It’s not hard to see why succulents are a popular houseplant. They are beautiful, unique, versatile, and low maintenance. However, while succulents require less care than a typical plant, they are not indestructible.
The trickiest part is often watering succulents. Overwatering can lead to root rot, while underwatering can lead to stunted growth and an early death.
This quick guide will help you identify common watering mistakes and provide step-by-steps on how to properly water succulents.
Common Mistakes When Watering Succulents
Before diving into techniques, let’s cover simple mistakes that happen when watering succulents.
Standing water in the pot or the saucer
Succulents need less water than your typical houseplant (think about it: a cacti is a type of succulent). In fact, succulents hate standing in excess water, because it doesn’t allow for their roots to grow.
Always be mindful of how much water you are feeding your succulents and never allow the water to collect on the pot or the saucer. Empty your saucers as soon as all the water from the pot has drained into it.
Remember it is possible to revive an underwatered succulent, but it is much more difficult to save one that has been overwatered.
Using spray bottles to water
Don’t use a spray bottle to water succulents. It might look normal but it’s a rookie mistake.
There’s only one time when it is okay to use a spray bottle for succulents, and that is to gently mist the leaves during leaf propagation.
But typically, succulents prefer being soaked in water instead of being misted by it. We recommend using a watering can, a hose, or even a simple cup to water your succulent.
Using poorly draining soil for potting
Because succulents drink up water quickly, it is easy to overwater them. A big factor in overwatering your succulents is the soil you use.
Don’t underestimate the importance of soil on your succulent’s health.
It is ideal to use well-draining soils, the type that does not hold significant water. You can either buy succulent potting soil from nurseries or make the soil at home.
To make it well-draining soils at home: Mix 3 parts of regular potting soil, 2 parts of coarse sand (turface or poultry grit), and 1 part perlite (or pumice).
Planting in pots without any drainage hole
A good gardener will tell you how important it is to have drainage holes no matter what kind of plant you are growing.
Succulents can survive in pots without drainage holes but it will require more work on your end.
This is because it is more difficult for water to evaporate from pots without drainage holes, causing the soil to be wet for a long time, inhibiting root growth.
As we said above, these conditions might kill your succulent. To help reduce the risk of overwatering, use a soil that drains quickly and a pot that does the same too.
Water Your Succulent Using the “Drought and Flood” Method
The most preferred watering method for succulents is the drought and flood (otherwise known as the soak and dry) method.
In this method, water your succulent until the soil is completely wet. To do this correctly, do your watering and wait a few moments.
Then water some more.
Once the soil is completely soaked, you can stop. Then, you just ignore your succulent until the soil is dried out completely. Hence, the “soak and dry” method.
It is important to allow the soil to dry completely before watering again. Succulents evolved to expect droughts, so they soak up all the water they are provided at one time.
This “drought” period encourages their roots to spread in search of water.
By waiting a few days after the soil is dry before watering your succulent again, you encourage it to become even more drought tolerant and produce deeper roots.
How to Check if the Soil is Completely Dry
There are a few ways to determine if the soil is completely dry.
The simplest methods are feeling the weight of the pot, the rule of thumb, and by checking the drainage hole.
Feeling the weight of the pot
Water adds weight to a pot.
After you water your succulent, lift the pot to feel the added weight. After a few days, lift the pot again and it will feel much lighter. Do this again after a couple of days.
Once the weight of pot starts to feel constant, the soil is most likely dried up.
The rule of thumb
Another simple way to check whether the soil is dry is to put your thumb or your index finger inside the soil.
If it feels dry, it is most likely that the soil is dry all the way down and it’s time to water again.
Checking the drainage hole
The drainage hole is where the water travels to last. When the soil around the drainage hole is dry, it’s time to water again!
Factors that Affect Watering
All succulents have different watering needs. And there are different factors that affect the recommended watering schedule for each type.
Thick-leafed succulents like Jade and Zebra plants need watering less frequently, as they store the water they need in their thick leaves.
Succulents with thin leaves, like Elephant Bush, require watering more frequently.
Size of plants
Simply put: larger plants need more water and smaller plants need less.
Type of pots
Water evaporates quicker in shallow pots, short pots, and small pots. It evaporates slower in deep pots, tall pots, and larger pots.
In areas with a dry climate, the soil dries up faster, so there is a need for more frequent watering.
Again, succulents require more water when it’s hot.
When using a pot with drainage, well-draining soil, and the soak and dry method, it’s important to factor in the temperature of the room (or patio or garden) where you succulent is kept.
Higher temperatures will exacerbate the “drying” part of the method, while lower temperatures will spread out the “soaking” part.
