An underwatered aloe plant is usually a rare instance. But it can happen.
Aloe vera plants are desert dwellers. As such, they can tolerate periods of drought. And they are equipped for it thanks to their thick, fleshy leaves which store moisture.
However, if you don’t water the plant for months at a time, you’ll later find your aloe underwatered or even dehydrated.
An underwatered aloe plant will develop dry, brown leaf edges and tips. It will droop and have yellow leaves as well.
Very dry soil is usually a telltale sign especially if the root ball is completely dry all the way down to the bottom.
When this happens, the best way to rehydrate your aloe vera is to give it a good soak in water.
Signs of an Underwatered Aloe Plant
Soil is Very Dry
Very dry soil is usually a sign of an underwatered aloe plant. However, it can be misleading.
That’s because depending on the kind of soil you’re using, the surface may seem dry but the bottom is still moist.
Therefore, there are two ways to check this if you want to confirm it.
Insert a stick into the soil all the ways down until it hits the bottom of the pot. Use a wooden stick so that when you take it out, you’ll see where the soil is still moist.
This will be indicated by the wet line in the wooden stick.
On the other hand, you can also unpot the root ball and check the bottom to see if soil is moist there.
Once soil is dry all the way down to the bottom, your aloe plant is already underwatered and at risk of dehydration.
So, you want to avoid letting the soil get completely dry all the way down.
Yellow leaves are a sign that the roots are working hard to get every ounce of moisture but they’re not able to absorb enough moisture from the soil.
In addition, yellowing also happens due to the lack of nutrients.
Since plants are able to absorb nutrients from the soil through water, not only does the plant experience a shortage in water but also nutrition.
This is why you’ll see older leaves experience deficiencies in magnesium, potassium and phosphorus, causing them to turn yellow.
Younger leaves won’t receive enough calcium, zinc and copper which causes the yellowing.
Droopy Aloe Plant and Leaves
Plants consist mostly of water. And it is the water and the pressure created by the water in the plant that keeps the stems and leaves upright.
This is why an underwatered aloe plant will droop when it lacks water.
The insufficient water will also cause the plant to shrink or shrivel up compared to its normal size.
Thus, the plant will be sad-looking and wilt.
Brown Leaf Tips and Edges
The tips and edges of leaves are the farthest points from the roots. As such, they are the last parts that receive moisture when the roots transport water.
Additionally, in the case of the aloe vera, the tips and edges are thinner than the other parts of the leaves.
This means that they do not store as much water as those sections.
So, when your aloe is underwatered, these are the first areas of the leaves that lack water and eventually dry up.
And it will show as they will feel dry, crispy and turn brown in color.
Initially, the middle of the leaves will still look plump and fleshy. But after a while, they will flatten out as they lack water as well.
Leaves are Curling
Curling leaves is a defensive mechanism the aloe plant will employ when it is trying to conserve as much water as it can.
By curling its leaves inwards, it reduces the surface area of the leaves.
In doing so, there are fewer pores exposed where moisture can escape during transpiration.
This helps slow down the water loss.
Dry, Brown Spots on the Leaves
Brown spots on aloe leaves appear due to a number of issues. Watering is one of them.
Both overwatering and underwatering can cause this.
But you can easily tell the difference by looking closely at the brown spots.
In an underwatered aloe plant, the brown spots will be dry. You can tell just by touching them. In contrast, the brown spots in an overwatered aloe plant will soaked spots.
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Dry, Brittle Roots
This is another sign of an underwatered aloe plant. But it can also mean the plant is already dehydrated.
You’ll need to unpot the plant and inspect the roots to see this.
But do be careful.
Very dry roots are brittle. So, if you jar or pull them when they’re a bit stuck on soil, they can easily break.
Roots play an important role in plant health as they absorb moisture and nutrients from the soil.
When lack of water or drought occurs, they’ll be the first ones to feel it as they’ll work harder to suck up any bit of water that may be there.
If the plant stays underwatered, roots will later shrink because of the lack of moisture.
Similarly, the plant will start wilting and the aloe’s leaves will feel more flat instead of thick and fleshy.
As this persists, they roots will get dry and become brittle.
How to Save and Revive an Underwatered Aloe Vera Plant
Saving and reviving an underwatered aloe plant depends on a lot of things. This includes whether the plant has been dehydrated or just underwatered.
It also matters whether this is the first time this has happened or it happens regularly.
The longer the soil has been left bone dry, the more likely there may have been damage to the roots.
The good news is you have a very high likelihood of saving a partially damaged underwatered aloe vera plant.
However, a very severely hydrated one where the roots or plant have sustained significant damage can be more challenging. And they may take longer to recover.
In any case, here’s how to save an underwatered aloe plant.
Check to Make Sure You’re Using the Appropriate Potting Mix
The first step to saving an underwatered aloe plant is to make sure you are using the right potting mix. This is very important because an improper potting mix will negate your watering efforts.
And you’ll end up with problems, be it overwatering or underwatering, again later on.
To avoid watering problems due to the soil, it is important to use a well-draining mix.
