several brown dots and corky protrusions appear in the young leaves after the leaf cells explode with enormous water pressure.
- Stunting. Some plants can withstand overwatering; they tend to slow down their growth to survive rather than theatrically dying with one cup of excess water. If your indoor companion exhibits poor growth than average, we suggest rescheduling its showering time.
- Wet soil. The best way to detect over watered plants is to dig into where the water is absorbed: the soil. If either one or two of the symptoms above are present and the dirt is incredibly saturated with water, this is reasonable evidence.
What Happens When We Overwater a Plant
A lot of science is going on with overwatered plants, but we will not bore you with that. The first pronounced effect is the suffocation of roots, as they, too, respire to function correctly like humans. Some water-loving plants have several morphological tricks to cope with the hampered air exchange. Unfortunately, most houseplants quickly succumb to soggy soil and show some distress symptoms. Harmful plant molds also thrive with poorly aerated soil, an excellent opportunity for them to attack and reproduce in the unsuspecting roots.
Can an Overwatered Plant Be Saved?
Overwatered plants can narrowly escape a flooded pot, primarily if the rotting symptom is evident in the stem and roots. However, its chance of survival is high if early signs of overwatering are detected (i.e., brown tips, yellowing of few leaves) and exposure to overly wet soil is shortened. For instance, immediate repotting as first aid could reduce the time the roots are in contact with wet earth, and the stakes of recovery are therefore higher.
How to Fix and Save an Overwatered Plant?
Fixing and saving overwatered outdoor plants or houseplants is possible through early detection and prevention measures. Immediate repotting coupled with calculated and precise watering time are some ways to fix it. With PlantIn app, we have a complete guide on the plant's rehabilitation period after suffering from water issues.
How Long Does It Take for an Overwatered Plant to Heal?
Healing can take 2-4 weeks or even more, depending on the damage inflicted on the plants and the size of storage organs. Usually, bushy plants or perennials with a significant number of salvageable parts heal faster than those with only a few shoots left.
What Does an Underwatered Plant Look Like?
Underwatered plants exhibit more distressing and pronounced symptoms than overwatering plants, such as drooping, yellow leaves, and dry foliage. To have a deeper understanding of its symptomatology and treatments, we have discussed it in a separate heading below.
Signs of Underwatering Plants
- Droopy or folded leaves. Leaves either arch down (most plants) or coil up (i.e., Calathea) in response to water stress to conserve the tiniest water molecule stored in the leaf cells. This is an early warning sign that something is wrong with the soil.
- Wilting. The most apparent manifestation of insufficient irrigation in plants is general wilting. Water pressure inside the individual cells cannot exert force to maintain the turgidity, which causes them to droop.
- Yellowing and browning. Yellow leaves or chlorosis appear when the water distribution from the roots is cut, typically observed in older ones but may also affect the young parts. In late-stage dehydration, chlorosis worsens, eventually turning brown.
- Slow growth. Scanty watering in plants is unhealthy for them, with water as the primary source of raw materials to fuel their physiological activity. If this is observed, you will need to keep an eye more on its watering routine.
- Light or dry soil. Limp plants are congruently observed in lightweight pots due to the air-filled gaps in the soil pores, which should be half-full with water. Hence, if both signs are present, please do not doubt that it is underwatering.
- Compressed soil. This phenomenon is typically observed in old, organic-based media. When it becomes parched, tiny particles tend to clump with each other, leaving a noticeable gap between the soil and the container.
What Happens After Underwatering?
A series of events occur when plants receive no drop of a single water, from the submicroscopic level to the most noticeable outcome. It includes one or more of the following:
- Soil pores are emptied, and the plant can hardly extract the tiniest amount of moisture.
- Nutrients are less available as they are typically absorbed with water inflow.
- Soil contracts and becomes hydrophobic on the surface, so it will need a better soak in the next watering.
- Plant drooping, or worse, death.
How Long Does It Take for a Plant to Recover From Underwatering?
Plants can immediately recover from underwatering with a generous water soak. The flash response can happen in a few hours to partially wilted plants such as prayer plants, pothos, or aglaonema. However, plants can hardly recover if the wrinkled foliage has turned leathery in texture. In that case, plants intend to shoot up new leaves to replace the fallen ones, which would take at least 2 weeks or more.
How to Save an Under Watered Plant?
Reviving an underwatered plant is less tedious than the drowned and has an easier solution. Rehydrating the soil and letting the roots drink is the only thing they long for. Here is a complete guide on how to do it:
- Dip approximately half of the pot in a bucket of water for at least 10 minutes for pots with drainage holes.
- Smaller pots might take less than 5 mins if soaked entirely. Take it out when it stops bubbling.
- Drainless, relatively medium-sized, lightweight ceramic containers must be watered from the top. Excess water needs to be drained by leaning it on its side.
How to Avoid Overwatering or Underwatering of Indoor Plants
All-time favorite houseplants typically require moderate watering. To avoid drowning or starving your plant with water, the preventive tips are enumerated in the following:
- Know the watering time. The day of showering your plants depends on the soil moisture, which might need to be watered frequently or minimally depending on the season. Houseplants require more watering in summer than in winter.
- Feel the soil. Using your fingers, scratch the soil surface and feel the moisture. This old fashion method gives you a rough estimate of the soil moisture content.
- Install moisture meter. A more advanced approach, driving soil moisture into the medium, is an accurate way of determining soil wetness, reducing the chances of over- or underwatering plants.
- Use perforated pots. Pots with drainage holes are indispensable tricks in large-scale gardening and should be practiced at home. It eliminates the risk of overwatering and underwatering as the water quickly drains off the holes.
- Identify your plant. If the leaves are thick or have barrel-like stems, as in cacti and other succulents, they need to be watered less. Woody and herbaceous plants with ornate leaves should be watered before the soil dries out.
How Often Should Plants Be Watered?
The golden rule is when the soil feels dry or crumbly upon touching, usually observed every 7 days. Some houseplants prefer a damp and moderately wet medium, while cacti and succulents will hold no grudge, even unwatered for 2 weeks.
How to Dry Out an Overwatered Plant Fast?
The fastest way is to change the soil to reduce the time the roots are drowned in the medium. If the pot contains no holes, you can lean it to the side and drain the excess water.
Can an Overwatered Plant Fix Itself?
There is a chance that it can recover from overwatering, but it can be meager depending on the degree of water saturation, the soil type, and if a looming presence of a fungus is detected in the roots.
Does Overwatering Cause Nitrogen Deficiency?
The nitrogen ions are water soluble and can easily leach from the pot. While this is true in sandy soils, the amount of nitrogen lost through leaching is negligible in organic-based media, which have a high affinity to these ions.