Avoid Overwatering for Happy Houseplants

This time of the year, many of us humans feel a little overwatered. Hurricane Lorena and Tropical Storm Narda and even a doozy of an unnamed intense downpour between those two have probably combined to dump more rain on us in the last two weeks than the whole month prior.
Water is essential to humans and plants, but too much of a good thing all at once can be bad. Most plants are susceptible to something called “root rot” and some plants are much more susceptible than others. Prevention is the best cure, but many people are oblivious to how their overenthusiastic watering can send their favorite houseplants on a downward spiral.
I’ll often hear something like this and instantly think root rot: “I’ve got this plant whose leaves suddenly turned yellow and it’s gotten worse even though I’ve been watering it every day.” That “every day” part is the problem. Most plants, with exceptions such as those conditioned to live along shorelines or in marshes, prefer for their roots to dry out thoroughly between watering.
Prolonged exposure to too much water deprives plant roots of oxygen, causing them to decay, to literally rot away, and this can soon spread to the rest of the plant’s roots. Another cause of root rot is from dormant fungus in the soil that has the potential to suddenly flourish when a plant is overwatered—even just one single time!
Sticking just to houseplants here for the moment, start off on the right course by using a good all-purpose potting mix. Saving some money by shoveling dirt up from your backyard is more likely to result in a dammed-up pot that doesn’t drain properly.
Next, try to get your plants in large pots down to just a weekly watering and your smaller potted plants down to two waterings per week. Tiny potted plants, hanging plants, and plants exposed to long periods of direct sunlight may need to be watered more often.
Never water when the surface of the soil is still damp, and check just a little deeper. Most home gardeners use a finger to test: if your finger comes out damp and dirty then you don’t need to water; if your finger comes out dry and clean, your plant is ready for another watering. If you’d rather not get dirt in your fingernails, a pencil can do the trick almost as well—the only caveat here is that after the pencil’s wood is wet enough it’s harder get an accurate reading.
If you use saucers under your houseplants, take a good look at these after you’ve watered. A little trickle in the saucer means that the pot is completely watered and there was just a little too much that escaped. That’s perfect. No water in the saucer either means that you may not have provided enough water or the soil is not draining properly. A saucer with lots of water in it means that the plant’s roots are now sitting in completely saturated soil that can’t begin to dry until the water in the saucer fully evaporates. At that point, you should empty the saucer (maybe sponge it out if the pot is particularly big and heavy) and not water so aggressively the next time.
Depending on the type and size of your houseplant and how far the root rot has spread, it is sometimes possible for plants to rebound on their own. At other times, intervention becomes necessary often including removing the plant, washing the roots, and repotting.
Keeping these tips in mind means developing good habits and cultivating happy, beautiful plants!