Aloes are a genus of succulent plants native to parts of Africa and the Middle East. They comprise roughly 500 species, several of which are popular for their medicinal benefits. The most well-known of these is Aloe vera.
Despite being very hardy and able to withstand extended periods of drought, even aloes will eventually succumb to the effects of underwatering if neglected for too long.
Underwatered aloe plant: Signs and how to revive
Signs of an underwatered aloe
1. The leaves turn yellow.
If your aloe’s leaves have turned yellow, this is an indication that the roots are no longer able to absorb moisture and nutrients from the soil. With all of the soil’s moisture exhausted, there is no way to transport essential nutrients from the soil, as these are carried up through the plant via the water.
This deficiency of both water and nutrients cause drought stress, and yellowing leaves are a manifestation of this.
Different nutrient deficiencies are indicated depending on which leaves turn yellow. Mature leaves that turn yellow may lack nutrients like magnesium, phosphorus or potassium. Younger leaves that are yellow may lack zinc, copper or calcium.
2. The leaves are droopy and may curl inward.
Underwatered aloes can become droopy or bent. The plant cells become less distended due to dehydration, and the leaves will start to shrink and lose their original shape. The droopy leaves will eventually wilt, die and fall off due to excessive dehydration.
The tips of the leaves may also turn brown, since they are the last area to receive water and therefore the first parts to suffer damage.
To retain any remaining moisture, the leaves may curl inward. This is an adaptation method that reduces water loss through transpiration.
3. The potting soil is dry.
Totally dry soil affects the roots’ capacity to absorb water. If the soil appears dry on the surface but the layers below are still moist, this is fine. However, if the soil is bone dry throughout the pot, especially if it has been like this for some time, your aloe could be underwatered.
Aloes in sandy soil require more water than those in clay-type soil, because sandy soil drains very fast.
4. The roots are brittle.
Underwatered aloes tend to have brittle roots due to dehydration. Roots function by drawing water from the soil and transporting it to the rest of the plant parts. In the absence of water, they become dry and brittle and will not be able to perform their function.
How to revive an underwatered aloe plant
1. Remove the aloe from its pot.
To revive your underwatered aloe, remove it from the dry soil. To do this, position the pot upside-down and pat the bottom to separate the plant from the soil. Once the plant is out, shake off any excess soil and examine the roots to see if they are brittle.
As long as there are even a few white, firm, healthy roots, there is a chance that the plant will survive.
2. Submerge the roots in a bowl of water for two days.
Aloes that are severely dehydrated turn brown, yellow or droopy. To resolve this, immerse the plant’s roots in a bowl of purified water for at least two days.
After that period, check whether the plant’s condition has improved and whether the leaves have started to turn green again. If so, you can repot the plant.
3. Trim off discolored and dry leaves.
Cut off any brown, yellow or dried leaves using a sharp knife or scissors. This way, they will not compete for nutrients with the healthier remaining leaves.
4. Select well-draining soil.
Even if your watering frequency may have been correct, your aloe might have been underwatered due to unsuitable soil. Opt for well-draining soil that emulates your plant’s native environment; ideally, it should be cactus mix.
5. Repot your plant in a pot of the right size.
Place your plant in a pot that is the ideal size for it, keeping in mind that the roots will grow laterally and become heavier. Opt for a pot with bowl-like features that is neither too deep nor too shallow for the root ball.
Plastic containers are amenable if you are in a warm area, while clay pots are ideal if you are living in an area with cold weather.
6. Adjust your watering frequency according to the season.
Your plants should be watered roughly every two weeks. Remember that overwatering could do more harm than underwatering, and water the plants only when the soil at the bottom of the planters has dried out.
Factors like the time of year, climate and pot size will all determine the watering frequency. During winter, reduce your watering frequency to every three or four weeks.
Aloes are low-maintenance plants that are commonly grown for their medicinal benefits. They are hardy and drought-tolerant, but will eventually also succumb to underwatering if neglected for too long. Signs of underwatering in aloes include yellow, droopy leaves, brittle roots and dry potting soil. You may need to remove your underwatered aloes from their pots and submerge the roots in water for two days to revive them. Trim off mature but discolored leaves, and use well-draining soil when you repot the plants.
Image: istockphoto.com / vinodkumar Amberkhane