How to Save an Overwatered Begonia (Step by Step)


Indoor overwatered begonia showing symptoms.

The Begonia is an extremely popular and versatile houseplant, and with their huge range of foliage shapes, textures and colors, it is easy to understand why. 

There is one thing the wanna-be Begonia grower needs to know. However, these babies don’t like to be overwatered. 

I can speak with some degree of expertise in this regard. I killed my first two plants before finding out just how easy it is to care for them with a little bit of knowhow.

To save overwatered begonia you need to ensure the drainage system of the pot. Assess the extent of damage, if there are root rot signs, cut off the damaged parts. Then repot it into a new pot or disinfected pot using fresh potting mix.

 In this article, I will share with you how to avoid the pitfalls that I fell into. 

Underwatered vs Overwatered Begonia

Before even starting to save your overwatered Begonia, it is probably a good idea to make sure that overwatering really is the issue you are dealing with here. 

Many people confuse the symptoms of overwatering with those of underwatering, so let’s just clear that up, right from the start. 

In both the overwatering and underwatering scenarios, the Begonia’s’s foliage is going to wilt and the leaves are going to turn brown. 

A little confusing, isn’t it? Well, hang in there; it gets easier. If the plant has been underwatered, those brown leaves will be crisp and dry – kind of like a potato crisp but without the flavor. 

An overwatered Begonia will have soft, soggy leaves that instantly tell you that you might have gone a little wild with the water. 

Another factor to look out for is wet muddy soil. That is a sure-fire sign that overwatering, and not underwatering, is the cause of your plant looking so sad.

Signs of Overwatered Begonia

Once you know that you have shown your plant a little too much love, and that this love has been expressed with water, these are some other signs to look out for.

Mold on The Soil 

If you have been overwatering, the surface of the potting soil will often look like it is wearing a fluffy gray pullover. 

This mold will only thrive in conditions where there is excess moisture and it is a breeding ground for all sorts of fungal disease as well as fungus gnats which you definitely don’t want.

Brown Spots on The Leaves

These dark circular blotches are telling you that your plant is unhappy and that too much water is the cause of that unhappiness. 

Don’t get your hopes up that you may have discovered some exciting new cultivar and that these are beauty spots.

Read this article learn more about causes and solutions of brown spots on begonia.

Leaves Starting to Curl

Often plants will talk to us using their leaves. It is one of the first indicators that your plant is not doing well. 

The good news is that as you become more experienced as a plantsman, you will learn to read these first gentle whispers early on, and you can then take appropriate action.

When begonia leaves start to curl it may occur due to low humidity, overwatering, or underwatering. Read this article to learn more about the causes and ways to fix the problem.

Wilting

One step up from the leaves curling is wilting. The plant whispered to you when it started to curl its leaves. Now it has started to groan.

What is happening is that the stems are now becoming too soggy to hold themselves erect, as they would when in full health.   

Shriveled And Mushy Appearance

I mentioned this one earlier when distinguishing too much water from too little water. 

It is one of the most prominent signs, as you simply don’t get that mushy texture if underwatering is the issue here. 

Basically, what is happening is that the leaf material itself is starting to break down and rot. 

If you don’t take action quickly, your once gorgeous house plant is destined for the compost heap.

Leaves start to turn yellow

The word chlorosis  is a derivative of the Greek word khloros. (Like you needed to know that.

I just tossed it in to make myself look clever) It means pallid or insipid, and that really says it all. 

When you see this happening to your Begonia, it is usually down to the fact that the plant has some sort of nutrient deficiency, most commonly, iron.

This is often brought about by waterlogged soils preventing the plant’s root system from accessing the nutrients in the potting soil.

Root rot

If you are seeing some of the above symptoms,  one of the first things you need to do is to tip your plant out of its pot. 

Now, If it has been waterlogged for a long time, the soil will be soggy and will probably drop away from the roots very easily. 

And, if the roots are soft and mushy then what you are witnessing is an emergency. It is like being in a hospital and listening to the steady beep of a heart monitor. 

