Plant Parenting: Overwatered vs Underwatered Plants and How Much Light do They Need?

August 18, 2023

Common Houseplant Problems

Is my plant over watered or underwatered? Are my plants getting enough light?

These questions are typically asked, and the answer is often hard to discern. Guest of the podcast Leslie Halleck likes to say "It depends." But this answer is more meaningful than you might think, which will be explained in today's episode of our new series, "Grow Better," featuring Leslie. As a certified horticulturist with extensive experience in plant care, Leslie is here to share her insights on the subject of overwatering and underwatering, offer valuable insights into the optimal light requirements for plants, and explore the common challenges plants encounter.

Overwatered vs. Underwatered Plants

Nailing the watering game with indoor plants can be tough. Overwatering can make your plants super unhappy, causing root suffocation and fungal diseases. Underwatering, on the other hand, can cause wilting and yellow leaves, because the plants roots dry up and die. So here are some tips to see if your plant is getting too much or too little water.

Signs of Overwatering

  • Yellowing, dropping leaves: If your plant's leaves are looking yellow and falling off, it might be drowning due to overwatering! Too much water in the soil can suffocate the roots!

  • Soft and mushy leaves: Overwatering leaves your plants with soft, mushy foliage that rots.

  • Root suffocation and necrosis: Wet soil suffocates plant roots, which leads to necrosis (brown or black dead tissue), along with pathogens and nutrient problems.

Note: You can avoid overwatering by using a moisture meter.

Signs of Underwatering

  • Yellowing and crispy leaves: Soil that's too dry and doesn't provide enough water will result in yellow dryer leaves, at times brittle and crispy

  • Wilting and loss of rigidity: Underwatered plants may start to wilt and lose their rigidity as they become dehydrated.

Note: If your plant looks dry and brittle, check the roots to see if you need to repot it or adjust your watering schedule.

Understanding Light Requirements for Indoor Plants

Without light, we'd be stuck in the dark, as would our plants! Every plant has unique light preferences, so understanding light intensity, duration, distance from the source, and the light spectrum is key. Here’s what you need to know about low light and high light.

Importance of Light for Plant Growth

  • Photosynthesis: Photosynthesis is how plants make energy, which is necessary for growth.

  • Light wavelengths: Different wavelengths of light have different effects on plant growth and development, with red and blue light being the most important.

Understanding Light Levels for Your Houseplants

  • Plant responses to light: Keep an eye on your plants' reactions to light. If they're turning yellow or stretching towards the window, they may need more light. If they are trying brown, that might be sunburn (yes plants get that too!)

  • Things that affect indoor light: The direction the window faces, how much shade there is, and how far the plant is from the light source can all affect light.

  • What too little or too much light looks like on a plant: Slow growth, pale leaves, and stretching towards the light are some low light symptoms. Burnt leaves, wilting, and stunted growth are some high light symptoms.

Common Houseplant Problems and Solutions

Nutrient deficiencies, pest infestations, and diseases can affect indoor plants in addition to watering and light. Here are some tips for addressing these problems:

Nutrient Deficiencies

Nutrient deficiencies can show up in different ways. The usual suspects are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. If you spot things like yellow leaves, slow growth, and leaf curling, your plant might be missing some nutrients. Your plant can get back on track with some fertilizer or soil changes.

Variegated Plants and Color Changes

Plants with variegated leaves have leaves that change color or pattern depending on the light and other factors. If they aren't getting enough light, they might lose their cool color patterns and turn green. To get more intense colors, give the plant higher light levels.

Tips for Successful Plant Care

Keeping your plants happy involves getting your watering routine down, making sure they're getting enough light, and keeping a close eye on them. Here are some tips:

Proper Watering Routine

  • Different plants like different amounts of water. So do a bit of homework to find out what your plant likes.

  • A moisture meter can help you figure out when to water your plants and make sure the soil is just right—moist but not soggy.

  • Things like temperature, humidity, and light levels can affect how much water your plant needs.

Adequate Lighting

  • Research what kind of light your plant likes and try to provide that.

  • Place your plant near a window where it gets the right amount of light, or use grow lights if your natural light isn't cutting it.

  • Too much or too little light can stress your plants out, so avoid the extremes.

Regular Plant Check-ups and Care

  • Trim off dead or damaged leaves to help your plant grow well (aka pruning).

  • Monitor plants for signs of stress or pests

  • Make sure your plants have the right temperature, humidity, and airflow to promote growth.

When to Let Go: Composting Sickly or Unmanageable Plants

Gardening is supposed to be a source of your joy, not stress. If a plant is severely diseased, infested with pests, or damaged beyond recovery, sometimes the best course of action is to compost it or “let it go.” This may be hard to accept for many plant parents due to "green guilt," but remember, the goal is healthy, thriving plants, not a collection of struggling ones.

At the end of the day, plant care requires continual learning and adapting. If you understand how your plants need water and light, and if you address any problems immediately, you can create a thriving garden. Don't be afraid to make mistakes and remember - every plant has its own unique set of needs!

You can listen to ALL the details from Leslie in this podcast episode HERE

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