Water is crucial for plants to grow, but we often forget to water them. Understanding how long houseplants can survive without water is essential.
Houseplants can survive without water for 1-2 weeks, but the duration varies by plant type. Succulents can endure for months, while flowering or tropical plants struggle after just a week. Dormant plants also can go without water for weeks.
Other factors like plant size, soil conditions, pot type, and light also affect the watering. This article discusses these factors, plants and their drought tolerance, and the correct watering techniques without overwatering and underwatering.
Table Of Contents
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How long can houseplants go without water?
Knowing how long houseplants can survive without water is a concern for many.
Beginners and busy individuals often forget to water their plants, especially when they are on vacation, and no one is around to care for them.
Air conditioning rooms are another concern as they reduce humidity levels and dry out the soil faster.
Unfortunately, there is no exact answer to this question.
To find out the correct answer, you need to understand the plant type and its needs.
Plants have varying water requirements, and it’s essential to understand these differences.
Some need water more often, and some will need less water periodically.
I have been growing indoor plants for a long time.
From what I have experienced, some plants won’t go without water for more than a couple of days, whereas others can stay without water for weeks.
For example, my succulents can go without water for a month or two because they store water in their leaves and stems to use it later.
On the contrary, my favorite tropical plants like Boston ferns and Peace Lilies go without water only for 7-10 days. After that, they start wilting.
Here are some houseplants and how long they can stay without water:
- Aloe vera: From several weeks to a month or two
- Cacti and other succulents: More than a month or two
- Snake plant: 2-3 months
- Lady Palm: 1-3 months
- Philodendron: 2-3 weeks
- Pothos: 2-3 weeks
- Spider plant: 2-3 weeks
- Ficus tree: 10-14 days
- Peace Lily: 10-12 days
- Boston Fern: 4-7 days
As you can see, different plants have different endurance levels of drought conditions.
You have to understand their growth features and needs.
Keep reading to learn about these needs and the factors that determine how long houseplants can go without water.
|Plants Name||Watering Schedule(Approx)||Can Survive Till?|
|Rubber plants||5-7 days||13-15 Days|
|Pothos||5-7 days||10-12 Days|
|Monstera||5-7 days||10-12 days|
|Snake plants||2 weeks||18-20 Days|
|Spider plants||5-7 days||13-15 Days|
|Dracaena||7-10 days||20-25 Days|
|ZZ plant||1-2 weeks||20-25 Days|
|Ivy||3-4 days||10-12 Days|
|Peace lily||5-7 days||10-12 Days|
|Money Tree||10-14 days||20-25 Days|
|Lucky bamboo||14-21 days||20-25 Days|
|Areca palm||2-3 days||7 Days|
|Aloe vera||15-20 days||25-30 Days|
|Bird’s Nest Fern||5-7 days||10-12 Days|
|Daisies||5-7 days||10-12 Days|
|Wax begonia||5-7 days||10-12 Days|
|Philodendron||5-7 days||10-12 Days|
|Peperomia||7-10 days||25-30 Days|
|Fittonia||3-4 days||10-12 Days|
|Club moss||5-7 days||10-12 Days|
|Parlor palm||2 weeks||25-30 Days|
|Calathea||5-7 days||10-12 Days|
|Boston fern||5-7 days||10-12 Days|
|Christmas cactus||7-10 days||10-12 Days|
|Air plant||5-7 days||10-12 Days|
Understanding Plant Water Needs
Several types of indoor plants are available, and their watering needs vary a lot from each other.
Generally, maximum plants can live without water for about 1-2 weeks.
But some can survive a bit longer, like about a month or so.
Succulents can stay without water for a month or two.
In contrast, other tropical plants, annuals, and tender perennials begin to wilt and turn yellow if not watered for 1-2 weeks.
Besides the plant type, the plant size, the soil type and its substrates, the weather conditions, growing conditions, and even the pot type and size can affect the plant’s watering needs.
Let’s have a quick look at these factors and how they affect the plant’s watering needs.
Factors affecting plant water needs
Below, I have enlisted the essential factors that must be considered to understand the watering needs of the specific plants and how long to keep them without water:
Plant species variations and their water requirements
As I mentioned earlier, different plant types have different water requirements.
The succulents have thick leaves, which the plant uses for storing water.
Even after the soil has dried, they use this stored water to remain hydrated.
That’s why these plants can go without water for a month.
It won’t wilt or look sad when you forget to water it for weeks.
The annual houseplants need to be watered every week, at least once.
Without water, the leaves will droop and wilt.
Some perennials tap into the groundwater reserves efficiently.
It allows the plants to stay alive without water more than the perennials.
However, you must water them after a week or two.
