Overwatering: One way to kill a plant

By James and Morris Carey The Associated Press
Friday June 21, 2002

Nana Rose loved her carnations. She saw great beauty in all growing things, and kept an enormous garden, filled with stunning shrubs and flowers. But, her carnations were her pride and joy — those and her roses. 

We brothers often would sit with her out in the back yard on a big steel swing with massively fluffy seat cushions, and she would show us how to use just the right amount of water — not too much, not too little — to keep her flowers lovely. 

Our mom would break out in a rash when she stayed in the sun too long. So, she became the houseplant person. When it came to the plants outside, we learned from Nana Rose. With the houseplants, mom was the expert. 

Did you know that more plants — indoors or out — die from over-watering and over-fertilization than from any other cause? Roots left to soak in a pot of muddy water eventually will rot and cause your plant to suffocate. 

What we learned from mom was simple — don’t water a plant every day. The best way to find out if a plant needs water is to use your personal moisture meter — your finger. Stick your finger into the soil near the base of the plant. If the soil is moist about an inch beneath the surface, it doesn’t need water. Here’s another good tip — never use fresh tap water to give your plants a drink. Fill your watering can, and let it sit for a few days before you use it to water plants. Letting the tap water sit allows it to warm to room temperature and gives chlorine time to dissipate. Cold water can send some plants into hibernation and others into shock. 

It is also important to water your plants thoroughly. Remember, the root ball of your plant will grow toward the water. If you water only the top of your pot, the roots will remain near the top and the root ball will not become large and strong. If you get the soil wet all the way to the bottom of the pot, that’s where the plant’s roots eventually will go. It is really important to pot indoor plants in containers that have a hole at the bottom. Drainage is essential to a plant’s health. 

As do humans, plants need food as well as water. Once you have your watering routine down pat, you will need to be sure that your plants are properly fed. Keep in mind that you should never fertilize a plant that is dry. Always water first, then fertilize. Chemical fertilizers can burn, so be careful about how much you use. Fish emulsion is the best. It stinks, but it is very hard to overdo it. Miracle Grow is another safe fertilizing product when used according to instructions. It is really important to not fertilize during the winter or when a plant is dormant. Fertilizer can build up in the soil and become quite toxic. When you first bring home a plant from the nursery, be careful not to fertilize it right away. Most companies use slow-release fertilizer that will last for quite a while.