8 Foolproof Ways to Avoid Overwatering Your Plants

updated Jun 27, 2022
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Credit: Rachel Jacks

No matter how experienced you are when it comes to caring for houseplants, nearly everyone has dealt with the aftermath of overwatering. Whether it’s facing yellowing leaves or the death of a plant itself, overwatering is a common problem among all types of plant parents. We sought out several houseplant experts to help us solve our watering woes and build our plant care wisdom to ensure every plant in the home gets the proper T.L.C. it needs — no more and no less. 

1. Focus on adjusting light exposure first.

This may seem counterintuitive, but Darryl Cheng of @houseplantjournal says that no matter how much or little water you use, a plant will only thrive if it’s getting proper exposure to light.“ Light dictates the growth potential of the plant, and all of the care you do, like watering and fertilizing, will only realize that potential with the right amount,” he says. You may want to adjust the positioning and placement of an overwatered plant to get the right light exposure,” he says. If a plant requires indirect light, simply hang up a sheer curtain to ensure your plant is never overexposed. 

2. Feel the soil.

According to Cheng,watering your plants should be intuitive, which means that you’ll have to rely on cues from the soil to know when a plant needs some T.L.C. “There are three types of watering strategies that any plant will fall into: watering once the soil is completely bone-dry, watering when the soil is roughly halfway dry, and watering to keep the soil evenly moist,” he says. A little search engine research will help you determine which one your plant fits into.

3. Stop watering on a schedule.

Speaking of watering intuitively, one of the biggest watering mistakes is sticking to a strict schedule, according to houseplant delivery service The Sill. If you water every Sunday like clockwork without paying attention to soil moisture, you run the risk of over- or underwatering. That’s because, even though your plant lives inside, the weather impacts the amount of water your plant needs during any given week. The soil won’t lose moisture as quickly during a rainy, overcast stretch, so your plant may end up feeling soggy if you pour on water too soon. The opposite is true during a full week of bright sun—your plant could end up wilting before watering day rolls around. Follow Cheng’s watering advice instead and you’ll be good to go.  

4. Mind the seasons.

Plants drink more in the growing season (spring and summer for most plants) than they do during dormancy (winter). Not only is the weather warmer and the sun hotter during the summer months, causing the soil to dry quicker, plants are also actively growing new leaves and flowers, and they need water to be able to do so. That said, a plant that craves water twice a week in August will end up living in a bog if you keep up that same rate of watering in December. Plant seller Pistils Nursery cautions that this can lead to classic symptoms of too much winter watering, like yellow leaves, mold, and insect infestations. .

5. Use pots with drainage holes.

Good drainage is essential for overwatering prevention because the roots can easily rot from sitting in stagnant water, according to the University of Illinois Extension. Too much water in the soil stymies air flow, preventing oxygen from reaching the roots. If you’re set on using that adorable, drainage-less planter you just bought at IKEA, make sure to use a pot liner with holes so that you can lift the plant out of the decorative pot for watering. Or, you can lay small plants on their sides in the sink or bathtub after watering to allow excess water to drain out.

6. Choose a Goldilocks-sized pot for your plant’s needs.

If you’re thinking you can save some trouble by planting a tiny plant in a large pot, Tovah Martin writes in The Indestructible Houseplant that you’ll need to think again. Rather than “growing into” its roomy abode over time, the plant is actually more likely to suffer from rot. When it is time to upgrade your plant to a new pot, choose one that is just 2 to 3 inches larger in diameter than the last one and save the former pot for your next plant project.

7. Invest in plant-watering spikes.

If you just can’t seem to strike the right balance between over-and under-watering, self-watering spikes might do the trick. This tool basically allow your plant to water itself. It works by using capillary action to suck water from a jug set below the plant’s pot up a slender tube and into a spike that releases the H2O into the soil. Instead of watering the plant, all you need to worry about is topping off the jar of water. If you’re looking for guidance, plant guru Summer Rayne Oakes features plant-watering spikes in her YouTube series “Plant One on Me”—check it out to see a demo.

8. Give yourself grace.

Cheng says that it’s important to remember that, just as you’d find some brown and yellow leaves on the forest floor or in a jungle, your plant will also produce them over time. This doesn’t necessarily mean you are overwatering it—your plant just might be growing up. However, if your plant is dying, Cheng advises giving it a second life through propagation.