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Your plant is looking thirsty but the soil is wet – how’s that possible? | houseplant problems and how to fix them

More often then not, we can see certain plants showing signs of underwatering (curled leaves, dented stems) but when we go and check the soil – it’s still moist or wet. So, how can it be that the plant is thirsty?

Houseplants have their way own way to show us when they lack water and are in need of watering asap. Some do it in a more dramatic way than others, like Piece Lilies for example.

The majority of houseplants will start to curl their leaves inward, in the hopes to retain as much water as possible inside the plant itself.

Houseplant root problems

Plants absorb water through their roots.

If roots are damaged in any way, the plant won’t be able to absorb as much water as it needs.

The most common root problem that occurs is root rot (caused by a fungi that develops in constantly moist soil, or by simply drowning the roots in wet soil for a long period), but roots can also be mechanically damaged (when repotting) or they can get burned from too much fertilizer.

If your plant is showing underwatering signs but the soil is wet – check out its roots.

What to do when roots start to rot?

Root rot is definitively the most common root problem and the one that’s occurring when the soil is still wet but the plant is showing signs that it needs water.

If this is the case, you’ll need to take your plant out of the pot and remove all the soil until you reach the roots.

Check if roots are rotting, they’ll be black and mushy if that’s the case. Go ahead and remove all the rotted parts. You can then wash the plant and the remaining roots under water and replant in fresh soil.

Choose an airy soil mix that will absorb water, but that’ll also allow good drainage and aeration throughout the pot.

My preferred mix is coco choir and zeolite, and sometimes I add some orchid bark in as well. Depending on the plant and it’s watering requirements, I add more or less zeolite. You can also use perlite, sand or pumice.

Some don’t like to use coco choir as it retains moisture for longer periods of time. But, I’ve found that peat actually retains water for longer and can sometimes also be hydrophobic (it literally won’t absorb water).

To see more in detail how to fix an overwatered plant, check out – How to fix an overwatered plant? | a helpful guide.

What to do if stem is rotting?

If roots don’t seem to be damaged, it is also possible that stem rot is occurring. The base of the stem (that’s in the soil) may start to rot.

When this occurs the plant is literally separated from it’s roots (again, preventing it to absorb water).

In this case, what you can do is to propagate your plant. In the majority of cases you’ll be able to do that. Some plants can’t be propagated in this way though.

If you’re experiencing this problem with Ficus, Epipremnum, Philodendron, Pile Peperomioides, Dracaena, Sansevieria, Scindapsus, Monstera, Yucca, ZZ plant, Schefflera, Syngonium, Tradescantia, etc, you’ll be able to do that.

On the other hand, this may occur to an Alocasia, Caladium, Fern, Palm and other plants that you can’t propagate from stem. In this case you’ll need to remove the soon-to-be-dead leaf and let the plant do it’s magic. It will start to push out new growth from the bottom part.