Home Houseplants Overwatered vs. Underwatered Plant: Signs and Tips

Plant Watering: Identifying Overwatering vs. Underwatering – GIY Plants

Man watering his houseplants in the living room. Overwatered vs underwatered plant

Caring for plants can be a rewarding endeavor. However, it’s also one filled with potential pitfalls, especially when it comes to watering. Deciphering whether your plant is overwatered or underwatered is critical to ensuring its health.

Recognizing Overwatering: Signs and Symptoms

Physical Indicators of Overwatered Plants

One of the first signs that a plant is overwatered is the appearance of its leaves. An overwatered plant may exhibit leaves that are soft, yellow and wilted. If you notice that the plant has leaves that are dropping or if there’s an unpleasant odor emanating from the base of the plant, it indicates overwatering.

Root Rot: The Silent Killer

Houseplants on the floor getting repotted after suffering root rot from overwatering.

Root rot is a common consequence of overwatering. Plant roots require oxygen to breathe, and when submerged in water for extended periods, they can suffocate and begin to decay. Over time, root rot can compromise the entire plant’s health.

Outdoor and Indoor Plant Overwatering Signs

Outdoor plants and indoor plants show signs of overwatering differently. Outdoor plants might exhibit a stunted growth rate, while indoor plants may have an unusually damp potting mix.

Symptoms of Underwatering: When Plants Thirst

Physical Indications of an Underwatered Plant

An underwatered plant will often have dry, brittle, and brown leaves. If the leaves of the plant curl, it’s a clear sign of water stress. When plants don’t receive enough water, their growth becomes stunted, and the quality of the plant diminishes.

Plant Roots Searching for Moisture

Interestingly, the roots of an underwatered plant may grow closer to the soil surface as they search for moisture. This unusual growth pattern is a tell-tale sign of insufficient water.

Underwatering in Outdoor vs. Indoor Plants

Outdoor plants may appear scorched or sunburnt due to underwatering. On the other hand, the soil of an indoor plant will feel completely dry to the touch if it’s not receiving enough water.

Overwatered vs. Underwatered: Telling the Difference

Peace lily with yellow and brown leaf tips from underwatering or overwatering.

To tell the difference between an overwatered and underwatered plant, consider the following:

Soil Moisture: While overwatered plants have consistently wet soil, underwatered plants’ soil will feel bone dry.

Leaf Texture: As previously mentioned, overwatered plants have soft, limp leaves, whereas underwatered plants’ leaves are dry and brittle.

Frequency of Watering: If you’re watering your plants often but showing signs of water stress, they’re likely overwatered.

Practical Plant Care Tips: Finding the Balance

Knowing When to Water

Depending on the plant species, the watering needs vary. It’s essential to research your specific plant’s requirements. For instance, many flowering plants may need more water than desert plants like succulents.

Repotting as a Solution

If you suspect your plant has been overwatered, consider repotting your plant. Choose a pot with adequate drainage holes to prevent water accumulation. On the flip side, if a plant is less responsive to regular watering, it might need a larger pot to accommodate growing roots.

Container Plants vs. Ground Plants

Container plants often require more frequent watering than those in the ground. This is because pots can heat up quickly, leading to faster evaporation. Keep this in mind when setting a watering schedule.

Preventing Overwatering and Underwatering

To avoid overwatering, ensure your plants get enough water using pots with good drainage. On the other hand, setting a watering schedule or using a soil moisture meter can prevent underwatering.


Whether you’re a budding plant parent or a seasoned gardener, understanding the nuances of overwatering vs. underwatering is crucial for plant health. Paying close attention to signs and symptoms and adjusting your care routine can ensure your plants thrive. Remember, plants, like humans, need the right balance to flourish. And with proper attention and care, they’ll reward you with their beauty and vitality.

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