There are a lot of factors affecting the watering needs of your plants, such as: season, light level, humidity, soil type, pot size, and the plant’s own requirements. If you are new to growing plants that might seem like some mystery skill people have, but it becomes more and more intuitive with practice.

So in general smaller pots tend to go dry faster and need more frequent watering. If your plants are in well drained soil mix, drier air conditions, hotter climate/season, have bigger leaf surface area, are in a sunnier location and so on, they will require more frequent watering.  And on the contrary: plants in larger pots, during a dormant or slow growth season/colder season, in high humidity environment, lower light level, more of a succulent type of leaves (glossy thick waxy leaves) will require less and not so frequent watering.

So how do you know if your plant is getting the right amount of water? If you are in the bulk part your plant will adapt to the amount you use to water it (so there is no exact amount that is right). However, if you are far off there are certain clues you should look for.

If you are under-watering your plant:
  • Leaves might go limp or curl up (that way the plant has lowered the surface area of its leaves and is losing less moisture)
  • Yellowing and/or drying of the leaves
  • Loss of leaves, etc. .
  • Soil is dry and there are cracks in it

Sometimes a simple watering fixes the issue and you can almost watch the leaves of your plant perk up in the mater of couple of hours. However, extreme cases of dehydration require more extreme actions. If the soil is rock hard and there are cracks in it, watering won’t cut it, as all the water you poor on will go straight through the crack in the soil.  The best steps to take are to:

  • Soak your plant in a bowl of water to make sure the soil picks up water (this may take a while)
  • Cut off dried branches and leaves, so that your plant doesn’t loose energy trying to revive those. Don’t worry if your plant looses all of it’s leaves, it still has a chance to come back to life!
  • If your plant has lost all of it’s leaves you have to be very careful of your watering. Since there are no leaves your plant will require less water, and you are at risk of having your plant rot.

And then you wait. So how do you know when to give up? One easy way to check if there is still life in whatever is left of your plant is to bend the stem. If it’s bendable there is still moisture and life in it, if it cracks in two its dried up and dead, and if its too soft, most likely the interior is rotten and you might give up or try to cut out all the rotten bits.

recovering a dried out plant
Soaking a plant that was dried out and wilted after couple of hours
If you are over-watering your plant:
  • Soggy soil
  • Odor, due to your plant’s roots starting to rot
  • Your plant may actually not be getting enough water (sounds a bit counter-intuitive I know!) and exhibit the same physical cues as if your plant is under-watered.

Even if the soil might look dry on the top layer, dig in and see if its soggy underneath (mud like, moist is ok). This might be due to poor drainage of your soil, or your pot might have tiny holes that are not sufficient given your watering. You can simply try and shake off the excess moisture in the soil, let your plant dry out a bit more, and water it less in the future. In extreme cases, where your plant has started to rot, there are a few things you can do to try to save it:

  • Emergency re-potting usually works well. When you do that, try to check the root ball of your plant and remove the bits that look rotten.
  • Adding activated charcoal to the root ball can help prevent further rotting.
  • Remove any bits of your plant that look rotten.
  • Keep the soil slightly moist (frequent watering with very small amounts of water), until your plant is recovered.

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