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6 Signs Of Under-watering Indoor Plants (+How To Fix It)

Water is necessary for every plant to carry on its everyday activity. Without sufficient water, your plants will get underwatered and show you various signs.

Some signs you will notice if you have underwatered plants are wilting leaves, discolored and falling leaves, dry and compact soil, and slow growth. If the underwatering persists for too long, the plants can even die.

In this article, I will discuss underwatering, the reasons for the problem, the signs the plant shows to warn us about underwatering, and solutions to help the plant recover. So, keep reading.

Spider Plant underwatering

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What is underwatering?

Plants use water to make food in a process called photosynthesis.

Plants absorb water from the soil with the help of their roots.

They also absorb water vapor from the environment through tiny cells on the leaves called stomata.

Water also helps plants to maintain their strength and structure within the stems and leaves.

When the plant does not get sufficient water, it begins to wilt and droop and loses its strength and shape.

Plants grown in containers have different watering needs from those grown on the ground because they are restricted to the moisture content inside the pot.

When plants do not get sufficient water, they are unable to grow because they cannot perform the necessary functions.

The plant then begins to show several signs of stress.

Though underwatering is easier to cure than overwatering, it can cause major damage to the plant if left untreated for a long time.

Some signs that your plants show when they get underwatered are similar to those of overwatering.

If you notice the warning signals that your plant needs more water, you must check the soil moisture content and start with the necessary care tips.

Also read: Overwatering Vs Underwatering Plants

Causes of underwatering

Underwatering is caused due to several reasons:

  • Not watering the plant when it needs water.
  • Lack of rain or drought
  • Shallow watering
  • Forgetfulness

Signs of underwatering on plants

A severely underwatered plant shows different signs of stress.

Here are a few common signs:

1. Wilting

Boston fern drying out

Wilting is a sign that is common to both underwatering and overwatering.

This is one of the first signs plants show to warn us about underwatering.

The leaves begin to droop and look lifeless, dry, and dull. 

When the plants do not have enough water in the cells, it wilts as it loses their firmness and shape and closes all their stomata to prevent further moisture loss.

When the plant closes its stomata to stop evaporation, its ability to absorb carbon dioxide also stops, which is necessary because it is required to make food. 


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2. Dry soil

When you poke your finger inside the soil to check the moisture, and no soil sticks to your finger, it means the soil has no moisture.

Dry soil is the most evident sign of underwatering.

Every plant has some moisture requirement.

Some plants need more moisture in the soil, whereas others, like cacti, prefer a drier soil.

The soil of a dehydrated plant can also have cracks on them.

The dry soil begins to shrink from the edges of the pot, looks light grey, and is hard to touch.

Using the finger test or the moisture meter is the best way to ensure the soil’s moisture level.

To do a finger test:

  • Poke your finger deep into the soil
  • When you take it out, if the soil sticks to your finger, it has moisture.
  • If no soil sticks to the finger, the soil has no water content. 

A moisture meter, on the other hand, is a device you need to insert into the soil.

It then shows you the reading of the soil’s moisture content.

3. Slow growth

Arrowhead Plant dry soil

Has your plant suddenly started to grow slowly?

Many plants grow slowly.

But if a plant that grows vigorously suddenly has reduced its growth, it can be a sign that it is not getting enough water.

Keeping your plant underwatered decreases its growth rate.

If the problem of underwatering is detected early and treated, the growth will resume quickly.

But the plant’s damage may be permanent if the problem is prolonged.

4. Discolored leaves

Similar to the overwatering issue, the leaves of an underwatered plant will also turn pale green or yellow.

Also, for underwatering, they begin to curl around the edge and look dry, and when you touch them, they feel crispy.

If the situation is not corrected, the leaves begin to fall off in no time.

5. Pest attacks

Alocasia pest

Pests like spider mites may also attack dehydrated, weak plants as they enjoy dry air and soil.

As they are very tiny, you can identify their presence through the spider webs around the plant.

6. Dry flower buds

If the underwatered plant has flower buds, they turn dry, wilt, and wither even before blooming.

How to fix an underwatered plant?

Fixing an underwatered plant is easier than fixing an overwatered plant.

Once you start watering the plant correctly, the underwatered plant will take 3-4 weeks before you can see new growth and leaves and stems.

Water your plant whenever the soil feels dry to the touch.

