Don’t Drown Your Gardens! How to Avoid Overwatering Plants

You want to make sure your gardens are receiving an optimal amount of moisture, but you’re not sure how to avoid overwatering plants? We have all been there before. Every gardener has killed a plant or two with kindness. Sometimes we learn, and sometimes we keep repeating the same mistake until someone teaches us how to water plants properly.


Watering the garden via Ramon Gonzalez

Here’s a simple and easy-to-follow guide on how to avoid overwatering plants:

New (and inexperienced) gardeners often want a timetable of when to water plants. The truth is that every plant is different. Different species of plants have different watering requirements. A potted clump of bamboo will need a lot more water than a potted cactus. The correct amount of water your plant needs depends on several variables. For example, the species, where the plants is located and the time of year. If you’re watering plants on a schedule (M-W-F) without knowing the requirements of the plant: stop doing that today.

Signs of overwatered plants.

You know you’re over-watering plants when the leaves start to look limp, turn yellow, and eventually fall off. Yes, plants that don’t get enough water will also turn yellow and fall from the plant, but those leaves usually turn dry and brittle. You’re looking for limp and sagging leaves and stems. Kind of how your cat and dog look when you bathe them, or when they get caught in the rainstorm.

Soil and containers.

  • Moss, mushrooms, algae, mold and fungus gnats on the soil of your plants are all signs that your plants are getting too much water. The soil is waterlogged allowing these problems to occur and lead to health problems for your plants.
  • If you start getting whiffs of a bad odor emanating from your plants, that’s another sign that you’re overwatering. The funky smell coming off of your plants is the smell of roots and organic matter in your soil rotting.
  • Choose a light and airy potting soil mix for plants in containers. For plants in garden beds, you’ll need to amend the soil with compost and other soil amendments to provide drainage. Terracotta pots are great for gardeners who have a tendency to overwater plants because they allow moisture to evaporate in ways plastic pots don’t. If you’re upcycling your own garden pots, create a lot of drainage holes. The more the merrier.
  • Sub-irrigation (self-watering) containers are great because you really can’t overwater plants in them. You fill the water reservoir at the bottom of the container when it starts to run low, or you look at the little water gauge and add water when it dips below a certain level.

Preventing overwatering of plants.

  • There are water meters on the market you can stick in the soil to measure how much moisture it holds. But nothing is cheaper and easier to use than your finger. For potted plants, stick your index finger into the soil down to your first knuckle. If it feels moist, hold off on watering for a few days.
  • Stop watering your plants on a specific schedule. Instead, lift potted plants and learn how heavy they are when recently watered and when they are dry.
  • Don’t buy cheap potting soil for potted plants, and avoid cheap topsoil and bagged soil when starting a garden bed at all costs.
  • Learning where your plants come from and what conditions they grow in is the best way to avoid overwatering plants, and group plants with similar watering needs together.

How do you keep from watering your plants too much?

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