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Avoid overwatering your plants: Why and how to do it

Scores of people picked up gardening as a hobby while under lockdown during the pandemic last year. You may be one of them. You may have visited a nursery, picked up a few easy plants for your home garden and researched how to plant them, feed them, water them and groom them. If you were able to sustain the plant and watch it grow and bloom, you know that you have accomplished something important. You are also ready to move on to more difficult plants. 

However, if your plants did not survive a month, do not lose hope. You do not become an expert without a few initial failures. Get yourself some new plants and start polishing that green thumb of yours. But before all that, you need to understand what could have led to the untimely death of your first plants. While there are many reasons for your initial attempts failing, one of the most common reasons that amateur gardeners lose their first plants is overwatering.  

So what is overwatering and why do you do it? 

Picture this. You see your plant, you go closer to it and find that the top soil is dry. You water your plant. Or you make a routine of watering your plants, day by day, every day, without any real idea of how much water a certain plant needs. All these can be acts that may lead to overwatering of your plants. Not having a good draining system in terms of soil mix or draining holes, misjudging a fleshy plant and its need for water or mindlessly pouring water over the plant can also lead to overwatering.  

Plants, like pets or children, need specific care. In cases of plants which grow from the ground, overwatering is not much of an issue because water is absorbed down to the ground completely. It does not wash away nutrients or soil. However, your house plants are essentially captive in their pots or planters. Excess amounts of water can easily either wash away all the soil nutrients or the soil itself. If the draining is not good, the water can accumulate inside the pot, stagnate and cause a build-up of moss and bacteria that can quickly kill a plant.  

If you have plants in your home, it is a good idea to always know what kind of plant it is and what kind of care it requires. You can do your research online or talk to a nursery owner or even another gardener. Once you understand what kind of plant you have, you can understand its water needs. Plants like aloe vera or other pretty succulents do not require regular watering as they are naturally fleshy. Their leaves already have water content in them and can survive days, sometimes even months without external watering. Similarly, there are plants which need only so much water in two days or so. If you water these plants every day, they will stand in stagnant water, and their roots may rot. 

One of the most important ways to avoid overwatering your plants is to know and understand them.  

Other than this, there are few tips and tricks that you can follow to avoid overwatering your plants. 

Go as per the season and locations

Summers, especially the sweltering months of April and May, are dry and exhaustive. Your plants may require more than usual water at this time, while winters may be an alternate watering day for your potted beauties. They may not require any watering during monsoon, especially if they are kept in a place which gets enough rain. Another important point to keep in mind is the location. Winters in Mumbai may not be as cold and dry as winters in Delhi, so those living in Delhi may need to water their plants more often than those in Mumbai.  

Draining system

Ensure that your potted plant has a good draining system so that water does not accumulate inside your pot. There are two ways to go about it. Firstly, always use a mixed potted soil with an equal quantity of soil and coco peat mix. This will ensure that when the soil gets hard, coco peat mix makes sure that water drains well and completely. Secondly, whatever type of pot or planter you may use, it has to have a good draining hole.  If you are using one of those decorative planters, you need to get a good pot liner so that you can water and let it drain before placing the plant back inside your decorative planter.  Otherwise, however little amount of water you may use, it will have no place to go and will stagnate leading to moss and bacteria built up.  

No schedule

Most amateur gardeners end up killing their plants because they water them on schedule. If you water every day or every alternate day like clockwork, without checking the soil or the plant, you run the danger of over or under-watering. This is because even if you have placed your potted plant inside your house, the atmosphere affects its need for water. For example, it may require less water during rainy days when the moisture content in the atmosphere is high, while during hot summers, it may need more water. So a schedule may wreck your plant completely. Instead, you need to check the water content in your soil by poking your finger in the soil, going two inches deep. If it feels moist, postpone watering and if it feels dry, water away.  

Size matters 

When you are acquiring a plant at the nursery or elsewhere, it is always good to know how much the plant will finally grow up to. I once planted coleus in a small-sized planter. Coleus is a beautiful foliage plant that grows up to 2 feet in height. I watered the plant and took care of it, but it died in less than a month. Research led me to understand that because I chose a relatively smaller planter, the root did not have space to grow, and the water literally washed off all of the soil. Not only that, if you plant a small plant in a huge planter, it may not survive as the roots may not be able to use up all the space and water. It is always a good idea to buy the correct sized planter or pot for your plant’s health.  

Modern methods

If even after many trials and errors, you are not able to get the right balance between how much water your plant requires, you can try the modern techniques available these days. One such item is a self-watering pot. It has a small built-in storage tank reservoir system at the bottom. Once you put your plant in the container, you can fill the tank. The soil will soak up whatever water it needs depending on the usual factors of weather and the plant’s needs. There is an overflow hole as well to drain out excess water. All you need to do is ensure that the storage tank is never empty. This completely cuts out the activity of you watering your plant directly. Other than this, there are hydrospikes which are contraptions that work on a capillary-like system. They are spikes with pump mechanisms and a small thin pipe which you can poke in your soil underneath your plant. The pipe can be put inside a jug filled with water, placed close to the plant. The hydrospike will suck water through the pump and pipe as required by the plant and supply it directly to the roots. This system especially works well when you are travelling and have no one to water your plants.

We hope these methods help you in saving your plants from getting overwatered. However, as you may have realized by now, it is more important to understand and learn about your plants. Once you understand your plant, you will know its requirements better and care for it better. 

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