When the beeping stops, we say that the patient is flat lining. Well, rotten roots are the plant equivalent of flat lining, and it is time to act. 

Saving Overwatered Begonia: All is Not Lost

After reading some of the above symptoms, you might be forgiven for assuming that this whole house plant thing is beyond you. 

You may even be considering abandoning indoor plants altogether, and start to think about taking up Ukulele lessons instead. 

Don’t give up just yet. Things get much easier from here on and playing the Ukulele is far more difficult than you imagine. 

Before commencing any treatment, it is imperative that you know what the problem is, and diagnosing is often the hardest part. 

You have done that already, so now we simply need to look at how to rectify the problem.

Step 1

Firstly, don’t beat yourself up too much about overwatering your much-loved begonia. 

Overwatering is, without doubt, the most common cause of house plant demise. We humans place a great deal of store in the curative properties of water. 

If someone feels sick, we offer them a glass of water. If someone’s voice turns husky, water is our first port of call, and we are constantly being advised by the media that we don’t drink enough and that we need to increase our water intake. 

Is it any wonder, that we apply water to any plant that seems to be looking a little poorly?

There are many different approaches to healing your waterlogged Begonia, and the first thing you should do is stop watering. 

Just like you need to stop digging if you find yourself in a hole, don’t exacerbate the problem by adding any more water.

Step 2

Next, assess the extent of the problem. I am not one for taking drastic action unless it is absolutely necessary. 

If all that has happened is that the leaves have curled and there has been a bit of wilting, the plant may recover quickly if it is just allowed to dry out.

Step 3

Don’t place the plant in full sun in the hope that you will speed this process. It is more likely that you will just add to the stress. 

Leave it in a position with indirect sunlight and leave it alone. It should perk up within twenty-four hours.

Step 4

Another early intervention is to check that the water can get out of the pot that your begonia is in. 

It never fails to amaze me how often people plant things into pots that do not have drainage holes. That hole needs to be at least wide enough for you to stick your finger into.

Some plant sellers will actually sell plants in pots that don’t have drainage holes in them. 

Personally, I think this should be a criminal offence and, without wishing to sound overly melodramatic, that it should warrant a custodial sentence of some kind – with hard labor.

Step 5

If the problem is more serious, tap the plant out of its container and have a look at the roots. 

If the potting soil is soggy and looks like it came from a swamp, then there will no longer be any room for doubt as to the cause of the plant’s unhappy demeanor. 

The wet potting soil will come away from the roots very easily. Don’t get all fanatical and try to get rid of every crumb of soil. Just remove what comes away easily. 

Now, take a close look at the roots and, with some secateurs or a pair of sharp scissors, cut away any root material that is not firm. 

You can be quite ruthless about this, because those that have become mushy will no longer serve their purpose. You are better off removing them so that new ones can grow in their place. 

Step 6

Now you are ready to repot the plant. Don’t be tempted to reuse that soggy potting soil. It will probably be a reservoir of fungal pathogens. 

If you are planting into the same pot, clean it thoroughly first using a kitchen disinfectant. And if you are planting into a new pot, then use one that is the same size as the one the plant just came out of.

You can plant into a standard house plant mix. Don’t include any soil as this will absorb moisture and may be carrying disease. 

Step 7

Some gardeners like to mix perlite into their potting mix to increase drainage. I don’t find this to be necessary, providing the correct watering regime is being followed. We will get to that soon.

Lay some of your potting mix into the container and then place your plant on top of it. 

The plant should sit at a depth where the top of the root ball now comes to an inch below the surface of the pot. Add more soil to the base, or remove some, as appropriate. 

Now that you know what depth you want to plant to; you can fill up the pot with your new potting soil. 

The objective here is to carefully pour the soil around the roots of the plant and then gently press it down so that no air gaps remain.

Obviously, gentle can be quite a subjective word in this instance. I suggest you fill the plant to the depth required and then tap the container on a work bench or table a couple of times to shake the soil into place. 

