Underwatered Jade Plant (Signs And How to Revive)


Jade plants are both tough and attractive, but it is still possible to have some problems with them, particularly around the thorny issue of watering. 

In this article, we will look at how to identify when your Jade Plant is not receiving enough water as well as some remedies that will be easy to put into place. 

This is not rocket science, and once you take the appropriate measures, you should see your Jade Plant bounce back to a state of healthy vitality very quickly.

Regular checking of the moisture levels is the secret to avoid under-watering problems with your Jade Plant. Keep your plant in a suitable-sized container, with an appropriate potting soil that is just slightly moist, and you will have a happy, healthy plant.

Comparing underwatered and normal jade plant

Why Is My Jade Plant Under-Watered?

There are several reasons that your plant might be stressed from lack of water. Obviously, the first thing to consider will be that you have simply not been watering often enough. Before you go blaming yourself, however, there are also other factors that may come into play here.

Evaporation may be particularly high, the soil might not be retaining moisture or the plant may have outgrown its pot. On top of that, Nitrogen toxicity may be producing similar symptoms that can be misleading you into thinking that your Jade Plant is too dry. We will break down all of these possibilities during the course of this article.

Signs of Under-Watered Jade Plant

The first thing you will need to do is to ensure that you have correctly diagnosed under-watering as the culprit behind your Jade Plant’s sorry appearance.

Other problems, most notably over-watering, can produce quite similar symptoms, so let’s look at the definitive signs that this is an under-watering issue.

Yellow Leaves 

Yellow leaves on their own are not a sign that under-watering is a factor, but combined with some of the factors below, they will let you know that this is the problem you are facing.

With the Jade Plant, yellow leaves are very clearly pronounced, so it is a very obvious early warning signal that something is wrong. 

There is little chance of muddling a healthy leaf with one that is yellow and unhealthy. Healthy leaves on a Jade Plant are green, plump, and firm.

Drooping Leaves

If the leaves start to droop and just generally look sorry for themselves, under-watering is a likely culprit, especially when combined with the odd yellow leaf. Added proof with is a loss of turgidity (texture) and the appearance of wrinkles.

Brown Leaf Tips

When under-watered, the very tips of the Jade Plant’s leaves might start to brown. That dead section of the leaf will feel desiccated and parchment-like. This is a sure sign that the plant is suffering and that under-watering is the root cause.

Brown and Dry Margins

In many ways, this is just an expansion of the point mentioned above. Early warnings of under-watering will occur on the tips of the leaf, but as the problem intensifies, and the plant comes under further stress, those brown tips will start to extend down the margins of the leaf. 

Leaves Start to Curl

With the Jade Plant, the leaves should be firm and slightly swollen. As they begin to dehydrate, the leaf edges start to curl and they become slightly wrinkled.

At this point, the fact that the plant is unhappy will be quite obvious. If you feel them, there will be a noticeable soft texture, whereas a healthy, correctly watered leaf is firm and smooth.

Dry Brown Spots

If your plant is under-watered, another sign may take the form of dry brown spots in the interior sections of the leaf. A sure sign that this is an under-watering symptom will be that these spots are dry and desiccated.

Dry Potting Soil

This is a reliable indicator that is very often overlooked by gardeners. It can be difficult sometimes, to distinguish over-watering from under-watering, as some of the symptoms can be quite similar. The one sure-fire difference will be in the moisture level of the soil.

If the soil is wet or marshy, it is unlikely that over-watering is the problem that you are facing. On the other hand, if that soil is dry and powdery then under-watering could well be the cause of your Jade Plant’s woes.

A word of caution is needed here. It is possible that just the top of the soil has dried out and that deeper down, the soil is quite wet. If you poke your finger into the soil, you will get a better picture of what the moisture levels are like lower down.

Brittle Roots

This isn’t one that you will be able to spot with a routine inspection. If, however, you decide to repot the Jade Plant and the roots are brittle and snap easily, you can be sure that you are under-watering rather than over-watering.

Is My Jade Plant Over or Underwatered?

This is a really good question because often the symptoms will be confusingly similar. The reason for that similarity is that with instances of both under-watering and over-watering, the roots’ ability to supply the required nutrients to the upper parts of the plant is diminished. 

Although the symptoms may be confusing at first, there are differences that become quite obvious once you know what you are looking for.

The important thing is that you don’t misdiagnose the problem and then exacerbate it by taking the wrong remedial action. The table below should provide you with the clarity to diagnose correctly.

