Soil plays a crucial role in the survival of both outdoor and indoor plants. A houseplant requires air, water, and potting soil for proper growth and development.
Soil provides your indoor plants with a base for their roots and essential nutrients for them to grow. It also filters and regulates the discharge of excess water. Soil stores organic carbon and protects against indoor pollutants.
Potted plant soil will remain wet after watering if the soil does not have proper drainage or is being watered too often. As a result, yellowing of the leaves, edema, root rot, and wilting may occur. Overwatered soil can be prevented by providing the proper soil mix and amendments for proper drainage.
Wet soil causes microbes to compete with plant roots for oxygen. It reduces oxygen flow to the plant and disrupts its growth.
Damp soil also leads to wilting and yellowing of the plant’s leaves and produces a rotten or sour odor, a sign of root rot. In today’s article, we will talk about the causes and symptoms of wet soil for indoor plants and what you can do to prevent it. Read on!
For keeping my soil at the perfect moisture levels I use this soil moisture meter. It is both cost-effective and durable. Best of all, it also measures pH and light.
Reasons Why Potting Soil Retains Water
Diagnosing wet soil issues for indoor plants is difficult if you don’t have enough knowledge about soil maintenance.
Overwatering or highly damp soil can significantly hinder your plants’ growth and even kill them. Here are a few causes of wet soil for indoor plants.
Overwatering is a common cause of indoor plant problems. Poorly drained soil is more prone to waterlogging, which leads to the death of roots because they don’t absorb enough oxygen to function normally.
Less oxygen is directly proportional to the root damage. The decaying roots can’t supply enough nutrients to the indoor plant. Damage caused by wet soil due to overwatering is often misdiagnosed as pest damage.
Waterlogging can put stress on plants and allow the fungus to injure them. For example, Phytophthora spp can cause rotting of roots in waterlogged soils.
Plants that grow in over watered soil lack oxygen that causes the roots’ death, stunted growth, and yellow leaves.
Wet soil can even lead to scorching or burning of leaves. You will see the appearance of spots and blisters on stems and leaves. The plant’s crown also rots, and damaged roots are susceptible to microbes.
Drainage holes are crucial no matter what types of indoor plants you grow. A container or pot with poor drainage or lack of holes is harmful to the plant’s health. No holes in the pot are the most common cause of wet soil.
Wet soil is favorable if you are growing aquatic plants at home. On the other hand, a regular indoor plant’s roots don’t like to sit in wet soil.
Because the roots need to exchange oxygen and CO2 with the air, wet soil closes off the soil’s air pockets.
Plants in containers with poor drainage or no holes are more prone to overwatering, the problem we described above. Sometimes, the surface of the soil appears dry, but the pot’s bottom is still wet.
Insufficient drainage also leads to the accumulation of salt in the potting soil.
Tap water contains harmful salts that can damage the plant because roots absorb water and leave some amount of salts in the soil.
Water flowing through the holes of the container can flush out salts in the soil. Salts are never removed from the soil with poor drainage or no holes in the container.
If you want to create a healthy environment for your indoor plants, make sure the pot contains enough holes for water drainage.
Improper Soil Mix
Excess water drainage is as important as moisture retention for indoor plants. It encourages air circulation through the roots and prevents fungal diseases.
If your potting mix does not have balanced amounts of coarse sand, perlite, and crushed rock, it won’t loosen the soil structure.
As a result, it can lead to fewer or no air pockets, causing the plant roots to suffocate and hinder the flow of excess water out of the pot.
Improper soil mix can cause wet soil, which becomes a favorable environment for anaerobic bacteria. Not only bacteria cause a foul odor, but it also damages the plant.
If you are going to repot your plant, there are many good soil options out there, but I have found this potting soil made by Miracle-Gro from amazon to be the most affordable and effective in keeping my plants healthy long after repotting.
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Multiple People Caring for the Same Plant
Another cause of wet soil is when more than one person cares for the same plant.
For example, if you have watered the plant in the morning, but your partner or son does not know about it, they may water it again.
Most houseplants require watering every 1-3 weeks. If you fail to monitor your indoor plant’s water scheduling, it will lead to wet soil and the plant’s death eventually.
Although the watering frequency depends on the plant’s type, size, pot type, humidity, temperature, and growth rate, wet soil can ruin its growth and development.
When your family members water the plant individually without letting you know, it will yield harsh consequences.
How Long Should Potting Soil stay Wet?
Soil should stay wet 2 to 4 hours after watering. After that the soil should have a moist feel which is also indicative of its darker color which usually last for more than 24 hours.
