Aloe vera plants are succulents, but that doesn’t mean they like to grow in excess water. Leaves store water that gives them that appealing buffy appearance. When aloe leaves shrivel and turn yellow, it’s a sign that something is wrong – usually overwatering. So, how can you save an overwatered aloe vera plant?
You can tell an overwatered aloe vera plant by its yellowing leaves, mushy stems, and rotting roots. Remove the plant from its pot, cut off any decaying roots and treat healthy ones with a fungicide. Finally, repot the aloe plant with a new potting mix to save it from overwatering.
Avoid watering for a few days to allow the plant to revive itself before keeping the soil moist by allowing the soil to dry between waterings.
What does an overwatered aloe plant look like?
An aloe vera plant is an evergreen perennial that grows upright with fairly stiff succulent leaves when healthy. When something is wrong, you’ll soon start to notice signs such as fading leaves, rotting spots, and mushy stems.
Here are signs of an overwatered aloe plant:
Leaves turning yellow and brown
Overwatering is one of the major causes of wilting and discoloration in aloe vera plants. Since they’re native to arid desert regions of the world, aloe plants require little water to thrive and survive. When growing in pots with saturated water, aloe vera leaves start turning yellow due to reduced uptake of nutrients from the soil.
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If left without a fix for a long time, the leaves will appear wrinkled and start to wilt – almost as though the plant is underwatered.
These signs are contrary to healthy aloe leaves, which are usually green in color and have a plump, glossy texture.
The stem of an overwatered aloe vera may also appear soft or mushy. The soggy feel is because the stem tissues are holding excess moisture. Leaves also develop water-soaked spots that make the succulent look soft, weak, and mushy.
Mushiness is an advanced sign your aloe vera plant is suffering from serious overwatering and can easily die if not treated on time.
Root rot disease
Prolonged sogginess will lead to aloe vera root rot. As the excess water stays in the soil longer, the environment becomes conducive to soil fungi and other pathogens. These fungi then cause root rot.
You can identify rotten aloe roots by their brown-black discoloration and soggy texture. What’s more, rotten aloe roots produce a characteristic bad smell.
Can you save an overwatered aloe vera?
It is possible to revive an aloe plant that’s been overwatered if you identify the symptoms and apply a fix soon enough. Even with root rot, you can still save the plant by pruning off the affected roots and replanting them with the remaining healthy roots. However, if the aloe plant has suffered severe root damage, it may be impossible to revive it.
A possible alternative in such instances would be to grow new aloe vera plants by propagating a few healthy offshoots. However, an aloe plant with severe root rot damage is unlikely to have any healthy offshoots. What’s more, aloe offshoots usually grow their own root systems- and these too- could have already been damaged by overwatering.
How to save an overwatered aloe plant
Reviving an overwatered aloe vera plant depends on whether it’s showing signs of root rot or not. When your aloe is in the advanced stages of water damage, its roots will appear brown or black. This is a sign of root decay.
Here’s how to save and revive an overwatered aloe plant:
1. Remove the aloe plant from its pot
Tilt the pot upside-down while lightly tapping the bottom side to dislodge the plant from the substrate without causing it any physical harm. Examine the roots for any signs of root rot. If there aren’t any decaying roots, skip to step 4 below.
If you’re having trouble uprooting the aloe, insert a trowel around the edges of the pot and try to dislodge the plant from the soil. As a last resort if everything else fails, break the container to remove the sick aloe vera plant.
2. Cut off the dead roots
Prune away the dead, rotten parts of the aloe vera root system to remain with a healthy root system. To do this, use a disinfected pair of scissors and make sure you dip them in dilute hydrogen solution after every single root your cut off. Decaying roots usually appear black and mushy.
If the root rot damage is severe, you may have to cut back some of the aloe’s foliage as well. This allows for the few remaining healthy roots to be able to effectively support the whole plant.
Caution: Wear protective hand gloves when handling aloe foliage, as the sap produced by its leaves is a skin irritant.
3. Treat the remaining roots with a fungicide
Rinse the remaining roots with a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution to get rid of the fungal infection. Use the same solution to clean the container in which you’ll repot the aloe plant.
This is a precaution to prevent the fungal disease from spreading and killing the plant when you put it in a new potting mix.
