How to Save An Overwatered Syngonium

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It’s actually super common to overwater Syngoniums because they’re one of those plants that are frequently touted as being super easy to care for, and being very tolerant of low light.

Whilst these things are true, they do still require a decent amount of light and care to thrive. 

If they're given too little light and too much water they can quickly succumb to root rot. 

They also have a different leaf form when they’re matured (Podophyllum do anyway) and I think it’s fun to grow plants up into their grownup form. Obviously, my idea of fun is a little different to other people’s!

There’s more info about everything to do with syngoniums in the article below, and a detailed care guide below that.

What does an overwatered Syngonium look like?

Overwatered Syngoniums usually look droopy at first. The roots can’t take in water anymore so there’s no turgor pressure in the plant to keep the leaves upright.

This is a bit annoying because drooping is also caused by underwatering. Sigh. 

You can generally tell whether you’ve underwatered or overwatered by checking the soil and the roots of the plant.

If the soil is dry, you’ve probs underwatered, and if it’s wet, you’re probably overwatered.

If the soil is wet because you’ve recently watered but the plant hasn’t perked up again, then check the roots.

If they’re dry and stringy, it’s too dry, if they’re mushy and gross, it’s been overwatered.

Brown spots can also be a sign of overwatering, especially if they start on the lower leaves and seem to be moving up the plant.

The brown spots also often start at the leaf tip and work towards the top – a bit like the plant’s been dipped in water and is soaking it up. Like walking through a puddle in long jeans.

Yellow leaves are also a pretty common sign that your Syngonium has been overwatered.

If it’s just one of two leaves near the base of the plant, it could just be that those leaves are old.

When leaves are too old to be of any use, the plant sucks all the nutrients out of the plant, leaving it a yellow husk.

Harsh.

However, if you see several leaves yellowing, then it’s time to check the roots.

What causes overwatering?

Overwatering has a few possible causes because it’s basically the all-encompassing term we use when the soil stays too wet for too long and introduces rot to the roots of the Syngonium.

Watering too often

This is a classic.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question ‘how often should I water my Syngonium’. It is, unfortunately, not that easy.

You just need to water it when it’s dry, preferably before it droops.

A lot of people water their Syngonium once a week, and that’s fine IF your Syngonium needs that.

From April to September ish, my Syngonium mottle needs to be watered weekly. However, I still check the soil with a moisture meter (and my finger if the meter says dry but I think it looks damp).

In winter, it needs watering a lot less.

We also need to bear in mind that my Syngonium is a couple of feet away from a south-facing window, shaded by other plants. It gets a *bit* of direct light, but a lot of bright, indirect light and it also gets pretty warm.

All of these factors will increase the amount of water it needs, not only because light and warmth cause water to evaporate more quickly and the plant to transpire a lot, but also because the plant is using more water because it’s growing quickly.

If you keep your Syngonium in a darker spot, it won’t need watering nearly so much as mine does.

No drainage holes

Syngonium are *quite* forgiving of being overwatered but they can only take so much.

One of the easiest ways to kill a Syngonium is to put it in a pot with no drainage holes.

Every time you water, the water will collect in the bottom of the pot and if the plant doesn’t use the water, over time mud will form in the pot which will suffocate your Syngonium’s roots.

Now, plenty of people keep plants in pots without holes. It isn’t impossible, HOWEVER, it’s much more difficult.

Ideally, when we water Syngonium we want to thoroughly soak the soil until the water is running through the drainage holes.

When you use a pot without drainage holes, you can only water a bit and there’s not really a way of telling exactly how much water to use.

You're always going to need to err on the side of caution, which means your Syngonium will frequently be *slightly* underwatered. 

Realistically, this isn't that big of a deal, but it does mean that your plant isn't going to grow quite as big or as quickly as it could. 

For the sake of putting it in a pot with holes, it just seems like a lot of extra work for no reward.

If you have a hole-less pot you desperately want to put your Syngonium in, then either drill holes in it or put it in a nursery pot that you can sit in the pot.

Too dense soil

There’s a lot of chatter on social media about the ideal potting mix for various plants BUT I think that when you’re just starting out, you need something that suits you.

I usually recommend people buy store-bought house plant potting mix, and then add in some perlite, leca, or orchid bark.

Over time, you’ll work out your care style and you can come up with your own mix, but in the beginning, it’s better to buy soil and concentrate on learning about when your plants need more water/light/humidity etc.

The reason I recommend adding perlite etc is that they help to oxygenate the soil whilst helping it retain moisture. 

Often, neat store-bought house plant soil is too dense and will retain too much water for too long. 

It’s also why it isn’t a good idea to use soil designed to be used outside.

Outside is a LOT brighter/hotter/windier than inside so soil is designed to retain a LOT more water.

Full disclosure: I have used outside soil on indoor plants because I wanted to see what would happen (i.e. if you know what you’re doing but you’re in a pinch and all you have is outdoor soil, can you use it?) and some plants are fine BUT the plants need to be in perfect health, and have great light etc.

