Drying Wet Soil – How To Fix Waterlogged Plant Soil
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By: Raffaele Di Lallo, Author and founder of Ohio Tropics houseplant care blog
Did you know that overwatering is one of the leading causesof houseplants dying? You shouldn’t despair though. If you have waterloggedplant soil, there are a few things that you can do to save your houseplant.Let’s take a look at how to dry houseplant soil so you can save your plant.
Drying Out Overwatered Soil
Why is wet soil such an issue? If your indoor soil is toowet, this can be very problematic because it can cause rootrot. Plants use their roots to take up moisture and also oxygen. If yoursoil is constantly wet, there won’t be enough air pockets for your plants andthe roots will not be able to breathe properly. This can cause your roots torot and, therefore, your plant will suffer.
Some symptoms of overwateredplants include dropping leaves, both new and old, at the same time. Theplant’s leaves may turn yellow and also wilt. The soil may have a sour orrotten smell, indicating root rot. You can also lift the plant out of the pot.If the roots are brown or black and soft, they most likely have rotted. Healthyroots should be white in most cases.
What are some ways of drying wet soil?
- Increase the light that your plant is growing in. Of course, make sure that the light is appropriate for whatever plant you are growing in the first. Placing a plant in an area with more light will help speed up the time it will use water.
- Be sure to discard of any excess water that the plant may be sitting in, whether it is in the saucer below the plant, or in the decorative pot without drainage holes that the plant is slipped into.
- You can gently take the plant out of its original pot and place the root ball on top of a layer of newspaper. The newspaper will help to absorb excess water. You may need to change the newspapers a few times until it has removed as much of the water as possible.
- Do NOT fertilize a plant that has been overwatered and is suffering. This will make the situation worse.
Repotting Your Plant to Help with Drying Wet Soil
You may need to repotyour plant in order to solve your waterlogged plant soil issue.
First, remove as much of the waterlogged soil as possiblefrom the roots of your plant. Then remove or cut off any roots that are brownor mushy. Be sure to use sterilized pruners or scissors in order to avoid thespread of disease.
Choose a pot that has a drainage hole. Use a fresh soilmixture to repot your plant in, but add additional coarse material such as perlite.This will create air pockets in the soil and help to provide additional oxygento your plant’s roots.
Lastly, a good rule of thumb is to allow the surface of yourhouseplant to dry before thinking about watering again.
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Read more about General Houseplant Care
How to Save an Over-Watered Plant
Overwatering is one of the leading causes of plant death. Even among experienced gardeners, it's not hard to see how it can happen. You see a droopy plant, so you give it water. It droops more the next day, so you give it a little more. Unfortunately, too much water is just as harmful as not enough. Whether you're trying to revive a houseplant or a treasured member of your outdoor garden or greenhouse, there is usually hope for overwatered plants.
What is “Wet Soil?”
Balanced soil is one of the best resources you can offer your growing plants. When water, air, and organic matter are perfectly balanced, your plants will grow healthy and vigorous.
Although soil needs to be moist, you’ll struggle growing plants in soil that are overly waterlogged. A balanced soil is one that contains about 25% air and 25% water. Wet soil, by contrast, stays overly wet or waterlogged even when it’s been a while since the last rainstorm.
Wet soil is any soil with poor drainage. It could be because of the soil type -clay soils tend to drain poorly while sandy soils drain exceptionally fast. It could also be related to the layout of the land.
Plants grown in wet soil tend to struggle with issues like root rot, which is a fungal pathogen that prefers wet conditions. Wet soils also tend to lack beneficial microorganisms that help keep your plants healthy.
While there are easy ways to fix wet soil, most of these techniques take several gardening seasons (or at least a few weeks) to truly become effective. In some cases, like when you’re growing in an area that’s naturally swampy or boggy, they may not really work at all.
In either case, planting a species that likes things a bit damper can help you make the most of overly wet soil.
Wait, That Plant is Drowning!
Is your plant wilted even though the soil is wet? Is your plant light green and struggling? Well your problem might be over-watering. Read this article for tips on diagnosing an over-watering problem and then fixing it.
Did you know that over-watering is usually considered the most common cause of early plant death? In general, we are deathly afraid of under-watering our plants and as a result many of us tend to over-water. I am just as guilty of this as anyone else, although I am getting better. The best thing you can do to keep your plant healthy is to water it correctly.
How do you know if your plant is drowning? First, have you been watering only when the surface of the soil is dry to the touch? If you haven’t, it is possible your plant is staying too wet. For more information on proper watering for plants in pots read “Water Your Way to Happy Plants.” Second, is your plant looking light green and generally unhappy? One possible reason for this is over-watering. While both of these foliage indicators are symptoms of over-watering, the most common way someone figures out their plant is drowning is that the plant has wilted even though the soil is wet.
Why is over-watering so detrimental to plant health? Healthy roots are the foundation for healthy plants. Have you ever noticed that after you transplant a plant it will appear to sit there for a week or more before it starts growing? Well, it isn’t really just sitting there, it is establishing its root system. Once it has grown a substantial root system the plant starts putting its energy in growing a larger plant and more flowers.
