4 Signs You Are Overwatering Your Pilea
If you’ve been reading our Pilea blog, even on and off, you may have noticed that we talk a lot about overwatering. We’ve mentioned it as a possible cause of brown leaf tips in this post, a possible cause of why you may see mushrooms in your Pilea in this other post, and a few other times in between.
Overwatering is a very common mistake that a lot of well-meaning plant parents make until they learn to calibrate the water intake of their plants. It’s also a hard thing to diagnose because its symptoms can resemble those of underwatering, too little fertilizer or too much sunlight. But starting from the most common scenarios, let’s see if you’ve been overwatering your Pilea.
1. Is the soil damp long after you’ve watered?
Have a close look at the soil a couple of days after you’ve watered your plant. Does it still look soaked? While you’re at it, have a whiff. Does it smell moldy and damp (kind of like the smell of a pile of wet leaves in the fall)?
Gently pull the plant out by the stem. Does it look like you could wring the soil and water will drip out?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you have been overwatering your Pilea.
Solution: Stop overwatering. Really, it’s that easy, and at this point you should feel lucky that you caught it in time. If the soil is particularly damp, you can put a paper towel or a kitchen towel on top of the soil for a couple of hours to absorb some of the excess water. (Don’t leave it there for too long; you still want airflow.)
Once the soil has dried out, get your Pilea on a more suitable watering regimen. You should only be watering your plant once the top two inches of soil are dry. Just stick your finger or a stick in the pot to feel for moisture.
2. Is the soil moldy?
Consistently damp soil will lead to the formation of mold in your soil. While the mold itself is not usually harmful to the plant, it may become an irritant for yourself or members of your household. And if you’ve been overwatering for so long so as to have mold, chances are this is an indicator of bigger problems (more on this below).
Solution: You can let the soil dry out until the mold spores die out. Or you can remove the top 25 percent of the soil off the surface of your pot and replace it with a layer of fresh potting medium. Adjust your watering habits as indicated above.
3. Is your Pilea wilting or drooping?
Contrary to popular belief, if your houseplant is droopy and wilting (especially after a good watering session), the solution isn’t more water. In fact, too much water might be the reason for its distress.
If you’ve noticed your plant is losing vigor, it may have root damage. When the soil stays too wet for too long, the roots start to decay, becoming mushy, black and basically dead. That means your Pilea can’t absorb water, nutrients or oxygen through the roots. This often leads to slow growth, a lack of growth or, if left unchecked, the death of your plant.
Again, if you catch it early enough, the root rot can be fixed (though not reversed).
Solution: In this case, you really have to remove the plant from the potting soil and check its root structure. Are the roots still white and sturdy, or have they turned brown or black? Does it smell like a decomposing plant? Then you have to cut off the dead roots so the rot doesn’t spread. Use a sharp pair of pruning shears and don’t forget to disinfect them before and after use.
If you still have a root structure in place after the cleanup, you can repot your Pilea in fresh soil. If you’re not left with much after this grooming session, you can put your Pilea in water and wait for it to grow new roots. Do keep in mind that Pilea is a slow grower (unlike more prolific houseplants, such as pothos and monstera), so it will need a few weeks to a few months before you see some new root progress.
4. Are the leaves turning yellow?
If you’ve been noticing that your Pilea can’t hold on to its leaves to save its life, chances are the cause is somewhere below the soil level. You guessed it, there is root damage due to overwatering. Because of the same reason we described above, if your Pilea is not getting enough nutrients and water, it will start shedding leaves. Our tendency when that happens is to assume it needs more water, but it’s less water that will solve the problem.
It’s normal for really old leaves to turn yellow and drop at the end of their lifetime (much like humans lose hair and skin cells). But if your Pilea is losing leaves at an alarming rate, or if it’s losing young leaves, or losing leaves faster than it can replace them, that means your plant is stressed because of root damage caused by overwatering.
Solution: Just as we’ve instructed above, remove the plant from its pot and remove the damaged roots. Let the soil dry out completely in between watering sessions and remove the damaged leaves (or let them fall out by themselves).
A few other tips to make sure you’re not overwatering your plant.
If you’re new to keeping plants, or you just can’t get the hang of this plant watering business, get a moisture meter. It’s a great tool to learn what works and what doesn’t for your plants in your environment. Plus, it’s fun to geek out about measurements and record what works and what doesn’t in your plant journal.
Your Pilea enters a season of dormancy in the cold dark months - from late fall to early spring - so it needs less water when it’s not growing as much. Adjust accordingly.
Always plant your Pilea in a pot that has enough drainage holes. It may be fun to look at Pilea planted in teacups or soda cans, but we guarantee that these plants won’t live very long in containers that don’t have drainage holes.
Avoid overfertilizing your plant. Too much fertilizer can lead to root burn which, in turn, impedes the roots’ capacity to take in water.
We believe that the best source of information about what your plant needs is your plant itself. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, as much as we’d like to recommend one, so pay attention to what your plant is telling you (through changes in its leaves, stem and roots) and adjust your habits accordingly. It’s all a process of trial and error, but we think that’s half the fun of growing plants.