10 Signs Your Potting Soil Is Too Wet

Oversaturated potting soil is an issue that may not seem serious to new gardeners, but comes with a range of negative consequences. Potting soil that is too wet for long periods leads to issues with disease, root rot, and potentially the early death of your plants. However, if you’re familiar with the signs of overly moist potting soil, you can take easily steps to prevent this problem and save your plants.

Here are 10 signs that your potting soil is too wet:

  1. The soil stays wet for days.
  2. There’s mold growing on the soil.
  3. Water is pooling on the soil surface.
  4. The soil is attracting tiny gnats.
  5. Your plant’s leaves are turning yellow.
  6. Your plants have weak stems.
  7. The leaves develop dark spots.
  8. You notice wilting.
  9. Your potted succulent’s leaves are squishy.
  10. The bottom container tray is flooded with water.

Let’s explore these signs in greater detail, ensuring you recognize them and how to fix them.

1. The Soil Stays Wet for Days

Potting soil that remains damp to the touch, even several days after watering, is likely suffering from oversaturation. Apart from daily overwatering, a container without drainage holes is the primary cause of wet soil that takes days to dry.

If you touch your potting soil several days after watering and it still feels damp to the touch, you’ll want to consider transferring your plant into a container with plenty of drainage holes. You can also drill holes yourself if you want to use a decorative container without drainage.

Doing so can help you avoid overwatering issues and protect your plants from soil-borne molds or diseases. If you want to keep your plants alive long-term, this is a step you shouldn’t skip.

2. There’s Mold Growing on the Soil

When potting soil is too wet, it becomes the ideal breeding ground for mold spores and fungi. With few exceptions, mold species thrive in moist conditions, especially in dark environments (like the lower layers of a container’s soil bed).

Moldy soil is a significant problem, as it can contribute to root rot and premature plant death. It’s particularly troublesome for those with indoor container gardens, as airborne mold spores can cause and worsen health conditions like asthma.

3. Water Is Pooling on the Soil Surface

Have you ever noticed water pooling on top of your plant’s potting soil, struggling to drain into the lower layers?

If so, there are two potential issues at play:

  1. The soil has become hydrophobic.
  2. The soil is too wet.

When potting soil is oversaturated, it may be unable to take in more moisture. Any newly added water will flood the container’s surface, refusing to drain. This issue is particularly common in containers without drainage holes.

Of course, moisture-rich soil isn’t the only thing that can cause pooling water. For example, if you’ve used pesticides on your plants, or allowed the soil to dry out completely, the soil may reject water due to chemical or textural changes.

Still, if you recognize several other signs of overwatered potting soil, the likely culprit is soil that’s too wet.

4. The Soil Is Attracting Tiny Gnats

Indoor container plants are an excellent way to improve your home’s decor and promote cleaner air. But indoor plants can also become a haven for pests and insects, especially when potting soil is too wet.

The fungus gnat is one of the most irksome insects attracted to oversaturated potting soil. This insect is tiny, with most adult gnats only being about ⅛ of an inch long (about 0.32 centimeters). They’re attracted to moist surfaces, including overwatered potting soil.

If you’ve noticed small flying bugs zooming around your home and crowding your indoor plants, you’ll likely want to water your plants less often. You may also want to mix a few drops of dish soap and apple cider vinegar into a small bowl and place it near your plants.

This homemade gnat-killing solution will attract, trap, and drown pesky insects.

If you’d like a more in-depth guide about how to deal with fungus gnats, you could check this article out: How to Deal With Fungus Gnats in Your Soil

5. Your Plant’s Leaves Are Turning Yellow

Are your potted plant’s leaves turning yellow or developing dark brown tips? If so, there’s a good chance its soil is too wet. 

But how does excess water change a plant’s leaf color?

Like most life on Earth, plants need oxygen to survive. While most of their oxygen intake occurs via their leaves (in a process known as aerobic respiration), their roots also need oxygen. 

Plants growing in aerated, pore-rich soil have access to trapped oxygen. But these little oxygen-filled gaps disappear when the soil is oversaturated. Essentially, the plant’s roots begin to drown.

When this happens, the roots can no longer absorb nutrients, resulting in sickly yellow or brown leaves. Potting soil that’s too wet can also negatively impact a plant’s stem, making it weak and wobbly.

