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Houseplant Problem-Solving: How to Save Overwatered Plants

Overwatering is one of the most common mistakes in growing houseplants. A lot of people associate lots of water with a healthy plant, but too much of it can be really detrimental. Here’s our guide to preventing and fixing an overwatered plant.

Signs of overwatering

Plants will often make it clear that there’s something wrong with them. When a plant has been overwatered, the leaves will usually show one or more of the following signs:

  • Yellowing
  • Brown patches
  • Drooping
  • Dropping both new and old leaves

There are some other signs your plants have been overwatered that aren’t specific to the leaves, such as:

  • Mould growing on the soil surface
  • The soil taking a long time to dry out
  • The base of the plant becoming mushy
  • A bad smell coming from the soil


Know how to water your plants

A common mistake people make with houseplants is watering them little and often. This method keeps the soil continuously moist which – despite popular belief – isn’t always

The best way to water your plants is to wait until the top few inches of soil are dry – or half the soil, depending on the plant. Once it has dried out enough, completely soak the soil and let the excess drain from the bottom of the pot. Make sure the plant is never sitting in the leftover water – this alone can lead to root rot.

Another option is bottom watering. Sit your plant in a shallow dish of water for 5-10 minutes, or until it stops taking up water. Watering this way is also a great way to prevent fungus gnats.

Use the right potting mix

If the potting mix you’ve used isn’t well-draining or aerated enough it may retain too much water. A good potting mix will be a combination of different materials. Here are some good soil amendments for better drainage:

  • Horticultural grit
  • Woodchips
  • Sand
  • Perlite
  • Pieces of broken pots/clay


Check your roots

The first thing to do if you’ve overwatered your plant is to strip the soil away from the roots. This is a necessary step and also a great opportunity to have a look at the roots. If they’ve had too much water, they may have started to rot. If they are light in colour and firm, those are healthy roots; if they’re dark in colour and mushy or break easily, they are rotting.

Trim your roots

You’ll need to cut off any of your roots that have started to rot. Use a clean tool like a pair of scissors or secateurs, and trim the rotten roots. Make sure to cut above the darker roots so that all that’s left are strong, healthy roots.

Replace the soil

Once you’ve checked and trimmed your roots, your plant can go back into a pot. Use a well-draining potting mix and water the plant to help it adjust to the new soil.

Ongoing care

From this point on, make sure you’re only watering your plant when you need to. It’s also important to make sure your plant is getting the right amount of light. Without enough light, the plant won’t use water as efficiently, so it will take longer to dry out which can put you back at square one.


Overwatered plants are an incredibly common problem in the houseplant community, but with the right prevention and treatment it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Click here to keep reading about the proper care for houseplants.

Updated on December 13, 2023

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