Signs Of Underwatered Succulents & What To Do Next

Underwatered succulents featured image

It is pretty hard to starve a succulent of water. Hard, but not impossible. As long as your succulent is not getting everything it needs to thrive, it will start to show in several ways. Your plant may look a little ‘pathetic’ and ‘sad’ as if it calls you for some care. Immediately you notice something out of the ordinary. You need to do a quick assessment as to what could be going wrong.

Succulents are desert plants that grow in harsh conditions with minimal or minimal water. Unlike other house plants, you are not likely to be hovering over your succulent with a watering can daily. Once you have started keeping succulents, you will water them once every few weeks. This would be in the warmer months. In winter, or when it is cold, you may go without watering your succulents for several months. Be sure also to check out The Complete Guide on watering for succulents.

Dangers of an Underwatered Succulent
Underwatered Succulent Dangers @my_succulent_life

Signs Of Underwatered Succulents

What does an underwatered succulent look like? There are 6 signs for us to notice:

#1. Dry Soils

The best advice on watering succulents is to keep an eye on the soil. Once the top one inch of the soil is thoroughly dried out, it is time for a little and not much water. If you do not have an exact schedule, you could easily forget to water your plants. The result of this – underwatered succulents.

In the worst-case scenario, an underwatered succulent could die. Before it gets to this point, it will pass through various stages. Here is what to watch out for to identify the dangers of an underwatered succulent.

#2. Shriveled/Wrinkled/ Curving Leaves

Succulents are succulents because they are excellent at storing water within themselves. The retained water within the cells gives the leaves of these plants a thick, juicy, and healthy look. When these plants do not get enough water, the leaves begin to shrivel up and get wrinkled. The leaves do this due to a drop in the internal water pressure in the leaves and stems, as they begin to feed on their reserves to get water.

However, there is a disclaimer when it comes to shriveling. It depends on which of the leaves have shriveled up. If it is the leaves that are close to the bottom, it may be an indication that they are old rather than the plant being underwatered. Here, the rest of the leaves will appear in perfect health. If you notice the older leaves shriveling up, simply removing them is the solution.

Dangers of an Underwatered Succulent
The Stems & Leaves @lifetimesucculents

The leaves of an Aloe Vera will curve into themselves or fold up when the plant is underwatered. This reduces the leaf’s surface area, meaning the plant will lose less water. Other plants like Echeverias appear to ‘close’ when they are underwatered. The appearance they have is more curved than opened out at this stage. This means that the rosettes leave become more tightly packed to retain moisture.

Look for signs of underwatered cacti if you have a cactus at home.

Make sure to follow Succulent City on Facebook, Pinterest & Instagram for more informative & interesting content about succulents & cacti 🙂 Happy planting, and live the moment, my friend!

#3. Dying Roots

You can generally revive a succulent, underwatered plant by offering it water for one to two weeks. However, this will only happen if the plant’s roots are alive. If you have not watered your succulent plants for so long that the soil appears cracked and complex, and the leaves are all close to death, the roots may also be affected. Dying roots cannot feed the plant as it needs, which will cause it to die. Once you have dying roots, there is usually no turning back to get the plant to good health.

Read more: What Is Succulent Root Rot & How Do You Fix It?

#4. Aerial Roots

Underwatered succulent plants may need more support to help them remain upright. This is when you may notice aerial roots forming. These are roots that will form above the soil line. They do this to try and get some water molecules from the air to feed the plant since there is not enough in the soil. When a plant needs physical support, these roots ensure that succulent plants with a leaning stem are protected from bending too far or breaking off as it bends towards the ground.

Dangers of an Underwatered Succulent
Note the Formation of Aerial Roots @kyan.s_gardens

#5. Soft To Touch

An underwatered succulent will feel different to the touch. This plant will have leaves that are much softer than they are supposed to be. When the leaves are at their optimum hydration, they tend to be quite firm. The same applies to the leaves that typically start drying at the base of the plant. When taking their natural course from life to death, the leaves at the base of the succulent plants will discolor and shrivel. However, underwater, they will have distinct thinness and feel crisp and dry to the touch.

#6. No Flowers

If you have kept succulents for some time, you will know their flowering patterns. If it seems like your succulent is not flowering, the reason may simply be that your plant does not have enough water. When the plant has inadequate water, it focuses on survival more than the beauty of flowering.

Take a look at “Succulents With Yellow Flowers“, “Succulents with Orange Flowers“, or “5 Succulents with Red Flowers” for a variety of succulents with beautiful flowers on top.

Dangers of an Underwatered Succulent
Start Focusing on Existence @euamoosuculentas

What To Do Next? – Water Immediately!

You should give your plants a deep soak if you notice symptoms of underwatering in your succulents, like brown, shriveled-up leaves. Grab a watering can and fill it up to the top. Then water your plants until you see water coming out of the pots’ drainage holes.

If you’ve been habitually underwatering your succulents, that probably sounds like a lot of water! But succulents prefer to be watered this way. Succulents like to get a large amount of water about once every one or two weeks. Soak it all up, then sit in dry soil for a while. Your other houseplants would probably wilt and die on that watering schedule. But it works for succulents and cacti! For a more detailed look at watering your succulents, check out “When You Should Water Your Succulents” for more.

After one or two deep soaks, your succulents should look healthy and plump again. If you keep your succulents on a consistent watering schedule, they’ll prosper and thrive! 

