University of Maryland Extension

Drought Stress - Houseplants


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Drought: Plants wilt and leaves curl when roots are unable to supply sufficient moisture to the stems and leaves. Wilting for short periods of time does not harm plants. Sometimes a plant wilts on a hot day because moisture is evaporating from the leaves faster than the roots can supply it. If there is ample soil moisture, the plant will absorb water in the evening to firm up the stems and leaves. Over a prolonged period, however, drought will cause serious damage, such as yellowing, leaf scorch, browning, or leaf drop and stunted growth. Extended periods of drought also inhibit flower formation. Severe heat and water stress when a plant is in bloom may cause scorching or browning of flower buds and blossoms. Plants vary in their ability to tolerate drought and some may die suddenly after extended periods of drought.

houseplant drought

Plants should be watered when needed. Factors influencing plant watering include type of potting media, stage of growth, type of pot (i.e. clay or plastic), humidity and temperature.
As plants use water, the potting mix will dry out and become lighter in weight. Periodically lift the pot for changes in weight and compare to when it was watered. On large containers insert a stick or a dowel (long enough to reach the bottom of the pot) into the pot. Moist soil will stick to the dowel or discolor it slightly. Water plants thoroughly so that water comes out of the bottom of the pot. Plants that have dried to the point that the media has pulled away from the sides of the pot may need several applications of water to rehydrate the potting mix. Pour off any water that collects in saucers under the pots to prevent problems with fungus gnats and other insects.

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