By: Mary Ellen Ellis
Not enough water is one of the most common reasons that plants are unhealthy, wilt, and die. To avoid or minimize the problems associated with under watering, know the signs of plants getting too little water.
The ultimate risk of too little water for a plant is death. Like animals, plants need water to function to thrive, and to live. Some of the most important reasons plants need water include:
Several factors determine how much you need to water plants, including the plant type, the climate, soil conditions, weather, and location.
It may take some trial and error to figure out how much to water houseplants or garden plants. As you work out the right amount and frequency of watering, use these clues to determine if you are under watering:
If you suspect signs in your plants indicate under watering, you can confirm it by watering them. They should revive, and if they do not, there could be another issue, such as a viral infection or fungal disease.
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Read more about Environmental Problems
Few things destroy the look of a houseplants or a lush garden quite as unassumingly as yellow leaves. A number of problems can cause a plant's leaves to turn yellow, such as too much sun, lack of nitrogen, iron chlorosis or pest infestations, depending on the type of plant and its current habitat. However, adjusting your watering schedule can often remedy the problem, once you determine that your plant's leaves are yellowing from either too much water or too little water.
Pepper plants are particularly susceptible to over-watering in fact, too much water can kill them. Giving them less water can improve both the quantity and the quality of the chili peppers a plant produces. Signs of an overwatered pepper plant include wilted leaves, which may seem to indicate that the plant needs water even though it is actually getting too much of it. When considering how much water is too much, think about the fact that chil peppers originated in dry Mexican climates.
Along with keeping the soil from becoming waterlogged, you should avoid watering the leaves of the plants as this can result in fungal problems like early blight. Signs of early blight include black spots on the leaves and stem.
Watering can prove challenging to even the proudest houseplant owners, especially when it comes to members of the ficus family. The Fiddle Leaf Fig (ficus lyrata) is especially notorious for frustrating its owners with its picky watering needs. First-time owners of these plants are prone to overwatering, which can lead to health issues such as root rot. Those fearful of overwatering thus underwater their Fiddle Leaf Figs. So how to find a happy balance when watering? Read on to find out.
It can be hard for some to diagnose whether their Fiddle Leaf Fig has been getting over or under-watered. But your plant will always tell you what it needs through its leaves and soil. Luckily, reading these signs gets easier with time. Some simple questions to ask yourself to know if you are overwatering are:
Am I watering more than once a week? Watering once a week at most is what your Fiddle Leaf Fig needs. Depending on the conditions of the environment (light, humidity, temperature), it could be even less!
Do I feel my plant’s soil before watering? You should always stick your finger an inch or two into your plant’s soil to feel how damp it is. If the soil is wet to the touch from the last time you watered, wait until it dries out more. If you aren’t checking in before watering, it can be easy to overdo it.
Do my plant’s leaves have dark spots or edges? Brown spots around the edges or center of leaves is a symptom of overwatering and root rot.
Is there a musty odor coming from my plant? Make sure that your plant is not sitting in a pool of water in its decorative container. Besides leading to fungal infections, this can also attract insects.
Does my plant’s pot have a drainage hole? Ideally, your plant should be in its plastic nursery pot inside of its decorative container. This allows for the best drainage and lets you maneuver your plant more easily. If you want your plant to just be in a decorative container make sure that it has a drainage hole.
For all the reasons listed above, owners of this plant can become leery of overwatering. But being too withholding with water can lead to its own batch of health issues for the Fiddle Leaf Fig. Here are some questions to ask yourself if you suspect you’ve been under-watering your plant:
Are the newer leaves smaller than the older leaves? If the newest leaves on your Fiddle Leaf Fig are much smaller than older ones your plant is likely struggling to get what it needs. Smaller leaves can point to a lack of water, nutrients, or light.
Is your plant rapidly dropping leaves? This can be caused by low humidity or thirst. Make sure that your plant isn’t in front of a vent where it is getting blasted with dry air.
Is the top inch of its soil dry to the touch? While you should let your Fiddle Leaf Fig dry out a bit between waterings you do not want to let your plant become bone dry. Allow your plant to dry out for brief periods before watering.
Are the edges of leaves brown and crumpled? These brown patches will start at the edges of leaves and work their way inwards. If they feel dry then your plant is probably thirsty.
Are the leaves curling inwards? This is a sign of a severely underwatered Fiddle Leaf Fig. You can give your plant a shower but it will probably need some time to fully recover.
If asking yourself these questions did not make it any more clear whether you are over or under-watering your Fiddle Leaf Fig, it’s usually safe to assume that you are overwatering. You are not alone! Concerned plant parents tend to overwater, and most indoor plant failures are a result of loving the plant a little too much when it comes to water! Try to check in with your plant more regularly and take time to inspect its leaves. Your plant will communicate to you what it needs through them. Once you have learned to properly read the signs, taking care of it will feel far easier.
A general rule of thumb is that Fiddle Leaf Figs do not need to be watered more than once a week. This can of course depend on the time of year, the amount of sunlight your plant receives, and the temperature and humidity levels of your home. But picking a day of the week to water on can take some of the guesswork out of when you need to water next. If on your designated day your plant still feels moist to the touch simply check back in with it later. Over time you may be able to determine exactly how many days your unique Fiddle Leaf Fig needs between waterings!
