Can You Water Plants Too Much? (Signs Of Over Watering)

Everyone who has a garden or keeps houseplants wants to keep plants healthy.  However, it might be possible that you are “killing your plants with kindness” if you provide them with too much of a good thing by over watering.

So, can you water plants too much?  Yes, you can water plants too much, which can injure or kill your plants.  Signs of over watering include root rot, wilting or dropped leaves, yellow or brown leaves, slow or halted growth, and mold or algae on the surface of the soil near the plant.

Let’s take a closer look at the signs and symptoms of over watering plants.  Then we’ll look at why over watering harms plants, how to treat over watered plants, and how to water properly to prevent over watering.

Can You Water Plants Too Much (Signs And Symptoms Of Over Watering Plants)?

It is possible to water plants too much, and there are several signs and symptoms to look out for.  You may see some combination of these, but not all of them, so be on the lookout to detect them early.

The Soil Around Your Plant Is Constantly Wet

If the soil around your plant is constantly wet, then you are not giving it a chance to dry out between waterings.  This can lead to problems like root rot or fungal diseases (more on this later).

If soil is constantly moist, you may be over watering. Clay soil is more likely to retain water and stay wet.

Think about it this way: you don’t drink water so that your stomach constantly feels full.  Instead, you drink water when you are thirsty.

In the same way, plants should not be watered so that the soil is always wet.  Instead, water plants when they are thirsty.  That is, when the soil is dry, or just starting to get dry on the top few inches.

If you have a problem with soil that drains poorly, check out my article on how to make soil drain better.

Root Rot Or Fungal Diseases On Your Plant

Over watering makes your plant more susceptible to many problems, one of which is root rot.  When soil does not have a chance to dry out, certain fungi have a better chance of establishing themselves in the soil.

These fungi will kill the roots of affected plants, changing the color from white to brown.  As the roots of a plant rot, its ability to absorb water and nutrients from the soil is decreased.

Root rot causes roots to turn brown and mushy.

Root rot affects trees and shrubs in addition to plants.  For more information, check out this article from the University of Maryland Extension on roots rot in trees and shrubs.

Over time, the plant may begin to exhibit signs of nutrient deficiencies and lack of water.  However, watering at this point will not save the plant, since it is unable to absorb enough water to survive.

Most plants with root rot will not survive.  However, you can try to use vegetative propagation to reproduce the plant and give it a chance to live again through its offspring.

For more information, check out this article on root rot from Wikipedia.

Fungus may also appear on parts of your plant other than the roots.  If you water the plant from overhead too often, fungi may grow on wet leaves or stems of the plant.  The leaves may also rot and drop off due to this fungus.

Mold, Algae, or Moss On Top Of Soil Near Your Plant

If the top layer of soil near a plant stays wet constantly, you may see mold, algae, or moss growing on top of the soil.

Mold will often be white or gray, and can cover large sections of the soil, or even the entire surface area of a potted plant’s topsoil.  Algae are usually green, and can also cover the entire top layer of the soil, given enough time.

algea in water
Algae is aquatic, and so it grows readily with light and water.

You are more likely to see algae and mold outdoors or in a greenhouse, where the wind can carry spores from elsewhere.  If you encounter mold or algae on your soil, use a small trowel to scoop up the mold or algae, along with a bit of soil underneath it.

Bury the material you scoop up, since leaving it out can allow the mold or algae to spread, eventually leading to spores blowing all over your yard, leading to an even more widespread problem.

For more information, check out my article on algae in your garden.

Moss is more likely to appear in moist areas with less sunlight. For more information, check out my article on moss in your garden.

Yellow Or Brown Leaves On Your Plant

Given enough time, some of the leaves on your over watered plant may turn yellow or brown.  This can be caused by a nutrient deficiency, since the plant’s roots will have trouble absorbing nutrients from the soil.  This is true even if your soil has plenty of nutrients in it.

Of course, nutrient deficiencies can occur even without over watering. For more information, check out my article on diagnosing nutrient deficiencies.

interveinal chlorosis
Chlorosis, or yellow leaves, can be one sign of over watering a plant.

Wilted Or Dropped Leaves On Your Plant

Eventually, the leaves of an over watered plant will start to wilt and drop off.  Sometimes, it is difficult to tell whether the problem comes from over watering or under watering.

A good rule is that an under watered plant will have dry, crispy leaves that fall off, while an over watered plant will have mushy, soft leaves that fall off.

dying tomato plant
Wilted leaves, such as on this tomato plant, can be a sign of over watering.

As time goes on, more of the plant may turn yellow, brown, or black as it dies back. You may see entire branches dying back as more leaves fall off.

Slow Or Halted Growth Of Your Plant

If you don’t notice any new growth on your plant, or it is too slow to notice, then you may be over watering.  Usually this won’t be the only sign, at least not for long.  If you notice slow or halted growth, be on the lookout for other signs of over watering.

Why Is Over Watering Bad For Plants?

Now we know all about the signs and symptoms of over watered plants, but what causes these problems?  It all goes back to the fact that plants eat, drink, and breathe through their roots.