Signs of Under-wateringSigns of Overwatering
Potting soil will feel dry and sandyPotting soil is damp and waterlogged and smells swampy
Brown marks on leaf margins or interior of the leaf are desiccated and leatheryBrown marks on leaves are soft and watery. There may be an almost blister-like appearance to them
Drooping leaves wrinkle and shrinkDrooping leaves are soft and squishy
Leaves drop off and feel dry and parchment-likeLeaves drop but are soft and watery
Roots are hard and brittleRoots are soft and often show signs of rotting and breakdown. Mushy is probably the best term to use

Using the table above should put you in a position where you are unequivocally able to tell the difference between these two problems. Obviously, it is important to get that initial diagnosis correct.

Identifying the Cause of Under-Watering

Now you have successfully pinpointed the issue that is causing your Jade Plant to look so unhappy, you have actually overcome the hardest part of the problem. Now we can move on to correcting that problem. 

There are a few reasons that your Jade Plant may be too dry, and before you go down the guilt trip route, let’s look at all of the possibilities.

Irregular Watering 

How you water your Jade Plant is, of course, crucial to whether it is over-watered or under-watered. Later in this article, we will look at setting up the perfect watering regime, but for the time being, what you need to know is that these plants should dry out between watering.

But then have water made available to them immediately. What you are looking to achieve is dry potting soil at the top of the pot, while still having a little moisture deeper in the soil.

If you adopt a sort of stop-start watering regime, the plant is constantly dealing with either being too wet or too dry. This is usually the case when you water too little but on a frequent basis. The watering regime below will quickly help you overcome this risk.

Fast Evaporation

One factor that can dramatically alter the moisture level is the speed of evaporation in the vicinity of your plant. This is a factor that does not remain constant.

In the winter, for example, evaporation is likely to be slow. In the summer it might speed up dramatically.

You will need to time your watering appropriately. In the warmer months, you will find yourself needing to water more often than in the dormant season when you will hardly need to water at all.

Another factor that you may need to consider will be air conditioning and heating. Both of these systems can change the speed at which moisture will evaporate.

Soil Holding Capacity

Different soils hold different amounts of moisture. To further complicate this issue, over time, the water holding capacity of soil will decrease.

An old soil contains less absorbent material and the water is, therefore, able to pass through more rapidly.

Nitrogen Toxicity

Here’s one that you may not consider. Nitrogen is critical to plant growth, but too much can become toxic. This is usually only an issue when over-eager gardeners supply too much fertilizer to their plant.

Don’t feed Jade plants too often, cut out feeding altogether during the winter months, and use a balanced houseplant fertilizer.

Symptoms can be quite similar to under-watering. Yellowing leaves, brown leaf margins, and eventual leaf drop.

This problem is not commonly associated with a dry potting mix which will tell you that under-watering is the problem rather than excess feeding.

How to Revive Your Under Watered Jade Plant?

Now we get to the part where we have identified the symptoms and the cause of the under-watering. This is where we look at rectifying the situation and restoring your plant to its former healthy state. 

Cut Off Severely Affected Parts 

If your plant has brown marks on either the tips or the leaf margins, you need to understand that these parts of the leaf have effectively died, and they no longer serve any practical purpose in terms of the plant’s overall well-being.

Quite how you deal with this will come down to personal preference and the extent of the damage. If the damage is relatively minor and the brown marks disturb you, you can remove the damaged leaves and dispose of them.

If the damage is minimal and the marks don’t detract from the overall appearance of the plant too much, then you might choose to leave them until new leaves have grown to replace them.

Using Proper Potting Mix

If the soil was degraded to a point where it was no longer retaining moisture, then the easiest thing to do is to simply repot your Jade Plant. You will be surprised at how quickly a Jade Plant will bounce back once it is repotted into fresh potting soil.

You will need to repot into a potting soil that is free draining. The worst thing for Jade Plants is to have wet feet, and so free-draining potting soil is crucial.

Some garden centers will sell you cactus or succulent mix which is specifically designed to provide maximum drainage. As the Jade Plant is succulent, this will make an ideal potting mixture.

In the event of not being able to purchase a ready-made cactus mix, all is not lost. You can make your own really easily. All you need is a good general-purpose house plant potting soil – preferably one that doesn’t contain peat.

You then mix in one-third of perlite and this will allow the mixture to drain more freely. Even if perlite is unavailable, by adding grit you will also augment the drainage of the mix.

Choose Right Size of Container

Choosing the right size container to repot your Jade Plant into is more important than you realize. Ideally, you want to pot on into the next size up from the pot the plant has just come out of.

This normally means choosing a pot that is only one to two inches larger in diameter than the previous one was.

