Most of the plants need water to live like any other living being. (Plants get thirsty, too.) If you are a plant lover, you generally know better than to forget to water your precious plants.
But you might have a business trip lined up in the summer season with no friendly neighbor in sight.
You have to choose between keeping your plant alive or going on that trip to impress your boss. So,how long can plants go without water?
How long can plants go without water?
The answer to this question is not as simple as one might think. The duration for which a plant can survive without water depends on several factors like species of plant and its size, its rate of growth, soil type, whether it is in a container or ground, the intensity of light, etc.
But a typical fully grown potted plant can go about two or three weeks without water before they start to show symptoms. It is not a well-established fact, though.
It again varies according to the type of plant. Some plants like succulents and cacti can go much longer, even months without water, while other plants like pothos or monstera may start to suffer gravely in this duration itself.
Environmental conditions are also a contributing factor to the survival of plants without water. The temperature and humidity in the area where you live play a massive role in deciding how the plant can stay alive without water.
In addition to all these, the significant factor remains the type of plant. Some seedlings that are very fast growing may need water several times in a day itself.
Before going on any trip, make sure you know your plant thoroughly. Let us see the types of plants and how long they can survive without being watered.
Succulent plants: Succulent plants or cacti can survive months without water. They store water in their leaves, stems, or roots to utilize it to keep themselves alive and draw nutrition from it even when they don’t get water for a long time.
If these plants are grown outside or in the ground, they can survive for almost two years. But if they are potted, they can still go months without any water.
Drought tolerant plants: In arid regions, the native plants have adapted themselves to go for very long periods without rainfall.
These plants have structural modifications to help them survive in low water conditions. They have waxy or hairy leaf coatings and reduced or absent leaves to prevent water loss through transpiration.
They also have long roots that reach deep into the soil in search of water. Such plants can survive for weeks without water.
Dormant plants: Some plants become dormant when they are not getting enough water. Going into a dormant state, they preserve and store the water and do not utilize it by growing.
Such plants can go for months without being watered by being in a dormant state.
When in the dormant stage, these plants might appear dead, but their roots are still alive. If you water them again, they will grow right back up.
Plants with high water requirement: The plants with a fast growth rate are the ones that require constant watering. Also, the plants that produce fruits, vegetables, or flowers have more watering needs.
Such plants start to show symptoms of dehydration just a couple of days after you stopped watering them. However, this is not a hard and fast rule, as it changes according to season.
Some plants need excessive amounts of water in summers. Evaporation from soil and transpiration from leaves is higher in summers, but this is the growing season for those plants.
An example of one such plant is squash (Cucurbita pepo). If you do not water such plants for a couple of days, they start showing dry, crispy leaves and slowed growth rate. If you do not water them for about a week, they will be on the verge of death.
Most fast-growing seedlings also have high water requirements because they utilize the nutrients to develop the new root system. These requirements increase even more when the soil is well-draining.
Besides the type of plant, some other factors that decide the watering needs of a plant are:
Size and age of plant: The size of the plant is directly proportional to its watering needs.
If the plant is large, it will need more water to survive as the water has to reach every tip of the plant. Smaller plants need less water to survive since maintenance is low.
As the plant grows older, the wagering requirements will reduce as the growth rate also reduces and the roots become better at absorbing water from the soil.
Type of soil: If the soil is well-draining and aerated, the plant will require more frequent watering as the water drains quickly.
Whereas if the soil is more compact, it can retain water for more extended periods and require less watering. In simpler words, a soil with more quantity of clay holds water for a longer time than a plant with a large percentage of sand.
Note: You have to be careful with compact soil as it is easy for the plants to get overwatered if the water is not draining correctly.
Pot size and material: If the pot is a terracotta pot, it is easy for water to evaporate through it. A plant placed in it requires more frequent watering than one potted in a plastic pot.
It is because a plastic pot does not allow water to evaporate through it. The size of the pot also affects the plant’s ability to survive without water for some time.
Large containers have more soil and hence more water retention capacity. Smaller ones can hold a tiny amount of water, so you need to water them frequently.
Season of the year: This affects the ability of plants to retain water in two ways. In summers, water evaporation from the soil is quick, and the soil does not stay moist for long.
So, for those plants who need their soil to be moist at most times, frequent watering is essential. The soil may not dry out very quickly in winters or the rainy season, so the plant can survive for a more extended period without you watering it.
