The typical demise of aloe plants is overwatering. But, can you believe that this succulent can also be underwatered? Perhaps that is your struggle now so let’s talk about this particular problem in this article.
An underwatered aloe vera would show signs such as the yellowing of the leaves, drooping, browning of the leaf tips, drying of leaf edges. Also, there will be brown spots, drying of the soil, and turning of the roots into brittle structures due to underwatering.
Sounds familiar? Let’s dig a little deeper and see how possible it is for aloe plants to get dehydrated.
Why Does an Aloe Vera Plant Get Dehydrated?
Having fleshy stems packed with so much moisture, you can expect aloe plants to survive the drought period for a long time. And yes, it will but only for some time.
Even their tolerance for such a condition has limits. Time will come that their water reservoir will be depleted to a critical point.
Aloe plants can tolerate drought only to some degree. If you keep the soil dry for a very long time, damage to the plant will become inevitable.
Dehydration happens when the plant cells have lost almost all of the water inside and there’s no replenishment being given.
The cells of a dehydrated aloe plant will shrink due to moisture loss. Without water, the physiological functions are derailed, especially the metabolic processes. As a result, the plant will become weak and may later die.
Signs of an Underwatered Aloe
Stressed plants always show signs that are often reflected in their morphology. Changes in the plant structure will be evident as a result of internal problems.
Following are the common signs you’ll most likely notice when an aloe plant is getting dehydrated:
Leaves Turning Yellow
Water serves as the medium to transport essential nutrients from the soil to the different parts of the plant. When there’s a lack of water in the soil, the roots will have difficulty drawing the needed nutrients.
Thus, it’s not surprising that under-watered plants also suffer from nutrient deficiency.
Nutrient deficiency is often reflected by the yellowing of the leaves. The degree of yellowing and its appearance depends on what type of nutrient is lacking. It takes familiarity to properly diagnose nutrient deficiency in plants. (Source: University of Delaware)
If the yellowing occurs at the older leaves, the lacking nutrients are immobile ones (N, P, K, and Mg).
The yellowing that appears on the younger leaves is caused by the deficiency in immobile nutrients (Ca, Cu, B, Fe, Mn, and Zn).
A dehydrated aloe will start getting limp. The lack of water in the plant cells will leave them flaccid or loose. This means that the cells will shrink and will lose their turgid shape.
This is the reason why you’ll observe the under watered plants slowly turning into a lifeless structure. Water keeps the plant upright and without it, the plant loses its shape.
Aloe Have Brown Tips
The brown tips in aloe resemble that of a burnt leaf tip. Usually, it appears when the plant is overfertilized. However, it may also indicate that the plant is experiencing water deficiency.
The leaf tips are most vulnerable to wilting because it is farthest to the source of water.
This portion will be the last to receive the moisture channeled into the plants. So, it’ll be the first to suffer from dehydration.
Brown and Dry Leaf Edges
Another sign of underwatering is the drying and browning of the leaf edges of your aloe.
You would notice that the middle part is still packed with moisture. However, the edges have already lost water and the cells on those portions have died.
The edges of the aloe plant are normally thin and have lesser water content than the other leaf parts. For that reason, it can easily dry and become crisp during severe drought conditions.
Aloe Leaves Curling
Curling of leaves specifically in an inward direction is one mechanism by plants to prevent moisture loss.
This happens when there’s rapid transpiration rate and the plant wants to save its own water. The reduced size of the leaf has advantage during times of water deficiency.
Curling reduces the surface area of the leaves. It also shrinks some of the stomatal pores present.
By doing that, the aloe leaves will be able to lessen the amount of moisture being transpired.
Dry, Brown Spots on the Leaves
Brown spots on leaves on an aloe can mean a lot of things. But, one of the common reasons for it is watering problems whether overwatering or underwatering.
Even though brown spots can show in either condition, there are significant differences in the way these spots appear.
In underwatered aloe, the brown spots would be dry to touch as opposed to the water soaked spots in overwatering.
These spots are the dead cells that have suffered from the lack of available moisture.
