Am I killing this plant?
June 15, 2004 12:57 PM   Subscribe

My container plant, a Bougainvillea, has been overwatered. Severely. And now almost all the leaves have fallen off and the soil isn't drying fast enough to save it. What can I do? I'm watching it die, which is heartbreaking, because it went from being 2 inches tall to 17 inches tall. The container has a tiny hole on the bottom, the size of a medium sized nail. The bottom of the pot is very heavy because it's full of water.
posted by BlueTrain to Home & Garden (5 answers total)
Can you transplant it, or is the soil like mud? If you are able to transplant it, line a terra cotta pot first with a few inches of pebbles, and then a thin layer of leaves, and then some good potting soil. Make sure your new pot has a large hole, or several small ones, for drainage. Glazed ceramic and tin containers can be really beautiful, but for the health of your plant you want terra cotta, or even some concretes - something that can breathe.

If you can't transplant it right now, make the hole on the bottom of your pot larger, and/or add a few more. Then place the pot, with the larger or extra holes, on some towels or even paper towels, which will wick away the water. Keep changing wet towels for dry ones. And, if your pot is terra cotta, or any other material which looks damp or feels damp when you touch it, feel free to blow it dry on a low setting - it'll help evaporate some moisture and won't harm your plant. And put it in the sun for a bit if you can. Poor baby!
posted by iconomy at 1:23 PM on June 15, 2004

I don't know anything about plants but if draining the water will help then I'd drill holes in or near the bottom of the pot. If worst came to worst I'd bust the pot and replant it later. To make the soil dry faster I'd probably try stuffing a towel or something absorbent down into it and let it wick out. Capillary action works suprisingly well (after a number of mishaps I use a capillary action watering system for my house plants)
posted by substrate at 1:24 PM on June 15, 2004

There's a few things you can do. Best would be to pop it out of the pot, and let the excess water drain from the soil, and let the soil dry out a bit. If you can't get it out of the pot, maybe tipping it on the side and letting it drain that way would help. The thing here is that you want to get the soil to a moist but not soggy state without letting the roots dry out. If the soil ball falls apart, you can repot it, using soil that's just moist--the new soil will absorb some of the excess water without letting the roots dry out.

Chances are, the plant won't die if you get moisture levels back in shape soon. Bougainvilleas are notorious for dropping all their leaves and going dormant if watering goes wonky, so don't give up on it if it looks dead. Just keep the soil a little bit drier than usual until you see new growth. If there's no new growth after a few months, it may be dead. But if the stems aren't brittle, or if the cambium layer (the green layer just below the bark) hasn't turned brown, it's still alive.

And try to make the drainage holes bigger, at least half an inch, or put in lots more tiny holes. A layer of pea gravel or bits of broken terra cotta pot at the bottom will help with the drainage.
posted by jaut at 1:33 PM on June 15, 2004

If all the leaves drop off, the plant won't be able to dry out on its own, so you'll have to repot it.
I just thought I should reiterate that point, as the rest of the advice is spot on with what I'd do.
posted by nprigoda at 2:07 PM on June 15, 2004

Response by poster: I'm going to give it one more day and I'll repot it tomorrow night. My g/f mentioned when we originally potted the plant that we should put stones on the bottom to help drain the water. I probably should have listened. Hopefully it'll make it. Thanks for all the advice.
posted by BlueTrain at 5:33 PM on June 15, 2004

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