Tropical plants with shallow roots dry out faster during hot and dry conditions.
These houseplants can go without water only for a week or two.
Plants with deep roots need to be watered less often because their roots are deep inside and don’t dry out quickly.
Soil type and water retention
If the potting soil has good drainage, the plants will go without water for a short time.
Soil with good retention qualities can go without water for prolonged periods.
Clay and silt have small spaces between the particles.
These ensure good retention for extended periods, making the houseplants go without water for long.
I won’t recommend clay soil because they are too compact and drains too late, which causes overwatering and root rot.
I have learned this by losing many houseplants.
Sandy soils drain quickly due to the large particles.
Plants in sandy soil can’t survive without water for more than 4-5 days.
An excellent option for most indoor plants is loamy soil.
It contains an outstanding balance of organic matter and drainage.
Plants in this soil can stay without water for a week or two.
Plant size and maturity and their water needs
Large plants with deep roots can tolerate long drought periods.
But the younger plants with small roots need to be watered more often.
Since the small plants are still growing, they need to stay hydrated all the time to become well-established.
The matured plans will need to be watered less often as they can absorb moisture from the soil efficiently.
It can stay without water for a week or two.
Plant spacing and watering frequency
Consider this only if you grow more than one plant in one pot.
Plants use their roots to receive moisture and nutrients from the soil.
As they develop, the roots become big and spread deep or wide.
Plants without enough spacing will need frequent watering and nutrients because the roots compete for moisture and nutrients.
With incorrect spacing and resource competition, such plants cannot stay without water for too long.
Pot type and size
Plastic pots can hold water for a long time, but clay or terracotta pots wick away moisture faster.
If your plant is in a plastic pot, you can keep them without water for a long time.
But your houseplants can’t stay without water for more than a week in terracotta pots.
Environmental factors, seasonal changes, and watering
During the winters, most houseplants go dormant and do not need watering.
Since they are hibernating, they won’t require any resources for growth.
So, your plants can go without water for weeks without any issues.
Spring and summer seasons are the most active seasons for most indoor plants.
Moreover, excessive evaporation due to high temperatures takes place.
That’s why the indoor plants start suffering after a week or two.
Another thing to consider is the humidity level, especially for the humidity-loving plants.
With high humidity levels, your houseplants will stay without water for prolonged periods.
But with humidity below 50%, houseplants start suffering after 4-5 days.
Light exposure and watering needs
A plant exposed to sunlight dries out the soil faster than those growing under medium or low light conditions.
If your plant receives direct sunlight throughout the day from the south or west-facing window, it won’t go without water for more than 4-5 days.
But a plant that grows under indirect or low light conditions can go without water for 1-2 weeks or even more.
Signs of a thirsty plant
When you do not water your houseplants for a very long time, they will suffer and start displaying signs of stress.
Once you understand the signs and water your plant, it will perk up and grow as efficiently as before.
One of the most common signs is wilting because the plant wants to focus on the vital nutrients and moisture from the roots and stems.
Over time, the leaves will become yellow because they cannot receive nutrients and moisture from the soil.
The leaves become dry and crispy and, ultimately, start falling off the plant.
The soil dries and cracks due to prolonged dehydration, and the roots cannot provide nutrients, moisture, and oxygen to the leaves.
This further causes stunted growth.
If this continues for a long time, your plant will ultimately die.
What happens if the houseplants stay without water?
How long houseplants can go without water depends on various factors.
But once the maximum limit to stay without water is over, these are the things that will happen:
- Plants will need moisture in their cells to carry out photosynthesis and chlorophyll. Without this, the cells will dry out and die.
- Water is a solvent of the nutrients that encourage nutrient uptake. The uptake gets affected due to the lack of moisture, and the plant suffers from nutrient deficiency.
- Prolonged dehydration makes the plant lose its moisture from the leaves and roots. Over time, the cells die and shrink, leading to wilting and shriveling.
- As the plant dries out over time, the leaves will turn brown and crispy, and defoliation will soon begin. The plant will no longer make any new growth and end up dying.
Reviving dehydrated plants
Reviving an underwatered plant is easy, provided the amount of damage is below 50%.
If you have left the plant dehydrated for a few days, there is a chance of recovery.
But it will be tough for the plant to recover if it has not been watered for weeks or months, and the leaves are wilting, yellowing, and falling off.
I am not talking about the succulents here, but the tropical plants that must stay consistently moist throughout.
Since succulents can store water, you can water them once thoroughly and forget about watering for weeks.
To revive an underwatered indoor plant:
- Remove the damaged leaves. It will stop the plant from spending its energy on recovering these leaves and encourage new leaves.
