How to Save a Waterlogged Houseplant and Other Tips

by | Jul 28, 2020 | 0 comments

The other day, I bought a small bird’s nest fern Asplenium nidus ‘Campio’. I could tell the potting medium was extremely waterlogged. Earlier in the year, I bought three African violets at my local grocery store that were sitting in water. The checkout attendant told me they had to throw a lot of them away because they had died. I knew they were too wet because they were in cachepots (pot covers) that didn’t allow the excess water to go anywhere, so the plant roots had rotted. There were a few left that still had firm leaves so I took a chance and bought them. (I hadn’t seen a plant to buy in a while and I snapped them up!) The same with the fern. The leaves were firm and it didn’t seem to be suffering any damage yet from being overly wet.

Drying out a plant

Set the plant on a paper towel or newspaper to dry it out

Drying out the plant

So as you can see above, I took the plant out of the pot and placed it on dry paper towels. I did the same thing for the African violets and it worked well for both types of plants. You may have to use multiple paper towels or newspapers to allow much of the water to be drawn out of the wet potting medium. Keep changing the towels until the root ball is just moist, not heavy and wet. It drew the excess water out of the root balls and then I was able to plant them into appropriate pots. The African violets stayed in their 4″ pots but the fern was planted into a decorative Campo de fiori container. (I love those pots!) This may not always work for every plant. I took a chance and it worked. Both the roots of the fern and African violets are brown, fibrous, and hard to see unlike most white rooted plants, so it may be hard to tell if they are okay. But I was pretty sure the plants weren’t damaged and they are all doing great.

Bird's nest fern in Campo de fiori

Bird’s nest fern in a Campo de fiori pot

Cleaning the leaves

Another problem I noticed with my fern is a common problem with many plants we buy from a garden center or other store. The leaves have water spots that come from either the minerals or fertilizer salt residue in the water. When it is watered in a greenhouse or growing facility, these spots remain on the leaves. They are unsightly and not always easy to remove. Elvin McDonald mentioned a quick fix for this problem to me when I was writing my first book.

When Life Gives You Lemons….

So what I used is a lemon slice. Or you can use the juice squeezed on a sponge. Test a leaf first. I used it on another fern not too long ago. Ferns are quite sensitive to chemicals and products sprayed on their leaves, so I was concerned about this bird’s nest, but it is doing just fine and I do rinse the leaves off after using the lemon juice. I do NOT and will NOT use any kind of leaf shine on my plants. The natural state of the leaves is best for the plant and don’t want to put anything on them that is going to clog the stomata or be a dust/pet hair magnet.

Lemon to clean leaves

I use lemon juice to clean the leaves

One last tip

Notice I only potted the fern up in a pot a bit bigger than it was already in. I can do that because of the time of year (still actively growing) and the container it was grown in was full of roots. If it wasn’t well-rooted or seemed over potted, I would either keep it in the same size pot or down-pot it into a smaller pot. Never assume you can up-pot a plant without a problem. Check the root system first and see if it needs a bigger pot. When you do up-pot a plant, make sure to only use the next size pot unless it is extremely root bound.

ascending sizes of pots

Only go up one pot size at a time, as a rule

I hope some of these tips are helpful to you today. Have a great week!


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