This Is How Long It Takes A Houseplant to Recover From Overwatering

This post may contain affiliate links. Read the full disclosure here.

House plants can recover from overwatering pretty quickly if given:

  • bright light, preferably from an indirect source a grow light so it won’t burn
  • High humidity
  • warm temperatures

I also like to take the plant out of the potting mix and put it in water or leca so I can keep an eye on new root growth (if it’s really bad).

Treat a plant with root rot like you would a cutting you want to root. You can use the same principles to reroot your plant and start again.

Just be sure to stop overwatering in future!

What is overwatering?

Overwatering is one of the most common ways house plants meet their demise.

It’s exactly what its name would suggest: the plant is receiving too much water.

The issue is almost always that the plant is staying wet for too long - so it's more about not watering too frequently, rather than the amount of water you give when it is time to water

What causes overwatering?

Watering too often

Even in the middle of summer, my plants rarely need watering more than once a week. Your plant is unlikely to tell you when it needs watering, so you need to check the soil.

If it’s wet, don’t water it.

The soil is too dense

Root rot is caused by a lack of oxygen. If your soil is too dense, there are fewer air pockets, so less oxygen. When you water, the air pockets are filled with water, and the oxygen is forced out.

Unless you can get the soil dried out quickly, the roots will suffocate.

Add orchid bark or leca to your soil to create air pockets.

The pot is too big

Soil retains water. The more soil, the more water is retained. This doesn’t matter if the mix is super chunky, but if it’s not, it can take weeks for the soil to dry out, so we end up with root rot.

Low light

If you keep your plant in low light, it takes longer for the soil to dry out. Not only does water not evaporate as quickly, but the plant isn’t using as much water because it isn’t growing as quickly as it would in higher light.

This is why plants that naturally live in low light can be trickier to care for.

This is also why it’s common to overwater in winter, when light is lower. Cold temperatures also slow growth and evaporation further.

How to tell if your plant is overwatered

If you’re watering your plant daily, that’s almost certainly too much.

Even the most moisture-loving plants are unlikely to want water more frequently than every three days, and that’s rare.

Only water when the soil is practically dry. Even plants like ferns and Calathea need to dry out a bit – not completely, but they don’t like to stay wet all the time.

Look out for these signs of overwatering:

  • Your plant’s soil can be moist, but not wet and muddy. Decrease the water if it’s sitting in a quagmire.
  • If you have a LOT of fungus gnats or problems with moisture-loving pests, then you may be overwatering.
  • If you’ve been watering your plant plenty, and it dies anyway, I’m afraid you probably killed it with kindness.
  • If your plant is growing leaves but drops one every time a new leaf emerges, you may be overwatering
yellow leaf on maranta

What to do when your plant is overwatered

1 – STOP WATERING IT

I know it’s hard, and you want to help your plant child, but helicopter parenting won’t help you here.

Give your buddy some space.

If you’re not sure it’s overwatered, get yourself a moisture probe. I recommend one on my resources page that’s less than a tenner. It’ll pay for itself after it saves a couple of plants! If the probe reads ‘wet’ or ‘moist’, leave it until it reads about 2/3. Then you may water it again.

2 – Assess the damage.

If you’ve got a few leaves that are completely yellow, snip ’em off. Check the roots. If they’re brown or mushy or give off a grim smell, you may be too late (don’t give up quite yet though).

Some plants are massive drama queens that pretend to be dead when they’re actually just a bit under the weather. Give them the benefit of the doubt before unceremoniously tossing them in the bin.

3 – Re-pot if necessary

This is a bit of a what-doesn’t-kill-you-makes-you-stronger type of situation. Repotting can be stressful for plants (especially ones that have been victims of an overzealous watering can), but you may not have a choice.

If the soil is wet or muddy or unlikely to dry out in the next few days, then change it. Mix up some potting soil, add some perlite (I do anything from half to a third perlite, the rest potting mix OR make my own), repot as gently as you can.

I have a whole repotting post here.

4 – Snip off any dead or gross roots

Root rot is caused by bacteria that proliferate in an oxygen-less environment. If the rot isn’t dealt with, the rot will spread.