After that you may need to top it up a little but the soil around the roots should be at the right consistency.

Normally potting soil comes bagged in plastic, and it should be slightly damp. Don’t be tempted to water the plant in. 

Rather let it absorb the moisture that is already in the potting soil. The same goes for feeding. Don’t be tempted to fertilize while the plant recovers. Just let it take its time.

Within a few days, your plant should already be showing signs of recovery. There are likely to be a few leaves that have been damaged beyond repair and they will never recover. 

These can be pinched or snipped out near the base of the plant to keep it looking tidy. 

Hopefully, your plant will not only regain its health, but will also reward you with new growth. 

With a bit of luck, a bit of love, and the correct watering regime, the two of you can look forward to a long and happy life together. 

The Correct Way to Water Your Begonia

Now that we have applied the correct first aid, it is time to look at a watering regime that will ensure that this doesn’t happen again. If you follow the rules below you should be fine.

Allow Top Soil to Dry Out

First and foremost, allow the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings. Really – the plant will thank you for it. 

The easiest way to check this is simply to plunge your finger into the soil. It should be dry up to about your first knuckle and after that you should feel that it is cool and slightly damp.

Soak the Potting Soil with Water

Next, stand your begonia in a sink or place a plant saucer beneath it, and soak the soil until water begins to appear through the drainage hole. 

Allow that water to drain away completely. Don’t leave the pot standing in a saucer of water which will delay drainage.

Bottom Watering

An alternative that some gardeners like to use, is to stand the pot in a container of water and allow the soil to suck up water by the process of osmosis. 

Although this method does work, I find it slower and prefer to water from the top downwards.

You will also become better at reading your plant and very often a quick glance will tell you that your plant is thirsty.

Use Quality Water

Wherever possible, use distilled water. Tap water in most western countries is treated with chlorine over time this builds up in the soil and although Begonia’s are fairly robust, it can make the soil mildly toxic. (Source: University of Maryland Extension)

Don’t shock your plant by using very cold water. Room temperature is fine and it is best to water in the morning when evaporation levels are low. Even in a house, there is always evaporation taking place.

Factors to Consider

Some people like a watering regime where they water at certain predetermined intervals.

I have never found this to be a very effective method for one simple reason; climatic conditions. Even indoors, means that water evaporates at different rates.

Also, as soil ages, it retains water less effectively. If you apply the one knuckle method regularly you will more accurately be able to tell whether or not your plant needs watering.

Common Watering Mistakes

The table below will show you the most common mistakes when it comes to watering, as well as ways to avoid them.

Common MistakesHow to Avoid
Inconsistent watering. This leads to a sort of stop start system that your plant won’t appreciate. Regularly checking that vital top inch for moisture will avoid this issue
Watering too muchProbably the most common house plant problem. Use the method above, but rest assured that with experience you will get better at this.
Watering the leaves and not the rootsWater sitting on the leaves of these plants invites a variety of health problems, including mildew. Be careful to direct water at the roots of the plant when you hold it under a tap or try using a watering can.
Wet soil from overwateringHopefully; by now you are getting the hang of this and can avoid this one. If you do overwater, make sure the plant can drain freely and don’t water again until the top inch of soil dries out.
Watering during the heat of the dayIf you water when it is hot, even in a house, the water will evaporate quickly, at a time when the plant is least productive. Watering in the early morning or late evening will prevent this from being a problem.

Final Words

We gardeners love to overcomplicate things. Think of it as a sort of job protection scheme.

As I believe you will have seen from this article, caring for a Begonia is really quite simple if you can avoid the temptation to overwater. 

Even if you do fall into this trap, it does not mean that you will lose your plant, though it might not talk to you for a while. Follow the steps above and your plant should soon regain its vigor.

Arifur Rahman

I'm the owner of gardenforindoor.com. After completing my bachelor of science in agriculture, I'm serving as a civil service officer at the Department of Agricultural Extension, Bangladesh. I started Garden For Indoor to make your indoor gardening journey easy and enjoyable.

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