How To Water Succulent Plants Correctly?
Succulents are all the rage right now, and it isn’t hard to understand why. They are beautiful, unique, and versatile. But they are also different from ordinary plants.
Succulents require a different way of watering than the normal houseplant and getting this wrong will not only lead to unhealthy looking succulents but in some cases the death of your plant.
Now you may be wondering how often to water your succulent plants? Or you be worried that your succulent may be dying due to over- or under-watering?
Don’t worry! That’s why I’m here: to teach you the proper ways to water your succulents both indoors and outdoors to keep them alive and thriving!
I'll also help define some of the common terms used with succulent like watering deeply and the soak and dry method.
But before we start here are few information you should know to avoid the silly mistakes I did before.
What is a succulent? if you dont know
There is some disagreement on the exact definition of a succulent as there is no scientific or phylogenetic classification for succulents. But most agree that succulents are plants that have certain qualities rather than a specific species.
The qualities include an ability to suck up and store water in their leaves, stems and or roots.
Identify What Types of Succulents You have
Because the succulent is not a species but any plant that retains water in the leaves, roots and stems, there are many types of succulents.
Examples of succulents include sedum, aloe, sempervivium, haworthia, graptoveria, pachyveria, aeonium zwarthop and cacti.
What is the difference between a succulent and a cactus?
We all know a cactus retains water, so it is classified as a succulent. So all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.
This is because the cactus is a defined species classified by their spines, no leaves, and the ability to go with little water.
Cacti are also the only species that have an areole which is a specialized type of branch or shoot. Because only the cactus has this feature, any succulent without this is not a cactus.
You can plant cacti alongside other types of succulents, but they require much less water, so I recommend leaving a good amount of space between them.
How To Tell If My Succulent Is Overwatered?
A succulent stores its water in balloon-like sacs. When overwatered these balloons will burst and damage the cells. This leads to rotting in the root and leaf structure in the plants. Signs of this happening begin with discoloring in the leaves.
They will continue to discolor until they are almost translucent. Another way to tell they’ve been overwatered is to touch the leaves.
They will feel squishy rather than the normal firm. It is nearly impossible to come back from this amount of damage, and I recommend you propagate to grow a new succulent plant and start fresh.
How To Tell If My Succulent Is Underwatered?
Succulents cannot survive without water, and though they can survive with less than most plants, it is important to watch for signs of dehydration.
This includes leaves wrinkling and shriveling as the balloon cell depletes its stored supply and decreases in size.
I recommend that you slowly increase the amount of water you are giving it rather than drowning it as the roots will not be able to take in a lot of water anymore.
What are common mistakes when growing succulents for first time?
Before we go ahead to the exact method I use to water my plants here are the most common mistakes you'll want to avoid if you start growing succulents for the first time.
You never want to see your succulent standing in water. Standing water will kill your succulent so you should always watch how much water you are using and make sure there isn’t a build-up of water around the succulents.
A succulent may come back to better health after under watering, but this amount of overwatering is always a death sentence to your plants as it destroys the cells inside your succulent.
using Spray bottles for watering
I never advise you using a spray bottle to water succulents unless propagating (we will discuss that later) Spray bottles do not properly provide water for succulents and will not allow for healthy root growth.
This method of watering will drastically shorten the lifespan of a succulent and will leave it looking less than vibrant.
Completely closed containers without any drainage hole
If your succulent is going to be potted rather than planted in the ground it is important to have a hole in the bottom of the container for drainage.
Succulents love a lot of water, but you need to make sure the excess water can escape somewhere.
If the water cannot get out the soil will become too moist and can lead to the standing water issue I mentioned above.
How do I water deeply?
Watering deeply is the act of watering directly into the soil rather than watering over the top of the plant.
This help promotes healthy root growth. If you use a spray bottle to water succulents, it'll cause the plant to sprout tiny and thin roots which will soak up water as quickly as possible but will not satisfy the plant’s needs.
This means poor water storage and the need for more frequent watering. This may not seem like a big deal, but it will lessen the lifespan of your succulent considerably.
Succulents need thick, healthy roots to thrive and the only way to get them is to water deeply with a watering can into the soil.
What is the Soak and Dry Method?
The succulent plant naturally expects a drought so it will soak up as much water as possible when water is provided.
The succulent suck up the water through its roots and stores it in the balloon-like cells. So the soak and dry method is the preferred schedule for watering succulents.
This means completely soaking the soil and then allowing the succulent to soak up the water until the soil is completely dry. Do not water the succulent again until it soil is completely dry.
how long can succulents go without water?
A succulent can go a couple days without water after the soil is completely dry as it helps promote healthy root growth, but you should not go weeks without watering unless it is called explicitly for like in the winter months.
How do I water my indoor succulent plants?
How you water indoor succulents depends a lot on the roots of your succulent and the climate in your home.
Succulents need the break in between watering so the plants can soak up the water and grow healthy roots.
Whether or not you plan on transferring the succulents outside, you should always maintain and strive for root growth and strength so the succulent can take in water and stay healthy.
I recommend using a container with an open bottom so excess water can drain out and watering directly into the soil with a watering can.
If you don’t have a watering can, you can place a tray of water under the container so the succulent can soak up the water through the hole in the bottom. But I personally don’t like this method as it is harder to tell if the water provided is enough or too much since there is no place for the water to drain out.