You can’t completely eliminate the bacteria that cause root rot. They come as a package deal with soil. BUT you need to keep your soil aerated enough so that they can’t build up to dangerous levels in the soil

Don’t worry about cutting off too many roots. You can convince plants with zero roots to regrow them!

Contrary to popular belief, plants do actually want to grow.
philodendron gloriosum

5 – Wait

Now all you can do is wait and hope that your plant will recover. Recovery time differs depending on the variants we’ll discuss in the next section.

Conditions recovery time is dependent on:

Light

Light is a massive part of helping a plant recover from overwatering.

Plants get energy from light and that energy helps keep them strong. It helps them grow new roots and leaves, but also allows them to produce hormones that fight off pests and disease.

However, too bright of a light can lead to burning if your plant isn’t used to it. A sunny east-facing windowsill is great, but grow lights are another option.

I use the MarsHydro 1000w and the Bestva 100w. The Mars Hydro is better, the Bestva is cheaper. I highly recommend both. If you can afford the Mars Hydro, great. If you can’t, the Bestva is still a massive step up from those purple house plant grow lights that Amazon keeps trying to flog us.

house plant grow light set up

Temperature

Most of the plants in our homes come from the tropics, so they’re not adapted to deal with the cold.

Plants find it easier to recover in the growing season (typically mid-spring to late summer) since they have more energy with which to recover.

Furthermore, very cold weather can put your plant under a lot of stress, so the effects of overwatering during winter are more likely to be fatal than in winter.

Plants tend to recover more quickly when it’s warm, so a lot of people like to put their plants on heating pads.

This can be a good idea, but be aware that warmer water holds less oxygen, so if your plant is in water, you may need a bubbler or some aquatic oxygenators to keep oxygen levels up.

If your plant is in soil, make sure you don’t go too far in the other direction, and dry the roots out too much.

monstera deliciosa next to humidifier

Humidity

I always used to say that humidity of around 65% was optimal. Since getting a terrarium that’s at about 90%, I say the higher the better.

What I would say, is that if you’re going to put your plant in a super humid environment to help it recover from overwatering, I would take it out of the soil, wash any remaining roots (preferably in hydrogen peroxide) and put it in water or leca.

How the roots are doing

Sometimes you just need to snip off the gross bits, but you’re left with a decent-sized root ball. It should only take a couple of weeks for them to get back to growing again.

If there are no roots left, it can take longer to regrow your roots, and you may end up losing more leaves (it can still recover though).

plant with roots in water

Time of year

This may have an effect on how quickly your plant recovers, but my plants seem to push out as much growth in winter than summer, so this really depends on your individual home. Although winter growth is smaller and more pathetic.

Just don’t be surprised if your plant stops growing when the temperature drops. But also don’t automatically assume that it will.

Grow lights can massively help in winter if you’re having issues with root rot.

homemade potting mix

What it’s potted in (pot/mix)

If your plant isn’t in well-draining soil, it may take longer to recover. Just add a bit of perlite, or failing that some sharp sand or orchid bark. Anything to let the water drain through more effectively.

If your plant is potted in just potting mix or worse, compost, re-pot it in order to give it it’s best chance of recovery.

It can be a good idea to start making your own potting mix (there’s a recipe in this post). This recipe is pretty chunky, especially in comparison to house plant potting mix, so it encourages roots to grow stronger than they would in a finer mix. A chunkier mix also also allows more air to flow to your plant’s roots, which can help stave off rot.

Overwatering isn’t the actual cause of root rot – it just contributes to the cause.

Root rot is caused by lack of oxygen.

How badly your plant was affected

If your plant has been systematically overwatered for years and has quickly gone downhill, recovery may take a while. If it has barely any root system left and very few leaves, you may be waiting a while.

My spider plant survived this and is now thriving. It’s not necessarily the end!

spider plant flower

How quickly your plant grows

Some plants grow quickly, others don’t. Plants that grow quickly are likely to recover from overwatering quicker than slow-growing ones. Obvious really, but I have absolutely no doubt there are exceptions to this rule.