- If the soil has hardened, poke holes using a fork or chopsticks without damaging the roots. Slowly water the plant to let it seep well and regain its hydrophilic state.
- You can also lift the pot and soak it in a container filled with water. It is called bottom watering. It will allow the potting soil to soak up the water and regain hydration.
- Once your plant soil has regained its hydration, start proper watering.
- Continue watering until the excess is seen draining out of the pot’s drainage holes.
- Observe your indoor plant for the next few weeks and notice recovery signs. The plant should perk up and stop wilting after receiving enough moisture.
- If the plant doesn’t recover, it can’t be saved and will die after some days or weeks.
To prevent water-related issues, you should always check or test the soil to understand its moisture level.
You can either use your index finger, a stick or use a moisture meter.
Soil moisture testing with a stick or finger involves inserting it deep into the soil.
If the top few inches feel dry, it is time to water the plant.
If you use a soil moisture meter, dip it deep into the soil.
If the result is between 1 and 3, it is the right time to water the plant.
Approach these two methods instead of following any strict schedule.
It can prevent overwatering risks and root rot.
Once the root starts decaying, reviving the plant is challenging.
Lifting the pot to check the plant weight for hydration also helps.
If it feels light, water the plant. If it’s heavy, wait for some more days.
Things to consider before watering a dehydrated plant
Before you moisten the dehydrated plant, consider 2 things:
- Dumping lots of water into the dehydrated plant is easy. In excitement, we dump too much water and end up overwatering it. Your plant is already stressed with dehydration. Stressing it more with overwatering will do more bad than good. I suggest bottom watering after a prolonged dry spell.
- Be consistent and slow while providing water after a prolonged dry spell. Hard soil doesn’t absorb water in the first place. Make holes using a fork and slowly pour water on the soil. It allows the moisture to sit and absorb properly.
Watering the houseplants during a vacation: 6 indoor plant care techniques
One of the major concerns during vacations is watering indoor plants.
You don’t have to worry about drought-tolerant plants as they will go without water from 2-3 weeks to a month.
But it is worrying for plants that need consistent moisture and require watering every week, especially during the summers.
Before adjusting the watering, understand your plant type and watering needs:
- Cacti and succulents store water in their leaves and stems. When you stop watering, the stored water gets used up by the plant slowly.
- Other potted houseplants (flowering or tropical rainforest plants) with limited space and soil use the moisture faster. Weekly or bi-weekly watering would suffice.
Now, how to modify watering routines during a vacation? Let’s see:
1. Ask for someone: Plant-Sitter for plant care
A simple way to look after your indoor plants while you are away is to ask someone to look after your plants.
Request a trustworthy person who knows how to water the plant correctly and is well aware of its specific needs.
You may also have to make a watering schedule based on your plant needs.
Also, provide tips on when and how much to water and how to check the moisture level.
The person should be responsible enough to maintain the plant’s health and safety.
2. Wick irrigation for plant hydration
A capillary wick system is a great option for watering plants when you are on vacation.
Take a thick, long cotton wick and insert it deep into the potting soil. Put the other end of the wick in a large bucket of water.
It will draw the water up to the wick and then into the soil through capillary action.
The process also prevents overwatering as they pull in sufficient water needed by the plants.
This system will provide moisture for weeks based on the plant size and the quantity of water in the bucket.
If you are on vacation for more than 4 weeks, supplement the wick system with other forms of watering.
3. Set up drip irrigation
If you have numerous plants, select the drip irrigation system to water all the plants.
The drip irrigation system with a timer is affordable, and you can easily buy them in hardware stores.
Set up a timer with the system to automate when the water should be supplied to the indoor plants.
The method will water the plants evenly without overwatering and underwatering.
The moisture will drip slowly into the soil and provide water in the correct amounts.
Follow the instructions in the labels present in the drip irrigation kit to set it up correctly.
4. Self-watering pots
You can use self-watering pots.
It is helpful not only when you are away but also for those who forget to water their plants often.
The self-watering pots contain a water reservoir.
Once the reservoir is filled with water, capillary action is used to provide water to the plant roots.
5. Set up inverted bottle systems
In this procedure, turn the water bottle upside down and use it as a watering material for the plants that need to be watered every 2-3 days.
Take a 2-liter plastic bottle for each plant, one nail, and a hammer. To set up the bottle:
- Make a few holes in the bottle caps.
- Fill the bottles with filtered or distilled water and put back the caps.
- Bury the bottles upside down 2 inches deep into the soil.
The water will slowly drip into the soil as it dries out, keeping the plants hydrated for 4-5 days.
It is not mandatory to use a 2-liter bottle. Based on the plant size, soil amount, and your vacation days, choose a bottle smaller or bigger than 2 liters.
