Certain plants, like azaleas and rhododendrons, like moisture but they don’t like long periods of standing water. There is a delicate balance between adequately hydrating plants and drowning their roots, which can cause disease. But you can prevent root rot and keep your plants moist for longer — you just need a few sponges.
What is root rot?
Root rot is a disease that affects the roots of a plant when they are overwatered or excess water cannot drain from the pot. As Elite Tree Care explains, “Soggy conditions prevent roots from absorbing all the oxygen they require to live. As the oxygen-starved roots die and decay, their rot can spread to healthier roots.”
Once the plant is no longer receiving oxygen through the roots, you’ll begin to see wilted leaves, stunted growth, and early leaf drop. And in some cases, suffocated roots can breed soil fungus, which attacks the roots.
How to prevent root rot
The best way to prevent root rot is to purchase the right pot. Plants that love moisture fare best in plastic or glazed ceramic pots to retain water, but they need drainage holes to release the excess. Water only when necessary and stick to the recommended amount for your specific plant.
Test moisture by sticking a finger one to two inches into the soil — if your finger comes out with dirt on it or a little wet, the soil is moist, and you can water another day (depending on the type of plant).
How sponges can help
One way to keep the water levels balanced in your houseplants is by placing sponges in the bottom of the pot. Before potting your plant, gather up a few sponges, cut them in half (or smaller, as needed) and place them in the bottom. Cover with soil, and plant and water as usual.
The sponge will soak up the excess water in the soil, and the holes allow aeration, preventing the roots from drowning and losing oxygen. Sponges also slowly release water, keeping the moisture level steady. As a result, you won’t need to water as often, and your plants should enjoy normal, healthy growth.
This article has been updated since its original publication date.