Under-watering vs Overwatering: 4 key questions answered

Watering can and lavender

Let’s talk about watering. It’s definitely a topic that can be very frustrating for a lot of beginners, because under-watering and overwatering result in remarkably similar symptoms for your plants, so it can be hard for beginners to tell the difference. In this post, I’ll be explaining why the two look so similar, how to tell the difference, and what to do for plants that have been under-watered or overwatered, and how to avoid under-watering and under-watering?.

Why do plants respond similarly to under-watering and overwatering

Plants which get under-watered will generally begin to lose their tautness and lose leaves, which will shrivel up and fall off the plant. Overwatered plants will demonstrate these same signs. This is because in both cases, the plant is dehydrated. Under-watered become dehydrated because there is no water in the pot for their roots to absorb, meanwhile overwatered plants become so because their roots have died from a lack of oxygen in the pot, and are rotting because of the moisture. This is why the plants which fall victim to the two very different problems present in such similar ways.

How can I tell the difference between the two?

If your plant is exhibiting the signs the signs of under-watering/overwatering and is in bone dry soil, then there’s a very high chance that it just needs a little bit of water because it has been under-watered.

If the soil is fairly moist, but your plant is dry, then there’s a good chance that has been overwatered. However, you should always check for pests and disease first. To test whether overwatering is the problem, wait for the soil to dry completely from the top of the pot to the very bottom. Feel it with your finger if you need to, then leave the plant for a full day. After that, water it thoroughly. If the plant doesn’t perk up within a few hours, then the chances are that the roots are dead because of overwatering. If it doesn’t perk up after watering, take the plant out of the pot and check on the roots. If the roots are sloppy and lifeless, then you definitely have root rot from overwatering. If they’re still firm and fleshy, then your plant is suffering as a result of something else. If the roots are healthy, put your plant back into the pot.

My plant has been under-watered or overwatered, what do I do?

Under-watered plants just need a generous soaking. Water them until water comes out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. They’ll perk right back up in no time at all.

Overwatered plants need more extensive care. Change the rotting growing medium for a new one and keep the new medium moist to encourage new roots to grow. Try to keep a few new growth nodes which have not yet put out roots submerged in the new soil, and hope for the best. If your plant can root in water, it might be worth putting it in water to encourage faster root growth. However, if you choose to do this, make sure that you replant it in soil before the new roots get too long (around 5cm or 2 inches) long.

How do I avoid under-watering and overwatering

To avoid both under-watering and overwatering, make a watering schedule that works for your plants. Note that this schedule will need to change as the years goes on. Plants tend to need less water during the cooler months, as their growth is slower, and they’ll need more water in spring and summer, when their growth speeds up. Try to use terracotta pots if you tend to overwater, and use glass or glazed ceramics if you have a tendency to underwater.

If you’re worried about overwatering, wait for the soil to dry completely before watering. Does it stress plants out just a little? Sure. Is it better than overwatering? Infinitely.

Published by plantboye

Tech illiterate and pretending to be proud of it.

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