The amount of moisture in the soil however, is dependent on the soil type and the amendments within the soil which helps with water drainage.
See our detailed article on this topic and how recover an overwatered plant here
Symptoms of Wet Soil
There are various signs and symptoms of wet soil, such as root rotting, yellowing or browning of leaves, mold and fungus growth, edema, and wilting.
All these are signs of wet soil that can significantly damage your indoor plant. Let us talk about these symptoms in detail.
Wet soil in a potted plant can cause root rot, a disease that leads to the slow death of the plant. Generally, the soil supplies oxygen, water, and nutrients to your indoor plant.
When the soil is wet, the root won’t absorb enough oxygen and begin to suffocate.
Bear in mind that microorganisms and pathogens attack weakened roots, leading to the plant’s death.
There are several root rotting symptoms in indoor plants, such as soft stems at the plant’s base and foul odor from the rotting material.
Moreover, the root will appear brown and feel soft when you remove the plant from the container.
As mentioned above, the leading cause of this disease is wet soil that has resulted from overwatering.
Poor drainage of the pot or wet soil makes a suitable environment for fungus, which can further cause damage to the roots, especially with orchids.
Rhizoctonia solani, Fusarium, and Pythium are fungus species responsible for root rotting in the pot.
These fungus’ spores remain dormant in the soil, and when water levels are too high, they grow, cause damage to the roots, and spread to other parts of the plant.
Yellowing of Leaves
Moisture stress is the most common cause of yellow leaves in indoor plants. A condition called moisture stress is often due to overwatering or wet soil.
If you have a potted plant with yellow leaves, check the pot and see if the soil is wet.
Sometimes, the yellowing of leaves is caused by under-watering. In that case, you should water the plant more often and allow the root to absorb more moisture.
In contrast, wet soil can also lead to yellow leaves. In such a situation, you should check the pot drainage or holes and see if something hinders the drainage.
Wet soil can also flush out nitrates from the plant’s roots and cause nitrogen deficiency. Higher carbon to nitrogen ratio in the soil allows microbes to compete for this nitrogen in the soil.
Nitrogen deficiency is synonymous with the yellowing of leaves in potted plants. However, if you spot dark green veins in the yellow leaves, it is due to the lack of iron and not nitrogen.
Fungus or Mold Growth
Unlike their outdoor counterparts, indoor plants require less water for their normal growth and function.
Wet soil creates an excellent environment for fungus in the pot, allowing it to consume extra water and cause roots to rot.
Poor water drainage or no holes in the pot can cause excess moisture, a condition known as moisture stress. Dense soil, lack of drainage holes, and incorrect pot size are a few factors that lead to fungus growth.
Some homeowners have decorative containers with no drainage holes. The excess water does not run through the soil and flushes out of the pot.
The presence of excess water in the soil leads to extreme moisture around the roots, where fungus and mold can use it.
Therefore, experts recommend pots with multiple drainage holes of about 1/5 inches in diameter to appropriately drain excess water.
Wet soil leads to the growth of two types of mold, such as white and black mold.
White mold is not harmful to your indoor plant’s overall health, but black mold can cause the disease.
Remember, potted plants with mold are harmful to their roots, stems, and leaves, but they are also toxic to humans. For instance, it can cause various respiratory conditions, including cold, flu, allergies, and even asthma.
Edema is a plant disease that occurs when there is more water in the roots and less transpiration by the leaves.
Higher levels of water in the roots lead to cell damage and rupture. Common signs of edema are blisters and bumps on the lower leaf surface.
Cellular rupturing can cause the bumps or blisters to turn tan and corky that you can see on the lower epidermis. These spots usually do little damage to the roots of the indoor plants.
However, it can significantly impact the upper parts, especially if you are growing a flowering plant.
Browning of Leaves
When the soil remains saturated with excess water, the roots won’t function normally. The decaying of roots leads to the rotting of the bark on them.
Continued rotting causes the plant’s inner tissue to separate from the bark and turn brown.
Consequently, the leaves start to wilt and go off-color. The more roots decay, the greater the likelihood of leaves turning brown. All this leads to significant damage that eventually causes the death of the entire plant.
Heavy, saturated, or poorly drained soil suppresses the roots to absorb more oxygen, leading to wilting. Lack of oxygen rot the roots, yellow and wilt the leaves.
Too much water can also lead to fungal growth in the soil. Research shows that fungus-related diseases can cause wilting.
How to Prevent Wet Soil?
Many homeowners find it daunting to deal with wet soils. Determining an indoor plant’s exact water requirements is not easy, especially if you lack knowledge about it.
We have already explained above how overwatering can cause the potted plants to lose nutrients, have fungus or mold issues, develop root rotting, and other diseases.