Potting Soil Is Very Dry
One of the obvious signs of underwatering is very dry potting soil. And what we mean by dry is not just dry on the surface.
Once the soil gets dry down to the bottom of the pot, your aloe is in danger of dehydration.
Soil stores water through its pores. So, the level of water it can accommodate during irrigation depends on the texture and structure of the soil used in potting. Sandy soils get dry very quickly than clay ones.
When the potting soil gets very dry over time, the roots will no longer be able to draw water from it.
The plant is left to suffer from dehydration. If not addressed soon enough, the plant reaches a permanent wilting point.
Roots essentially function in water uptake and transport from soil to the other parts of the plant.
During the drought condition, it’s the roots that first suffer. They would have to exert extra effort looking for a water source.
As underwatering persists, the roots would shrink due to lack of moisture.
Some of the roots may even dry. That explains why they may have a brittle texture when touched.
Signs of Underwatered Aloe Vs Signs of Overwatered Aloe
The signs of overwatering and underwatering can be pretty similar. Sometimes, you’ll get confused about which one is really the cause of the problem.
To guide you below is the summary of the differences and similarities between an under-watered and overwatered aloe.
|Signs of Underwatered Aloe||Signs of Overwatered Aloe|
|Yellowing of Leaves||Yellowing of Leaves|
|Dry Soil||Wet and soggy soil|
|Dry, brown spots||Watersoaked, brown spots|
|Dry, brittle roots||Wet, mushy roots|
|Drooping and wilting||Drooping|
Identifying the Cause of Underwatered Aloe vera Plant
Inconsistent provision of water affects the health of your aloe plants. Either they get watered prematurely or they get very thirsty before they receive the moisture that they need. Water should be provided to plants exactly when they need it.
Keep in mind that plants continuously lose water from their system. In fact, they’re only able to utilize a very small percentage of water they absorb.
This means that they need a consistent supply of water to adjust what they’ve lost.
Fast Water Evaporation
The evaporation of water from the plant tissues is known as transpiration. The stomatal pores on the surface of the leaves are where the water escapes in the form of vapor. It serves as their exit points.
Succulents like aloe normally transpire at a slower rate. This is because their fleshy stems are designed to hold water for longer periods.
However, there are certain conditions that may influence the transpiration process causing it to increase in rate.
An increase in temperature, faster wind speed, and a drop in humidity will lead to a faster evaporation process.
Soil Water Holding Capacity
One thing you have to consider when mixing the potting soil for your aloe is the water holding capacity.
This property determines how much water the soil can hold in its pores after irrigation and draining. Water holding capacity is affected by the texture of the soil.
For aloe plants, a well-draining potting mix is much preferred to avoid root rot. A combination of perlite, lava rock, and bark will create a porous structure.
The coarse texture of the mix lowers its water holding capacity that’s why the aloe potting mix will not retain as much water.
This becomes a downside when you do not water consistently. There’s a danger that the water being held by the soil will not meet the minimum water requirements of the aloe vera plant. In that case, underwatering becomes a problem.
If you’ve been giving fertilizer on your aloe but is not providing enough water, there’s the tendency that nitrogen toxicity will occur.
You can easily leach off nitrogen with water. Consistent watering will lessen the build-up of nitrogen in the soil.
Underwatered aloes will have a hard time getting rid of excess nitrogen because water is not frequently provided.
It will be better to withhold fertilizing your plant. Aloe plants wouldn’t need much fertilizer anyway.
How to Revive Underwatered Aloe?
Reviving an underwater aloe vera plant will require different ways. However, there’s no one hundred percent guarantee that your plant will recover. It will depend on the extent of the damage done to the plant.
Partially damaged aloes will have higher chances of bouncing back. The severely dehydrated ones may take a longer time to recover. In the worst cases, they may not recover at all.
To save whatever is left of your aloe, here are the things that you could do:
Cut off Severely Affected Parts
Some parts of your aloe may have suffered severely from the underwatering.
