How to Avoid Overwatering Your Plants this Winter

As your houseplants take a break for the winter it can be easy to accidentally kill them with kindness. Here’s how to avoid overwatering and even nurse overwatered plants back to life.

Do the finger touch test

Get into the habit of checking the soil before you reach for your watering can. Simply touch the surface of the soil with your finger.  If it feels moist, let it go a few more days.  If the surface of the soil is dry, dip your finger up to your second knuckle into the soil.  If it is still moist, let it go a few more days.   If your finger comes out dry and clean, then it’s time to water. Ideally, only water your plants when the top couple of inches of soil feel dry. And for cacti and succulents, it is best to water only when the soil is fully dry.

After a few weeks of checking the soil moisture regularly, you will find that each plant has a regular watering schedule.  You may use this experience to anticipate future watering needs.

Avoid repotting directly in decorative pots

Decorative pots look great, but if there’s no drainage then roots may become waterlogged.  Waterlogging the soil drowns the roots, and it could end up killing your plant.  Instead, plant into a slightly smaller pot to insert into the decorative pot.  It will be easier to water and handle the plant if it needs to be moved.

Make sure that excess water can drain off

Place your plants in a pot with a saucer below to catch the excess water coming from its drainage holes.  With a decorative pot, place a shallow block under the inserted pot to lift the plant from the base of the decorative pot. Never allow a plant to sit in standing water for more than a day.  With a little trial and error, you will be able to guesstimate how much water to apply to each plant for a thorough watering, but not allowing too much extra out of the bottom of the pot.

There are tell-tale signs that you’ve been overwatering your houseplants:

  • Wet soil. The soil around your plant should not be wet and leave your finger wet when you touch it. Instead go for ‘lightly moist’ for most plants.
  • Yellow or falling leaves. When your plants are too full of water, their leaves will turn yellow and might even drop off.
  • Wilted growth. Some plants will turn from their familiar, firm selves into a limp, wilted form even though the soil is moist.
How to bring an overwatered plant back to life

You can nurse an overwatered plant back to life by letting it dry out a little. It might seem a little harsh but simply stop watering until the soil is thoroughly dry.  Then water moderately and allow soil to dry out again.  Be sure to not allow any direct sunlight to the plant at this time as it will create additional stress on the plant.  After several weeks of thorough dryness, a few new roots should begin to grow, and the plant will regain firm stems and leaves.