Underwatered Succulents: What You Need To Know

Two succulents showing underwatering signs with brown leaves

Do you have underwatered succulents in your home garden? Succulent underwatering is a common problem amongst succulent growers.

Since succulents develop in harsh conditions, they have an internal structure that allows them to save water. Their leaves, stems, or roots store as much water as possible to ensure the plants’ survival.

As a result, you may think that your watering pattern isn’t important at all. Well, think again!

Underwatered succulent

Indeed, if you don’t water your succulents enough -or too much- they will probably end up dying before you know it. This article will first help you identify signs of underwatering.

Then, I will show you how to differentiate between underwatered and overwatered succulents. Afterward, I will discuss how you can save your underwatered plants and bring them back to life.

Next, I will explain how you should water your succulents, and lastly, I will give you a few more tips to save you from any more troubles.

Let’s dive right into it!

Read also: Black spots on succulent leaves: What to do

Succulent underwatering signs

Most beginner succulent growers tend to fail to realize that their succulent plants suffer from underwatering. Failing to read the signs is a serious problem on its own.

However, don’t worry; I will list every telltale of underwatered succulents.

Underwatered succulents’ leaves dry up.

The first thing you should pay attention to is the state of the plant’s leaves. Underwatered succulents will have their leaves start to shrivel up and wrinkle. Indeed, due to the lack of water, the leaves will begin to provide their stock to the whole plant. Consequently, the leaves will start to dry up and shrink.

Another thing you should pay attention to is how they feel. Leaves of underwatered succulents will feel rubbery and bend easily.

In addition, as the moisture pressure starts to reduce inside the leaves, they will look droopy with sagging tips.

Keep in mind that well-watered leaves will feel plump and firm. Therefore, if they feel soft, then they are probably underwatered.

Plump and green succulent leaves
Plump and green leaves

If you notice that only the bottom leaves dry up, then it could be perfectly normal. Succulents will naturally grow new leaves while the older ones die.

Their leaves turn brown.

Secondly, if your succulent plant needs water, its leaves will start to change their color. The color you should avoid is brown! A clear sign of underwatered succulents is brown leaves (like in the case of our first Pink Panther plant).

Color is a frequent subject of confusion when trying to determine whether succulents are overwatered or underwatered. Therefore you should remember that brown leaves mean underwatered leaves. The leaves will start to turn brown from their tip.

Two succulents showing underwatering signs with brown leaves
Underwatered succulents with brown leaves

Please note that sometimes leaves won’t change their color even if in lack of water.

They grow aerial roots.

Since succulents usually grow in arid areas, collecting water and preserving it is crucial to their survival.

For this reason, succulent plants have aerial roots. These white or pink tendrils grow out of the plant’s stem and collect water from the air. Consequently, aerial roots develop when your plant lacks water.

It is worth noting that these roots usually grow in humid areas. Henceforth, you should know they aren’t a sufficient telltale for underwatered succulents.

I advise you to first look at the leaves before considering aerial roots. Indeed, your plant might be displaying them only because of high humidity.

Their stem is flaccid.

In case your succulent doesn’t have leaves, either Cacti or Schlumbergera, for example, you can look at the stem. Since stems store water, they will look flaccid for underwatered plants.

This phenomenon is due to the water leaving the stem to reach the rest of the plant.

Brown leaves on underwatered succulent

What you should remember.

These are the four signs you should look for to determine whether you are underwatering your succulent or not. While aerial roots and the stem’s state are still significant indicators, you should privilege examining the leaves.

In other words, by checking the leaves’ color and state, you can ascertain your doubts concerning your watering pattern.

In summary, you have to keep an eye on your plant’s leaves. If you notice they are wrinkled, drying up, and turning brown, then you can assume they need more water.

Next, I will discuss the difference between overwatered and underwatered succulents.

Overwatered vs Underwatered succulents

Underwatering your succulent isn’t the worst problem you could face. Overwatering your plants is a much serious issue. So far, I have listed the signs of underwatered succulents.

But, how can you distinguish between overwatered and underwatered? Well, you are in luck! Below I note the many differences between the two.

First, they differ in color.

While underwatered leaves turn brown, overwatered leaves will first turn yellow before turning translucent. For instance, Echeverias will have their center turn lighter when overwatered.

In addition, due to storing too much water, the stem and leaves will start to show black spots because of internal rot. This rot is due to internal damages caused by exploding cells. Indeed, these cells filled up so much that they burst.

In other cases, overwatering will increase fungal diseases. Leaves will then turn entirely black due to the rot caused by the disease.

Second, they differ to the touch.

As mentioned before, leaves of underwatered succulents will feel rubbery, soft, and bend easily. On the other hand, overwatered leaves tend to feel mushy and soggy due to the excess water. They will also feel squishy and soft.

Also, both overwatered and underwatered leaves will become shriveled. Therefore, you must touch them to make sure.

Indoor succulent plants

Third, overwatered leaves will fall off easily. 

Another difference between the two is falling leaves.

The leaves of underwatered succulents will first swell up before starting to drop. A simple brush will suffice for a leaf to fall off.

Usually, it is the bottom leaves that start falling first.

