How to Avoid Overwatering Your Plants and Crops - Fitleaf
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How to Avoid Overwatering Your Plants and Crops

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Home Growing


Though all plants need water, there’s a fine line between not enough and too much. Don’t supply enough water, and your crops will fail. Supply too much, and you suddenly have to deal with a failing crop in addition to nutrient loss and runoff issues. However, terms like “enough” tend to be rather subjective. My graduate advisor tended to take a spiritual approach to the matter that was rather amusing at times.

Image by Stefan Schweihofer from Pixabay

Having several different assistants working in the greenhouse at a time, she noted that some, like churches who practice baby baptism, felt that a “little sprinkle was good enough” while others went for adult baptism approach of “a complete soggy mess”. Fortunately, avoiding overwatering your plants is a fairly simple process to learn, and the techniques we’ll teach you in this article will help you take advantage of being able to optimize growth while reducing water usage.

Isn’t Water Good for Plants?

Absolutely! If you’ve had a biology class in your day, you know that plants take up water for a wide range of reasons. They use the water for everyday actions, such as transporting sugars and nutrients to different areas of the plant. They also use water as part of the necessary components for the photosynthesis cycle, which changes carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates, which in turn are stored elsewhere in the plant for future use, such as making tasty meals for humans. They also transpire water through special pores in the leaves called stoma, which allows the plant to control its temperature during hot weather.

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Not providing a plant with enough water causes issues with turgor, or the water pressure that helps keep the plant upright. Lack of turgor is what causes plants to wilt when they don’t have enough water available. It can also cause serious issues with future plant health and can impact your garden’s overall yields. However, overwatering can cause issues as well. Too much water in the soil can drown your plants and cause serious problems with viability. It can also cause issues with root rot, especially in heavy soils, such as those that contain a lot of clay or don’t drain well. Though simple biology tells us that plants produce oxygen from carbon dioxide, they also need oxygen from the air to survive and thrive, including air in the soil.

Why Overwatering Can Cause Serious Issues for Your Garden

Beyond the issues that overwatering can cause for your plants, let’s take a look at the actions it can have on your garden as a whole. Overwatering can cause nutrients to leach out of your soil. If you’re using compost to build up organic matter in your soil, it comes with a good deal of nutrition already in the mix, but overwatering causes those nutrients to leach out of the soil you’ve built up.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

In addition, these nutrients then flow along with the excess water into other waterways, causing serious issues with aquatic plant and animal life by causing an algae bloom, as the nutrients cause algae in the waterway to grow exponentially, cutting off sunlight to water plants which kills them, which then kills fish and insect life in the waterway through lack of oxygen in the water. Pesticide runoff is just as dangerous, killing smaller plants and animals and concentrating the pesticide in larger fish, causing a threat to human health.

Techniques to Avoid Overwatering Your Plants

Obviously, overwatering is bad for your plants, but how do you avoid accidentally overwatering them, especially early on when you’re still learning how to garden? Here are some great tips and techniques to help get you started.

  • Use a shallow can. If you’re watering using a hose, place a wide, shallow can such as a tuna or cat food can, on the ground in the garden. A container with sloping sides won’t work for this technique. As you water, keep an eye on the water level in the can until it reaches about a quarter inch, which is about optimal for most gardening needs.
Photo by Rubén Bagüés on Unsplash
  • Squeeze the soil. Well, not literally. Ideally, soil that has been properly watered will be about as damp as a kitchen sponge that has been squeezed out. When you hit that point, it’s time to stop watering.
Photo by Joshua Lanzarini on Unsplash
  • Use directed irrigation options. Instead of watering overhead, consider using drip or mist irrigation in your garden. This allows you to control exactly where the water is going for the most part. You want to water at the plant’s root zones. This way, the plant gets the water it needs and weeds that are in the path are not.
  • Check the depth. Take a spade or trowel and check how deep the water is reaching as you water. You want to make sure that your plants are getting moisture in the root zone. This is especially handy during a drought when you’re not sure whether your plants are getting enough water.
Photo by Anaya Katlego on Unsplash
  • Watch your time of day! During dry times of the year, it’s best to water from sundown to sunup, to prevent water from evaporating off of your garden before it can soak into the ground for your plants. This allows you to conserve water and gives plants a chance to take it up during the course of the next day.
Photo by Chad Stembridge on Unsplash
  • Adjust for weather. If you’re having a rainy week, you don’t need to water as much. If it’s very dry and hot, you may need to water more. Adjust your watering schedule accordingly.
Photo by Mike Kotsch on Unsplash
  • Use hydroponics. Sure, it may seem counterintuitive to use a soilless system that is based on an aqueous solution to deliver nutrients, but it actually works amazingly well! 
Photo by Fitleaf
  • To save an overwatered plant, you should move it to a partially shady area to reduce stress, even if the plant is an all-sun plant. Next, provide more air to the root zone by ensuring it’s well-drained and using a skewer to add holes from the surface of the soil down through the root zone. Remove any dead or dying leaves.
Photo by Mauro Tandoi on Unsplash

Overwatering can be a serious issue with plant production, causing nutritional deficiencies, runoff and other concerns. However, careful management or using other plant production methods such as hydroponics help prevent this problem in the first place. When it’s time to start your garden, consider Fitleaf to be your partner in improving your health through fresh produce. Check out our wide range of informational articles to get started on the garden of your dreams. With Fitleaf, you can live your best life now.


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