My ZZ plant and golden Pothos did well in outdoor soil, but they’re pretty hardy plants.

Syngonium would, in all likelihood, also do fine in outside soil if they have great light and are growing quickly, but if you’re new to Syngonium, go for a soil mix that has some water-retentive qualities, but is well-oxygenated.

Too big pot

I recently saw a post on Instagram about how the whole ‘putting your plant in too big of a pot will kill it’ rhetoric is a myth because as long as you care for it correctly, it’ll be fine.

In all fairness, they’re right BUT they forget that:

a) not everyone is a house plant expert. Some people also don’t want to be! They just want some pretty decor!

b) We don’t all have the time or resources to be babysitting our plants, and making up special soil mixes for them.

If you want to use super fancy soil and be forever checking the soil to see if it’s dry, then go for whatever pot size you like.

However, if you’re using store-bought potting mix (which is great for beginners because moisture meters can read it pretty accurately), it will retain too much water if you put it in a massive pot.

Don’t put plants in pots that are considerably bigger than their root ball.

Will a big pot automatically cause overwatering? 

No! 

But is it MUCH more likely? 

100%.

So, you’re pretty sure your Syngonium is overwatered. Now what?

Check the roots

If they’re brown and mushy, it’s overwatered.

Remove anything gross and rinse the roots off. You can just run them under the tap, but a little dunk in some diluted hydrogen peroxide will help kill off any remaining bacteria.

By the way, we’re not looking for total eradication of the bacteria that cause root rot.

They’re always present in the soil but only multiply to dangerous levels when the soil is saturated for too long. We just want to get rid of most of them.

Once you’ve gotten rid of all the rotten parts, you can either pot it back up (more on that later) if it still has a decent amount of roots OR you’ll have to grow more roots.

syngonium roots in water

Reroot in water

I like to reroot most root-rot-stricken plants in water, not because it’s the most effective way of rerooting, but because I can monitor the re-rooting process closely without disturbing the plant.

Just stick the plant in a jar of water until you have a decent root ball.

There are a few things you can do to speed up the rerooting process:

They all work really well – do all four if you’re really attached to the plant!

Take cuttings and reroot

If the Syngonium is looking super sad and you want to go all in on its recovery and end up with a super full plant, you can cut the stem into all the separate nodes and root them as wet sticks.

This takes longer than just re-rooting the whole plant BUT you’ll end up with a really bushy plant once it gets going.

I wouldn’t recommend doing this in winter unless you have a growlight/heatlamp/humidifier set up because you can end up losing a lot of the nodes if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Can an overwatered Syngonium recover on its own?

It can, but it depends on three things:

  1. How bad the rot is
  2. How established the Syngonium is
  3. How well you change your care

I personally don’t recommend letting overwatered recover on their own, but it’s disingenuous for me to say that they 100% can’t.

Syngoniums are pretty good at adapting to their environment and hanging onto life, so if you work out what caused the root rot/overwatering and adjust your care, it can recover on its own.

Sometimes the bacteria can get into the plant (especially if it’s pretty weak anyway) and it will need to be repotted, have the roots trimmed, and be generally molly-coddled until it starts to regrow again.

Sometimes a larger, more established plant just needs to be left to dry out.

Once the environment in the soil is no longer able to sustain a large volume of the bacteria causing the rot, it’ll go away and won’t progress any further.

There are various strains of these bacteria, and short of sending off samples to a lab, you’re never going to know if it’s a particularly destructive one or not.

In short, some plants can recover on their own, but if that's the route you choose to take, make sure you keep a close eye on the roots whilst it's recovering.

I purposefully keep plants that are prone to root rot in clear pots so I can monitor their roots without disturbing them.

In my experience, Syngonium aren’t prone to root rot, and are one of the plants more likely to recover on their own than, say, Monstera Thai Constellation, but you’ll need to check the roots and take really good care of the plant if it’s to recover on its own.

Should you repot an overwatered Syngonium?

It’s generally recommended that you do, but I never do. If the soil’s too dense I might add in some bark or something. If it’s super wet I might lay it out on a tarp to dry, but I never throw root-rotty soil out.

A lot of professional plant people will be horrified by this, but in my experience, once you’ve changed the environment so that it can no longer support the bacteria, the problem’s gone.

It's very much a case of personal preference, but I've never had a problem with transferring root rot to other plants via soil. 

There are people all over Facebook insisting that you need to do a full repot after fungus gnats which is bananas to me.

Overwatering is a care issue, not just a soil issue.

You need to adjust your care, and when you do so, the soil will change too. If you change the soil but keep your care the same, you’re just going to have a lot of dead plants and an expensive soil habit.

Root rot bacteria naturally live in soil, along with millions of other microbes. We don’t need to eliminate them, we need to keep them balanced.

Final thoughts

Snygoniums aren’t particularly prone to root rot, so they’re a great plant for beginners to get to grips with watering house plants properly.

If you do overwater them, check both the pot size and the soil type before assuming you just need to water less often.

Caroline Cocker

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

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