Drowning in Water: How Overwatering Threatens Your Garden’s Health

Overwatering is one of the most common issues in gardening today. When plants look unhealthy, giving them more water is tempting, but this often leads to more harm than good. Overwatering can be tricky to diagnose because it can mimic the signs of underwatering.

Overwatering can lead to a phenomenon known as “wet soil conditions.” While this might sound harmless, these conditions can wreak havoc on your plants. Wet soil conditions occur when the soil is saturated with water for extended periods. While water is essential for plant growth, excessively wet soil can be detrimental to plants for several reasons.

Soil needs air pockets to provide oxygen to plant roots. When soil is oversaturated with water, these air pockets are filled with water, reducing the oxygen available to the roots. This condition is known as waterlogging. Without oxygen or limited oxygen, your plants suffer or possibly die.

Here are six easy-to-recognize signs that you might be overwatering your plants:

1. Wilting Despite Wet Soil
Plants need both water and oxygen to thrive. Overwatering fills the soil with water, leaving no room for oxygen. Without oxygen, plants can’t breathe through their roots and will start to wilt, even though the soil is wet. This can make them look like they’re underwatered.

2. Brown Leaf Tips
One of the first signs of overwatering is browning at the tips of the leaves. While underwatered leaves feel dry and crispy, overwatered leaves will be soft and limp.

3. Brown and Wilted Leaves
Both too little and too much water can cause leaves to turn brown and wilt. The critical difference is texture: underwatered leaves are crispy, while overwatered leaves feel soft and limp.

4. Edema
When plants absorb more water than they can use, water pressure builds up in the leaves’ cells, causing them to burst. This results in blisters that turn into tan, brown, or white warty growths. You may also see indentations on the top sides of the leaves above these growths.

5. Yellow Leaves
Overwatering can cause slow growth and yellowing leaves. Regularly check your plants to prevent this issue.

6. Leaf Drop
Overwatering can prematurely cause both young and old leaves to fall. If you notice this, along with unopened buds, it strongly indicates too much water.

How to Fix Overwatering

Check the Soil:
  • Regularly check your soil’s moisture. Stick your finger an inch or two into the soil. If it feels moist and you notice any of the signs above, it’s time to reduce watering.
Use a Moisture Meter:
  • Many stores sell moisture meters. Insert one into the soil to the depth of the roots to get a straightforward reading of the soil’s moisture level. This tool can help eliminate the guesswork when watering your plants.

Our goal is to provide just the right amount of water to plants. Think about how you feel when you are hungry. Often, the word hangry comes to mind. We are so hungry we are angry. Our performance is compromised when we are hangry. If we could measure our hunger and provide the right amount of food when we just started to get hungry, just think of how happy and productive we would be. The same goes for your plants. We want to water them just the right amount (also known as field capacity), monitor the drawdown of water, and give them the right amount just as they get thirsty again. This keeps our plants thriving.

Stressed and weakened plants are more susceptible to attacks by pests and diseases, which can further damage or kill the plant. In addition, while we hope for a big harvest of vegetables in the garden, overwatering can have the opposite effect. It can hinder your garden’s productivity, leaving you with less to enjoy. There is a broader environmental impact. Overwatering can contribute to groundwater contamination, affecting not only our gardens but also the larger ecosystem.

When we overwater our gardens, it doesn’t just lead to puddles or mushy soil. It also means we’re using more energy, especially if we’re using pumping systems, which increases our energy bills and environmental footprint.

I hope these tips help you avoid overwatering your plants. Please share your tips in the comments below. If you enjoyed this post, consider subscribing to the blog and following me on Twitter at @H2OTrends.

Richard Restuccia is a water management evangelist. He believes passionately in water efficiency and sees the financial and social benefits far too often to keep a secret. Richard is a spokesperson at industry events and on the Hill to provide direction and insight on landscape water management best practices. Richard puts his words into action through service on various boards and committees. He served on the Irrigation Association’s Board of Directors. Richard also writes for other publications and is an award winning contributor to Lawn & Landscape Magazine. In 2014 his efforts were recognized with a “Leadership in Landscape” award. He has a great interest in the supply of clean water for people in developing countries and as an outdoorsman, spends his free time running, swimming and surfing.

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