Can I 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.  I can’t begin to tell you how many people have come to me with plant replacement needs and the first thing said is that they’ve been watering on a regular basis.  Trust me when I say I believe you!  In fact, you’ve probably watered your plant to death.  Overwatering is extremely easy to do.


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

Like us, plants require oxygen for survival and to stay healthy. Unlike us, the oxygen that they use doesn’t come from above the ground, it comes from below. Their oxygen can be 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, two main problems will begin to occur to the root system of your tree or shrub.

As your plant sits in too much water and doesn’t dry out, the root hairs become damaged making the water and much-needed nutrients unavailable to them. Damaged root hairs result in stressed plants and often lead to root rot.

What to look for:
• Little to no growth
• Yellowing leaves
• Rotting crowns on perennials
• Wilting leaves

Because the plant can’t 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.


Check the soil before watering.

Waterlogged soil is often a problem because of two potential factors – both of which can be fixed:

  • Too much watering – Whether from irrigation, hose, or watering can: Step away from the plant and allow the ground to dry out. Like, seriously, walk away from the plant. In fact, don’t even look at it for a few days.
  • Poor drainage – This can be a bit trickier to deal with but here are some possible solutions:
    o Not draining fast enough – adding compost will often improve drainage but depending on the area, drain tile may be necessary.
    o Low spot – raise or berm area if possible or use appropriate plant material that can tolerate wet feet. The perfect plant for your area may not be your first choice. But, let’s face it, a healthy plant always looks better than a stressed or dying plant.

Just because a plant looks like its lacking water or the surface soil appears dry, doesn’t mean that the plant actually needs water! A healthy plant begins with healthy roots. Always checking the soil before you water could save you from an unnecessary plant replacement.