An overwatered philodendron is something that warrants the attention of any gardener. This is the one thing that can cause big problems for the plant if it turns into root rot.
As such, if you can avoid overwatering the plant in the first place, that would be the best option.
However, if you notice signs of possible overwatering then narrowing down the cause will be the most important step before you apply any solution.
How do you save an overwatered philodendron? It is important to confirm that overwatering is indeed the problem before you try to treat or save the plant.
If there is root rot, you’ll need to prune the rotten roots, then repot the plant in fresh potting mix. If not, then your goal is to let the soil dry completely first before watering again.
Signs of Overwatered Philodendron
Wet, Soggy Soil
This is usually a good sign of overwatering, especially if the soil is still wet after a few days since you’ve watered the plant.
In general, philodendrons don’t like wet feet.
So, they don’t like excess water. And any puddles in the soil or mucky soil is usually a bad sign.
Usually, it means that the plant is either being watered too often or the soil is not draining the moisture well enough.
Either way, both are recipes for disaster for any philodendron plant.
And if this is the case, it is just matter of time before some kind of problem will happen.
Yellow leaves are usually a good sign of an overwatered philodendron plant. However, you want to be careful here since an underwatered plant can likewise present yellow foliage.
Thus, it is important to use other signs to confirm whether overwatering or underwatering is the actual problem.
That said, yellow leaves will occur in overwatered philodendron because they plant will have problems getting all the nutrients it normally does.
This is what causes the green leaves to lose their color and turn yellow.
And the reason for this is problems with the root system.
When a philodendron is overwatered, its roots will end up in lots of water. The water pushes out all the oxygen from the air pockets in the soil.
This causes the roots to suffocate due to lack of oxygen (which they need to breathe in to stay healthy).
Then this happens, the roots don’t function at 100%.
And the transportation of water from the roots to the leaves get affected.
The problem here is that nutrients travel along with the water. So, you end up with nutrient deficiency leading to yellow leaves.
Wilting Plant with Soft, Mushy Leaves
One of the main differences between an overwatered philodendron and an underwatered one is that if you feel the leaves, they have different textures.
An underwatered plant will have dry, crispy even brittle leaves.
On the other hand, an overwatered philodendron will have soft, mushy leaves.
That’s because of the presence of excess moisture.
Later on, if the excess moisture condition persists, the plant will wilt as well, and the leaves will likely start turning brown in addition to the already yellow foliage.
If you see this, it is a bad sign.
And it means the plant needs immediate action.
That’s because browning of the leaves in an overwatered philodendron often means at least a good portion of the roots have been damage or started to rot.
With bad wilting, brown and mushy leaves, there’s a good chance that bulk or most of the roots have already rotted.
This reduces the likelihood of saving the plant.
Root rot is one of the sure signs of overwatering.
That’s because excess moisture that suffocates the roots or allows fungal disease to grow in soil is only caused by this damp environment.
As such, any time I suspect overwatering, I almost always check the roots.
I know that this is a bit much sometimes. However, I’d rather have peace of mind. Better safe than sorry, right?
The reason I do this is that once root rot begins, it is a race against time.
The sooner you diagnose it, the higher the chance of saving the plant. Past a certain point, there is no saving the plant once root many roots have rotten.
Once you take the plant out of the container, you’ll see the roots.
Rotten roots have a foul odor.
And this will likely be the first thing you’ll notice even before you lay your eyes on the roots.
Once you see the roots, it is easy to tell root rot.
Rotten roots are brown or black in color. They are mushy and soft as well.
On the other hand, healthy roots are white, firm to the touch and very flexible.
Another symptom of philodendron overwatering is stem rot at the base of the plant.
This is the section that’s near the roots but above the soil line.
In most cases, the stem will feel slimy, soft and limp. It will also be weak and somewhat feel unstable.
Normally, the stem should be strong as this supports the plant above it.
And in many cases, some growers will just pull the plant via its stem when repotting (which I don’t recommend).
If you try to do that when there’s stem rot, it is likely the stem will break easily and split away from there roots. That’s how weak and soft it has gotten due to the rot.