Another way that the season affects the plant’s watering needs is that some plants have a growing season and a dormant season.
If it is the growing season for the plant, it will need more water and attention than in the dormant season. The plant likes to be left alone in the dormant season.
The climate of the place where you live
Environmental conditions: The environment you provide to your plant has a lot of influence over its watering needs. Factors like light, temperature, humidity, and airflow affect the plant’s watering needs.
Indoor plants need less watering than outdoor plants. The plants receive direct sun and a lot of heat, which makes the soil dry out quickly.
Similarly, plants that grow in the warm season require more water because the soil dries faster in the heat. The cold season plants require infrequent watering.
It would help if you watered the potted plants more often than the plants grown in the ground directly. In the pots, the roots have no room to spread out, whereas, in the ground, the roots can stretch out very far in search of water.
What happens to the plant if you do not water it for 2 to 3 days?
Water is an essential element in the life of all living beings, including plants. Plants need water to survive, stay healthy and grow.
The two main reasons for plants needing water are- turgor and photosynthesis. Turgor is a pressure exerted by a fluid in the cell that presses the cell membrane against the cell wall. It is what keeps a living plant rigid and helps in making it upright.
Photosynthesis is how a plant converts solar energy into chemical energy, which the plant later utilizes for its growth. If not watered for 2 to 3 days, some plants will start showing symptoms like drying and browning of leaves. At the same time, other plants like succulents or cacti might not be affected at all.
What will happen if you do not water your plant for so long?
Water is one of the most important things that a plant needs to survive. If you do not water a plant for a significant period, it will first show the effect on leaves.
The tips and edges of some leaves will start to turn brown. Eventually, all the leaves will turn brown and start to die. It is because the plant tries to utilize the remaining water to keep its stem and root alive.
Then, slowly, the plant begins to shrink. The soil looks dry and starts to crack because of the dryness.
If you are underwatering the plant, the growth will slow down, but the growth will stop if you have stopped watering it altogether. Eventually, the plant will die if it is not in dormant season.
Can you recover a plant from lack of watering?
Whether or not a plant can recover from lack of watering is entirely dependent on the species of plants and the extent of the damage.
For example, some plants show symptoms like yellowing of leaves due to underwatering, and if you water them again, they bounce right back up.
In contrast, you cannot bring some plants back to life if they are too far gone. It happens if the roots of the plants die.
If your plant has wilted leaves due to lack of watering, it is generally effortless to revive them. You can save them by just giving them proper hydration for some days regularly. It should bring the plant back to life.
Ways to know if your plant needs water
If you are new to the planting world, chances are you are already tired of all your dying plants.
And if you are a lazy person, then that is just the icing on your black thumb! You might not have figured out your watering schedule and only water when needed.
So here are some of the signs that show your plant needs water:
Know your plant:
This point comes first because of its grave importance. You need to have sufficient knowledge of your plant before buying it. That includes its watering requirements. Plants like pothos require watering every 5 to 7 days, while plants like aloe vera require watering every 15 to 20 days.
According to this schedule, if you do not water these plants, they start to show signs of either overwatering or under-watering.
Observe your plants:
If you observe your plants regularly, you can notice the signs of underwatering before they go out of hand. Signs like wilting of leaves, yellowing of leaves, leaves turning crispy or brown are signs that your plant is very thirsty.
You can generally reverse this damage by going back to the regular watering schedule and cutting off the destroyed leaves.
Observe the soil: If the soil is dry, it appears lighter in color. If you see the upper layer of soil as light brown and has cuts, the soil is arid, and the roots are not getting enough water. It is time you give your plant a drink.
Dip your finger in the soil: This is the best way to check whether it is time to water some plants. If the top layer of soil is dry, it is time to water your Swiss-cheese plant.
This technique works accurately for small potted plants. It shows the correct moisture level of that part of the soil in contact with the plant’s roots.
Get a moisture meter: Talk about the accurate measurement of soil moisture. It is a machine that measures the level of moisture in the water.
If you have researched your plant, you will know the ideal level for your plant. If the reading falls below that level, you know it is time for you to water your plant.
Even though now you have a lot of information about the threshold of plants without being watered, I urge you not to cross it.
Know your plants and water them regularly and sufficiently. If you think you are overdoing it, take a step back. Taking care of plants is pretty easy once you figure out their watering schedule.
Now that you know how long your plant can live without your attention, you can go on that trip. Remember this; if your plant is tickled pink, it will automatically exhilarate you.