4. Select the right pot
Choose a sizeable pot that can adequately accommodate the aloe’s root system. I recommend a wide, bowl-like container, instead of a deep and narrow vase-like pot. Aloe roots grow laterally and as the plant grows, it becomes heavier. This may cause narrower containers to tip over.
In addition, ensure that there are enough drainage holes on the lower side of the pot to allow for optimal drainage. Remember, poor drainage is a major contributor to aloe overwatering.
Finally, the best construction material for the container depends on your region’s climate. If you live in the warm South, a plastic pot makes more sense. Meanwhile, clay pots are recommended for aloe growers in cold regions.
5. Prepare a fresh potting mix
Choose a potting soil mix that’s good for succulents. These mixes are infused with sand for better drainage, thus lowering the chances of overwatering your aloe plants. You can make your succulent-ready soil mix by mixing an equal amount of soil with coarse sand and gravel. Avoid using fine sand, as it tends to hold moisture longer, causing drainage and waterlogging issues.
6. Repot the aloe vera
Fill up the pot halfway with a succulent-ready soil mix and replant the aloe to save it from overwatering and root rot. Cover up the entire root system with the soil mix. Allow the plant a few days to adjust and revive by self-repairing before you water it.
Note: Before replanting, remove most of the old soil clumped up within the aloe’s root ball. You can do this using a stick or by simply shaking the root ball.
What if the plant is too damaged from overwatering?
Your best option to save a water-damaged aloe vera plant may be to propagate new plants from healthy leaf cuttings. Note- however- that propagating from leaf cuttings is less likely to be successful compared to propagating from aloe offshoots.
To propagate aloe leaf cuttings, plant the cuttings upright in a potting soil mix and ensure regular misting until the cutting develops a root system and new growth develops.
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Ways to maintain the right moisture level
Say you’ve noticed your aloe leaves are wilting or yellowing and parts of the stem feel mushy; but when you uproot the plant, all the roots seem to be healthy. In such instances, what you need to do is to let the pot dry out for a couple of days before repotting; and then adopt a couple of effective watering strategies, as detailed below:
Here’s how to test the moisture level of your aloe vera plant and prevent overwatering:
Finger-testing for soil wetness
More often than not, aloe overwatering issues are caused by the use of improper soil mix. Therefore, you can avoid overwatering by testing the drainage quality of your substrate. To do this, first water the aloe. Then, two days later, insert your finger about two inches deep into the soil to feel for wetness/ dryness.
If the soil still feels significantly moist, it’s time to change your soil mix with a better-draining alternative. A soil mix that contains sad and pumice can help solve this problem. You can also add perlite to your new soil mix to facilitate improved soil aeration.
Use a soil moisture meter
If you don’t fancy the above method that requires you to insert a finger into the soil, why not invest in a moisture gauge? With this tool, it’s easy to know when your aloe vera is receiving too much water, as you simply have to read the scale.
A high reading denotes wetness and is usually a pointer towards over-irrigation. You should- therefore- hold back on watering your aloe if you get a high moisture meter reading.
What is too much water for aloe plants?
Typically, potted aloe vera plants should be watered at least once per week. This watering frequency provides enough moisture to keep the plant thriving during the warm growing seasons of spring and summer. Too much water can cause a top-heavy aloe plant with bending and drooping leaves.
However, during the colder months, maintaining this watering frequency could prove detrimental to your aloe plant’s health. In winter, aloes require about half as much water as they need during the growing seasons. Therefore, it’s advisable to downscale your irrigation schedule to once every two weeks.
Also note that even though aloe plants are adapted to thriving in dry conditions, they’re still vulnerable to prolonged periods of drought under high temperature and sunlight conditions. Too much sunlight exposure will lead to sunburnt aloe vera leaves.
Young aloe vera plants- specifically- require a higher amount of water than adult plants. This is because they’re more vulnerable to drought owing to their shallow root systems. More moisture can therefore facilitate rapid root growth for deeper root establishment. I recommend watering your young aloe plants at least twice per week.
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The type of soil on which your aloe vera grows also determines how much water it needs. Quick-draining, sand-infused soil is the best for this plant, while slow-draining clay soil will drown your aloe’s roots and trigger root rot.
Finally, for aloe vera plants growing in outdoor gardens, the water requirements may be a bit different from the potted ones. Due to rainfall, these aloes require less frequent hydration.