In that case, you’ll need to cut those off since it will be impossible to revive them. It’s time to pull a clean pruning shear.
Prune the dead leaves down to its base. The older leaves should be taken down first. The leaves that have brown spots, edges, and tips can be left if the damages are minimal.
Using Proper Potting Mix
There might be a need to change the potting mix of your aloe. If the medium used is heavy, it will retain more water.
However, it will not be good to have such a mixture because it will increase the possibility of getting root rot.
What you can do is increase the porosity of the potting mix by adding organic matter such as bark.
The improved texture will allow good drainage. But at the same time, it will allow the mix to hold more water for longer periods.
Choose Right Size of Container
Aloe vera has the tendency to get pot bound. If the plants are already crowding, the soil will no longer be able to support the aloe vera with its watering needs.
You’ll have to transfer your aloe plant to a container that has a proportional size. Remember that it should neither be too big nor too small.
The right size of pot will help accommodate the right amount of water needed by the plant.
Place the Pot in Suitable Environment
Choosing the right location is also important for aloe plants to thrive. Make sure that you place it in areas where there’s bright but indirect light. Keep it away from direct exposure to sunlight as it will easily get scorched.
Other than that, the soil will easily dry out leaving your aloe more susceptible to underwatering.
If you’re someone who leaves the house for weeks, better keep your aloe inside your homes.
Follow the Watering Regimen
To properly water your aloe plant, follow this particular regimen:
- Check the soil moisture regularly.
Every time you’re going to water your plants, check the soil first. You can do this by dipping a finger or a stick into the potting mix. The first 2-3 inches of the soil must be dry before you water.
- Water the soil deeply.
Make sure that the potting mix is thoroughly soaked. Saturating the soil will ensure more water is held in between the pore spaces. It will also encourage even the growth of the roots.
- Properly drain excess water.
This will only happen if the pots have good drainage holes. Allow enough time for excess water to sip out of the container. Don’t forget to remove any stagnant water in the coaster of the pot, if there’s any.
- Allow enough lead time before watering again.
Unlike other plants, succulents like aloe require less frequent watering. Although there’s no exact time to determine when to water, you must allow enough time for the potting soil to dry.
However, it should not come to a point where the soil gets overly dry. On average, it takes around 2 to 3 weeks lead time before you water the aloe plant again.
- Adjust watering schedule depending on the season.
During the spring and summer seasons, aloe plants would require more watering. When the fall and winter seasons come, watering should be done less frequently.
How Often Do You Need to Water Your Aloe?
Watering plants, especially succulents, can be a little tricky. Although it is drought tolerant, you cannot just leave them be dry for extended periods.
Their moisture level will also reach its minimum and you need to provide water exactly when it’s needed.
There are several factors that should influence the frequency of your watering. These are the following:
First, you have to consider the season. Is it too sunny and the temperature is high? Then, evaporation of moisture is faster during these conditions thus more watering is needed.
If the season is too cold and wet, then you must withhold your water because your aloe won’t need it. Again, check the moisture level of the soil down below the surface before you do it.
Size of Plant
Second, consider the size of your aloe plant. Young aloes will relatively needless amounts of water than the mature ones. Adjust the volume of water through time as the plant grows in size.
Type of Pots Used
Terra cotta pots tend to absorb the moisture because it has tiny pores. Thus, it prevents the plant from getting overwatered. But, you will have to water more often.
In plastic pots, the soil will retain more moisture because water is not absorbed by the surface intact. This is good to prevent underwatering especially if you are to leave your aloe for weeks.
Location of the Plant
If you keep your aloe vera plant outside will require more watering than the ones located indoors. This is because the environmental conditions outside are more extreme than the inside.
In an indoor setting, your aloe vera plants are somewhat protected and the condition is more controlled.
It may take time for you to perfect the watering regimen for your aloes. Sometimes, you’ll commit mistakes along the way. Your plant may even suffer as a result of the malpractices.
However, it takes real patience to learn the ins and outs of proper watering. Just keep doing it until you become an expert in taking care of your aloe plants.