But what should you do if your succulents are so severely underwatered that they still look dry and wrinkled after a few goods soak? The answer is water therapy.

What to Do When You Underwater Succulents
Water Therapy for Your Succulents @liketrylove

Make sure to follow Succulent City on Facebook, Pinterest & Instagram for more informative & interesting content about succulents & cacti 🙂 Happy planting, and live the moment, my friend!

Special Treatment for Severely Underwatered Succulents 

If your succulents are severely underwater and on the brink of death, they probably won’t respond to traditional watering methods. That’s when you know it’s time to try water therapy. 

Water therapy replenishes the water supply of underwatered succulents better than watering because it involves soaking your succulent roots in water. This isn’t something you should try as a first intervention, though. It’s the last resort because it’s a little risky. Your plant’s roots might get damaged or rot, especially if you don’t get all the soil out. So don’t try this if you’re an inexperienced gardener or your plant is just starting to show signs of underwatering. 

To perform water therapy on your severely shriveled succulent, fill a container with water. Shake all the soil out of your succulent roots, then lower them into the water. Make sure that you position your plant carefully! Only the roots should be submerged, not the leaves or any other part of your plant. Be sure also to check out “5 Tips on Saving Dying Succulents” for more tips for caring for your succulent.

A Good Care

After your succulent is all situated in the water, you should leave it to soak for 24 to 72 hours. When it’s time to remove your plant from the water, handle it with extra care, your succulent roots will be susceptible to damage and bruising after getting out of the water bath, so be gentle with them! 

We like to set our succulents out to dry for a few days to lower the chances that their sensitive roots will get damaged during replanting. Then we plant them in succulent soil and return to a regular, routine watering schedule. Find out the best possible soil to plant your succulents in, check out “Best Soil for Succulents” for more.

Unfortunately, water therapy doesn’t always work. Sometimes succulents are too far gone to be saved, or the plant’s roots get damaged during the water therapy. That’s why it’s essential to prevent underwatering first, so you don’t lose any of your beloved succulents!


What to Do When You Underwater Succulents
Save Your Succulents @theplantstudent

Prevent Underwatering

The best way to save an underwatered succulent is to prevent it from becoming underwatered in the first place! 

We know that it can be hard to remember to water your plants. You have a busy life with so much going on, so sometimes your plants and their needs slip under the radar. This is especially true if you own lots of houseplants that require special care or different watering schedules from each other. But it’s super important to water your succulents consistently, so they don’t shrivel up and die again! 

We use apps like Waterbug and Planty to remind us to water our plants. They give us a notification on our phone whenever it’s time for us to water one of our plants. These apps allow us to set different watering schedules for each one of our houseplants, so we don’t have to keep all those watering requirements straight in our heads.

We’ve found apps to be a big help, but if you’re not technologically savvy, you could write down a watering schedule for your plants on a Post It and put it in a place where you’ll see it every day. That way, you’re less likely to forget to give your plants a drink! 

Another thing you can do to keep your succulents healthy between waterings is to increase the humidity around them. Believe it or not, the air in your home is too dry for your succulents and cacti! Most homes have a humidity level of 30 percent or lower, and the ideal humidity level for succulents is 40 percent or higher. So your succulents quickly lose moisture just by sitting in your living room! 

Be sure to also read “Dangers of an Underwatered Succulent” for info on what could happen if you don’t keep up with your succulents.

What to Do When You Underwater Succulents
The Ideal Level of Humidity @thisismamabritt

Make sure to follow Succulent City on Facebook, Pinterest & Instagram for more informative & interesting content about succulents & cacti 🙂 Happy planting, and live the moment, my friend!

An Additional Tip: What Is The Difference Between Underwatered Vs Overwatered Succulent?

There are 2 same signs of underwatered and overwatered succulent: root rot and soft leaves. Both underwatered succulents and overwatered succulents have soft-to-touch leaves as the easiest way to detect. When digging up the soil, they might probably have the same root rot. What are the differences?

The underwatered succulents will have shriveled leaves, while overwatered succulents’ leaves will change color, making them a bit translucent. The soil must be arid if you forget to water your succulents, but it’s not the same if you overwater them. So, make sure that you notice the soil conditions and the leaves. It’s best to make a watering schedule, where you can check the last time you water it with which amount.

Final Words

When you notice that your succulent is underwatered, water it and observe over a few weeks. It should come back to life and look normal within this time.

Remember, drainage is vital. Not having any drainage on your pot or planter will result in water retention. This may further accentuate underwatering, as the plant owner believes the succulent has enough water even when there may be none available.

The most complex part of caring for a succulent is watering, ensuring there is enough at the right time. Killing a succulent by underwatering is a challenging undertaking, as, for the most part, a little water will revive your plant and go a long way.

Thank you for reading with us today! Let us know in the comments below your techniques to watering your succulents. Also, check out our Instagram or Facebook for more inspiration in the world of succulents.

Before you go, we want to share something exciting with you. Succulent City has developed a line of 12 ebooks (see here), ranging on topics like Indoor & Outdoor Succulents to Essential Tools. With our ebooks, you’ll be a succulent guru in no time, have fun!

Happy planting!

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Richard Miller

Salute everyone. It's Richard, the author of this Succulent & Xeriscaping blog. I am a traveler and a nature lover looking for a connection with the wild green. In my journey, I found a love for succulents and xeriscaping. What attracts me is the long-lasting & unique beauty of every plant I have the chance to see with my own eyes. Welcome to my little blog and let's enjoy a good time together!

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