Avoid ‘killing them off!’ – expert shares tips on how to prevent overwatering houseplants

Royal Horticultural Society on 'hard to kill' houseplants

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Knowing how much water plants require can be difficult to determine. To help people adopt an efficient approach, houseplant expert Mercy Morris has shared some useful tips for watering indoor plants.

Overwatering will inevitably cause harm to any indoor houseplant and is a “very sure way of killing them off,” warned Mercy, a houseplant expert.

Signs of overwatering

The difference between an overwatered plant and an underwatered plant isn’t always obvious. From a distance, their appearances can look similar.

If a plant’s leaves appear to droop, it could indicate a lack of water, or too much. To identify the problem, Mercy advised lifting up the plant pot.

If a plant has been overwatered, its leaves may droop and the plant can smell mouldy. If a plant feels heavy or continues to drip water, it could be a good indication that it has been overwatered.

However, if the soil is dry, it’s likely the plant has been underwatered and will require a drink.

Plant pot covers are often a popular choice for displaying a plant, and while they may look attractive, their design prevents the water from draining properly.

To reduce the risk of overwatering, Mercy suggested keeping plants in a shallow ceramic saucer to enable any excess water to drain.

After a plant has been watered, Mercy recommended emptying the excess water an hour later. Setting a timer can also be a helpful reminder.

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Placing a plant pot in a location which is easily accessible when watering is also important.

Mercy highlighted that a plant positioned high on a shelf can cause people to overwater them. She said: “The tendency there is to just hold the watering can or jug up and give it a dollop of water.”

To revive a plant which has been overwatered, pieces of kitchen paper or an old towel can be wrapped around the root ball to absorb any excess water.

Once the material is saturated with water, the process should be repeated for two to three days, or until the towel is no longer saturated.

To enable the plant’s moisture to return to a normal level, Mercy advised waiting a month to give it a water.

“All the leaves might drop off, but, make sure that the stems are still firm,” explained Mercy. “If there are mushy bits, cut those off, because they won’t regenerate,” she added. 

The plant should begin to grow new leaves within a month.

“The roots should have some white, firm parts, and shouldn’t be brown or mushy,” said Mercy.

Another method for watering a plant involves immersing the plant pot and root ball in water.

“Hold it under the water until all the bubbles have stopped coming out,” explained Mercy.

The last stage involves placing the plant pot on the draining board for 20 minutes, or until the water has stopped dripping from the bottom. This process enables the plant to receive the correct amount of water, while allowing the roots to be exposed to the air. 

Mercy Morris is a member of the National Open Garden Scheme. To explore up to 200 indoor plants which Mercy grows herself, book a visit on the charity’s website. Mercy also sells a range of plants at Home-plants.com. 

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