Gardening can be intimidating for anyone new to it. It seems that a daunting list of rules and regulations and unpronounceable Latin names are necessary before you even get near a plant. Yet, when it comes to the world of indoor plants, it’s almost always too much care, rather than too little, that is the problem. In fact, overwatering, particularly in cooler months and especially from eager beginners, is famously the number one killer of indoor plants.

Starved of the oxygen they need to survive, root cells begin to rot and die. Bacterial and fungal infections spread quickly, creating a telltale smell along with yellowing, wilted leaves. The inability of dead or dying roots to provide the leaves with enough water causes them to look virtually identical to a plant facing drought stress. This often causes people to water already waterlogged plants even more. Here are some simple tips for bringing overwatered houseplants back from the brink.

First, remove the plant from its pot to get a good look at its roots. If they are mushy and brown instead of firm and white, and in sopping wet soil that falls away and smells of decay, then remove as much of these as possible. Retain only roots that are firm and healthy, snipping off any yellowing or dying leaves while you are at it. If you end up removing a large amount of root material, also snip off a similar proportion of the top growth. The plant won’t be able to draw up enough water to support these extra leaves with a compromised root system. Doing so may seem extreme, but will put less strain on an already sick plant.

Now, give the patient plant a good rinse and pot it up in a new container with fresh growing mix. The original pot can be used as long as it is thoroughly scrubbed with detergent and hot water to remove traces of the infected compost. Water the plant in well and place it in a brightly lit spot but away from direct sunshine for it to recover. After this, water only very sparingly as the potting mix begins to dry out.