  1. Bottom watering is an effective way to revive a dry, thirsty plant. If your plant is in a potted container, then you need to make the plant drink a lot of water first. For this, fill up a big tub with water up to the height of the brim of the pot. Then place the pot in the tub and keep it like that for 30 minutes. You will see the dry soil will start to get water, absorbing all the water it needs. 
  2. If your pot is too big to lift and dip in a bigger tub, you must top water the plant several times. Before doing that, break the dry compact soil so water can seep properly. Water and fill it and wait until the water runs out of the drainage holes. Repeat this technique 3-4 times until all the excess water is drained off, and then let the plant spring back to life.
  3. Mist the leaves with water, as it helps the leaves rejuvenate.
  4. After watering the dehydrated plant thoroughly, trim off all the yellow dry, and dead leaves because they will not rejuvenate and turn green again. So keeping them attached to the plant will only waste its energy. 
  5. Move the plant away from direct scorching sunlight. Too much direct sunlight can further dehydrate the plant and make them drier.
  6. Root-bound plants that are too big for their pots go dry quickly. The roots get so entangled that when you water, it does not reach the roots as they remain in a tight, compact mess. Though some houseplants enjoy remaining in slightly root-bound conditions, you must repot them when the situation gets too bad. Plants need enough space inside the pot to spread and grow their roots. If the plant stays root-bound for a long time, it can gradually weaken due to not getting sufficient nutrients. 
  7. If you are one of those busy plant growers, who tend to forget to water your plants, you must set up an alarm on your phone to remember and maintain the correct watering routine.
Philodendron watering

Tips to water your plants right

Here are a few things you should remember, so you water your plants correctly and don’t keep them underwatered.

1. Water in the morning

Watering during the right time of the day saves the plant from many traumas.

Many plant growers mistake watering during the evening or night to keep the soil wet for longer.

However, you must know that watering in the dark is not right and leads to multiple plant problems.

Watering at night increases the chances of pests and fungus as the water does not get evaporated and stays wet all night.

When the leaves get wet at night, pests like mildew, mealybugs, scales, gnats, etc., come to attack the plant.

Watering during the afternoon is also not advisable as it gives temperature shock to the plants.

Also, during the afternoon, the temperature is at its peak.

Hence, the water evaporates quickly before the plant’s roots can absorb the water fully.

The best time to water plants is early morning.

The mild temperatures give the root ball enough time to absorb the water, and the leaves do not stay wet for long.

Also, morning watering helps the plant get ready for the day.

Also read: What Is The Best Time To Water Indoor Plants? (+9 Watering Mistakes)

2. Water thoroughly

Spider Plant watering

Experts keep saying deep watering is always better than shallow watering.

Watering just the top layer of the soil is not recommended.

Whenever you water, wait for all the water to run out of the drainage holes.

When you shallow water the top layer of the soil, water evaporates quickly, even before it can reach the roots.

Always ensure the water reaches the roots of the plant when you water.

Also, let the soil dry off in between waterings.

Also read: 8 Tips To Water Indoor Plants Without Making A Mess



3. Understand your plants

Understand the requirements of your plant.

Some plants, like cacti, require less water because they grow in dry regions.

Whereas some plants, such as ferns or calathea native to the rainforests, need more watering.

So you need to know your plants better and plan their watering schedule accordingly. 

4. Use the right pot

Arrowhead Plant repot

Clay or terracotta pots dry more quickly than non-porous materials like plastic or ceramic.

So, if you have moisture-loving plants that need frequent watering, grow them in pots that keep moisture locked in like plastic.

5. Set an alarm

Give priority to your plants and make it a point to check on them every other day.

Check its watering conditions, foliage, signs of pests, etc.

6. Use a moisture meter

Spider Plant moisture meter

Moisture meters are an effective device to tell you when your plants need water.

You can push it into the soil, and it will show you how much moisture the soil contains.

7. Use self-watering cans

If you are among those plant owners who forget to water the plants often or go on frequent vacations, self-watering cans ensure that your plants do not stay thirsty.

8. Improve moisture retention

Improve the soil’s moisture retention ability by lining the container with plastic.

Or amend the soil with coco peat or peat moss which helps to retain moisture.

Final words

Fixing your much-loved thirsty plant needs some patience and lots of love. You must pay attention daily if you want your plant to thrive.

Underwatering can make your plants weak, droopy, and dull if continued for a long time. It will gradually lose its vigor, luster, and health. 

Fortunately, it is easier to fix this, and the plant can return to health quickly if given care and the required amount of water.


Reference: National science foundation, Agriculture, and Natural Resources, University of California.