Stem rot can happen as root rot spreads upward. Or is can also be caused by fungal infections which can develop due to the damp, wet environment.
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Underwatered vs. Overwatered Philodendron Difference
While it is easy to remember all the signs and symptoms of an overwatered philodendron, I’ve found that one of the most important things (especially for beginners starting out) is the differentiate overwatering and underwatering.
That’s because the signs are very similar which means you can easy diagnose one for the other.
This will lead to disaster.
Imagine having an overwatered philodendron and then misdiagnose that it is underwatered. What happens next is that you add more water.
This will worsen the situation and likely increase the risk of plant death if there is already root rot happening.
On the other hand, if you have an underwatered philodendron and thought it was overwatered.
Thus, you allow it to dry for a week or so.
This can end up damaging the plant’s roots if the plant was already in a dehydrated state initially.
As such, it is important to make a few checks to confirm overwatering from underwatering.
I like to use 3 things. And they need to coincide.
Of course, if there are other differentiating symptom, I’ll take those into consideration as well. But often, these 3 will work well.
Feel the Soil
Soil is an important sign. Wet, mucky, soggy soil means there’s a good chance of philodendron overwatering.
On the other hand, very dry soil likely means the plant is underwatered.
Of course, this is just the surface of the potting mix.
The deeper you go, the more verification you’ll get.
That’s because an underwatered plant will be dry all the day down or very close to it at the very least.
In contrast, an overwatered one will stay wet even as you go deeper down the soil.
Check the Leaf Texture
Another good sign to look out for which will help you identify an underwatered from an overwatered philodendron is the leaf texture.
Leaf discoloration is much harder.
That’s because they somewhat overlap.
Both overwatering and underwatering will present brown or yellow leaves.
But they will do so at different stages.
For example, with an overwatered philodendron, the leaves will first turn yellow. This is because they lack nutrients.
This happens because excess water will push out oxygen from the air pockets in the soil.
And the more you water the less oxygen there will be left.
Unfortunately, all plants including philodendrons need oxygen because it helps convert sugars to energy during photosynthesis.
When this happens, the overall function of the plant will decline.
This prevents nutrients from getting to all the parts they need to reach. And the leaves turn yellow.
But in the latter part of an overwatered plant when there’s root rot, things change.
Here, the more damaged or rotten roots there means less water and nutrient absorption from the soil.
Thus, the plant will eventually become underwatered and malnourished even if you give the soil enough watering and fertilizer.
As a result, you start seeing brown leaves along with the already yellow foliage.
So, I prefer to feel the texture of the leaves.
An overwatered philodendron will have soft, limp and even mushy leaves.
But an underwatered plant will have dry, crispy leaves.
Inspect for Root Rot
Finally, there is root rot.
You’ll nee to take the plant out of the pot to verify this.
And note that root rot may not always be present in an overwatered philodendron. Sometimes, it just hasn’t happened yet.
So, the absence of root rot does not eliminate the possibility of overwatering.
But the presence of root rot confirms it.
Thus, with the former, you need to use that information along with the first two criteria, soggy, wet soil and mushy soft leaves to confirm.
As for the latter, on its own it ensures that overwatering and not underwatering is the problem.
How to Fix Overwatered Philodendron
Now we get to the most important part of the article, how to save an overwatered philodendron plant.
Treating an overwatered plant is very important and time is of the essence.
The longer you let it stay in this condition, the higher the risk of root rot.
And if there is already root rot, you need to get to the problem in time otherwise there’s no saving the plant no matter what you do.
Check the Soil
Check the soil. This will let you ensure that you’re dealing with overwatering and not underwatering.
Use the steps above to verify.
If the soil is dry, don’t treat it as an overwatered philodendron. Instead, reassess the situation.
Overwatering will always present you with wet soil even on the surface.
Stop Watering the Plant and Let the Soil Dry
The next step once you confirm that you have an overwatered philodendron plant is to stop adding water.
Adding more water to an already overwatered plant makes things worse.
So, let the soil start draining first.
Additionally, try to keep the plant in a warm, well-lit location but with no direct sunlight. Make sure there’s good ventilation or air circulation as well.
