“I really don’t have a green thumb!” is a phrase we often hear from those who have given up on the idea of growing houseplants. Today, I will solve 50% of the problem! It is true that most houseplants die of drought in total but involuntary oblivion. But it is also true that many houseplants push up the daisies because we loved them too much… and watered them too much!
How Does Death by Drowning Happen?
Overwatering begins with excess water which clogs the soil. It’s not often put forward, but in normal soil, there is air, small pockets of air, and this air is necessary for life in the soil. It’s quite similar in potting soil for houseplants. A surplus of water fills these micropores and there is a shortage of air. Thus, the roots become asphyxiated and die.
The plant will then begin its slow descent into hell. Surprisingly, the signs of drowning are much the same as those of not having enough water. The plant will begin to wilt and shrivel. The leaves will turn yellow. And slowly, the plant dries. It’s the end.
Unfortunately, when a gardener sees a plant that is beginning to wilt, their first reflex is to think that the plant is lacking water. So they water more. Sometimes much more! Just to be sure to rehydrate the wilted plant. This is where they switch to overwatering mode … and accelerate their horticultural demise. By wanting to save the plant, they give the final blow.
Cacti and Succulents, First Victims of Overwatering
It can be surprising for a naturally water saturated plant like a cactus or succulent to be so intolerant of watering, but this is the case. Most plants accustomed to prolonged drought conditions have very little tolerance for excess water. They are the first to die. In fact, it’s better to leave a plant that’s starting to shrivel to its own than to try to save it with watering.
You must therefore act with great tact when watering these plants. Better to use less than too much. Cacti and succulents are so popular that they are often the first plants to make their way into a beginning gardener’s home. They are also the first to pass on because we took too much care of them. And unfortunately they are the first to convince a novice gardener of their inability to grow plants. Sad observation. All that for one cup of water too many! To those sad budding gardeners, the best advice to give is to start with easy beginner plants. Cacti and succulents are not among them.
Other Plants Sensitive to Excess Water
Also watch out for philodendrons! Even though these are plants that like a soil with constant humidity, they still require drying slightly between waterings. Excess water is fatal to them.
Same goes for anthuriums, aloes and lyre figs (Ficus lyrata). Some pileas and peperomias also have more difficulty surviving with both feet in water.
Beware of Decorative Flowerpots
Far be it from me to say that decorative plant pots (with no drainage holes at the bottom) are damaging. On the contrary, they are the ones who bring the nice touch and for certain plants, the small reserve of water which accumulates at the bottom of the planter can save lives. However, if the decorative planter becomes an above-ground pool for a plant in a plastic pot… that won’t end well! It is important to occasionally check whether the flowerpot is filled with water. We sometimes water by reflex, without really looking…
How to Save a Plant From Drowning?
Rest assured, all is not lost! A plant bathed in its watering water can be saved. First step, dry out the soil! ( The first step would be to stop watering, but I hope I don’t need to specify that detail) This can be done by removing the plant from its pot temporarily. Once the water is well drained, you can check the quality of the soil. Sometimes a simple potting in a more draining substrate can solve the problem. It is also important to ensure that the growing pot has drainage holes. Don’t pot a plant directly in a decorative planter! And finally, wait until the soil is completely dry before watering again. From this step, it’s all about adjusting our watering practices.
Most of the time, overwatering is what kills houseplants. It is high time we put this truth forward, so that control, restraint and balance reign in the wonderful world of perfect watering!