Why watering can do more harm than good for wilting leaves

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Every gardener knows that watering is essential in plant care. But if done incorrectly, it may cause plants to die. Overwatering and underwatering are the two most common issues that gardeners face. At times, they both have the same telltale sign: wilting leaves. 

Once wilting leaves present themselves, the first solution that comes to gardeners is to water the plant. What they don’t know is that watering wilting leaves isn’t always the right thing to do. 

Plants get the water they need from their roots, which keeps their cells healthy and hydrated. These roots need a mixture of both water and air in the soil to thrive. If overwatered for long periods, the air spaces in the soil become saturated with moisture, depriving the roots of oxygen.

A low-oxygen environment also promotes the growth of anaerobic bacteria that causes the plants’ roots to rot and die. This damage impedes the plant’s ability to absorb water, causing it to display symptoms of drought stress like wilting leaves. 

Luckily, there are two ways to determine whether a plant needs water or not. One is to scratch away the top inch or so of the soil and stick a finger inside to feel for moisture.  If the soil sticks together when it’s squeezed, then it’s still moist and may not need watering. But if the soil crumbles or remains in a loose pile when squeezed, then the ground needs more water.

The other is by checking soil color. Most potting mixes are dark and crumbly when moist and brown and dusty when they need water. 

For further confirmation, pick up the plant to feel its weight. If the pot feels light for its size and shows symptoms of drought stress,  the plant needs to be watered. 

Plants, like people, shouldn’t be judged by appearance alone. Sometimes, it pays to dig a little deeper, especially if it’s to check if a plant needs watering or not. 

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