Over Watering Prevents Uptake Of Oxygen From Soil

When you over water your plants, you keep the soil constantly wet.  The excess water in the soil displaces gases, which prevents a plant’s roots from absorbing oxygen from the soil.

Over Watering Can Cause Nutrient Deficiencies

When you over water your plants, you can wash away nutrients or topsoil, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies in the soil, and thus in your plants.  Over watering your plants can also lead to nutrient deficiencies, even if there is plenty of nutrition in the soil.

For instance, blossom end rot affects tomatoes and peppers, and is caused by a calcium deficiency in these plants.  This calcium deficiency can occur when a plant receives inconsistent water (alternating under watering and over watering).

Blossom end rot on tomatoes, caused by a calcium deficiency. This could result from over watering.

For more information, check out this article on plant nutrition from Wikipedia.

How To Treat Over Watered Plants

It can be difficult to treat over watered plants, especially if their roots have been wet for too long.  However, that doesn’t mean you should give up!  Here are a few tactics you can try to save your plant.

Change The Soil (Repot Or Transplant)

If the soil around a plant’s roots has been too wet for too long, one solution is to change out the soil.  For a potted plant, first remove the soil and plant from the pot.  Then, pull the soil away from the roots, being careful not to pull or break the roots.

One exception is if you notice root rot.  In that case, you can cut away any brown roots, and leave the white roots alone.

Then, put some soil in the bottom of clean pot and put the plant in, being careful to leave enough space for its roots.  Finally, cover the roots and fill the pot close to the top with soil.

Don’t pack down the soil too tightly, since you want some air in the soil.  Also, wait a day or two to water the plant, so that it can recover from the previous over watering.

If you are using plastic pots, you may want to consider clay pots instead – for more information, check out my article on plastic versus clay pots.

potted plants indoors
Repotting an over watered plant can give it a second chance at life.

If your plants are in the garden instead of in pots, you can still try to save them by transplanting.  First, dig a new hole to put the plant into.

Next, dig around the plant and under the roots, being careful not to bend or cut the roots as you dig.  Put the plant in the new hole, and cover the roots with soil so that the base of the plant is level with the surrounding area.

Don’t leave the plant out in the sun for too long after you dig it up – transplant it right away.  Also, wait a couple days before watering, to give the plant a chance to recover from over watering.

Use A Fan Indoors Or In A Greenhouse

Wind or breezes will help to dry out soil faster, since there is more air coming into contact with the surface of the soil.  If your plants are indoors or in a greenhouse, you can try using a fan to dry out the soil if you are afraid that they won’t survive repotting or transplanting.

Move Potted Plants Indoors Or To Shade

Plants exposed to the sun and wind lose water more quickly.  Hot and sunny or windy days are especially dangerous for over watered plants, since they can’t absorb water through their roots very well.

To protect your potted plants, move them indoors or to a shaded area to prevent them from losing water through their leaves.  For outdoor plants that are not potted, you can try to give them shade with some type of awning or umbrella.

How To Water Properly To Prevent Over Watering

Most people want some type of easy schedule for watering, but there is really no such thing.  First of all, every plant has different water needs.

Second, environmental conditions vary so much that a watering schedule is all but worthless. Factors such as temperature, humidity, wind speed, and soil composition can all vary by location and over time.

This means that watering is dependent on your local conditions and the plants you are growing.  Here are a few easy watering tips to follow, no matter what the conditions.

Feel The Soil Before Watering

Instead of following a set schedule for watering, follow a set schedule for feeling the soil.  Every day, use your fingers to feel the soil to a depth of 2 to 3 inches.

dry soil
If your soil is this dry between waterings, you are in trouble!

If the soil is dry and crunchy, you should definitely water your plants.  If the soil is moist, you can leave them without water for a little while longer.  If the soil is wet, you should not water the plants at all.

During very hot, dry, and windy weather, you may want to check your plant more frequently to make sure they aren’t going too long without water.

Water Deeply and Thoroughly

When you do water your plants, water them deeply and thoroughly.  This allows the water to penetrate deeper into the soil, which encourages plants to develop a deeper and stronger root system.

Allowing the soil to dry out a bit between waterings forces the plant to work hard for water by sending out roots in all directions.  This further strengthens a plant’s root system.

Water Your Plants In The Morning

Watering at night can leave the soil moist for too long, which can lead to root rot and other diseases.  Watering from above can also cause leaves to rot away.

sunlight through forest
Watering your plants in the morning can prevent the soil from staying too wet overnight.

Instead, water the plant near the soil, and water in the morning.  This gives the water a chance to soak deeper into the soil to soak the roots before the sun evaporates it.  However, the top layer of soil also gets a chance to dry out as the sun gets higher and the day gets warmer.


Now you have a good idea of what an over watered plant looks like. You also have some ideas to prevent and treat this condition in your plants.

You can learn more about how to water a garden (including when to do it) here.

You can learn how to set up a self-watering garden here.

You might also want to check out this article about well water (and when it can be bad for plants) or this article on using tap water in your garden.

You can also learn more about how to promote healthy root growth in plants in my article here.

You can learn more about bottom watering plants (and why to do it) here.

I hope you found this article helpful – if so, please share it with someone who can use the information.

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Jon M

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

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