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Understanding Waterlogged Plants

In this guide, we’ll delve into the most common questions surrounding waterlogged plants.

Hi there, today, I’m excited to dive into a fascinating topic that often puzzles many plant enthusiasts: why can some plants thrive with their roots in nothing but water, while others, that grow in soil, can die if we overwater them just a little bit?

Understanding this fundamental difference is crucial for anyone looking to maintain healthy plants, whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a curious beginner. 

In this blog post, we will explore the reasons behind this phenomenon and provide practical tips to ensure your plants flourish, regardless of their growing medium. 

Let’s get started!

Table of Contents

Exploring the Contrasts Between Soil and Water Adaptations

Imagine having two plants side by side, each in a completely different environment. 

One plant is comfortably rooted in soil, while the other is thriving in nothing but water. 

This stark contrast brings us to an intriguing question:
why does the plant in water thrive, whereas the one in soil risks dying from just a little extra water?

To unravel this mystery, we need to delve into the distinct root environments these plants are exposed to. 

The plant in soil relies on the balance between water and oxygen within the soil.

Overwatering can disrupt this balance, depriving the roots of the oxygen they need, leading to root rot and ultimately, the plant’s demise.

On the other hand, the plant in water has adapted to its environment by developing specialized roots that can extract oxygen directly from the water. These adventitious roots allow the plant to perform root respiration efficiently, preventing the issues associated with overwatering in soil.

Understanding these differences is key to mastering plant care. Whether your plants are in soil or water, knowing how their root systems function will help you keep them healthy and flourishing. Let’s explore these setups and uncover the secrets behind their survival.

Did you know?

Overwatering is the most common cause of houseplant death. It's better to underwater than overwater.

Role of Fungi and Bacteria in Soil

Soil is not just a medium for holding plants; it is a bustling ecosystem teeming with life. 

Among the most important inhabitants of this ecosystem are fungi and bacteria. These microorganisms play a crucial role in plant health and growth.

Almost all types of soil contain fungi and bacteria that interact symbiotically with plant roots. This symbiotic relationship, often referred to as mycorrhiza, benefits both the plants and the microorganisms. The fungi and bacteria help the plant roots absorb nutrients more efficiently, while the plants provide carbohydrates to these microorganisms.

However, this delicate balance can be disrupted when the soil becomes waterlogged

Overwatering the soil pushes out the oxygen from the air pockets, creating an anaerobic environment. In such conditions, the beneficial fungi and bacteria cannot survive, and harmful anaerobic bacteria take over. 

These harmful bacteria produce toxic byproducts that can damage the plant roots, leading to root rot.

Root rot is a serious issue because it affects the plant’s ability to absorb water and nutrients, even if water is abundant. This leads to symptoms such as wilting, yellowing leaves, and a foul odor emanating from the soil. Recognizing and addressing root rot early is essential to saving the affected plant.

Understanding the role of fungi and bacteria in soil can help you create a healthier environment for your plants. By maintaining proper watering practices and ensuring good soil aeration, you can support the beneficial microorganisms that keep your plants thriving.

Fun fact:

Healthy roots are typically white or light brown. Dark, mushy roots are a sign of root rot.

What Happens When Plants are Overwatered?

is a common issue that many plant enthusiasts face, often leading to detrimental effects on plant health. Understanding what happens to plants when they are overwatered is crucial to preventing and addressing these problems.

When soil becomes saturated with water, it forces out the oxygen from the tiny air pockets within the soil. This results in an anaerobic environment, which means there is a lack of oxygen. 

Plant roots need oxygen to carry out root respiration, a vital process that converts sugars into energy. Without sufficient oxygen, the roots cannot perform this function, leading to stress and potential plant death.

Additionally, overwatering disrupts the balance of microorganisms in the soil. The beneficial fungi and bacteria that help roots absorb nutrients struggle to survive without oxygen. In their place, harmful anaerobic bacteria and fungi thrive, producing toxic byproducts that damage the roots. This can lead to root rot, a condition where the roots become dark, mushy, and unable to absorb water and nutrients effectively.

  • Root rot is often accompanied by a foul odor and can be identified by examining the roots.
  • Healthy roots are typically white or light brown, while rotting roots are dark brown or black and emit a bad smell. 

Early detection and treatment of root rot are essential to save the plant.

To prevent overwatering, it’s important to allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Ensure that your pots have proper drainage holes to allow excess water to escape. Using well-draining soil mixes and avoiding the temptation to water too frequently can help maintain a healthy balance of water and oxygen in the soil.


Roots need oxygen for respiration, just like humans do!

Identifying and Dealing with Root Rot

Root rot
is a serious condition that can severely impact the health of your plants. Identifying the signs early and taking swift action is crucial to save affected plants and prevent the spread of this issue.

The first sign of root rot is often a bad smell emanating from the soil. This foul odor is caused by the harmful bacteria and fungi that thrive in waterlogged, anaerobic environments. If you detect a rotten smell, it’s essential to investigate further.

