An overwatered peace lily is a sad sight. These plants are typically perky, with dramatic lance-shaped leaves with a high-gloss finish, and when you start to spot leaf discoloration or a wilted appearance, it’s a surefire sign that something’s amiss.
Early signs of an overwatered peace lily are droopy leaves with a dull surface and blooms turning yellow. In more advanced overwatering cases, the soil can start to smell musty from rooting roots, and the stems may turn black or brown and feel mushy. Treatment for an overwatered peace lily includes allowing the root ball to dry out, trimming away damaged root sections and repotting the plant in fresh soil.
In my experience with houseplants, I’ve made the mistake of both overwatering and under-watering. But I’ve found that overwatered plants are in more immediate danger, and you need to act quickly to help your plant recover. In this article, I’ll share my strategies for recognizing and dealing with an overwatered peace lily and how to get your plant on a healthier watering routine.
Let’s get started!
- Overwatering a peace lily can suffocate the root system and lead to root rot, a potentially fatal disease.
- The early signs of overwatering are droopy and dull leaves, yellow or brown blossom/leaf discoloration and wet soil.
- Signs of advanced problems are brown spots with yellow edges, a musty odor and mushy, discolored stems.
- To revive an overwatered peace lily, stop all watering, allow the root ball to dry out, remove damaged root sections and repot in fresh soil.
- Peace lilies with mild overwatering problems should recover in a few days. Plants with more severe symptoms may take longer to bounce back, or they may die.
What Happens if You Overwater a Peace Lily?
Like any living thing, your peace lily needs oxygen, and normally, the roots absorb oxygen from air pockets in the soil. But when the soil stays wet for long periods, the roots can’t absorb oxygen and start to suffocate.
Overly wet soil is also a perfect environment for fungus and bacteria to multiply, and many of these microbes attack plant roots. This is known as root rot. Once the damage is severe enough, the roots can’t absorb any nutrients and the plant will die.
Root rot is especially serious in peace lilies since the plant reproduces by a rhizome, or root expansion, which I cover in more detail in our post on propagating a peace lily.
In many other plants, you can still save a portion of the plant, even if it has root rot, by taking stem cuttings with nodes. Peace lilies do not produce stem nodes, so if the roots get too damaged, the whole plant is done for.
So overwatering is a dangerous problem that you need to address as soon as you recognize it. Fortunately, there are some telltale signs of watering problems, which we’ll jump into now.
A healthy peace should have an overall upright appearance, and the leaves should have a good structure and a shiny surface:
And here is what an overwatered plant looks like:
The signs of trouble fall into early damage and late damage:
- Drooping leaves
- Dull leaf surface
- Yellowing blooms or leaves
- Wet soil
- Brown spots with yellow border
- Musty odor
- Mushy, discolored stems
Let’s break these down in more detail:
1. Drooping Leaves
If the roots are stressed from lack of oxygen, they can’t do their job of supporting the leaves, stems and blooms. At this point, you’ll see droopy leaves and limp stems.
2. Dull Leaf Surface
Peace lily leaves should have a high-gloss finish, and when that sheen dulls, it’s a signal that you need to investigate.
3. Yellowing of Blooms or Leaves
Leaf discoloration is a sign of stress, and when it’s caused by overwatering, it usually happens on the older, lower leaves. The plant is trying to save energy for new growth by taking it away from the older leaves.
This particular plant doesn’t have yellow leaves just yet, but the bloom has turned from a lovely creamy white to a sickly yellow which will progress to brown.
Unfortunately, even if you successfully treat the overwatering issue, this bloom is done for.
4. Wet Soil
Unless you just watered your peace lily within the last few hours, the upper layer of soil should not appear wet and clumpy. If does, water is staying trapped in the soil for too long.
5. Brown Spots with Yellow Border
These brown spots are plant edema, and they happen when the plant cells get overloaded with water and burst, leaving behind dead spots. You’ll most often see these brown/yellow spots on the leaf undersides.
6. Musty Odor
If the soil smells stale or musty, your plant likely has dead root sections from fungal or bacterial overgrowth.
7. Mushy Brown or Black Stems
This is one of the last signs to show up, and it’s pretty serious. When the stems start turning black or brown, they’re actually dying off because the water-damaged roots are no longer able to nourish the plant.
Unfortunately, discolored, squishy stems often mean that you’ve got a dying overwatered peace lily on your hands. At this point, you can still try to save your plant, but it may be past the point of recovery.
How to Revive a Peace Lily That’s Been Overwatered
Reviving a plant that has been overwatered can be daunting. But if you act quickly, especially in the early stages. you stand a good chance of reviving your plant back to its former glory.
Stop All Watering Immediately
If you catch the overwatering problem early on when the leaves are drooping but no discoloration or stem damage sets in, the plant will typically recover well if you simply stop all watering for a few days. This allows the root ball to dry out and process the water already in the soil.
Examine the Roots and Treat Root Rot
If your plant shows signs of more advanced issues, such as a musty odor from the soil or stem discoloration/mushiness, you’ll need to take your plant out of its pot to see what’s going on with the root system.
What you’re looking for is root rot, which is a fungal or bacterial infection of a plant’s root system.
