In container gardening and particularly indoor gardening, overwatering is an ever-present risk to plant health.
Most plants need soil that drains well to thrive. Even those that love moisture don’t appreciate when water sits around the roots for too long, potentially leading to root rot. So if you’ve accidentally overwatered, you may wonder how long it will take for the soil to dry out to limit your risk of disease and an early plant death.
Overwatered plants can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks to dry out, depending on conditions. How quickly a potted plant dries out depends on many factors, like the size of the pot, the size of the plant, the moisture retention capacity of the soil, and environmental factors like sunlight, humidity and temperature.
Let’s look at the factors that affect how long it takes potted plants to dry out and ways to speed up the process to avoid irreparable damage to your plant.
Factors That Affect How Long It Takes a Potted Plant to Dry Out
Natural elements like heavy rains, low temperatures, and high humidity can affect the moisture levels in potted plants. Indoors, watering too often or planting in containers with no drainage are the primary causes of waterlogged soil.
It is crucial not to leave your potted plants waterlogged for long as this limits airflow around the roots and encourages fungal growth, effectively suffocating the roots. That’s why getting the soil to dry quickly is vital in preventing long-term damage.
It is impossible to tell precisely how long a potted plant takes to dry out. Environmental factors, the plant you’re growing, and the size of the container all influence how long it will take the soil to dry completely.
Type of Plant
One of the first factors that determines how quickly a potted plant dries out is the type of plant. Different plants draw up moisture at different rates, depending on how much they need and how quickly they are growing.
For instance, drought-resistant plants like succulents don’t need or draw up much moisture. These plants are more sensitive to overwatering, as they are accustomed to dry soil and store moisture in their leaves and stems to keep them alive.
Quick-growing or thirsty plants use up more moisture in the process of photosynthesis but become unable to draw up moisture in cases of root rot.
Moisture Retention Capacity of the Soil
Some types of soil have a higher moisture retention capacity than others. For example, clay soil can hold more water than sand. Therefore, soil with a higher percentage of clay will take much longer to dry out.
The amount of organic matter in potting soil can also contribute to the mixture’s ability to retain moisture. Potted plants grown in soil with a higher moisture retention capacity will dry out more slowly than those grown in soil with good drainage, amended with materials like sand or perlite.
Most potting mixes have materials added to improve drainage and prevent waterlogging. That’s why it’s better to use high-quality mixes over regular garden soil. However, even potting mixes degrade over time, becoming compacted and stopping water from flowing through the pot and out the drainage holes.
Size and Quality of the Pot
Plants in smaller pots tend to dry out more quickly than those in larger pots because of the smaller amount of moisture that the soil can hold. They can dry out even faster if the pots have drainage holes – an essential characteristic to look for when choosing containers.
Terra cotta or clay pots are ideal if you tend to overwater your plants. They are more breathable and porous than plastic pots, wicking moisture away from the soil to help it dry out faster.
But nothing can replace drainage holes that allow any unwanted water to leave the container. Make sure there is nothing obstructing the drainage holes of your containers and ensure there are enough drainage holes to allow water to leave all sides of the pot freely.
The humidity of the area where the potted plant is located can also affect the time it takes for it to dry out. The potted plant will take longer to dry out in a place with high humidity, like a kitchen or bathroom.
If there are plenty of other potted plants in the area, this can also contribute to the overall humidity in the room, thereby delaying the drying out of the soil.
Moisture tends to evaporate quickly in hot areas. Outdoor potted plants will usually dry out faster than indoor potted plants during hot weather. Similarly, potted plants will dry out faster in the summer than in other seasons.
It doesn’t take an experienced gardener to notice how quickly the soil and plants dry up when exposed to hot and bright sunlight. Therefore, putting your potted plant directly under the midday sun can dry it out faster. In contrast, plants kept in the shade will sit in moist soil longer.
How to Dry Out Potted Plants Quickly
Accidentally overwatering your potted plants will not instantly kill them. But if the soil remains waterlogged for long periods, it will affect root health.
Luckily, there are several ways to dry out the soil quickly, reducing your risk of root rot:
Expose the Pot to More Sunlight
Moving your pot to a brighter area will speed up the drying process since exposure to more intense sunlight can dry potted plants more quickly.
However, you have to consider your plant’s sun requirements. If you have a shade-loving plant, exposing it to bright sunlight for a long time may lead to leaf scorch. Instead, try to go only one step higher than the plant’s regular sunlight needs.
Below is the order of plants’ sun requirements in increasing intensity:
- Full shade: Less than one hour of sunlight per day
- Partial shade: 2-4 hours of sunlight (ideally filtered by curtains)
- Dappled sun: 4-6 hours of dappled sunlight underneath tree canopies
- Partial sun: 4-6 hours of direct sunlight per day
- Full sun: 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day
For sun-loving plants that benefit from up to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily, you can extend the exposure for up to 2 hours to speed up the drying-out process.
Move Your Potted Plant to an Area With Low Humidity
After exposing your plant to more than its regular sun requirement, the next thing to do is keep it in an area with lower humidity. It would also help if the site is a little windy as this will dry out the soil too.
Don’t leave plants in these conditions for too long, as dramatic changes in environmental conditions can lead to stress. Instead, move the plant back to its original spot as soon as the soil has dried and adjust your watering routine.
Remove Your Plant From Wet Soil and Repot
Depending on how much excess water your soil has and its ability to drain it, you may need to repot your plant entirely.
Below are the steps to follow:
- Carefully remove the plant from the pot of wet soil.
- Gently remove as much soil from the roots as possible.
- Lay the plant down on dry towels that can absorb the excess moisture.
- Check the roots for signs of root rot. Trim any damaged areas.
- If the roots look healthy, move your pot to a clay pot with fresh and dry soil.
- Gradually add just enough water to moisten the soil.
- Place your potted plant in a better area.
- Observe how quickly the soil dries up and water your plant as needed.
Understanding the basic components of your garden can help mitigate issues with overwatering in the future. This includes the type of soil, type of plant, and your environment.
Most plants can thrive with a bit of dry soil and recover even if there are signs of drying in the leaves. This is a far better outcome than overwatering and potentially killing off the roots.