The bird of paradise is one of the most popular plants in the world. Being tropical or semi-tropical, it appreciates a little more water than most houseplants, and one of the most common problems it encounters is underwatering.
Underwatering is a mistake made by many beginner bird of paradise owners, because they either neglect to give the plant enough water per watering, or do not water it as frequently as they should, or they place it in a spot where it gets too much sunlight or gets exposed to warm or cold drafts.
In this article, we will discuss the signs to look out for if you suspect underwatering, the causes of underwatering, and how to save an underwatered bird of paradise plant.
How can you tell if a bird of paradise is underwatered?
1. Drooping leaves
If the leaves on the plant are drooping, this may be because the plant is prioritizing the roots and the base of the plant to survive. Keeping the foliage alive takes up a lot of resources and nutrients, so if the plant is in a situation where resources are scarce, its main objective will always be survival. The foliage is last on the list, so it will start to look unhealthy and wilted.
The drooping is due to the absence of moisture in the plant’s stems and leaves. In a healthy, well-watered bird of paradise, the stems and leaves are sturdy and springy, and will have no problem standing straight.
One way to determine whether the droopiness is due to underwatering is by touching the top two inches of soil in the pot. If the soil is very dry, chances are the plant is overdue for watering.
2. Dry soil
Look at the soil in the pot. If it is pulling away from the edges of the pot, the soil may be drier than it needs to be. If you can remove the soil as a whole from the pot, inspect it all and check if it is dry all the way to the bottom.
When the soil is this dry, the plant’s roots are not getting the moisture they need.
If dry soil is the only sign you have noticed, then the underwatering or dehydration is still in its early stages. If this is the case you are fortunate, because all you need to do to remedy the situation is water the plant until all of the soil is properly soaked.
3. Wrinkled, curled leaves
Another sign of an underwatered bird of paradise is wrinkled, curled leaves. As with the drooping stems, the leaves will be least prioritized if the plant is conserving its limited water stores. The wrinkling and curling are just signs that the leaves no longer have as much moisture inside them as they would when they are receiving the proper amount of water.
Over time, the wrinkled leaves will turn yellow or brown and fall off.
4. Yellowing and browning leaves
If the leaves of the plant turn yellow, you should see this as a sign that the plant is in need of immediate attention. If the leaves are turning yellow alongside other signs, such as drooping and wrinkling, this is most probably due to dehydration.
If the leaves turn yellow but are not dry and crispy, this could be indicative of the plant’s long-term health being affected. Because the leaves are yellow, their ability to photosynthesize is compromised and this will affect the health of the plant in the long run.
When the leaves start turning brown and not just yellow, this is a warning that the plant is even closer to death.
If you see yellowing or browning leaves on your plant, check for the other signs of underwatering. If all of the signs listed above are present in your plant, you need to remedy the situation as soon as possible, because there might not be much time left.
Why is my bird of paradise underwatered?
Poor watering techniques
The most common mistake made by plant owners is not giving the plant enough water per watering, or not watering it as frequently as needed.
There are several factors to consider when determining the correct watering schedule for your plant. These include the climate where you live, the season of the year, and the current weather conditions. During the winter, in a place with a cold climate with lots of rainfall, you will not have to water the plant as much as someone who lives in an area with a warm climate, in the summer, with little to no rainfall.
Do not neglect your plant; try to water it whenever the top two inches of soil are dry. Remember that this is a tropical plant that cannot go too long without water.
The plant is placed in the wrong spot
Even if you are watering the plant properly and taking into account the climate and weather conditions, where you place the plant in your home can have a great effect on its general well-being.
If you place the plant outdoors, you may be putting it directly under the sun which will dry the soil out faster than intended. This can also lead to sun-damaged foliage which will spoil the plant’s aesthetic.
Another reason your plant may become underwatered without you noticing immediately is placing it where it is exposed to cold or warm drafts, such as near an air conditioner or a heating vent. The cold or warm air will dry out the soil in the pot as well as the foliage of the plant. The same thing goes for areas near doors and windows, where small cracks might allow cold air from outside to hit the plant.
Potting soil problems
Another reason your plant may be underwatered, even if you give it water at the right time, is if the soil is too well-draining.
This can be due to added components that make the soil too loose. Plants do not like soil that is too dense and compact, because this retains too much water and can lead to root rot. However, that does not mean that you can go crazy when adding draining components to the soil, because then the water will not stay in the potting mix long enough for the roots to absorb moisture. It will simply flow to the bottom of the pot and out through the drainage holes.
The best thing to do is add just one part draining material to the soil, so that it can still retain enough water to last until the next time the plant is watered.
How to save an underwatered bird of paradise plant
If you think your bird of paradise is underwatered, you need to water it immediately.
Fill your sink with water until it is about four inches deep. Place the plant’s pot in the sink and let it soak for 30 to 45 minutes. This is important, because if the soil has become very dry, it will take some time for the water to permeate it effectively. The water will enter through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot and carry moisture up into the soil.
After soaking, check the soil at the top of the pot to see that the water has made its way at least up to the top two inches of soil. Remove the plant from the sink and allow the excess water to drip from the pot before returning the plant to its proper place.
In order to avoid underwatering the plant again, make sure you check the soil every couple of days to see when the top two inches of soil have dried out.
The bird of paradise plant is one of the most popular houseplants in the world. It is low-maintenance, but its tropical aesthetic is a great addition to any household decor.
One of the most common mistakes made by bird of paradise owners is forgetting that this is a tropical plant that needs more water, more frequently, than most plants. Remember that in the wild, these plants are exposed to abundant rain.
You can tell a bird of paradise plant is underwatered when the plant is drooping, the soil is dry, and the leaves are turning yellow or brown and wrinkling.
Save the plant by soaking the soil generously in a sink of water until the top two inches of soil are properly moist.
Image: istockphoto.com / Dima Berlin