What Happens to My Plant When it Stands in Water?

by | Oct 21, 2020 | 2 comments

Last week I wrote about bottom watering plants. That works well as long as you don’t allow your plants to stand in the water too long. Why? What happens to your plant if it stands in water too long? Suffocation and root rot.

fiddle leaf fig

Fiddle leaf fig in a cachepot

Drainage hole or cachepot

Let’s talk about watering your houseplants. First, make sure your container has a drainage hole. If it doesn’t, drill one. That is my opinion. You can use a masonry bit or my preference is a diamond-tipped drill bit. If you don’t want to drill a hole, use the container as a cachepot, not directly planting your plant into the pot, like the one on the fiddle leaf fig above. Remove it to water your plant and allow it to drain before returning it to the cachepot.

Watering your plant

Your pot has a drainage hole already. Great!  When you water your plant, make sure you pour water around the entire root ball, to ensure it is completely moistened. By allowing water to run through the potting medium and out the drainage hole, you are guaranteeing the plant roots receive oxygen, which they need to live. As the water runs through the medium, it draws oxygen down into the root ball and into the spaces between the potting medium particles. Roots need oxygen.  NOTE: This pot below has an obvious drainage hole, but I found out the hard way that the attached saucer had no holes to allow the water to escape. I’ve never had that happen before. My plant was standing in sopping wet potting medium.

Root rot

So what happens if your plant stands in water? The roots can get no oxygen because they are literally drowning in water. The pores between the soil particles are full of water instead of oxygen and so the roots are suffocating. The result is root rot and eventually, plant death. Though the plant appears dry because it has wilted, which is often the case, it doesn’t revive when you water it. When a plant wilts it must be dry, right? Yes, it is dry, but if the roots are compromised, watering won’t’ help because the roots cannot get the water to the parched plant. This is what is often referred to as “overwatering” in the plant world.

turkey baster

Use a turkey baster to remove excess water from the saucer of a large plant.

Water in the saucer

Is there water in the saucer of your plant after watering? That’s fine as then you know the water moved through the root ball, drawing oxygen into the roots, and the excess water escaped through the drainage hole. Let the plant soak up as much water as it needs. After 30 minutes to an hour, empty any excess water. What if you can’t move the plant because it is too big and heavy? The excess water must be removed somehow. I find a turkey baster works well to suck the water out of the saucer without breaking my back trying to move the plant.

turkey baster

Use a turkey baster to suck the water out of a saucer of a large plant


To review, make sure your pot has a hole in it or use the pot as a cachepot. Make sure the entire root ball gets moistened, allowing the water to run through the pot, drawing oxygen into the root area. If there is water in the saucer after a short amount of time, remove it. Use a turkey baster if you can’t move the plant. Your plant should be well watered, but not standing in water for any long period of time.

Hope you have a good week and make sure your plants are well watered, but not standing in water.


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  1. Nina

    I love your idea of using a turkey baster to remove excess water from larger plants.

    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Thanks, Nina!


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