Water pouring out of rusty watering can.  Is it Possible to Overwater Plants?

Is it Possible to Overwater Plants?

Overwatering is a common reason why newly planted trees and shrubs die and need to be replaced. If you diligently water your new trees and shrubs, you probably already know how easy it is to do! Learning why plants die from too much water and what signs to look for will help even the most meticulous waterers walk away from their plants.

Can plants die from too much water?

Yes. Many of us have this fear that under-watering is sure death to your tree or shrub. But, plants have an inherent ability that allows them to go into survival mode and typically recover after a drought. What they don’t have is the ability to bounce back from continual watering.

Like us, plants require oxygen for survival and to stay healthy. The oxygen they use is found in small air pockets in the soil and is obtained by the roots. When those air pockets become filled with water, whether through excessive watering or poor drainage, the oxygen levels decrease.

If the waterlogged soil is not allowed to drain or dry out, problems will begin to occur to the root system of your tree or shrub. The root hairs become damaged, making the water and much-needed nutrients unavailable to them. These damaged root hairs result in stressed plants that often suffer from root rot. This leads to the eventual death of the plant.

Signs that you have overwatered your plant.

  • Little to no growth.
  • Yellowing leaves.
  • Rotting crowns on perennials.
  • Wilting leaves.

Because the plant is unable to take up water or nutrients after the roots are damaged, some symptoms are very similar to a plant that is not receiving enough water. If you see any of the signs listed above – check your soil before watering.

What can I do to make sure my plant survives being overwatered?

Soil that has been watered too heavily by irrigation or hose should be left to dry out before you begin to water again.

Areas of poor drainage will likely need landscape work done to achieve proper drainage. 

If a perennial and shrub area is not draining fast enough, adding compost will often improve the drainage, but drain tile may be necessary.

If possible, low areas may need to be raised into a berm. In the cases where you are unable to adjust the grade, choosing plants that can tolerate wet feet is your best option.

Plants that can tolerate wet sites:

TreesShrubs
Red maple, Acer rubrumChokeberry, Aronia 
Downy Serviceberry, Amelanchier arboreaSweetshrub, Calycanthus floridus
River Birch, Betula nigraSummersweet, Clethra alnifolia
American Hornbeam, Carpinus carolinianaWhite Dogwood, Cornus alba
Hackberry, Celtis occidentalisSilky Dogwood, Cornus amomum
Thornless Honeylocust, Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis Gray Dogwood, Cornus racemosa
American Holly, Ilex opacaRedosier Dogwood, Cornus sericea
Sweet Gum, Liquidambar styracifluaPossumhaw, Ilex decidua
Sweetbay Magnolia, Magnolia virginianaInkberry, Ilex glabra
Black Gum, Nyssa saylvaticaWinterberry, Ilex verticillata
Austrian Pine, Pinus nigraVirginia Sweetspire, Itea virginica
Sycamore, Platanus occidentalisLeucothoe, Leucothoe fontanesiana
Swamp White Oak, Quercus bicolorBayberry, Myrica pensylvanica
Pin Oak, Quercus palustrisArrowwood viburnum, Viburnum dentatum
Willow Oak, Quercus phellosEuropean Cranberrybush, Viburnum opulus
Willow, SalixAmerican Cranberrybush, Viburnum trilobum
Bald Cypress, Taxodium distichum
American Arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis
Zelkova, Zelkova serrata

A healthy plant begins with a healthy root system. A dry surface doesn’t mean the soil around the root system is also dry. Checking before you water could save you from unnecessary plant replacements.

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