How Long for Plants to Recover From Overwatering?

by | Last updated Jun 16, 2022

How to Diagnose An Overwatered Plant

For fear of underwatering your plants or avoiding having to water often, it’s a common tendency to overwater instead. So you may ask yourself, how long for plants to recover from overwatering? Surprisingly, this is one of the main causes of plant death. If your plant is visibly dying because you’ve been overwatering it at a stretch, there’s no need to panic. There are steps that you could take to help your plant recover from overwatering.

How to Diagnose An Overwatered Plant

How to Diagnose An Overwatered Plant
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Unfortunately, the symptoms of an overwatered plant are quite similar to an underwatered plant. You’d want to keep a lookout for the following signs, before taking the necessary steps to salvage your plant.

Wilting

If the plant has a drooping or wilting appearance, you must follow up on this by checking the soil. Waterlogged soil will feel wet or soggy, causing root rot, rendering the roots unable to absorb the required nutrients for the plant’s growth.

Change in Color 

If the plant’s foliage has turned yellow, brown, or even light green, the cause could be overwatering or underwatering. You’ll need to do a soil check to clarify the reason. If the soil feels moist, then it’s most likely overwatering.

Root Health

An evident impact of overwatering manifests in the form of root rot. Gently remove the plant from the pot and inspect the roots. A brown or black, mushy textured appearance implies rotting roots, while a firm and white appearance imply healthy roots. Badly rotten roots will have a foul smell.

Dropping of Leaves

If the leaves are dropping off from your plant, it could be due to overwatering or underwatering. When the soil remains soggy, the roots are either rotting or don’t get enough oxygen. Since the plant isn’t getting any nutrients, it starts deteriorating, and the leaves start dropping. 

Other Reasons

  • If the container feels heavier than usual or water is visibly standing on top of the soil with a drooping plant, it’s because of overwatering.
  • A lot of fungus gnats or relatively more moisture-loving pests around your plant is indicative of overwatering.

Recovery Time for Overwatered Plants

plants to recover from overwatering
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Mostly, overwatered plants make a decent recovery in about 7-14 days with the necessary steps. For a more extensively damaged plant, the required time may be longer, although, with a sufficiently good number of healthy roots, about two weeks of care displays a visible improvement.

Impacting Factors 

The recovery time of an overwatered plant depends on a few factors.

  • Level of damage: A plant that has been overwatered for a long time, with parts of its damaged roots being removed, will take months to recover.
  • Poor drainage: This is probably one of the reasons that caused overwatering in the first place. With improper drainage, the water tends to stay in the soil for longer. Ensuring proper drain holes at the bottom of the pot and the addition of perlite or coarse sand to the soil will make the water pass through more easily. 
  • Type of plant: Plants that have a fast growth also have a quicker recovery than plants with slow growth.
  • Time of the year: This is a vital factor to determine the recovery time. Winters are usually an almost-dormant state for plants. The rate of growth is much slower over the winters than in summers. Hence, recovery during wintertime might take longer.
  • Light exposure: Reducing the light exposure for a recovering plant would do it well. The light is used by plants to create energy for growing. However, with an overwatered plant, it isn’t growing that is needed, it’s recovery. Merely a couple of hours of bright, indirect sunlight would be sufficient for the stressed plant.  

How to Recover Your Plants From Overwatering

Following are some ways to save an overwatered plant.

For A Drowning Plant

The first obvious thing to do is to stop watering the already-overwatered plant. If there are no symptoms of root rot, merely withholding watering might fix it. Depending on the condition and amount of the soil, about a week may pass before it dries out completely. Alternatively, here are some other fixes to try out:

  1. Relocate into a shady area: For roots that are damaged due to lack of oxygen or root rot, passing on water and nutrients to the plant is difficult. Keeping a plant in direct sunlight makes it lose water from the leaves, thereby stressing the roots more. 
  2. Drainage: If the pot has no drainage holes, poke a few small holes at the bottom for a plastic pot. For ceramic or terracotta pots, repot into a container with drainage facilitation.
  3. Reduce stress: Leaves that have dried out or died put extra stress on the root system. Removing or cutting these out would be beneficial to the overwatered plant.

For Root Rot

For Root Rot
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More often than not, an overwatered plant ends up with root rot. Fixing this requires a few complicated steps.

  1. Dead root removal: After having removed the plant gently from the pot, an inspection of the roots will provide clarity on the extent of the damage. Leave the exposed roots to dry overnight, ensuring that they are placed on an absorbent material like a newspaper. The rotten roots that are black, brown, or mushy need to be carefully cut off and discarded; else, the infection could spread to the rest of the healthy roots.
  2. Leaves removal: Having cut off the rotting roots, removal of about the same amount of leaves must also be done. This is to avoid stress on the remaining roots to provide for the entire plant, probably overwhelming it. You could remove the visibly dead or dried leaves first.
  3. Re-pot: After removing the roots and leaves, the plant can be placed in a new pot with fresh soil or the existing one. If you prefer going with the old pot, you’ll have to empty the existing soil from it. Next, the pot will need to be soaked in a solution of water and bleach in a 9:1 ratio for the removal of any remaining traces of fungi and bacteria responsible for root rot.

For A Stressed Plant

For plants with yellow or brown leaves but no root rot, there are a few extra steps to help in the recovery:

  • Removing a few leaves, fruits, buds, and flowers from the top portion of the plant will help it conserve its energy.
  • Until the plant shows signs of new growth, it would be best to avoid fertilizing it.
  • If the soil is heavy and soggy, you could poke a few holes into it with a chopstick or a pencil. When carefully done, it provides more air space to dry up the soil faster. 
  • Removing the plant, together with the soggy soil and placing it on a dry, absorbent material will pull out the water from the root ball gradually. This could be followed by repotting with fresh soil.
  • To aid the drying process, you could increase the airflow with a fan or dry it on a rack. Alternatively, a dehumidifier could be used, just enough to almost dry out the root ball, but not completely dry. 
  • For proper water drainage, add aerating materials to the soil, such as coarse sand, perlite, or pumice.

Worst Case Scenario

If the plant has been damaged, due to overwatering, to such an extent that the roots are severely damaged, and most of the leaves have died, propagation is the only option remaining. While it doesn’t save your plant, it could help you grow new plants from the dying ones. Succulents are the easiest to propagate; it just takes planting their leaves in soil. This is the case with most other plants too.

Final Thoughts

Your love and care for your plants often push you into overwatering them, unknowingly causing damage. An overwatered plant, if detected early and taken care of appropriately, can be nursed back to health. Although, the recovery time may vary based on several factors. If you see any of your plants showing signs of overwatering, don’t panic; just follow the steps mentioned to fix the damage. 

Shelbi Clifford

Shelbi Clifford

Hi, I'm Shelbi! I am the founder of Houseplant Advisor - a blog for all things houseplants. Whether you are looking to add some green to your home or want to learn about how plants can help improve air quality in your space, Houseplant Advisor is here with the answers. Do you have any questions? Feel free to reach out and ask me anything!

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