Actually, cacti are pretty slow-growing and they recover from overwatering like absolute champs in my experience (and I’ve overwatered a few).

Tips for overwaterers

You want the pot to be the same size or slightly bigger than the root ball, regardless of the size of the plant. Having your plant in too big of a pot can cause overwatering

  • Try terracotta

I find terracotta dries my plants out too much, but if you’re struggling to get your soil dried out, try it.

  • Increase light

More light = more energy. It’s the cheat code to awesome plants. Obvs bright, direct light can burn if the plant isn’t acclimated, but it can be worth a couple of burnt leaves if the alternative is root rot.

So there we go, a full essay on overwatering.

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

11 thoughts on “This Is How Long It Takes A Houseplant to Recover From Overwatering”

  1. I’m concern about white spots on my plants. Should I just get rid of the old soil. Repot my plant? Look like some kind of powdery fungus.

  2. My first thought is mealybugs – keep an eye out for whitish bugs in the crevices of your plants. If it is mealybugs then treat the plant with neem oil – you don’t need to replace the soil but it will get rid of any eggs that are in there.

    Repotting is stressful for your plant, so it’s a last resort if your plant is already stressed. Diatomaceous earth, or flushing the soil with diluted hydrogen peroxide will also kill any eggs in the soil.

    It could be a fungus, in which case treat with a plant-specific fungicide.

    It could also be powerdy mildew (treat with neem oil – check out Betsy begonia on YouTube – she has a great video on this)) or watermarks/salt deposits on the leaves which can be removed with diluted lemon juice.

  3. I just treated a mild case of root rot on a Yucca. How long should I wait before I water it again, now that she is in dry soil?

  4. Look for wrinkled leaves or signs of thirst. Yucca are pretty drought tolerant, so I wouldn’t worry about leaving it a few weeks.

    If you’re worried, leave it outside (in the shade) or by an open window for a few hours after watering so it can dry out really quickly. You could also add a couple of drops of hydrogen peroxide to the water to combat any remaining rot.

  5. Just found your blog and your post on water propagation restored my hope and also made me lol. Regarding perlite is there a general ratio for houseplants that you add to store bought potting mix? Admittedly I have a tendency to love-water plants even though I know it’s wrong…

  6. Usually around 2 parts potting mix 1 part perlite, but you could go as high as 50:50.

    Terracotta pots are your friend if you’re an overwaterer!

  7. I ordered a red honeysuckle from a nursery, by mail. From shipping date to receipt was only two days. By the time I received it, it was showing signs of overwatering. The plant was in a 2 1/2 ” pot and very tiny and fragile. All of the leaves were yellow and green blotchy, soft and wilted. Some had fallen off in the package. The soil felt as if the nursery had submerged in water to saturate. I didn’t want to handle too much due to it’s size. I planted in the ground, were I want it to be permanently, in Miracle Grow moisture control potting soil. I didn’t water. I also built a small lean-to over it to protect from the sun. If it survives, how will I know, considering top growth is to be discouraged?

  8. I wouldn’t be too concerned about discouraging top growth whilst you’re rehabbing your plant – you can always prune it back once the plant’s established. You may be sacrificing a few potential blooms, but it’s better than losing the whole plant.

  9. I need a little reassurance. I bought a beautiful, mid-size Fiddle Leaf Fig tree this summer. The lady at the nursery told me to basically soak it once a week and let it drain. She recommended a plastic pot that looked like terracotta. After about two months, I began to notice small brown spots on some leaves and some brown tips on others. I did research and found that I should only be giving him 1 cup of water per foot!! The root ball was very solid so I was unable to break it down. I scrapped away all the wet soil I could, placed him in a real terracotta pot and added a mix of cactus and indoor potting soil. Its been about a week and the moisture meter still reads WET. He’s in an east facing window. I’m so worried I’ve killed him with kindness. Will he eventually dry out?

  10. Yes, he will. The terracotta will really help. It can sometimes take a while for plants to dry out (especially if they have a solid root ball), so don’t worry. As for the brown spots…FLFs can be SUPER picky and develop brown spots for no apparent reason. It’s all part of their charm!

Leave a comment