But remember — this strategy will only work if your plant has proper drainage. If your plant is in a pot without a drainage hole or has compacted soil you will struggle to improve its condition. If your plant’s soil is still wet to the touch a week after you watered it likely needs better drainage. If you’re unsure how to give your plant the drainage it needs try reading our guide on how to create the perfect drainage for Fiddle Leaf Figs.
The thing that your plants want most from you is consistency— don’t stress and change too many things at once. Simply make small changes, like moving your plant to a new window or adjusting your watering routine, and observe how your plant responds. Once you’ve found a rhythm, also try to give your plant the same amount of water every week.
The amount of water your Fiddle Leaf Fig needs each week is unique and depends on the conditions of your home.
A simple rule that many owners like to follow is to give a cup per two feet. So if your plant is two feet tall from the base of the soil to the tallest leaf then you would give it one cup of water a week. This scales upwards, two cups if it is four feet, and so on. This rule can be helpful if you are just figuring things out but it doesn’t take the unique needs of your plant into account. So if you are following carefully observe how your plant responds. Is it drying out quickly? It needs more water. Is it still wet after a week? Scale back the water. Most importantly, always make sure that your plant is not sitting in water!
Water timers used to be expensive, but increasingly more manufacturers are coming out with more affordable models with just as many features as higher end water timers. A water timer not only saves water, a great feature for those in areas with watering rules and restrictions, but it also makes successful gardening easier. Simply hook up to your water line like you would a hose, set what days and times you want your garden watered, and run your hose or irrigation line off the nozzle. Your garden will automatically be watered without even thinking about it. A multiple zone system like the one below is also helpful, as you can divide your garden into zones based off each plant's water needs, creating a different schedule for each zone. Many models also have rain delays, allowing you to pause the watering schedule when rain is in the forecast, or manually turn on the system extra days during higher temperature weeks.
Whether you have clay or sandy soil, adding more organic matter to the soil can help your watering schedule. Add high quality compost to break up clay soil or bulk sandy soil to improve their water holding capabilities. As you add more organic matter each year, you not only improve the soil's ability to hold water, but you improve the health and life of the soil, resulting in vegetables with higher nutritional value and more disease and pest resistance.
Contrary to popular belief, watering from above does not automatically mean that you'll burn the leaves or end up with powdery mildew. However, it does increase the risks of these issues (less so with leaf burn as there is continuing discussion on whether or not watering your plant leaves actually causes the majority of leaf burn issues). Whenever possible, water at the ground level. If you must water from above, consider laying down a layer of mulch near the base of the plant or use weed block to prevent soil from splashing up onto the leaves. Soaker hoses are a great way to keep water where the plants need it without wasting water or hitting the leaves. Opt for flat soaker hoses if you need to weave in and out of plants or through raised beds as they tend to be easier to manipulate and bend.
It's important to not only rely on a watering schedule, but use common sense as well. Look for signs that your plant is not receiving enough water, such as wilting or drying of the leaves. Leaves wilt as their internal water stores decrease or external heat increases as a protective mechanism to decrease the surface area sunlight can hit. However, some plants with large leaves, especially squash, may do this even if their water levels are okay, especially in warmer climates. You'll know they're probably fine if they bounce back later in the evening or early in the morning.
Did you know that in many instances, too much water in your landscape can mimic the signs of too little water?
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Overwatering your plants is a surprisingly common issue and a few small adjustments can help you improve your landscape. Once identified, overwatered plants can still be rescued and thrive in your landscape. To help you, we created a list of four signs to recognize when determining if there is too much water in your landscape.
Roots are Critical to Plant Life
Roots are the primary source for your plants water, food, and intake of oxygen. While the roots of a plant take up water, they also need air to breathe. Overwatering, in simple terms, drowns your plant. Healthy soil allows for oxygen to exist in the space between particles of soil. If there is too much water or the soil is constantly wet, there is not enough air pockets. This results in a limited oxygen supply and plants are not able to breathe.
Leaves Turn Brown and Wilt
When plants have too little water, leaves turn brown and wilt. This also occurs when plants have too much water. The biggest difference between the two is that too little water will result in your plant's leaves feeling dry and crispy to the touch while too much water results in soft and limp leaves.
Water Pressure Begins to Build
Water pressure begins to build in the cells of plant leaves when the roots absorb more water than they can use. Cells will eventually die and burst, forming blisters and areas that look like lesions. Once these blisters erupt, tan, brown, or white wart-like growths begin to form in their place. You will also notice indentations forming directly above the growths on the top sides of the leaves.
Stunted Slow Growth
Stunted slow growth accompanied by yellowing leaves is also a symptom. Leaves falling off often accompanies this symptom. If your plants have yellowing leaves and old leaves, as well as new leaves that are falling at the same accelerated rate, you are overwatering.
Check your soil regularly. Don’t be afraid to push your finger about an inch or two down in to the soil to check the moisture. If the soil feels moist and you observe some of the signs above, it’s an excellent indication that you need to reduce your watering. Many stores also sell accurate moisture meters. Simply insert them in the root ball and it will tell you how much water is in the soil. This simple, inexpensive tool can take much of the guess work out of watering your landscape.