How Long Does It Take for a Plant to Recover From Overwatering?

how long does a plant take to recover from overwatering

We are all terrified of underwatering our plants. No one wants to be the person who kills their plants by neglecting them. Underwatering, however, is not the most common cause of plant death; overwatering is! 

It should take about a week for your plant to recover from overwatering. However, exactly how long it takes depends on a number of factors, including the amount of sunlight, the drainage, soil, and type of plant you are trying to save. Depending on these factors, the recovery could take much longer. 

There are so many factors at play when it comes to watering plants, which means there is no easy answer. In this article, we’ll be showing you how to diagnose a plant that has been overwatered, how to fix it, and what affects the recovery time.

Why Do Plants Die When They Are Overwatered?

If you have not spent much time around plants, then you might be inclined to think that a plant with too much water will simply use what it needs and save the rest for later. Unfortunately, things are a little more complicated than that.

Suffocation

Plants can drown just like people! It may seem strange that plants need oxygen since they produce it themselves through photosynthesis, but it’s true. Overwatering can block the exchange of oxygen between the roots and the soil. 

Root Rot

Root Rot is a disease which plants get when they have spent too long in soil that is too moist. Damp environments are breeding grounds for fungi like Pythium and Phytophthora, which can cause the roots to decay. Root rot can kill a plant in as little as 7 to 10 days!

Diagnosis

Nature has played a cruel joke on gardeners: the signs that your plant has been overwatered are almost identical to the signs that it has been underwatered. Many houseplants die because their owners mistake a drowning plant for a dehydrated one. If your plant shows any of the signs below, but you think you have been watering it enough, then chances are it is being overwatered. Let’s begin!

Wilting

Most people’s first thought when they see a wilting plant is that it must be too dry. Indeed, that could be the case. At least as likely, however, is that the plant is drowning. Check the soil to find out which it is. If the soil is moist, but the plant is wilting anyway, the plant is likely drowning.

Color Change

You may notice that the foliage on your plant is starting to turn yellow, brown, or lighter green. Again, this could be due either to overwatering or underwatering. If you have been watering the plant every few days and the soil feels moist, then the discoloration is probably due to overwatering. 

Root Health

As mentioned above, a common complication of overwatering comes in the form of root rot. You can diagnose this by taking the plant out of the pot and inspecting the roots. Healthy roots are firm and white, whereas rotting roots are brown or black and have a mushy texture. Depending on how far the rot is, you may detect a foul smell coming off the roots. If it has progressed even more, the stems may look puffy and swollen.

Leaf Drop

Again, this can be caused by either too much or too little water. Frustrating, I know. As before, if you know you have been watering the plant every few days, but the leaves are still dropping off, then it is likely overwatered. That is because the roots either aren’t getting enough oxygen or are rotting, which means the plant can’t support and maintain the same number of leaves. 

How to Fix

What you need to do to help your plant recover depends on whether it is starved of oxygen or infected with root rot. In this section, we’ll be going through the process of fixing each of these problems step by step. Let’s get right into it!

Fixing a Drowning Plant

The first thing you need to do is stop watering the plant altogether. If it has not been saturated for long enough to develop root rot, then simply ceasing to water it might be enough to fix it! Depending on how tightly-packed your soil is, and how much of it there is, it might take over a week for the soil to dry out. Here are a couple more things you can try:

  1. Move the plant into the shade – If the root system has been compromised either by lack of oxygen or root rot, it will have trouble getting water up the stem. A plant in direct sunlight will lose more water from the leaves, putting extra stress on the roots! 
  2. If your plant is in a pot with no drainage, that could be the cause of the overwatering. If it is plastic, you can poke a few small holes in the bottom and place the pot in a tray. If the pot is ceramic or terracotta, consider repotting the plant to one with better drainage. 
  3. Remove any dead or dying leaves to reduce the stress on the root system. 

Fixing a Plant With Root Rot

This fix is a little more complicated. Here are the steps you need to take:

  1. Remove the plant from the pot and inspect the root system. Any bits of the roots that are brown, black, or mushy should be cut off and thrown away. If left, the infection will continue to spread.
  2. When you have cut away all the rotting bits off the roots, you will have to take roughly the same amount off the leaves, or else, there will not be enough roots to sustain that much plant. Remove dead or dying leaves first. 
  3. You will either have to move the plant to a new pot or back to the old one. If you are using the old one, remove all the soil and soak the pot in a solution of 9 parts water to 1 part bleach to remove any trace of the root-rotting fungi and bacteria. 

Factors Affecting Recovery Time

How long will it take for the plant to recover? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. How long you plant takes to heal will depend on a number of factors:

  • Level of damage. The first thing that will affect recovery time is how badly the plant was damaged. If the plant was being overwatered for years, and you have had to remove parts of the roots, it may take months for the plant to bounce back.
  • Poor drainage. If the drainage is poor, that will also make the plant take longer to recover. Try adding perlite or coarse sand to the soil, which will allow water to pass through more easily. 
  • Type of plant. The type of plant will also have a significant effect. Fast-growing plants will generally recover quicker than slow-growing plants.
  • Time of year. The recovery time may also be affected by the time of year. Plants always take longer to grow in the winter than in the summer, so don’t be too alarmed if your plant takes a long time to recover during the winter. 

Summary

Overwatering is the most common cause of death in household plants. It is remarkably easy to love them too much and end up killing them. In this article, we have shown you how to tell if your plant is being overwatered and what you can do to fix it. How long the recovery takes will depend on several factors, some of which we have discussed. It could be a week, or it could be months. Good luck nursing your plant back to health!

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