Are there methods of saving overwatered plants? Thanks to the topsy-turvy effects of climate change, I’m about to find out.
In the Pacific Northwest, Oregon’s normally drenched coastal rainforests are no longer immune to the wildfire threat stemming from continuing drought.
And Seattle’s usually mild summer temperatures have reached “You could fry an egg on the sidewalk!” levels.
On the other end of the spectrum, the average June daytime high in my part of the Midwest is 88.2 degrees Fahrenheit, and the average monthly rainfall is 4.4 inches.
However, in the last 48 hours, our weather has been doing its best to imitate the PNW’s norms. Every time the thermometer hits the upper 80s, a line of thunderstorms rolls in to knock the temperature back into the 70s.
In the last 48 hours, we’ve had 3.3 inches of rain or 75 percent of our monthly average.
And, after the sun broke through just long enough for me to check the rain gauge, storm clouds are gathering once again. In the space of 45 minutes, the temperature’s fallen 8 percent from 82 to 75F.
A check of the National Weather Service’s radar maps was less than reassuring – another (and far larger) line of storms is moving in from the west.
Part of it will be unloading more torrents of water on my already-soaked garden sometime tonight.
When the Rain Won’t Drain, What’s a Gardener to Do?
Whether it’s from a hose, a watering can, or the sky, plants don’t care where their water comes from. What they do care about is where it goes.
In a perfect world, the rain would moisten the soil the plants’ roots would absorb as much as they need. The soil’s structure would allow the remaining moisture to drain into the groundwater system or evaporate back into the atmosphere.
That’s the best drainage scenario. The plants get enough water to meet their immediate needs. What they don’t need doesn’t stay around to push the oxygen and nitrogen from the soil and drown or starve their roots.
However, despite the 25 years of amending and mulching I‘ve put into it, my soil remains mostly fine-textured, nutrient-loaded, water-hogging clay.
And that’s why (weather permitting!) I may have to spend the next few days rescuing my flowers and veggies from root-rot induced death with the help of these…
2 Recommended Ways of Saving Overwatered Plants
Saving overwatered plants in containers:
- Move your container plants to a sheltered area for repotting. To repot one, lightly tap with your hand all the way around the container to loosen the growing medium.
- Carefully slide the plant free and examine it for root rot. Look for brown, mushy (and possibly foul-smelling) roots.
- Shake off the wet soil and discard it. Cut diseased roots back to the firm, white tissue. Use clean, sharp cutters and disinfect them in rubbing alcohol as you move from plant to plant.
- Set the plant on a wire baking rack for one to two hours, so the roots begin to dry.
- To re-use the pot, soak it for 30 minutes in a 1:9 bleach and water solution. Otherwise, discard it and re-home your trimmed plant in a clean container with fresh potting medium.
- Moisten (do not soak!) the medium. Carefully center the plant in the pot. Gently spread the roots and add the medium.
- Supplement the medium with plant food containing less than 1 percent hydrogen peroxide to boost its oxygen content.
Skip the fertilizer until the roots recover. You’ll know they’re back at work when you see the plant putting out new growth.
Saving overwatered plants in the ground:
I won’t know for a few days if the rain has been too much for my in-ground plants. They’ll tell me by starting to wilt and turn yellow despite all the moisture.
And if the soil around their root zone develops a musty, sour odor, I’ll know it’s short on oxygen. If so, I’ll have to resuscitate the ones I can lift.
The Grange Co-op advises:
- lifting the plants
- setting them on absorbent cloth or newspaper to wick the water from the rootballs
- clipping the damaged roots
- spreading the roots over the soil when replanting
and treating them with a B-vitamin-based plant formula to protect them from transplant shock and fungal infection.
Don’t mulch around them until the soil has dried, and skip the fertilizer until healthy new growth appears.
Of course, plants such as my 4-foot wide hostas are too big to move. So if they start wilting in the next couple of days, I’ll cut them back a bit to relieve the stress on their roots and hope for the best!
In the best-case scenario, their huge leaves kept their feet reasonably dry!