It is crucial to maintain adequate moisture levels in the soil to streamline the plant’s optimal growth. This section will give you a few useful tips on how to prevent overwatering or wet soil. Keep reading!
The watering schedule is an essential part of the overall indoor plant care. The primary purpose of creating a schedule is to avoid overwatering to keep the soil balanced.
Although the watering schedule depends on the plant’s species, size, moisture requirements, pot size, etc., in general, experts recommend watering your indoor plants every 1-3 weeks.
If you have tropical plants and ferns, make sure you pour water from above. That way, you will ensure soaking of the compost and avoid the problem of water not reaching the roots.
On the other hand, watering from below is suitable for plants that don’t like wetting the leaves or stems. For example, some plants, such as African violets, should be watered from the bottom.
If you have areca palms, orchids, or Swiss cheese plants, make sure to mist the leaves and roots regularly. These plants absorb moisture through aerial roots and leaves.
Moreover, if you have air plants, it is best to soak them in distilled water for about 30-60 minutes a week. You can also follow the misting method, which requires you to mist the plants 2-3 times a week.
Use a Moisture Meter
Take the guesswork out of watering plants and keeping the soil moist. It is both cost-effective and durable.
Best of all, it also measures pH and light. It’s worth a look.
A moisture meter is a device that allows you to measure humidity in the soil. A quality product lets you know the dryness and moisture levels of the soil. That way, you can water the potted plant easily without any complications.
There are different brands and products available on the market. A good moisture meter usually has a scale of 1 to 10. If the meter reads 1, it means the soil is the driest.
Likewise, if the meter reads 10, the soil is the wettest. A moisture meter that reads 5-6 on the scale refers to balanced soil, meaning a suitable condition for your indoor plant.
It is easy to use the moisture meter. Insert the probe into the soil to measure the moisture at the roots. Avoid leaving the meter in the soil for too long, and wipe off the probe after taking it out of the soil.
Clean the device to ensure its proper functioning in the future.
Insert a Stake Into the soil
You can stake your indoor plant to keep it in the upright position. If you have a single-stemmed plant, using a simple stake in the soil is easy.
For example, flowering plants grow their stems quickly, and you can use a single stake, such as a bamboo rod, into the soil.
Additionally, by inserting a stake into the soil, you can easily pull it out and check to see how wet the soil is.
For example, if when the stake is pulled from the soil and it looks wet or damp in color, this will be a good indication that the soil has enough moisture and does not need further watering.
Many homeowners also use a self-watering stake to avoid the issue of overwatering. It goes into the soil and waters your plant when it needs moisture.
When using such a stake, make sure you keep the reservoir full. Check the stake 2-3 times a week and fill more water if needed.
Pot Drainage Holes
Although all plants need water for optimal growth and development, drainage is essential to avoid issues like root rot and yellow leaves.
If your pot does not have holes at the bottom, it won’t expel excess water or moisture, leading to wet soil that can cause significant damage to your plant. Holes can also be placed at the sides of the plant pot which will help with that extra drainage. See our article drainage holes on sides of plant pots for more details.
That’s why you need to make some holes at the bottom of the pot to ensure the excess water can escape. You can easily make holes in wood or plastic pots.
For example, you can use a nail to create small holes. Experts suggest making at least 1.2 or 1.5 inches holes in the pots. The number of holes depends on the size of the container.
A Proper Soil Mix
A proper soil mix is key to preventing excess moisture in the pot and allowing your plant to grow optimally.
Ensure the soil mix is lightweight, retains moisture, and supplies air spaces around the plant’s roots. Otherwise, your plant won’t survive.
While soil mix ingredients vary from one plant to plant, an appropriate soil mix usually contains organic compounds, such as bark, compost, and peat moss.
It also contains perlite or vermiculite to maintain moisture. Sand, limestone, and nutrients are other ingredients you should mix in the soil to create the right balance.
Experts recommend using 35% peat moss, 35% perlite or vermiculite, and 30% blended compost for soil mix. All these ingredients are natural and prevent waterlogging in potted plants.
At the same time, the soil mix maintains adequate levels of moisture to ensure the plant grows well.
Overwatering or wet soil harms your indoor plants until you grow aquatic plants. Damp soil can damage the roots, stems, leaves and create a favorable environment for fungus and mold growth.
Microbes competing for oxygen, nitrogen, and other nutrients in damp soil can cause mineral deficiencies in your plant.
All this will decay the root, yellow, or brown the leaves, cause diseases and death of your plant. The tips and tricks given above can help you maintain soil and prevent overwatering.