How Much And How Often Should I Water My Indoor Succulent Plants?
Homes with a more humid climate or that are cooler in temperature will require less frequent watering than succulents in dry and hot climates as they maintain moisture for a longer period of time.
On average you should be giving your succulents ¼ cup if smaller in size and one to 1 ½ cups if large with thick leaves every other week.
How do I water my outdoor succulent?
As I said before, you need a watering can with a spout that allows you to get into the soil. Make sure you’ve a good amount of space between plants and proper drainage in the soil. Once you know the water is able to drain, you can soak the soil and then wait until it is completely dry to soak again.
How Much And How Often Should I Water My Outdoor Succulent Plants?
This should be about three to four days in between watering depending on the weather and humidity. Check the soil, and if it is hotter, you will have to water more frequently. Also, keep in mind that the airflow is better outside so the moisture will dry faster.
This means that outdoor plants must be checked more regularly and watered accordingly as they are subject to elements that indoor succulents are not.
The outdoor succulents should be getting around 2 cups of water per plant during watering.
Watering Succulent Propagation Leaves (baby succulents)
Propagating is when you cut a leaf off of your succulent and plant it to grow a separate succulent plant. This should be done indoors and is the one and only exception to the no spray bottle rule with succulents.
The propagating leaves need to be watered every day, and a spray bottle is beneficial as the leaves can get water out of the air while in this state.
The goal with propagating is to grow plump and shiny roots of a pink or white color.
I suggest checking your roots occasionally to see what they look like. If your roots do not look like this, you need to water more frequently.
As the roots grow and more sprout, you can gradually cut back on watering and get into a standard succulent watering schedule.
How do the seasons affect succulent care?
As the weather changes, so do the succulent’s needs.
Summer: The soil will dry much quicker in hotter months so I recommend you physically check them and the dampness of the soil more often and water as the soil dries out.
It really depends on where you live as to just how fast the soil is going to dry up.
Fall: In months where it is warmer than forty degrees Fahrenheit you should water every other week.
Winter: The succulents are dormant during the winter, so they only need to be watered once a month at most.
This also applies to when the temperature is below forty degrees Fahrenheit as the cold helps the soil stay moist longer.
Spring: Spring showers may impact how much you’ve to water your plants, but unless the ground is already wet you should water them every week.
This is because they are “waking up” and need the extra water to grow.
other factors the affect how much Should you Water
Types of Soil you're using
Soil is a crucial factor in proper watering. The soil needs to be able to breathe and drain so it can dry out once the succulent has gotten its fill.
Remove the existing soil and see if the subsoil is draining correctly. If it is not, you need to find a better quality soil.
Standing water and excess moisture is a succulent killer so make sure the soil is up to the task. Potting soil retains moisture far more than other succulent soils, so it is not recommended for use.
Fertilizer is not required for healthy succulents so if you do choose to use it should be very sparingly of one spoonful no more than once a month. Personally, I don’t think you need it if the soil is good enough.
how much Light your plants get
It is important for succulents to get both direct sunlight to help dry the soil and shade to keep the soil from drying out too fast.
I would consider the locations you want your succulents in and check to see throughout the day how much sun and shade the spot gets before planting.
Climate: Where You Live
The soil will take longer to dry out in humid or cold locations so they’ll not have to be watered as frequently as dry, hot climate. Just follow the rule of soak and dry and wait until the soil is completely dry before watering again.
This may mean you’ve to go by touch rather than a fixed schedule, but it is crucial to let the soil fully dry before adding more water to it.
Types of Container you've
Clay pots dry out the soil faster and require more frequent watering. Very small or shallow containers also evaporate water quicker so they should get about two tablespoons to one-eighth of a cup once a week or every other week as to not drown the plant. And as I mentioned before, drainage holes are always preferred.
Pea gravel is a great way to add some security from overwatering your succulents. The pea gravel sits at the bottom of the planter or container, and the soil is placed on top of that.
This creates a place for the excess water rather than holding it in the soil. It also allows air to flow more freely through the container.
I recommend using this for beginners and experts as it is only beneficial for the succulent and allows you to play around with how much water your particular succulent needs.
Location of your plaants
Outdoor succulents require more watering than their indoor counterparts because they are subject to direct wind and heat. But I believe succulents planted into the ground often have better results because it allows for greater breathing room.
Size and shape of your Succulent
Larger succulents need more water than smaller succulents. The smaller the succulent’s leaves, the less water it can absorb so they must receive water more frequently.
Succulents with spindly leaves need to be watered once a week while succulents with thicker leaves can get water every other week.
I truly believe anyone can grow beautiful, healthy succulents if you understand what your succulent needs.
The rule of thumb with succulents is to soak the soil and then wait for it to dry out but when in doubt you should underwater and slowly increase the amount if your succulent shows signs of shriveling.
You can always come back from an under-watered succulent, but overwatering doesn’t end well. Get a good soil, water deeply, and follow the tips I’ve provided and your succulents will be with you for a very long time.
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Lindsey Hyland grew up in Arizona where she attended University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture. She has supplemented her formal education by working on various organic farms, including spending a semester abroad in India.
Growing and/or raising just about anything gets her excited. She is especially passionate about environmental justice and low-tech, sustainable ways to better run small-scale farms and homesteads. Lindsey started Urban Organic Yield to discuss gardening tips and tactics.