6. Your Plants Have Weak Stems

When plants take in too much water, their stems can become squishy and weak. Unfortunately, this condition can lead to severe wilting and broken branches. 

Healthy stems should be firm and sturdy. If you’re concerned that your plant’s potting soil is oversaturated, you may want to gently pinch the stem’s midsection. The soil is likely too wet if the stem compresses easily and feels moist.

Placing the potted plant in a sunny area and allowing the soil to dry out is an excellent way to remedy water-rich stems. Additionally, if you’re not using containers with drainage holes in the bottom, you’ll want to purchase some and transfer the weak plant into one, trimming off any damaged growth.

Make sure you use fresh, un-watered potting soil when transferring a waterlogged plant into a new container. Removing most of the wet soil from the plant’s roots is also recommended, as it can help prevent root rot and expedite the drying process. 

Be careful when freeing the roots from the old soil, as the stem may break if handled roughly.

7. The Leaves Develop Dark Spots

In addition to leaves turning yellow and brown, overwatering can lead to plant edema (also spelled oedema). This disorder occurs when a plant’s roots soak up more water than its leaves can expel. As such, it’s another tell-tale sign that potting soil is too wet.

The most evident symptom of plant edema is dark spots that develop across a plant’s leaves. Leaf discoloration often accompanies these spots. While fungal infections can also cause black spots on leaves, the primary cause of fungal infections in potted plants is overwatering.

8. You Notice Wilting

Discolored leaves can indicate a wide range of problems, not just overwatering. That’s why it’s not the most reliable indicator of potting soil that’s too wet. 

When a plant in nutrient-rich potting soil begins to wilt, overwatering is the most likely culprit. While a plant can also wilt due to a lack of sunshine, underwatering, and fertilizer burn, these issues are far less common than overwatering. 

Luckily, an overwatered and wilting plant can be salvageable. Start by placing the plant in a sunny area.

Naturally, you’ll also want to resist watering the plant until it begins to perk up or the soil turns light brown (indicating that it’s dry). In severe cases, you may need to repot and trim the roots to remove any fungal growth that can lead to rot.

To prevent your container plants from wilting in the future, take a few moments to research their preferred moisture levels. Some plants need more water than others and may be more sensitive to overly moist soil.

9. Your Potted Succulent’s Leaves Are Squishy

If you enjoy growing succulents, you’re likely familiar with how sensitive these plants are to overwatering. Many types of succulents can begin to show signs of overwatering within a few days of soil remaining waterlogged.

Determining whether your potted succulent’s soil is too wet can be challenging, as most succulent potting soils are rich in amendments like tiny rocks. These elements don’t show signs of waterlogging as clearly as loamy soil. 

However, there are other ways to tell if your succulent potting soil may be too wet. For example, overwatered succulents tend to develop slightly translucent, brown, or squishy leaves. 

So, if you’re concerned about your succulent soil being too wet, gently pinch one of its leaves between your fingers. The soil is probably at the ideal moisture level if the leaves feel firm. 

However, if they have a squishy, sponge-like texture, you’ll want to avoid watering the succulent for at least two weeks until the soil has dried out completely.

10. The Bottom Container Tray Is Flooded With Water

Good plant containers should have small drainage holes on the bottom. These allow water to escape the container, helping prevent root rot and mold growth. 

Water draining from these openings can be messy (particularly with indoor plants), which is why many gardeners use trays or pot covers to capture the excess. This drainage tray or container reservoir can flood and overflow over time if your potting soil is oversaturated, making the problem even worse.

The only exception is drainage trays beneath large containers that are very shallow. These can fill with water with each watering session, which may not be a cause for concern. Simply tip out the excess after watering and your plants should be happy.


Wet potting soil is not a problem you should ignore, given the potentially deadly consequences for your plants. If you notice any of these signs (that can’t be attributed to other causes), resolve the issue immediately to bring your plants back to good health.

Written by Alexander Picot, Reviewed by Madison Moulton

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the founder of TheGrowingLeaf.com and its lead content writer. He created the website in 2022 as a resource for horticulture lovers and beginners alike, compiling all the gardening tips he discovered over the years. Alex has a passion for caring for plants, turning backyards into feel-good places, and sharing his knowledge with the rest of the world.

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