6. Use plastic bags to make a mini Greenhouse for your indoor plants
You can use this process while you are on a long trip.
Cover the potted plants in plastic bags.
As the water evaporates, the moisture gets collected and drips back into the plant.
It works just like terrarium jars.
Before approaching this step, ensure good airflow for your houseplants.
Gather a big plastic bag, 3-4 wooden stakes, and sticky tape.
To make the mini greenhouse for your houseplant:
- Insert wooden stakes around the corner of each pot to support the plastic bag.
- Cover the plant and pot with the bag without letting the leaves touch the bag.
- Secure the plastic bag with the tapes.
- Leave the plant in a room with indirect sunlight and good airflow.
- With this method, your houseplants can survive for about a month or even more.
Expert tips and tricks for a dehydrated houseplant
The above methods ensure proper watering for the houseplants.
After some time, human interference is needed.
For example, in a self-watering pot, you must fill up the reservoir in time after the water is used.
In that case, I would want my plant’s soil to retain the moisture for a long time to keep my plants healthy and hydrated.
The ingredients used in the soil alone can do it to some extent, but not for a very long time.
Below are some ways where you can reduce moisture loss from the plants and the soil:
Add water-absorbing crystals to the soil
Adding water-absorbing crystals to the potting mix increases the soil’s water retention.
The crystals will store enough moisture according to their size.
The water will then slowly get released into the soil.
This way, the soil remains moist for prolonged periods, and the plant will stay healthy and hydrated.
Add organic mulch to the soil.
Another way to increase the soil’s water-retaining capacity is to add a thick layer of mulch on the soil surface.
Use sawdust, dried leaves, shells and pebbles, straws, and bark chips.
You can also add peat or organic matter to improve the soi’s moisture retention qualities.
The mulch will trap the moisture in the soil, reduce evaporation, and prevent it from getting too hot.
Apply 1-2 inches of mulch on the soil surface and water thoroughly.
Keep your indoor plants under indirect or low-light conditions
While most indoor plants enjoy indirect sunlight, some enjoy direct sunlight.
When the potted plants are exposed to direct sunlight, the sun’s intensity and temperature will rise, increasing evaporation and water loss.
Shifting them to a location with indirect or low light will reduce evaporation and water loss, therefore helping your plant soil retain moisture for longer periods.
The same happens with humidity levels. Make sure the humidity levels don’t go below 50%.
Avoid adding fertilizers to the soil.
Excess fertilizers increase the plant’s energy and make it absorb more water to circulate the nutrients to the plant.
If your houseplants are watered, they can’t absorb these nutrients.
These fertilizers accumulate in the soil, causing fertilizer burns, especially in the roots.
Use a slow-release fertilizer if you plan an extended vacation.
It will slowly release the nutrients without burning the roots.
Drought-tolerant and resilient plant species
As a beginner, it is common to make water-related mistakes numerous times.
Some overwater their plants and end up losing some due to overwatering.
Some gardeners keep a long gap between waterings and have underwatered plants.
Some people forget to provide water due to their busy schedules.
If you tend to dehydrate the plant every single time, grow resilient houseplants with excellent endurance for drought conditions.
Below are some common drought-tolerant indoor plants that don’t need watering very often:
- Aloe vera
- Other succulents
- Cast Iron plant
- Snake plant
- Lady’s palm
- ZZ plant
- Spider plant
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Houseplants can survive for at least a week without water, but some can endure for 2-3 weeks, and a few can tolerate drought for a month or more. It depends on the plant type, size, soil substrates, pot type and size, seasonal changes, and light conditions.
Some signs of dehydration are wilting, yellowing, hard soil, dry and crispy leaves, and stunted growth. To revive the dehydrated plants, make small holes with a stick and water slowly and steadily to let the moisture seep into the soil and regain its hydration.
If you have a plan for a vacation, call someone to water the plants regularly, consider wick irrigation, set up drip irrigation, use inverted water bottles, cover with plastic bags, or use self-watering pots. If you travel often or forget to water the plant, grow drought-tolerant plants like cactus, aloe vera, snake, spider, ZZ, or Cast Iron.
Should I water my indoor plants every day?
You don’t need to water the plants daily. Before watering, check the soil’s moisture levels. Water the plant only when 50-75% of the soil is dry.
What are the common signs of underwatering?
Wilting and yellowing are the common signs. But yellowing can also refer to overwatering. Other signs are hard soil and dry and crispy leaves followed by defoliation.
How will I understand that my plant has regained hydration?
The plant will perk up, and you won’t see any signs of wilting. Remove the discolored leaves for faster recovery.
Reference: Drought tolerance Wikipedia