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6 signs you're underwatering your houseplants!

We've already discussed what happens when we overwater our houseplants, so now lets talk about what happens when we underwater them.

Next to overwatering, underwatering is one of the most common reasons why a plant is likely to be unhealthy. Plants need water to survive and thrive. Water allows our plants to stay up right, maintaining turgor, the pressure within their cells that encourages rigidity. Water allows the plant to create food and energy through photosynthesis, and it allows the transport of nutrients from the soil through the roots and into the stem of the plant. Underwatering can be just as detrimental to your plants health as overwatering and ultimately, underwatering a plant can lead to the death of your plant.

My impression of turgor pressure: The vacuole stores water within the plants cells, when it is full it pushes outwards towards the cell walls keeping it rigid. When the vacuole is empty the cell wall surrounding it collapses causing the plant to wilt and droop.

So, what are the signs that your plant is not getting enough water?

1) Drooping leaves - as you can see from my (beautiful) drawing above that without water the plant will start to droop. And yes I know, we spoke about the plant not staying upright with overwatering as well, it can be tricky to get watering right. A way to tell the difference between underwatered droopy leaves and overwatered droopy leaves is the texture; underwatered leaves will be thinner, more brittle or crispier than a healthy version of those leaves, overwatered leaves will be appear limp and squishier than a healthy version. It'll be the other signs along with drooping leaves that will help you to determine whether it is under or over watering that is causing the flop in your plant.

2) Discolouration - chances are those dry leaves are changing colour, perhaps yellowing or browning. They may have crisping or curling edges.

My Calathea Sanderiana aka Calathea Pinstripe may not look like she needs a drink but take a look at the next photo of her soil

3) Dry soil - if the soil around your plant is really dry, then it probably needs a drink, there are of course exceptions to this rule, such as cacti and succulent plants that do need less watering and prefer for their soil to dry out between waterings.

4) Soil drying out quickly - if you notice the soil of your plant drying out really fast, even though you water it regularly, it may be that this plant needs to be repotted and therefore it is not getting the right amount of water it needs to survive. Large plants in smaller pots will drink up water much faster than if they were in a pot better suited to their size.

5) Soil separating from the pot - if you notice that there is a gap between the pot and the soil of your plant it is likely because the soil has dried out, increasing the amount of water you're giving this plant will help prevent underwatering.

That gap between the soil and the pot is a sign that this Calathea Sanderiana is in need of some water!

6) Slow or small growth - if you notice the growth on your plant has slowed down or the new growth it is pushing out is smaller than usual, it may be because it isn't getting enough water.

Knowing the correct amount of water our houseplants need is a tricky skill to master, it will most likely take a bit of trial and error to figure out what each of our plants like. I would highly recommend that you thoroughly research the type of plants you own, they will each have different preferences on the amount and frequency of watering they require. Also, keep in mind their environment, during the hotter months plants will need much more water than in the cooler months, but likewise considering whether you're using the heating during the winter months, as this will change the amount of water your plant needs. As well as plant type, season and environment, also remember to consider the type of soil your plant is in, is it fast draining? Does it have elements that will allow it to retain water for longer?

If you notice that your houseplant is underwatered, give it a good drink. It may be enough to water the plant as usual, or bottom water by sitting it in a bowl of water, or you may have to submerge the entire soil and root ball into water if it has been too long. If you do realise your plant is being underwatered, I would recommend setting regular reminders for yourself to check whether your plant may be in need of a drink. Check for signs of overwatering too, just in case it's gone the other way and now your plant has been overwatered. I discussed overwatering houseplants in my previous post, if you haven't read that post and do not find the answers you're searching for here, then please check out that previous post, here.


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