The reason it is important to choose the right size pot is that if you plant into a pot that is too large, the potting mix will retain too much moisture and you run the risk of creating overwatering problems and root rot.

Of course, it goes without saying that the pot you opt for should have suitable drainage holes in its base. You should be able to get the tip of your finger into the drainage hole.

After repotting, don’t water the plant immediately. Potting soil is normally slightly damp and so it is probably best to allow it to dry out slightly before the first watering.

Place Your Jade Plant In A Suitable Environment

Where you position your Jade Plant will further influence the speed at which the moisture evaporates. These plants are fairly tolerant when it comes to light conditions, but the ideal spot is going to offer at least four hours a day of indirect sunlight.  

Direct sun will prevent the plant from becoming leggy and spindly, but will also dramatically increase both water evaporation and transpiration.

If you elevate the speed of either of these processes, you also increase the risk of your plant drying out more rapidly. This is something you are going to need to be aware of.

The Ideal Watering Regime for Jade Plant

This article pertains to problems from under-watering, so it should come as no surprise that the subject of the perfect watering regime is of great importance. Get this right, and you are almost guaranteed a happy and healthy Jade Plant.

Like nearly all succulents, these plants are capable of storing water in their leaves, roots, and even in their stems. This means that they often need less water than other types of houseplants to do.

The problem is that because they require less regular watering, they are sometimes overlooked, and drying out occurs along with some of the problems you have already looked at.

Ideally, you want the top two inches of potting soil to dry out before rewatering your plant. The problem is that this level of dryness happens at different rates depending on the time of year, the air humidity and evaporation rate, and even on the size of your plant. A larger plant will transpire more rapidly than a small one.

The way to get the moisture level right is to through regular examination rather than by working to a strict schedule. You can test the soil moisture by simply pushing your finger into the soil to a depth of two inches or so (about the second knuckle). You will easily be able to feel whether the deeper soil is damp or not. 

If you do this test every few days, you will be in a position to know when and when not to water. I tend to find myself having to water about every two to three weeks during the warmer months of spring and summer.

That slows down noticeably during the autumn and winter periods when the Jade Plant becomes almost dormant and the evaporation rate is much less.

Even during the dormant periods, I don’t want my plant to dry out completely, which is why I continue to poke my finger into the soil to feel that there is some moisture. I can’t overstress how important that regular testing is to a good watering regime. 

Finally, on the subject of watering, don’t apply water to the leaves, whichever method you opt for. Wet leaves make the plant vulnerable to all sorts of fungal diseases. As long as you are careful, this is an easy one to avoid.

How to Water Jade Plant?

Once you know how to tell if your Jade Plant needs water, it is now really just a matter of knowing how to actually do the watering. In the case of the Jade Plant, you have two possibilities. 

One method is to water via the top of the pot. You will need to stand your plant in a basin or saucer and then apply the water with a bottle or watering can.

Pour it onto the surface of the potting soil until you see water starting to run out through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. 

After that, allow the water to stop draining before placing the plant back in its saucer and returning it to its original position. Be careful here that water doesn’t continue to drain from the soil, fill the saucer and cause the plant to stand in an overly moist environment.

I use the above option with almost all of my house plants, but when it comes to succulents, I prefer to use the bottom watering method.

I place the pot in a basin and then fill the basin to around half the depth of the pot. Over time, the soil will absorb water from its base upwards, through the process of osmosis.

Once the top of the soil is damp, I throw out any remaining water and again, allow the pot to drain any excess water.

This method is slower than the top watering method, but it does ensure that the soil is adequately soaked before draining starts.

Although it takes longer, I don’t really mind because these plants normally only need to be watered every few weeks, and even less often during the dormant season. You can also place several succulents in a basin of water at the same time thus making the job a little quicker.

One final word on watering. Chemicals such as chlorine tend to build up in the soil if you water your plants with regular tap water.

Jade Plants can be sensitive to this, so it is preferable to use filtered or bottled water to avoid this becoming a problem. Trapped rainwater is also chemical-free and therefore safe to use on your Jade Plant. 

Final Words

I hope that this article has clarified any questions you may have on the subject of under-watering your Jade Plant. Although it may seem a little intimidating at first, these plants are very forgiving and you will soon become adept at understanding the watering requirements.

The main way to avoid any under-watering issues is to simply feel the soil on a regular basis. It really is the secret to a good watering regime.

Arifur Rahman

I'm the owner of gardenforindoor.com. After completing my bachelor of science in agriculture, I'm serving as a civil service officer at the Department of Agricultural Extension, Bangladesh. I started Garden For Indoor to make your indoor gardening journey easy and enjoyable.

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