Fourth, overwatered stems look puffy.

Stems of overwatered succulents will appear puffy as opposed to flaccid for underwatered succulents. Naturally, excess water will fill up the step and give it a puffy appearance.

Now that you can distinguish between overwatered and underwatered succulents, you must be wondering: can I save my underwatered plant?
Fortunately, the short answer to that question is: Yes!

Let’s look into that.

How to fix underwatered succulents?

You will be happy to know that most cases of underwatered succulents are salvageable. That is because succulents can go up to three months without water. Still, roots need to be alive for it to succeed.

Moreover, you would be more successful in fixing an underwatered succulent than an overwatered one.

The most important thing to remember is to avoid overcompensation.

Here is how you should go about saving your underwatered succulent:

  1. Start by pouring water with a watering can at the base of the plant until the soil is wet.
  2. Verify it has completely absorbed the water.
  3. Pour some more water once the soil has dried up.
  4. Repeat until the water starts coming out from the drainage hole.

Follow these steps until your succulent starts to look better.

Additionally, I advise you to raise the frequency of your watering schedule.

If you have been watering your plating every two weeks, you should change it to once every ten days.

Dying succulents

After a few days, you should notice that your plant’s state has improved. If you don’t, then it could be time for water therapy.

What is water therapy?

Water therapy is the practice of submerging succulents’ roots in water to relieve them of stress.

How to perform water therapy?

First, start with filling up a container with water. Next, remove all the soil from your succulent’s roots. If you don’t remove it all, they will rot and die. 

Afterward, put only the roots in the water. The leaves must not touch the water because they will be damaged. So you have to position the plant perfectly inside the container.

Leave the plant in the bath for about three days before taking it out. After that, let them dry up before replanting the succulent. Handle the plant carefully during this phase because the roots will be particularly vulnerable.

Ultimately, if your plant is dying, you could still save it by propagating it.

Check here our article on Succulent leaf propagation.”

Succulent watering

So far, I have discussed what an underwatered succulent looks like, the differences between overwatered and underwatered succulents, and how to revive your underwatered plant.

By now, you should have realized that watering issues have a tremendous impact on your plant’s survival. To avoid losing your plants to either overwatering or underwatering, here is our advice.

How often should you water to avoid underwatered succulents?

Like we’ve said before, succulents can go long periods without being watered. Moreover, they can go even longer when indoors. It is because outdoor elements such as wind and sunlight tend to dry up the soil faster.

Still, you will need to keep a record of your waterings. You could use a notepad, an excel spreadsheet, or a mobile app for that purpose.

Most succulent growers would agree on a timelapse of 14 to 21 days between waterings. However, the frequency could vary depending on the pot, type of succulent, soil, area, and climate.

Soaking soil with watering can

Hence, I would suggest you start from there before adjusting according to your results.

Pots that have drainage holes will dry up much faster than those that don’t. As a result, you will have to water your succulents in those pots more frequently.

Also, some types of soil will retain water longer. Therefore you will have to hold off on watering.

That said, I advise you to use pots with drainage holes and soil with particles that dry up quickly. Next, I will explain why.

How should you water to avoid overwatered or underwatered succulents?

In the wild, succulents hold water to survive in drought conditions. They will absorb enough water when available and endure extended periods without any external source.

Your watering method should mimic this process. That way, your succulents will develop a strong and deep root system.
On the other hand, if you only spray your succulents, they will put out thin and shallow roots. Consequently, they won’t be able to stand long periods without water which means underwatered succulents.

Now, let’s answer this question “what is the best way to water succulents.“?

To keep it simple, you need to soak the soil and let it dry up before watering again.

A watering can next to a succulent

Fill up a watering can (or a squeeze bottle) and entirely soak the soil. Try and avoid watering the leaves unless you are putting them outdoors. Otherwise, the soaked leaves will end up rotting.

Afterward, wait until the soil is completely dried up before watering again. To verify this, you can put your finger through the drainage hole. If it feels cool and wet to the touch, then you will need to wait.

I recommend watching this video on how to water succulents.

Tips to avoid overwatered and underwatered succulents

Here are some tips for you to avoid underwatering your succulents.

  1. Keep a record of your waterings.
  2. Water your succulent when its leaves show early signs of underwatering.
  3. Use soil that dries up quickly and doesn’t retain water.
  4. Put your succulent in a pot with a drainage hole.
  5. Use a watering can and avoid spray bottles.
  6. Don’t water again until the soil is 100% dry.

Follow these instructions, and you will avoid watering problems. The main element in avoiding underwatered succulents is your watering schedule. Meanwhile, the best way to escape overwatering your succulents is through a pot with a drainage hole and soil that doesn’t retain water.


To sum up, underwatered succulents are easy to detect. First, you will have to pay attention to the color and shape of the leaves. Brown and shriveled up leaves are a clear sign of an underwatered succulent.

Also, if they feel rubbery and bend easily then they probably need more watering. Furthermore, aerial roots could potentially be a telltale as well.

The good news is that you can still save your plants on the condition that their roots are still alive. However, it is always preferable to anticipate and follow a good watering routine.

Good luck to you! Feel free to comment and share if you’ve found this post helpful.

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