Overwatering is talked about super frequently in houseplant care articles because it can certainly do lots of damage to your houseplants.
Because of how frequently overwatering is discussed (and how frequently some of us have been overwaterers ourselves), many of us develop a serious fear of overwatering.
This fear of providing a plant with too much water often leads to accidental neglect or the plant living in drought-like conditions.
Unfortunately, plants that experience long-term drought become equally as stressed and likely to develop serious health issues as those that are provided with too much water.
In other words, routinely underwatering a houseplant is just as harmful as overwatering.
In today’s article, we will discuss why being scared of watering can create so many issues for you and your plants. Then, next week, we will discuss how to avoid accidentally underwatering your houseplants.
Table of Contents
- Why Fear of Overwatering Can Lead to Plant Death
- Root hairs require moisture to stay alive
- If the root hairs are dry for too long, they begin to die back
- The dead root hairs then become organic waste in the plant’s potting mix
- When we do water a plant with dead roots, the moisture and dead matter together create an environment where bacterial or fungal rot can take hold
- SO, even though we didn’t water our plant too frequently, we still accidentally caused root rot
- Big Takeaways
- How Do You Stop a Fear of Overwatering from Hurting Your Plants?
- This post was inspired by personal experience!
- Related Posts
Why Fear of Overwatering Can Lead to Plant Death
Root hairs require moisture to stay alive
Plants and humans are similar in that we both require water to stay alive AND we can both drown in too much of it.
The roots of a plant require regular watering to maintain health and vibrance.
While plants can survive for a time without the appropriate level of moisture, over time a plant experiencing drought will be increasingly stressed and will become more susceptible to pests, wilting/crisping, and root death.
If the root hairs are dry for too long, they begin to die back
A plant is able to maintain a large root system when the entire root system is getting the moisture it needs.
That is why a lot of houseplant care content says to water a plant until water drains through the drainage holes. This ensures the entire root system receives the water it needs.
When the amount of water provided isn’t enough to keep the entire root system hydrated and healthy, root tips begin to dry and die back.
If the drought continues, the roots will continue to die back, providing less healthy root tissue for the plant to take up water and nutrients.
As the root mass dies back and becomes smaller, the plant is also less stable in its pot because those deep roots are the thing that’s holding your plant firmly upright in its pot. If the plant above soil becomes larger or heavier than its roots can handle, the plant will topple over.
The dead root hairs then become organic waste in the plant’s potting mix
The worst part of the roots dying back due to drought is that now you have dead plant matter sitting in your potting mix.
Unless someone manually removes any dead tissue, nature will begin to clean up after itself, which can mean bad news for plants in pots in our home.
What does that mean for our plant? Let’s discuss that next.
When we do water a plant with dead roots, the moisture and dead matter together create an environment where bacterial or fungal rot can take hold
Unfortunately, watering the plant after it has experienced some dieback due to drought can cause more issues.
Bacteria and fungus love the combination of moisture and dead stuff. Afterall, it is their job to show up in these situations and clean up.
In an enclosed system, like a houseplant’s pot, the bacterial and fungal cleanup crew can do more than just clean up the dead roots.
They can begin to attack some of the remaining root tips that are still alive and incredibly stressed. Essentially, the plant’s remaining roots can develop root rot.
SO, even though we didn’t water our plant too frequently, we still accidentally caused root rot
- Fear of overwatering can cause us to water a plant less frequently than it ideally needs to stay healthy
- This means that the plant is living in drought-like conditions
- A houseplant experiencing long term drought cannot keep all of its roots alive and well. The roots begin to dry up and die back.
- This dead root matter, in combination with the water the plant does get, then provides a great house for bacteria and fungus
- This bacteria and fungus can infect the remaining roots that are alive and stressed, causing the plant to develop root rot
How Do You Stop a Fear of Overwatering from Hurting Your Plants?
Tune in for next week’s post to learn exactly what you can do to prevent underwatering your plant due to a fear of overwatering.
That post will be linked here when available!
This post was inspired by personal experience!
I spent several years being terrified of overwatering and working hard to figure out how little water to give plants so they wouldn’t rot away in my care.
The result was watching my plants grow very little, not look as healthy and vibrant as other people’s plants, and even losing plants to something that looked like root rot from overwatering (yellowing leaves, dead rotting roots).
When I realized that I might have actually become an underwaterer, I worked hard to develop a new schedule of checking my houseplants much more frequently and watering much more frequently as they showed signs of thirst.
The result has been amazing. I’ve watched plants grow that rarely if ever grew; I’ve seen plants bounce back and look supple and shiny green again; I’ve watched my love for my houseplants grow.
I’m guessing I am not the only one that has gone through this. Have you? Tell us in the comments!
If you aren’t sure whether you might be seeing signs of over or under watering with your houseplants, check out this post which discusses strategies for determining whether your plant needs more water or less water: