Am I Over-Watering My Plants?
My approach to watering plants is similar to wrapping Christmas presents: there’s no such thing as too much. When my mom would send me out to water her garden, each plant looked as if it had had its own torrential downpour. There were massive puddles, and the water would take a good 30 minutes to soak into the soil. I mean, it’s summertime in Texas; surely these things need three gallons of water each, right? Not quite. In fact, over-watering your plants can be as detrimental as under-watering. So how do you keep from over-watering your plants? We’ll throw some tips your way to maintain that perfect balance of moisture.
Too Much = Certain Death
While "certain death" may seem a bit extreme, it isn’t far from the truth when it comes to watering your plants. So what actually happens when your plants have too much water?
- The soil becomes saturated
- Saturated soil prevents the plant from drawing much-needed oxygen
- The roots begin to decay, also referred to as "root rot"
- Your plant is more susceptible to fungal diseases
Pythium, Rhizoctonia, and Phytophthora are the culprits behind root rot. While root rot is difficult to reverse once it has set in, Hygrozyme, an enzyme that breaks down old root mass and stimulates new root growth, can certainly help. Not only does Hygrozyme eat dead roots that provide protein for your plants, it also helps prevent disease and helps plants absorb more nutrients from the soil.
Time to Water?
Interestingly enough, the signs of over-watering your plants resemble the signs of a lack of water. When there is too much water, the leaves will wilt and droop, turn yellow, and will fall off the plant. So how do you know when your plants need water? Well, there are a few ways.
The Finger Test
The simplest way to find out if your plants need water is to put your finger in the soil at the base of the plant, up to your second knuckle. If there’s soil stuck to your finger, your plants don’t need water. However, if your finger is relatively clean, it’s time to water.
The Dig Test
A little more complicated and requiring a tad more effort is the dig test. The point here is to determine how long it takes the water to soak the soil. Before you start watering, check the moisture level about 6 to 12 inches below the surface. Start watering and take note of the time. After a few minutes (depending on the flow rate), shut the water off and check the moisture level again. If the soil is saturated, then you’ll know just how long to water your plants without overdoing it.
If you’re a little leery about sticking your fingers in soil, try a moisture meter. Often not requiring batteries, these simple, yet effective tools and test the moisture levels of your soil, taking the guesswork out of watering.
Watering Tips for Potted Plants
That Catnip you have growing in your kitchen windowsill can also fall victim to over-watering. Below are some tips to practice with your potted plants.
- Make sure to moisten the entire root ball when watering. This can be tricky because as the root ball dries, it pulls away from the edges, and as it’s moistened, it expands. In order to accomplish this, fill the space between the surface of the soil and the rim of the pot with water. Let the water soak in, and repeat. This should sufficiently moisten the root ball.
- Make sure the drainage hole at the bottom of the pot drains properly. If not, this will cause the saturation mentioned earlier. If necessary, expand the holes with a knife.
- If you have containers underneath your pots to catch the water, empty those out when the plant is done draining. Otherwise, the root ball will absorb too much water from the container and the roots will drown.
- Forget to water your plant for a few days? No worries. It’s ok to submerge your potted plants in water for a bit. Use the kitchen sink, or a bucket. Leave them in there for an hour or so, remove them, and then let the excess water drain.
*A good rule of thumb is to give your plants an inch of supplemental water whenever nature isn’t feeling too generous with the rain.