Saving Plants from Overwatering or Underwatering

Plants need three basic things to grow: sunlight, water, and nutrients. When any of those components is out of balance growth will negatively be affected, and the plant will suffer. A common problem many homeowners face is making sure their plants are watered correctly. Water is an important component in many processes that occur within the plant, but both overwatering and underwatering can cause big problems.

Problems with Overwatering or Underwatering

Plants need water for many of the biological processes that occur within their cells. Much of this water is taken in through the roots from the soil.  

Overwatering is a problem because it starves the roots of much-needed oxygen.

Open space between soil particles is occupied by both water and air. When there is too much water applied to the soil it pushes air out of this free space, completely filling it with water instead. In essence, the plant’s roots can’t “breathe” and drown.

Underwatering slows down, or may even completely stop, photosynthesis, a process where water and carbon dioxide product glucose within the leaves of the plant.

How to Tell if Plants are Overwatered or Underwatered

The big challenge is that symptoms of incorrectly watering your plants are similar whether you’re giving them too much water, or not providing enough. You have to look closely at the plant and the soil to determine which condition is the cause of the symptoms being exhibited.

Overwatering Symptoms

  • Wilting leaves even though the soil at the base of the plant is wet.
  • Brown leaves, especially the tips or outer margins of the leaves.
  • Stunted or slowed growth. If the roots are devoid of oxygen, respiration can’t occur. During respiration, energy is released and used by the roots to take in nutrients. A lack of nutrients, or food, leads to a lack of growth.
  • Yellowing of plant from a decrease in chlorophyll in the leaves. This chlorosis happens as the roots are damaged from lack of oxygen; damaged roots cannot take in iron to make chlorophyll, the reason why leaves are green.
  • Root rot is caused when roots die due to lack of oxygen in the soil or the overgrowth of soil fungus. Healthy roots begin to turn brown and mushy as they perish, unable to take in nutrients needed for growth. The foliage will then wilt and yellow.
  • Edema in plants is similar to that in humans. The plants try to take in more water than they can use, causing it to build up in the tissue. Leaves appear bloated and spongy.

Underwatering Symptoms

  • Leaves start to brown and feel dry or crispy to the touch.
  • Lower leaves yellow and begin to curl upwards. If the moisture stress is severe enough they will begin to fall off the plant.
  • Footprints remain visible on the lawn if you walk across it. A well-hydrated lawn will have enough moisture in the blades of grass for them to spring back quickly and efficiently.
  • Halt in flowering. Plants may fail to develop flower buds, or the buds may not open once formed.

How to Ensure Correct Watering Practices

Figuring out how much water to give your plants, as well as how often to provide it, isn’t a hard thing to determine but it does take a little bit of time and effort on your part. Once you work out the needs of your plants you can adjust the watering amount and frequency as needed.

  1. If you have a sprinkler or irrigation system installed, the best place to start is by determining exactly how much water is given off in a time frame. This is also known as calculating the water flow rate or gallons per minutes (GPM). Place empty containers randomly in the lawn or by plants and then turn the individual sprinkler zones on. After 15 or 30 minutes shut the zone off and measure the depth of the water collected in the container. Do the same if you Most grasses and plants need about an inch of water weekly for the best growth. Using the measurements collected you can calculate how long you need to run the sprinkler over the course of a week to get the recommended amount of water.
  1. After calculating how long sprinklers need to run to apply an inch of water, set up a weekly watering schedule. It is recommended to schedule less frequent applications, at higher amounts, instead of watering for shorter periods of time more often. Less frequent irrigation events will facilitate a deeper root system, increasing a plant’s ability to handle drought stress. To make the process easier, install a Wise Orchard smart watering valve to apply water.
  1. To prevent overwatering plants, account for rain/precipitation events that occur and decrease the amount of water applied. Allow the top 6 to 8 inches of soil to dry out before watering again.
  1. Watch closely as temperatures begin to rise with the summer season, adjusting water levels or frequency to accommodate hotter, dryer conditions. During the hotter parts of the day plants will transpire more, losing more water to the atmosphere. Soil moisture also evaporates more quickly. These two situations require changing your watering schedule to give plants a little more moisture.


Watering your plants and lawn correctly is important to make sure they are receiving the right amount of moisture. Too much water and too little water are equally damaging for different reasons. Understanding why the correct watering habits are essential and being able to recognize the symptoms of improper watering will help ensure you’re giving your plants and lawn exactly how much water they need.

You don’t have Wise Orchard yet? Get it now! It’s easy to install like a hose timer, it connects directly to your Wi-Fi and you can control it from your smartphone.

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