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From Parched to prosperous: Ways to Identify + recover from the perils of under watering your plants

Got water? I do...now...so cheers to us, Plant Parents! After you take a sip, go ahead and take a deep cleansing breathe for the scene that awaits you...I will meet you on the other side...*sending love and light to all impacted*.

examples of under-watered plants on a pink bar
Exhibit A: Even your Plant Penthouse Concierge has experienced phases of neglect. This is what it looks like...

What does underwatering look like?

Well for starters, it can look something like the pink bar brawl you just saw. My condolences. In a battle between bright light, a stint of neglect, and a studio full of houseplants...the plants were unfortunately caught in the middle of a losing battle.


If you've been a plant parent for any length of time, you may have already learned the...humbling...lesson of under-watering a plant...or 10. And if you're new (firstly, welcome, and pompoms for your journey ahead), underwatering occurs when a houseplant is not receiving an adequate amount of water to thrive...or survive (reference Exhibit A above).


Because I have received this question during the age old game of "Is it dead...or just dehydrated", if you prolong watering for too long, death is imminent (I've tested this theory a few too many times...and I'm sure I'll have a few more test and learns in my lifetime). Though unfortunate, I am here to break the news that individual foliage will not un-yellow or reverse browning, etc. etc. While your plant may still have the strength to produce new growth, if the terminal process has begun on any given leaf, in the telling words of JT in Cry Me a River..."the damage is done"...so, eventually, it will be leavin' (Oh, oh, oh).



Do you think you have been underwatering? With Debbie Downer out of the way, there is hope! Before you swoop in to remedy your baby's ailments, let's triage. Here are a few tell tale signs to look for if you are unsure whether or not your plant needs emergency hydration:


1. Wilting: The plant may appear droopy or limp.

2. Dry Soil: The soil feels dry to the touch, and it may even pull away from the sides of the pot.

3. Yellowing or Browning Leaves: The leaves are turning yellow or brown at the tips or edges.

4. Crispy or Curling Leaves: The leaves have become crispy or start to curl.

5. Slowed Growth: Your plant may stop growing or grow very slowly.

6. Leaf Drop: The plant has started shedding it's leaves.

7. Stunted New Growth: If there are any new leaves, they may be smaller than usual.


How to prevent underwatering Your Plants

So, you've underwatered? Say it with me: SO WHAT. Perilous times happen. Life happens. It is OK. What's done is done, so let's shift our focus to writing our best comeback story. Acceptance is always chapter 1. Acceptance allows us to ask the hard questions - Are my plants placed in locations that are easy to forget about? Are they getting too much sun? Do I need to set a reminder to water my plants or ask for help? Is it time to repot? Is this more than my schedule allows for? Do I need less finicky options? Could I better set myself up for success by making the plant watering process easier on myself?...


I could go on all day with the internal thoughts (and who has time for that when we have plants to water!), but know there is no wrong or right answer to the monologue...only solutions. I like to keep things as easy as one, two, three, so here are my top 3 tips (and you can let me know if you need more...there is always room for more here) to determine if there's life after dea...dehydration.


TIP ONE: Prune Your Plant to see what you're working with

Why pruning?! Pruning is the removal, cutting away, or trimming of your houseplant. With a set of sharp, clean shears I like to prune away severely browning, yellowed, or crunchy leaves that are hanging on for their dear life because as we learned earlier...the damage is done. The hidden benefit is this also supports the redirection of our plant's energy to healthier parts. We thank the lost for their contributions to our original joy and lift up prayers for the journey.


Now, with the glaring memories of neglects past out of sight, I first determine if there is enough of the plant left to salvage (this is a personal decision), if I want to use the remains as cuttings, or if I need to repot the baby and move it from an individual contributor role to a new team opening (neglected pothos and philodendron varieties are my prime candidates).


This is a wonderful opportunity to check on your pot size...and for pests! If the roots have bound themselves around your plant or have grown through your pot, this is a tell-tale sign the pot is too small, and could be the culprit of your underwatering woes. Additionally, the stress of underwatering can leave room for pests to move in. If you see any signs of unwanted visitors, isolate to prevent any further spreading (again...speaking from experience). More on this in another post, I'll stick to the task at hand today!


TIP TWO: Just add water...and time

With my freshly groomed plant in hand, it's time for watering. This is the 'did you reboot your computer' step of our "Is it dead or just dehydrated" decision tree. Watering a parched plant takes patience. I'm talking a few hours to a few days to give it a chance to rejoin the land of the living (depending of the severity...the plants on my bar took 2 full days). And when I say just add water, I do mean just add water. While fertilizing may seem like the hydroboost we're missing, remember we have a plant under stressed conditions and a fertilizer could be gasoline on a pile of crispy sticks (or leaves if you haven't pruned yet). Have you ever had a wheatgrass shot after a marathon of lackluster eating? I wouldn't recommend it. Your only job is to water thoroughly, meaning that water saturates the roots, allowing for excess water to drain off. Now we wait.


TIP THREE: Master Monitoring Moisture

To state the obvious for myself and anyone else who needs to hear it: watering frequency is location (i.e. lighting) and season dependent.


The same plants I could water every three weeks at my home, now require weekly check-ins. Why? The answer is LIGHTING. These plants are now receiving bright, direct light when they had grown accustomed to ~medium dappled light. The additional intensity dries the soil out considerably faster, which means I now set a reminder to check the soil (watering when I feel the top 1-2inches of soil is dry). As we exit growing season (which typically lasts April/May through September/October), our plants generally require less water as they are not using as much energy. A true circle of life.


Learning the specific needs of each of your plants, and even grouping care schedules based on similar needs, is my tried and true method for getting back on track when I've strayed from routine. Am I the only one who secretly craves a well-oiled routine? Speaking of routine, If the DIY methodology isn't your cup to tea (I get it), I recommend investing in easy-care tools like moisture meters, self-watering pots, and humidifiers to regulate moisture levels on semi-autopilot. Happy to share a few of my favs (I lead with aesthetic).

Sink filled with plants for watering.
What redemption looks like. Don't rush it.

Plant parenting ain't easy, but with some grace, humor, and education under our belts, it is forever worth the journey. Bon Voyage.


Until Next Time, Hydrate on 3!

Shayla <3

HYDRATE! Did you leave me hanging on 3?! Well if you did...I hope that means you were busy hydrating your plants! BIG HUGS ALWAYS.

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