Roots are important to a plant because they are its primary source of water and food and are also important for the uptake of oxygen. The roots of the plant take up water but they also need air to breathe. Over-watering, in simple terms, drowns your plant. Soil that is constantly wet won’t have enough air pockets and the roots can’t breathe. Roots that can’t breathe are stressed roots. Stressed humans are more prone to disease. Well, stressed plants are more prone to diseases too and one of the common forms of plant stress is unhealthy roots. Over-watered plants are likely to get root diseases, primarily root rot. You probably won’t know your plant has gotten root rot until you notice that it is wilted, but the soil is still wet.
What exactly is root rot? There are several different fungi that cause root rot. The most common culprits are Pythium, Phytopthera, and Rhizoctonia. Healthy roots should be white and clean looking. Roots with root rot are brown, grey, black, slimy or non-existent. Over-watering also tends to rob your plants of proper nutrition. Either the roots are damaged and can’t absorb the fertilizer in the soil or the excess water has leached the fertilizer from the soil. Either way the plant doesn’t have access to the food it needs.
OK, you’ve gotten this far and you think it is possible that you have been over-watering your plants. Now what? If the plants are showing some yellowing and you know they have been watered too much, but they haven’t started to wilt while wet, simply start following proper watering techniques (Click Here) and your plant should bounce back. Hold off on any application of fertilizer until you see new growth. Then I would fertilize with a water soluble fertilizer the next 2 to 3 times you water (after you see new growth) to increase the fertility level. After this go back to fertilizing every 7 to 10 days.
However, if your plant has jumped into the deep end even though it can’t swim (your plants are wilting even though the soil is still wet), then the plant is in much bigger trouble. If one plant in a combination planter is wilting and the others look fine you might want to consider removing the wilting plant to help keep the disease from spreading further. Begin using proper watering techniques (Click Here). If the whole planter is wilting you will have to be more aggressive.
- Move the planter to a shady area, even if it is a full sun plant. The roots of your plant are unable to take up enough water to keep your plant hydrated. Plants in shaded locations will use less water. Once the roots are healthy move sun plants back to a sunny location.
- Be sure the pot is draining. If no drainage holes exists add some or repot the plant into a pot with drainage holes. Do not allow the pot to sit in water, this will keep the soil too wet.
- If possible, create additional air spaces around the root ball. One way of doing this is slowly tilt the pot to its side and then gently tap the container, the soil ball should now be loose within the container. Carefully re-stand the pot up when completed there should be small air pockets between the pot wall and around the soil ball. This will allow the soil to dry quicker and at the same time bring oxygen to the root zone.
- If the plant isn’t too large, repot into a different pot. Be sure to add new soil. This will give the roots nice, clean soil to grow into. If the plant is too large to be easily repotted go on to number 5.
- Begin watering only when the surface of the soil is dry to the touch. Do not allow the plant to get extremely dry, this additional shock could be enough to kill the plant. If the plant is wilting badly, you can mist or syringe the plant’s foliage with water which will prevent too much leaf scorch. Do not fertilize. With the roots in a delicate state it can be easy to burn the roots with fertilizer. Once the plant resumes active growth return to normal fertilization.
- Treating with a broad-spectrum fungicide can be helpful. Your local garden center should be able to help you choose one.
- If the plant is going to make it you should begin to see improvement in a week or so. Once the plant seems to be growing nicely move it into a sunnier location and begin fertilizing again.
Even if you take all of these steps there is no guarantee that your plant will bounce back. It partially depends on how badly the roots have been damaged. If you have a tendency to kill a plant with kindness and are composting more than are surviving you might look at changing your soil mix to a lighter, fluffier soil. Make sure you have plenty of drainage holes in your containers. If all else fails grow plants that like their feet in water. Plants like Cyperus, Alocasia, Colocasia, Acorus, and many others will thrive in containers that drain slowly. If you tend to keep plants on the wet side you might want to steer clear of plants that are more prone to problems from over-watering than most other plants.
For more information on general watering practices read "Water Your Way to Happy Plants."
For more information on general watering practices read "Watering Container Plants."
Measuring Moisture With Wooden Chopsticks
An alternative moisture meter for plants is a simple pair of wooden chopsticks or a wooden skewer, according to Parade. To correctly measure the water moisture in the plant’s soil, the chopsticks should be bare, with no finish or lacquer protecting the wood from direct contact with the dirt. Push the chopstick down into the soil and leave it there for at least 30 seconds.
The bare wood chopstick will become dark when pushed into wet soil and pulled out. Flick off the specks of dirt and inspect the chopstick for the depth of water that has penetrated the wood. A chopstick that is soaked through means there is too much water in the pot. If the chopstick has patchy moist areas, then the soil may need a good watering within a day. A chopstick pulled from the soil that is completely dry means that you need to attend to the water needs of your particular plant.