The simplest way to do this is get one that is made for cacti and succents.
Since aloe plants are succulents, these soil mixes are perfect, allowing the blend to retain some moisture but drain excess water fairly quickly.
Make Sure the Pot is Not Too Small
Another thing to check is to make sure that the pot you’re using is not too small.
This will usually be the problem with an underwatered aloe vera.
The reason is that a smaller pot means the roots will get crowded at some point. And this will reduce the amount of soil left in the pot.
As a result, the reduced amount of soil can only hold little water which may not be enough to keep the aloe plant hydrated.
So, unless you water regularly (which increases the risk of overwatering), the plant will eventually be underwatered.
On the other hand, you also want to avoid a very large pot since that increases the risk of overwatering.
This is why getting a suitable sized pot is best.
To measure, find a pot that is 2 inches wider than the size of the root ball. That’s it!
When repotting, select a container that is 2-3 inches wider than the previous pot.
Rehydrate the Plant
Here, there are many different ways to add water to rehydrate an underwatered aloe plant.
You can soak the plant in water for a while, water it from above thoroughly or use a spray bottle give it more intermittent watering more frequently.
I’ll explain each method.
Soaking the Aloe Plant
Here, you have two options, you can unpot the aloe plant then soak it in water or you can just put the entire pot with it and let the soil soak in the moisture through the drainage holes.
Both methods work the same. But they’ll take different amounts of time due to how much water is absorbed.
To do soak an underwatered aloe plant, you can use a sink, bathtub or large container that fits the plant’s root ball or pot. How big the basin or receptacle depends on the size of your aloe plant.
Then place the unpotted plant or the plant with the pot into the basin, sink or container.
The soil will then soak the moisture at its own rate.
This will rehydrate the soil to allow the roots to start absorbing moisture to recover.
It will take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes depending on the size of your plant.
And you should check to see when the root ball has been saturated by water by sticking your finger into the soil about 2 inches from the surface.
Once the soil at that depth feels moist, take the plant out of the water container or sink. Then make sure to allow it to completely drain before you put it back to its spot.
Watering from Above
This is the most common way of watering the plant. However, it also runs the higher risk of overwatering as well. So, you do want to take a little bit more care.
Here, you want to water the root ball thoroughly.
To do so, start adding water onto the soil. Avoid watering over the leaves. Just pour or position the hose directly onto the soil.
Let the water run until you start seeing liquid start trickling out from the bottom of the pot’s drainage holes, then stop.
Try to change positions every now and then so you distribute the water evenly.
Once the water starts dripping, it is a sign that the root ball has gotten saturated with water.
The final step is to allow the excess liquid to completely drain out.
Using a Spray Bottle
This takes a different approach. Here, instead of giving the root ball a good soaking, you add moisture a little at a time. But you will do so more regularly.
The upside of this is it reduces the risk of overwatering. But spraying can also not be enough to let the moisture reach the roots.
To do so, fill a spray bottle and spray the soil with water.
Again, try to avoid wetting the leaves. Leaving foliage wet for long periods without the water spots drying increases the risk of fungal disease.
Once the soil feels moist, you can stop.
Repeat again when the soil feels dry.
Prune Damaged Leaves
Once you’ve rehydrated your underwatered aloe plant and made sure that the pot and soil are ideal for the plant, it is time to remove any affected leaves.
Prune brown, yellow or dry leaves.
These will not recover and turn lush green again.
Therefore, it is best to remove them. Additionally, if you leave them, the plant will keep using up energy and resources to keep trying to heal these affected parts.
Thus, it is much better to trim them off to encourage the plant to grow new leaves.
In doing so, it can now focus all its energy on pushing out new leaves as well as continuing to grow the healthy ones.
Adjust Your Watering Routine
In most cases, aloe vera underwatering is caused by inconsistent or irregular watering. This can be due to your busy schedule, going on vacation or away from home due to work.
Either way, the best fix for this is to regular check the soil so you can water the plant when it gets dry.
Aloe vera needs watering once every 2 to 3 weeks during the spring and summer.
This is why it is favorite amount houseplant owners due to its low maintenance.
In the winter, it will only need to be watered once every 4 to 6 weeks or less depending on how cold its gets where you live.
If you don’t want to guess or remember when to water based on the seasons, a better way is to use you finger to test the soil moisture.
Stick your index finger into the soil down about 2 inches from the surface.
This comes to around your second knuckle.
If the soil at that level feels dry, it is time to water. Otherwise, don’t water yet. As long as the soil feels slightly moist or still wet, wait a few more days before you check the soil again.
Avoid Very Hot Temperatures
Another sneaky reason for an underwatered aloe plant assuming that your haven’t forgotten to water your plant is the temperature.
Very high temperatures including that in the middle of the summer can increase the rate of evaporation.
When this happens, the moisture in the soil will dry up much faster even if you water properly.
This is why it is important to adjust your watering schedule based on the seasons or weather.
That said, if you use the finger test to check the moisture of the soil regularly, it will automatically warn you of dry soil.