Ah, the aloe plant. A trusty, hardy, drought-tolerant plant that is near impossible to kill if you forget to water it. But, what if you become an overbearing plant parent and overwater your aloe plant?
If you tend to drench your houseplants way too often, you may be left with a mushy, droopy, overwatered aloe plant. But, all hope is not lost!
Put down the watering can and learn how to spot an overwatered aloe vera plant, as well as how you can save your aloe plant babies from drowning.
Can You Save an Overwatered Aloe Plant?
Let's first talk about how you know when you are dealing with an overwatered aloe plant.
Firstly, the aloe plant's leaves will begin to wilt and lose their coloring, and the stem will turn mushy and start to rot. If this is the case, don't worry - you can save an overwatered aloe plant!
But, only if you act very quickly. If your aloe vera plants have been rotting away in a soaked soil mix for a while, saving them might be out of the question.
If you've spotted the problem in time, you can still turn things around and help your aloe plant recover. We will tell you how to save an overwatered aloe a bit further down in this article.
And don't feel too guilty if you happened to cause your aloe plant to suffer from overwatering - it's actually one of the most common problems aloe vera plant parents face.
Differences Between Under and Overwatering
Having a sick aloe plant can be rather upsetting, especially if you don't know what caused your once-happy succulent to turn yellow and droopy.
An overwatered aloe plant can look surprisingly similar to an underwatered aloe plant with drooped leaves, but a keen eye will quickly be able to distinguish what caused your aloe to look a bit drab.
Here are the signs to look out for both over- and underwatered aloe plants:
Overwatered aloe plants
The first sign is drooped leaves, but these leaves will be mushy - a key sign of an overwatered aloe plant.
The leaves are faded and no longer bright green.
The potting soil is wet.
Once you tip the plant from the pot, you will notice a damp, swampy smell.
There will be signs of root rot. This is when the root ball is soaked with excess water, and the roots are brown and soggy, not white and firm.
Underwatered aloe plants
The leaves begin to droop, but remain firm (not mushy).
The leaves begin to turn yellow and lose their plumpness.
Leaves develop brown tips and dry edges.
If you tip the aloe vera plant out of its pot, the roots will be brittle and the soil a fine powder.
What Causes Overwatering of Aloe Plants?
The obvious cause of an overwatered aloe plant is - well, the amount of water you give it.
However, if the aloe vera is not kept in optimal conditions, even a little bit of occasional watering can have devastating effects on the plant.
Since aloes are desert succulents, they prefer drought over floods. If you struggle to mimic their natural environment at home, it can contribute to overwatering, root rot, and a very unhappy aloe plant.
Let's look at the causes of overwatering in greater detail.
Too Much Watering
As mentioned, an aloe vera plant is a succulent found in arid environments. This means it has evolved to survive in areas of drought with very little water. The plant stores water in those plump leaves that we all love. They do need moisture to thrive, but not too much.
What this means to you is that it is incredibly sensitive to overwatering.
Too frequent watering, or pouring too much water over the plant at once, can result in saturated soil, which will lead to root rot and damaged roots (those little microorganisms that cause root rot absolutely love damp conditions).
Only water aloe vera plants once every two to three weeks so that the leaves can store the water for periods of drought.
Changes in Season or Atmosphere
Whether it is summer or winter will have an impact on your watering frequency.
Potting soil takes about three weeks in summer to dry out to the point where you need to water it again. Your aloe vera plant will thrive in summer conditions - plenty of sunlight and warm temperatures.
During winter, moisture loss in the soil occurs at a slower rate as hours of sunlight shorten and temperatures drop, resulting in excess water trapped in the potting mix.
This means in winter you should delay watering even more so that the soil has plenty of time to dry out. If you stick to the same watering schedule in winter that you had in summer, you will be left with an overwatered aloe plant.
Humidity is another factor you need to consider. When the air is very humid, the soil and plant will lose water very slowly as there is no dry air to help your plant transpire. If you do not reduce how often you water your plant when it is humid, your aloe will start to turn yellow.
If you keep your plant indoors (especially in bathrooms where temperatures and humidity are high), then you need to water it much less often than if it was an outdoor aloe in full sun.
Slow or Poor Draining Soil
To prevent the dreaded root rot, you need to plant your aloe vera in well-draining soil. In its natural home in Africa, these plants are found in dry, sandy soil that rarely holds onto any water.
Plant your aloe in clay soil that retains excess moisture and you will have a struggling aloe on your hands.
Even if you have a well-draining pot, the soil mix can still become waterlogged, causing root rot. Once the roots begin to rot, the plant can no longer absorb nutrients or oxygen from the soil.
Trust us, you would rather want soil that drains too easily than soil that holds on to excess water - an underwatered aloe can quickly be revived with just a sprinkling of water!
How to Fix an Overwatered Aloe Vera Plant
Now that you know what some possible causes of overwatering are, we can get our hands dirty and start working towards reviving your poor aloe vera plant.
Figure out the Cause of Overwatering
First things first: what is the cause of overwatering for your aloe vera?
As is clear from the section above, there can be multiple reasons why your aloe has become overwatered.
Consider whether you are watering your aloe plants too often, whether the soil (or pot) doesn't have sufficient drainage, or whether atmospheric conditions like temperature, rain, and humidity can be the reason.
