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Overwatered Houseplants: Fixing the Damage

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Overwatered Houseplants: Fixing the Damage

Postby sunkeeper » Feb 11, 2009 2:12 am ... cle2-3.htm

It's curious that no matter how accomplished we are at growing plants, most of us have killed at least one by overwatering it. The best plant caregivers are not infallible; we all make mistakes. However, a plant that's been overwatered does not necessarily suffer a death sentence—there are simple ways to treat this unfortunate mishap.

The roots of a plant absorb air, water and nutrients to support the stems and leaves above. Excessive watering cuts off the air and the roots begin to suffocate, rot and eventually die. Fungus and mold in the soil increases, causing trouble for the remaining healthy roots. The most common signs of overwatering are wilting leaves and a pot that feels heavy due to soggy soil. Yellow leaves, mushy or loose bark on the plant stems and molds that appear on the top of the soil are also indicators of overwatering.

There are ways to stop further damage. If you suspect your plant has been overwatered, the first thing to do is to remove it from its pot and wrap the root ball in a towel. When the towel is soaked, wring it out and place it around the root ball again. Keep doing this until the towel absorbs no further moisture.

Next, take a look at the roots to see if they are crisp and bright in color or brown and mushy looking. If they are discolored and rotten, you may have to remove the damaged roots and repot the plant. However, removing the rotted roots can be tricky—you don't want to remove all the roots, just the deteriorated ones. Use a sanitized pair of scissors to cut away all dead and dying root material. When this is complete, you may also have to trim some of the foliage, since too many leaves and not enough roots to support those leaves can cause further problems. Trim away a very small amount of the top foliage to compensate for the root loss.
Once this step is complete, remove any dead or dying foliage or stems that appear to have rotted. They will be easy to identify, as they can be quite putrid smelling. Use a sharp hand pruner to cut away stems or branches that have loose bark or that are wilted and don't perk up after the above procedures have been completed.

Next, you will want to remove the soil from the roots carefully so as not to cause further damage. Repot the plant into fresh new soil and water the roots in gently; be careful not to soak the plant. I use a plant food that contains less than 1% hydrogen peroxide. (Follow the direction stated on whichever product you choose.) Peroxide is a favorite product of mine, as it's great for getting oxygen into the plant's root system. Refrain from adding fertilizer at this time; forcing a plant into growth by fertilizing it only stresses the plant further and the roots are damaged and strained already. There are enough nutrients in the soil to help the plant along—the roots need to rest and recuperate, not work harder.

Never pot plants directly in non-draining containers. If you do use these types of pots, leave your plant in its drainable pot and then place that into the decorative container. When you water the plant, remove it from the non-draining container and place it in the sink. Let it drain completely before placing it back in the decorative pot. Also, never let a plant sit on the collected water of a saucer. Discard any water that remains on the saucer 30 minutes after watering.

Overwatering your plants can be a problem of the past if you learn to read the soil, so don't be afraid to stick your finger into the potting medium. Study the earth and how it appears in your hand. If it's moist, it will likely appear black and will stick to your finger. When the soil is dry on top, don't arbitrarily add water, instead, stick your finger down deeper into the soil. If there is moisture below, wait a few days and recheck. The soil should be dry about 25% of the way down the pot before you water again.

Of course, when it comes to treating overwatered plants, there are some exceptions to every rule—sometimes the solution may be to simply move the plant into the correct light. Familiarizing yourself with your plants' watering instructions and following the advice given can reduce your chances of damaging them by overwatering. Getting to know your plants' needs intimately should give you the confidence to continue caring for them with ease.

Mary Praznik
Repot the plant into fresh new soil.jpg
Repot the plant into fresh new soil
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Evaluate the roots.Use sanitized scissors to trim away any that are rotten.jpg
Evaluate the roots, use sanitized scissors to trim away any that are rotten
Evaluate the roots.Use sanitized scissors to trim away any that are rotten.jpg (12.65 KiB) Viewed 6069 times
Wrapping the roots.jpg
Wrap the roots in a towel
Wrapping the roots.jpg (11.04 KiB) Viewed 6029 times
remove from pot.jpg
First remove from pot
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Scarborough,Ont. Zone 6A Lorraine
Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them. ~Bill Vaughn
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