Here’s what to do:
- Cover a work surface with an old sheet or large piece of paper or take the process if the weather is mild.
- Brush away as much old soil as possible, rinsing the roots under running water if needed.
- Examine the roots, looking for sections that are soft/mushy, are brownish in color or have an odor.
- Use sanitized scissors or pruning shears to cut off any damaged roots, all the way back to healthy root tissue.
- Treat with homemade fungicide of 1 part 3% hydrogen peroxide with 2 parts of water.
- Repot your peace lily in a clean pot and fresh potting soil.
If you’d like more details on what root rot is, this video from Kaylee Ellen takes a deep dive into the topic:
How Long Does It Take for an Overwatered Peace Lily to Heal?
How long your peace lily takes to bounce back from a bout of overwatering depends on how severe the damage was. Jeremy Yamaguchi, CEO of Lawn Love, advises that you should see some progress in a few days. “Give it at least a week. Drooping leaves can bounce back pretty quickly, but the leaf color change will take a little longer.”
For plants that needed more intense intervention for root rot, it will probably be closer to 2 weeks before the leaves start to perk up. This means your plant is coming back to life. After this happens, the plant will continue to recover.
If your peace lily had yellowing leaves, wait until the leaves fully turn brown and die before cutting them off. Even though these dying leaves look icky, your plant can still reabsorb some nutrients from them, and recovering from the stress of overwatering definitely calls for all the nutrition you can give.
How Does Overwatering Happen?
Overwatering is an extremely common problem for houseplant owners, and it can happen in both obvious and surprisingly sneaky ways.
- Watering too frequently. Plants need a cycle of dryness followed by a thorough watering to mimic what happens in nature. Instead of going by the calendar and watering your plants every three days, stick your finger into the soil- how does it feel? Only give water when the top 1 inch of soil feels dry to your touch.
- A pot that’s too large. Bigger pots hold more soil, which in turn holds more water. Many times, that leads to more moisture than your plant can adequately process.
- Soil that doesn’t drain well. This could happen if you choose the wrong type of soil to pot your peace lily- garden soil and topsoil are two common culprits. These heavy soils have no place in container plants at all, so make sure to reach for potting soil instead. But even if you pot your plant in the perfect soil, it can still become compacted over time- that’s one reason regular repotting is essential for houseplants.
- A pot with poor drainage. Check the bottom of your peace lily’s pot- is there at least one lag drainage hole? If there are drainage holes, are they clear soil clods and overgrown roots? When there’s no place for excess water to go, it stays in the soil and causes problems.
- Watering too late in the evening. The best time to water your plants is in the morning or early afternoon hours since sunlight evaporates excess moisture. If you water your plant in the evening hours, it can create a damp environment for bacteria or fungi to thrive.
- Leaving the pot in a puddle of water. I always use a drainage dish underneath my plants when I water, but I sometimes forget to empty the dish for a while afterward. While that won’t cause any damage if it happens every once in a while, consistently leaving your plant sit in a dish of water run-off can easily over-saturate the soil.
- Seasonal changes. Peace lilies go dormant in the winter, meaning that they enter a resting phase where their water needs decrease by about half. If you continue to water at the pace you’re used to during the spring and summer, your plant will get too much water.
Underwatered vs. Overwatered Peace Lily: How to Tell the Difference
Here’s where things can get a little confusing. Some of the signs I just listed above as warning signs of overwatering could also be due to under-watering, including drooping leaves, dull leaf surface, stunted growth and leaf or bloom discoloration.
How the soil feels should be your big tip-off. If the soil in the pot feels dry several inches down or the pot is feather-light when you pick it up, your peace lily needs water. Give a thorough watering immediately, until you see excess water running through the pot’s drainage holes.
If you notice the tips of your peace lily’s leaves starting to brown, that’s another indication that your plant is getting too little water. The brown tips signal that the plant cells are dying from dehydration. Water your plant right away, and mist the leaves every few days to boost the air moisture.
Preventing Overwatering in Your Peace Lily
Peace lily plants are easy to keep and require very little maintenance. However, they still benefit from regular attention. Follow these tips so that you don’t accidentally provide too much hydration.
- Check the soil. Pay attention to the color of the soil around the base of the plant. If your soil is dark and damp up to the first knuckle on your index finger, hold off watering your peace lily a little longer. It’s time to hydrate your plant if the soil looks light and is dry to the touch 1-2 inches deep.
- Look at the leaves. When peace lilies are happy, their leaves are ultra-shiny- and whenever they lose their high-gloss finish, it’s time to investigate by checking the soil moisture.
- Follow a watering schedule. While it’s never a good idea to simply go by the calendar to figure out when to water your plants, keeping a record of when you checked the soil and what you found can help you spot patterns. You can keep track of your watering on paper or create a reminder on your phone.
Frequently Asked Questions about Overwatered Peace Lily
Peace lilies are beautiful plants to have in your home or office, and it’s never nice to see them struggling. I hope this article has shown you the overwatering danger signs to be aware of, and how to help your plant get back to its normal perky self.
I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any other questions about how to recognize and help a peace lily? Maybe you have some insights or tips that you’ve picked up along the way to share. Your questions or experience could be just what someone else needs to hear, so please feel free to share in the comments!