Aloe vera plants store water in their leaves for long periods. Though it is a houseplant that requires little water, determining how much water it needs can be challenging. Factors such as climate, where it is placed, and season can affect the watering frequency of aloe vera plants and leave them at risk of being underwatered. But, what are the signs of dehydration and how do you revive an underwatered aloe?
An underwatered aloe plant will have droopy and curling leaves, very dry potting soil, and leaves turning yellow with brown tips. To save the aloe vera, remove it from its pot and immerse the roots in water for 48 hours to help the plant revive before repotting it using a well-draining potting mix.
Signs: What does an underwatered aloe plant look like?
Green, firm, and succulent leaves are all signs of an adequately hydrated aloe plant. It signifies that its roots are getting and utilizing the water in the soil. While the plant can grow in areas with a harsher climate, its tolerance for prolonged dehydration comes with some limits. So, how do you tell your aloe plant is dehydrated?
Here are the signs of an underwatered aloe plant:
When aloe leaves turn yellow, it signifies that the roots’ ability to absorb moisture and other nutrients from the soil has been compromised. When the leaves start turning yellow, it means the roots have exhausted all the water from the soil and the plant is underwatered.
Sometimes, nutrient deficiency causes the leaves to exhibit different shades of yellowing. If it is predominant in mature leaves, the plant could be lacking immobile nutrients such as Phosphorus, magnesium, or potassium. Younger leaves that are yellow may be lacking calcium, zinc, or copper.
An underwatered aloe vera plant may also droop or bend due to a lack of water. Droopiness happens when the plant cells become less turgid, causing them to shrink and lose their ornate shape.
When left thirsty for long periods, the droopiness may progress to wiltedness. The aloe plant may eventually die from excessive dehydration at this point.
Browning on the leaf tips
While browning leaf tips is a symptom of fertilizer burn, it could also signify water deficiency. Since the leaf tips are the last parts to receive water, it’s easy to suffer the collateral damage first.
Plants like aloe vera curl their leaves inwards to retain the remaining moisture. As the curling continues, its stomatal pores reduce, causing the leaves to appear shrunken. This type of adaptation mechanism helps it prevent water from escaping its leaves during transpiration.
Dry potting soil
It’s easy to conclude that the pot’s soil is dry just by looking at it. However, the soil may be dry on the surface while still has water stored in its pores at the bottom. It all depends on the type of soil you’ve potted your aloe vera.
For example, potted plants in sandy soil need more water than those growing in clay soil. Either way, total soil dryness will affect the root’s ability to take in water.
Roots with a brittle texture
Roots suffer the most when dehydrated. They work by drawing water from the soil and transport it to the rest of the plant’s parts. But when there’s no water, they get brittle. At this point, the plant has endured long periods of drought.
How to save an underwatered aloe plant
An aloe vera plant needs enough watering to prevent wilting and promote healthy growth, but it shouldn’t be so obsessive that you compromise its succulent adaptation. The first step to save a dry aloe plant is to mimic the conditions of sufficient sun, well-drained soils, and low rainfall.
If your plant exhibits one or more symptoms of underwatering, you should follow these steps:
1. Take out the aloe plant from the pot
The first step to save an underwatered aloe vera is by removing it from the dry soil. Tilt the pot upside-down then gently pat the bottom part of the pot to separate the plant from the soil without causing shock.
Remove the succulent from the pot then examine its roots for brittleness and soil for total dryness. As long as its roots display signs of improvement, there is no need to worry. But if your plant isn’t severely dehydrated, you can skip this step.
2. Immerse the roots in a bowl of water for 48 hours
Severe dehydration can cause your plant to turn yellow, brown, and appear droopy. The only remedy to dehydration is immersing the plant’s roots in a glass or bowl of purified water for at least two days. Once the 48 hours lapses, check out the plant if there are any improvements. If the leaves turn green and turgid, it’s time to re-pot.