Both of these will help the soil dry faster.
If you can feel there’s excess liquid in the pot or on the soil surface, tip the pot to let any excess water pour out. This will help speed up the drying process.
Finally, you can aerate the soil.
You can use a fork or anything can will let you turn the soil. This is like mixing pasta or a salad just came to the table.
By turning the bottom soil to the top and letting the top soil go down you allow air to get into the soil to help with the drying process.
Check the Roots for Rotting
Unpot the plant and check the root system.
The goal here is to verify if there is in fact root rot or not. That’s because how you treat an overwatered philodendron will depend on whether there are rotten roots or not.
Black, brown, soft and mushy roots that have a foul odor mean there’s rotting.
On the other hand, if all the roots are white and firm to the touch then there’s no root rot.
If There is No Root Rot, Drain the Soil or Let it Dry
If all the roots are healthy and there is no sign of root rot, then you can breathe a sigh or relief.
While the plant is not out of the woods yet, it dodges a huge bullet.
That’s because root rot, if not caught in time can kill the plant.
That said, your goal now is to let the plant dry and any excess moisture drain.
Here, you have a couple of options.
Option 1: Repot the Plant in Dry Soil
If you want immediate peace of mind and no risk of other side effects developing in the next days or weeks, then repot the plant.
In doing this, you move the plant and its overwatered roots from a damp, soggy environment into a pot with fresh, dry soil.
So, it gets immediate relief and can start recovering.
But this also means a bit more work on your part since you need to fill a new pot with soil and transfer the overwatered philodendron.
Option 2: Let the Plant Dry
Here, you take a few extra measures to help the plant dry faster.
But you’ll leave the plant in its container.
This means less effort on your part since you don’t need to move the plant to a new pot. But it also means it will take at least a few more days to a week or so before the soil will dry.
Thus, anything can still happen in between that time.
To speed up the drying process, make sure there are holes at the bottom of the pot. If not, you can drill holes.
You can also turn the soil to aerate it.
If there is extra liquid, tip the pot on its side and let all the excess water pour out.
Also, leave the plant in a warm location with bright, indirect light. Make sure that there is good air flow which will help the drying process.
In the meantime, stop watering. Then wait for the soil to dry.
If There is Root Rot, Repot the Plant
In case there is root rot, the goal is to save the plant and hope is recovers.
Here, it is important to assess how bad the root rot is.
If only a small portion of the root system has rotted, then the odds of recovery is still good.
But if all the roots or almost all the roots are rotten, the plant will likely end up in the trash can.
That said, the first step is to remove all the soil so you can clearly see the root system.
If your philodendron is small, you can do this in the sink.
For a larger plant, I suggest doing this in the driveway with a garden hose.
Watering the soil makes it easier to remove them especially those sticking onto the roots.
Be careful where you remove the soil. You don’t want the soil to come into contact with other plants as it may have fungal infection.
Next, prune the rotten roots.
Remove every single piece of root that has rotted. But avoid any healthy ones.
Use a sterile pair of scissors or pruning shears.
After you prune the rotten roots, treat the roots with fungicide to disinfect them from any potential fungal disease.
You also want to dispose of all the soil in the pot carefully as those may have the pathogen as well.
Then disinfect the pot itself with hydrogen peroxide solution.
Finally, repot the plant in fresh, dry well-draining soil.
Don’t water the plant for a while as you want to give it time in a dry environment to recover.
Prune Damaged Leaves
Prune any damaged, yellow, brown and affected leaves.
This is important both aesthetically and for the plant’s health and recovery.
For one, nobody wants a plant with ugly, damaged, discolor leaves, right?
But also, pruning foliage will allow the plant to start growing again. Trimming helps encourage new growth so young leaves will starting emerging.
Also, the plant will now be able to focus its energy and resources in recovery and growing instead of wasting it on damaged leaves that will never turn a healthy green again.
Adjust Your Watering Schedule
Last but not least, make sure to adjust your watering schedule.
This way, you can avoid an overwatered philodendron plant in the future. Doing so is much better than going through all the trouble of trying save it.