10 Signs Your Potting Soil Is Too Wet

Oversaturated potting soil is one of the most common issues gardeners experience when creating container gardens. Unfortunately, potting soil that’s too wet can lead to root rot and dead plants. However, if you’re familiar with the signs of overly moist potting soil, you can take steps to prevent this problem.

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 potted plant’s leaves are turning yellow.
  6. Your potted plant’s stem is weak.
  7. Your potted plant’s leaves develop dark spots.
  8. Your potted plant is 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 signs of water-rich potting soil!

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 hours or 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. 

Doing so can help you avoid overwatering issues, and it can also protect you from soil-borne molds or diseases.

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.

This is because mold releases allergens, resulting in:

  • Watery eyes
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Difficulty breathing

If you’ve noticed a sudden uptick in these symptoms while indoors, you’ll want to check your potting soil for signs of mold growth.

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 with water, it may not be able to take in more moisture. In this instance, the newly added water will flood the container’s surface, refusing to drain. This issue is particularly common in containers without drainage holes.

Of course, as mentioned, 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 inches 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 Potted 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 Potted Plant’s Stem Is Weak

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 gingerly transfer the weak plant into one.

Make sure you use fresh, unwatered potting soil when transferring a water-clogged 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. 

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

7. Your Potted Plant’s 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 color changes often accompany these spots. While fungal infections can also cause black spots on leaves, the primary cause of fungal infections in potted plants is overwatering.

8. Your Potted Plant Is Wilting

Discolored leaves can indicate a wide range of problems, not just overwatering. As such, 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. 

Fortunately, an overwatered, wilting plant is often salvageable. In most cases, you only need to place 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).

To prevent your container plants from wilting in the future, take a few moments to research their preferred moisture levels. After all, some plants need daily watering while others prefer weekly or bi-weekly watering.

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 if they’re watered each week!

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

10. The Bottom Container Tray Is Flooded With Water

Most plant containers have small drainage holes located on their bottoms. These allow water to escape the container, helping prevent root rot and mold growth. 

But, water draining from these openings can be problematic (particularly with indoor plants) if you don’t have a drainage tray or built-in reservoir to capture it. Still, a potted plant’s drainage tray or container reservoir can flood and overflow when potting soil is too wet.

This flooding is typically a sign that you’re overwatering your plant. The only potential 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. 

Because the water draining from the bottom of a plant container often has small dirt particles, a flooded drainage tray can be a messy problem, especially if your potted plants are indoors. 

Fortunately, preventing this problem is often as simple as:

  • Watering your plant less often.
  • Using a spritzer bottle instead of a watering can when watering plants.
  • Investing in a deeper drainage tray.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of TheGrowingLeaf.com, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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