To confirm root rot, carefully remove the plant from its pot and inspect the roots.

Healthy roots should be firm and white or light brown. In contrast, rotting roots will appear dark brown or black and may feel mushy to the touch. These roots are unable to absorb water and nutrients effectively, leading to visible symptoms on the plant.

Symptoms of root rot include yellowing leaves, wilting, and a general decline in the plant’s health. Even if the soil appears moist, the plant may look dehydrated because the damaged roots cannot take up water.

If you suspect root rot, take immediate action by pruning away the affected roots. Use clean, sharp scissors or pruning shears to cut back the damaged roots, leaving only the healthy ones. After pruning, repot the plant in fresh, well-draining soil to reduce the risk of recurrence.

To prevent root rot from developing in the first place, ensure that your plants are potted in containers with adequate drainage. Avoid overwatering and allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Using a soil mix that promotes good aeration, such as one containing perlite or pumice, can also help maintain a healthy root environment.

By staying vigilant and taking proactive steps, you can protect your plants from the harmful effects of root rot and ensure they remain healthy and vibrant.

Gardening tip:

Adding perlite or pumice to your soil mix can improve aeration and prevent waterlogging.

Why Some Plants Can Live in Pure Water

It might seem surprising, but some plants can thrive with their roots submerged entirely in water. Understanding why this is possible can help us appreciate the adaptability of different plant species and how to care for them properly.

Plants that thrive in water develop specialized roots known as adventitious roots. These roots have the unique ability to extract oxygen directly from the water, enabling the plant to perform root respiration effectively. Unlike soil-based plants, which rely on air pockets in the soil for oxygen, these water plants adapt to their aquatic environment by utilizing dissolved oxygen in the water.

One reason these plants can survive in water is the absence of harmful fungi and bacteria. In many regions, tap water is treated to remove harmful microorganisms, making it a relatively safe medium for growing plants. Without the presence of detrimental bacteria and fungi, the roots are less likely to encounter the issues that lead to root rot in soil-based plants.

Another crucial factor is the regular exchange of water. By frequently changing the water around the roots, we ensure a continuous supply of oxygen. It’s recommended to change the water at least once a week, but for optimal results, doing so daily can significantly enhance root health and prevent stagnation.

Maintaining plants in water also involves monitoring the water quality. Clean, fresh water without high levels of salts or contaminants is ideal. 

If using tap water, letting it sit for 24 hours before using it can help dissipate chlorine, which can be harmful to some plants. Read more on our watering section.

Understanding these key points helps us provide the best care for our water-grown plants. Their ability to adapt and thrive in pure water opens up exciting possibilities for indoor gardening and hydroponic systems.


Plants in water should have their water changed at least once a week to ensure oxygen levels remain adequate.

Tips to Avoid Water Logging in Plants

Preventing water logging is essential for maintaining healthy soil-based plants. By following a few practical tips, you can ensure your plants receive the right balance of water and oxygen.

1. Use Pots with Drainage Holes: Always choose pots with drainage holes at the bottom. These holes allow excess water to escape, preventing water from accumulating at the base of the pot and ensuring roots have access to oxygen.

2. Select Well-Draining Soil: When repotting your plants, use a soil mix that promotes good drainage. Mixing in materials like perlite, pumice, or pebbles can improve soil aeration and prevent water from stagnating. These additives help create air pockets in the soil, ensuring roots receive the oxygen they need.

3. Water Judiciously: Instead of following a fixed watering schedule, check the soil moisture before watering. Insert your finger about 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) into the soil. If it feels dry, it’s time to water. This method helps prevent overwatering and ensures the soil dries out sufficiently between waterings.

4. Monitor for Signs of Root Rot: Keep an eye out for early signs of root rot, such as yellowing leaves, black spots, wilting, and a bad smell from the soil. Early detection allows you to take corrective action before the problem worsens. Regularly inspecting your plants and their roots can help you stay ahead of potential issues.

By implementing these tips, you can create an optimal growing environment for your plants, reducing the risk of water logging and promoting healthy root development. Proper drainage, soil selection, and mindful watering are key practices for maintaining vibrant and thriving plant


Tap water in many regions is treated to remove harmful microorganisms, making it safer for plants.


In conclusion, understanding the importance of oxygen for plant roots and the differences between soil and water environments is crucial for successful plant care.

Plants in soil rely on a delicate balance of water and air, while those in water have adapted to extract oxygen directly from the water.

Overwatering soil-based plants can lead to root rot due to a lack of oxygen and the proliferation of harmful bacteria and fungi.

By following simple tips like using pots with drainage holes, selecting well-draining soil, watering judiciously, and monitoring for signs of root rot, you can prevent water logging and ensure your plants thrive. Whether you are growing plants in soil or water, providing the right conditions for their root systems will promote healthy growth and vibrant foliage.

A little knowledge goes a long way in plant care. By understanding and addressing the needs of your plants, you can enjoy a lush, thriving indoor garden.

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