Underwatered Succulents

Underwatered Succulents

Most succulents are known to be drought-tolerant, meaning that they can go long periods of time without having access to water, but this does not mean that they do not need water at all. An underwatered succulent will have shriveled and wrinkled leaves. The leaves will turn brown and will feel flat and soft to the touch.

The best way to remedy an underwatered plant is to be well-informed regarding the proper care tips for your specific type of succulent. 

How can I tell if my succulent is underwatered?

The simplest and easiest way you can tell if your succulent is underwatered is by looking at its leaves. Succulents are able to survive droughts because their bodies and leaves are essentially water storage units that keep them moist in arid climates. When they have used up all of the water in their body, they will need to replenish their water stores, which is when you will need to water them.

An underwatered succulent will have leaves that shrivel and wrinkle the longer it goes without water. It will droop and wilt the more water-deprived it becomes. Its leaves will turn brown and dry up, starting from the bottom of the plant. This is because as the plant’s water storage lessens, the leaves at the bottom will dry out first. The plant will drop leaves as it goes on in order to conserve what little water and energy it still has in order to survive. Its leaves will feel flat and soft to the touch because without water inside them, they lose their firmness and plumpness. The leaves will look like deflated balloons.

What are signs I should watch out for in case my succulent is underwatered?

Curves and folds

There are hundreds of different varieties of succulents. Their leaves can be long and slim, just like the aloe vera. These kinds of leaves will curve into themselves if they are underwatered. This is the plant’s way of conserving water because it decreases the surface area that needs to be supplied with water.

Succulents like the echeveria, whose leaves grow in a rosette form, will look like they are closed when they are underwatered. This is their way of conserving water because the leaves are more tightly packed together.

Aerial roots

Roots that form above the top soil are called aerial roots. Succulents will grow these because when a succulent feels underwatered, they need support to remain standing. Dehydrated succulents are desperate for water, so the aerial roots are their last hope at getting water molecules from the air. The same roots will also help the plant avoid bending too much and breaking off a stem, working like a tripod to keep it off the ground.

Dying roots

If your succulent is underwatered, the soil around it is cracked, the leaves are brown and dry, and their roots are most likely also dying. Dying roots will have a hard time absorbing and distributing water to feed the plant, making it harder for them to recover. It is almost always too late for a succulent if it has gone so long without water that it has dry roots. Make sure you catch the first signs of dehydration before it gets too serious.

No flowers

The longer you have taken care of a succulent plant, the more you become aware of its flowering pattern. If you notice the plant not producing any flowers when it usually does, that could be a sign of being underwatered. Succulents need water to start flowering, but if it does not flower, it means that your plant is prioritizing its survival as opposed to producing flowers.

Different feel

When you suspect your succulent to be underwatered, touch its leaves. You may notice that they are a lot softer than what they normally feel like. This is because when a succulent is properly hydrated, their leaves are taut and firm. The leaves of an underwatered succulent feel thin, crisp, and dry when you touch them.

How can I save my underwatered succulents?

As long as the roots of your succulent have not yet completely dried up, getting an underwatered succulent back to normal is an easy task. Take a watering can and water the soil surrounding the plant. Wait until all of the water has been absorbed by the soil before you pour even more water into it. Keep repeating these steps until you can see excess water coming out of the drainage hole at the bottom of the pot. Make sure all of the excess water has been drained. Observe your succulent over the coming days, but if you did all of the above steps correctly, your succulent should be able to recover with no problem. The leaves and stems should start to feel stronger and firmer.

If after a few days the plant does not look any better, repeat the same steps. Continue this until your plant has recovered fully.

When your succulent has gotten back to its original vigor, create a watering schedule that is appropriate for the specific type of succulent that you have. Stick to this schedule so the plant is kept in a state of proper hydration.


Succulents tend to be very difficult to kill, which is why they are great plants for beginner gardeners, but that does not mean that they can just be completely ignored. One of the most common mistakes people make when growing succulents is underwatering them.

An underwatered succulent has wrinkled and shriveled up leaves and stems, browning and curled up leaves, an inability to flower, and drying roots.

Remedy underwatering by watering the soil around the plant until the soil is soaked and the excess water drains. Repeat this every couple of days, depending on the type of succulent, until the plant returns to its original vigor.

Image: istockphoto.com / Brittany Tande

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