For example, in most winter climates you can get away with watering your succulents once a month.
Properly Watering Your Succulents
When watering your succulent, use a garden hose, cup or watering can. This way you can ensure all the water goes directly on the soil and into the roots.
You don’t want to mist the plant or have water sitting on the leaves for a long time, especially if it’s going to be exposed to the sun after watering.
The little droplets of water will magnify the heat from the sun and cause burn marks on the leaves.
Watering Succulents in Pots Without Drainage
It is not good practice to plant succulents in pots without proper drainage. Roots need air to breathe and not having a drainage hole doesn’t help with airflow.
If you found a pot you want to use but it doesn’t have drainage holes, there are two options. First, drill in drainage holes. Second, use two pots.
The first pot can be the decorative pot with no holes and the second pot can be a smaller pot with drainage holes to place in the larger pot.
When watering, you can simply take the smaller pot out, water it thoroughly, let the water drain and place it back into the non-draining decorative pot.
How to Water Succulent Arrangements
If you have a succulent arrangement, especially one that is potted up really tight, it is harder to target the roots without getting water on the leaves.
Take a funnel and find a point where the funnel can effortlessly touch the soil without disturbing the succulents.
Once you make sure that the funnel is touching the soil, pour the water against the side of the funnel. You can do this at multiple parts in the pot for wider coverage.
Do Seasons Affect the Watering Schedule?
Changing seasons do affect the watering schedule. Watering needs of succulents are different in spring than in winter.
They need more water in their ‘growing’ period and very less in their dormant period, which can be different for different succulents.
For succulents like Agave, Echeveria, Euphorbia, etc their dormant period is winter and the growing season is spring and summer.
For succulents like Aloe, Sedum, Gasteria, Crassula, etc their dormant period is summer and growing period is winter.
Spring: Most succulents are ‘waking up’ from their dormant period in winter so they need a lot of water for their growth. Try to water them at least once a week.
Again, this is done by applying the soak and dry method and it completely depends on whether the soil is completely dry or not.
Summer: The soil dries up relatively faster in summer. You can make sure to check your plants every once in a while to determine if the soil is dry and needs watering.
Autumn: At this time of the year, it is okay to water succulents every other week.
Winter: Cold weather helps the soil stay moist longer. Also, most succulents are in a dormant period in winter so watering once a month is preferred.
How to Revive Underwatered Succulents
When it comes to watering succulents, it is better to underwater the succulent than overwater it.
Although we advise you to water your succulents just the right amount, underwatered succulents are much easier to spot and revive.
Early signs of dehydration in succulents:
- Dull color — The vibrant colors of succulents starts to fade.
- Limp leaves — Instead of firm leaves that are upright, the leaves start to droop downwards and are limp.
- Leaves are thinner than usual — Succulents leaves are supposed to be plump but in case of underwatered succulents, the leaves become thinner than usual.
- Soft wrinkles — If there are soft wrinkles on the leaves, it’s a sign your succulent needs more water!
Fear not, fellow succulent lovers, an underwatered succulent is salvageable. Here are a few tips to revive your succulents from dying of thirst:
- Increase the frequency of watering for a week or two until your succulents look healthy again.
- Use the soak and dry method to water your succulents.
What to Do with Overwatered Succulents?
Overwatering is one of the most common ways people accidentally kill their succulents.
This is a greater threat than underwatering succulents and we cannot stress it enough: Overwatering succulents is pushing the plant over to the dead zone.
Succulents store water in balloon-like sacs inside their leaves. When the succulents are overwatered, these sacs are filled beyond their capacity.
Eventually, they expand and burst, damaging the cells in the process.
Early signs of overwatering in succulents:
- Translucent and/or yellow leaves – If your once vibrant and colorful succulents are turning transparent, it’s time to rethink your watering habits right away. Yellowing of leaves is also a sign of overwatering.
- Mushy leaves – Because of all the extra water in the leaves, they become mushy, juicy and squishy.
- Leaves falling off – Leaves become fragile and will fall off the stem at the slightest touch.
How to grow succulents back after overwatering:
- No watering – Don’t water your succulent for at least a week. If the soil is still wet, give it a couple more days and check it again.
- Reduce the frequency of watering – Prevent the likelihood of rotting by limiting the number of times you water your succulent.
- Propagation – If the rotting is limited, you can propagate from your healthy portion of the plant and grow an entirely new plant.
Watering is the number one challenge when it comes to keeping your succulents alive.
The basic mantra is to use the soak and dry method — water and wait until the soil is completely dry.
If you are unsure, just wait for a couple of days more before watering and give it a thorough soak.
Remember, succulents require ‘drought’ and ‘flood’ periods to flourish.