You should also closely inspect your plant for the symptoms of overwatering listed above to make sure you are dealing with an overwatered aloe plant, and not one suffering from some other ailment.
Once you have determined the cause, it is time to get to work.
First, stop giving your plant water. This is the very first step, before moving on to the other solutions below.
Prune off Dead Roots and Discolored Foliage
It is time to check your aloe plant roots and root ball for any damage.
Carefully turn the pot almost completely upside down (use gloves - the leaves can be spikey!) and tap the bottom of the pot to loosen the soil. Gently remove your aloe from the soil without damaging the leaves or roots.
If the roots have been damaged, they will be soft, squishy, and either brown or completely black.
Sterilize some scissors and begin to cut away all of the dead roots - leaving the healthy (white and firm) ones in place. Continue to sterilize the scissors after each root (diluted hydrogen will do the trick) so that damaging microorganisms don't spread. Toss the damaged roots in the bin.
If there is very little of the root system remaining, you may have to cut back some of the foliage so that the remaining roots can support the plant. Use sterilized scissors or pruners to cut off any dying or wilted leaves. You can also remove some healthy leaves if there are very few roots left, but only in extreme cases.
Clean and Treat the Healthy Roots
Use the same diluted hydrogen solution to rinse the healthy aloe vera roots and flush away any microorganisms that can cause infections.
Make sure you also clean the new pot you will be using.
Thoroughly rinse the plant so that no soil from the previous pot remains - you want completely clean soil to give your aloe vera plants the best chance of survival. Don't reuse any of the old potting soil!
Make a New Potting Mix
It is best to use a potting soil mix designed especially for succulents. These soil mixes have excellent drainage which will prevent you from overwatering your aloes.
You can mix your own soil by combining one part coarse sand with one part gravel. This mixture allows plenty of air pockets within the pot, promoting oxygen circulation and water drainage. A small amount of organic matter is also a welcome addition as it will provide nutrients to your struggling plant.
Don't stress too much about the pH levels of your new potting mix - aloes are hardy and can do well in acidic or alkaline soils.
Repot Your Aloe Plant (and Choose the Right Size Pot)
Choose the right pot
First, you need to get the perfect-sized pot that comfortably fits the remaining healthy roots and gives the aloe enough space to grow.
A wide, shallow bowl is a much better option than a deep, narrow vase, as the roots will grow in all directions as the plant recovers.
Your pot should also have enough drainage holes to ensure that the little water you give it drains freely from the soil. There is no point in repotting your overwatered aloe plant just to plant it back in soggy soil conditions again!
You probably also didn't know that where you live has an influence on the type of pot you choose!
In warmer climates like in the South, you could use a plastic pot. In colder climates, we would recommend a clay or terracotta pot. This is because these materials are porous, allowing water to drain away from your aloe plants, even when the air is damp and transpiration is slow.
Repot the aloe
You found your pot, great! Time to start the repotting process.
Begin by adding your well-draining soil to the pot, about halfway to the top. Then, create a hole the size of your plant's roots in the middle of the soil. Place your plant's remaining healthy roots in the hole, and cover the entire root system with the soil mix.
Once replanted, leave it alone! Don't water it for a few days, so that it can get used to its new pot home and start to recover from its overwatering adventure.
Only begin watering the aloe vera plant once the top two inches of the soil are bone dry.
Within a few days, your plant will begin to perk up, and you might even start noticing new leaves forming - success!
Put the Plant in its Optimal Conditions
Technically, you will only achieve the aforementioned success if your plant is happy. And to make your aloe vera happy, you need to house it in optimal conditions.
A healthy aloe should get about six hours of direct sunlight every day at a minimum (it is a desert dweller after all!).
But, before dumping your plant in the first sunny spot you see, pause for a second and consider your plant is still in recovery. To avoid shocking it, limit its sun exposure and slowly transition into full sun over the course of a few days.
Temperatures should not drop lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit while your plant is re-establishing itself. Also, please don't place your aloe plants in humid environments after repotting! They need dry, warm conditions with plenty of bright light.
You might be tempted to immediately fertilize your aloe vera, but give it some time. The roots are still fragile. Only apply diluted organic fertilizer once your aloe has started growing new leaves - a true sign that it has recovered from the overwatering ordeal.
Frequently Asked Questions
How often does an aloe plant need to be repotted?
Aloe vera plants don't need frequent repotting. You only have to repot them once every two years or so. This is purely to give your aloe plants more room to grow. Despite becoming huge when left to grow outside, aloe plants are quite happy to grow in smaller containers.
What does it mean if my aloe plant is turning yellow?
An aloe vera plant (or any other variety) that is turning yellow could be a sign of a lack of nutrients. When the older leaves turn yellow, it means the plant lacks nitrogen. If new leaves grow out yellow, a lack of iron can be the culprit.
An overwatered aloe plant will also have yellowish leaves, although these leaves will be mushy and drooping.
What's the best way to propagate an aloe plant?
You can propagate an aloe vera through either division or cutting.
Baby aloe plants that grow around the base of the mother plant are called pups. You can simply propagate your aloe vera by dividing the pups from the mother (with the roots) and planting them in well-drained soil.
You can also take the leaf cuttings of aloe vera plants by cutting a healthy leaf off at the base of the plant. Cut straight and clean, using sharp scissors. These leaves can then be stuck into a new pot and a new aloe will grow.
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