3. Cut off discolored and dry leaves
Using a sharp cutting tool like a knife, clipper or scissors, cut off the yellow, brown or dried aloe vera leaves. You’re pruning off damaged aloe leaves because you don’t want them to compete for nutrients with the healthy ones.
Note that it is important to cut aloe leaves carefully not to kill the succulent because you’re not intending to propagate the leaves you’re removing. For the most part, you’ll need to remove only the damaged leaves that are mature and growing outside the bunch.
4. Choose well-drained soil for your plant
While you may choose the right watering frequency for your aloe, it can still turn yellow or brown as long as it is planted in poor-to-slow draining soil. Since you want your aloe’s growth habits to emulate its native environment, getting cacti soil instead of regular potting soil would be recommended.
Doing so prevents your aloe from undergoing the stress that comes with poor drainage. You can get the cactus soil from your regular gardening store or order online. Keep in mind that soil that drains too fast can also lead to underwatering in aloe plants, so you might also want to use watering spikes that last for about 14 days. They’ll neither overwater nor underwater your aloe, keeping it healthy all the time.
5. Repot it in an ideal sized pot
Your aloe’s roots grow laterally and get heavier, which is why getting an ideal-sized pot will be essential. Instead of re-potting your plant in a narrower container that almost looks like a vase, get one with bowl-like features. It should neither be too deep nor narrow. Ensure it’s just the right size to allow the plant’s root to utilize enough water poured into the soil.
If you live in a warm area, you can use a container made from plastic. You can poke some holes at the bottom for easy drainage. But if you are in an area experiencing cold weather conditions for most parts of the year, clay pots will be ideal.
6. Vary the watering frequency depending on the season
If your plant has suffered dehydration, you may feel tempted to water it more often. Watering it every week is overwatering. You can water your plant when the soil at the bottom of the pot has dried out. This should take around two weeks.
However, factors like climate, time of the year, and pot size will determine your watering frequency. For example, the 14-day watering schedule only applies during summer or in areas with a warm tropical climate. You can water your aloe vera plant after 3-4 weeks during winter.
Pro tip: When watering your plant, ensure it drains out completely. Only water it when the soil is completely dry. You can test its dryness by sticking your finger in the soil.
Can you underwater an aloe plant?
Because an aloe plant is low maintenance and independent, it is highly likely to suffer the consequences of underwatering. On average, an adult aloe vera needs watering after two to three weeks, while young ones need water once per week. The age of your aloe, climate, pot size, and soil type can worsen watering problems.
When your plant shows signs that it needs to be watered, you’ll see the difference in the leaves when it is plump versus when it needs watering. To test if your aloe is underwatered, take one leaf between your two fingers and gently press it. If it feels turgid and fleshy, it’s well watered; but if the leaf is brittle, yellow, or brown and appears limp, it’s a sign the plant is underwatered.
You may need to change its potting soil and change your watering frequency.
How to tell your aloe plant needs watering
The first sign of a dehydrated aloe vera is leaves that look pucker and more prone to withering. Think of it like a rose flower that’s not immersed in water. After a few days, it will wither and lose its aroma. The same applies to aloe vera, but the difference is that aloe is hardier. With time, the leaves turn yellow to brown, depending on the severity of the dehydration.
Another sign to watch out for is total soil dryness. When testing soil dryness, don’t concentrate on the surface. Ensure you get to the soil at the bottom of the pot. If it’s totally dry, it would be best to change the soil, pot, or readjust your watering frequency.
There is not much to worry about being an aloe grower except to pay attention to watering frequency. If you stick to a specific aloe vera water schedule, your succulent will stand the test of time.
- Emma Erler, Landscape And Greenhouse Field Specialist Instructor, University of New Hampshire Extension: What Should I Know About Growing Aloe at Home?
- Contra Costa Master Gardeners Help Desk, University of California: Repotting the Potted Indoor Aloe
My name is Alex K. Worley. I am a web geek who loves gardening and connecting with nature. I maintain a small backyard organic garden from which I source most of my green food. I hope to help you learn something new about gardening.