How to water succulents

Succulents are a common element featured in home and style magazines, which has significantly increased their popularity. Available in decorative containers and many interesting shapes, they have a reputation of being a hardy, easy maintenance plant. However, it is still important to understand how to care for succulents properly, including their watering requirements. Below are several watering tips for keeping your succulents healthy.  

a box of succulents

Known for their sturdiness, succulents are plants with water storage tissues and generally have fleshy, thick leaves to minimize water loss. Cacti, which is the most commonly known variety, is a subgroup of succulent. Succulents are often found in dry, arid environments such as deserts and semi-deserts characterized by little annual rainfall and monsoon conditions. However, when rainfall does occur, it can be drastic and sudden – torrential storms that flood dry river beds. 

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If you live in a dry climate that is hot year-round, you may consider growing your succulents outside in planters or plant them into the ground. Planters enable you to move your succulent inside during cold or unfavorable weather conditions. Most succulents thrive in sunny conditions, so make sure to situate them in areas where there is lots of light. The care requirements are similar to that of indoor succulents, except that you need to carefully monitor water levels. During unusually wet seasons, you should move your succulents inside. 

To emulate a succulent’s natural habitat, completely soak the soil and let it dry before watering again, a method known as “soak and dry”. Do not use a spray bottle, which is ineffective in completely soaking the soil and tends to wet the leaves and damage them. Instead, use long small sprout cans or a watering bottle, making sure to water at the roots and not the leaves. A watering squeeze bottle is ideal for dispensing your desired amount to each succulent. Avoid watering during the afternoon and instead water during the morning, when it is less hot.

potted plats of succulents

Some popular succulents include Christmas cactus, aloe vera, pincushion cactus, as well as more compact varieties that can be placed on your window ledge. Christmas cactus produces colorful fuchsia flowers. Aloe vera has medicinal properties, which you can utilize by cutting off a leaf and rubbing it on your skin. Like its name, pincushion cactus is a squat plant that has white prickly spines covering its entire surface.

Type of water: Succulents benefit from rainwater or distilled water, as tap water contains minerals like magnesium that can build up in the soil, which can turn it alkaline. If you notice white spots, that is an indication that your soil is too alkaline. If rainwater is unavailable, you can let tap water sit for several days to allow the chemicals to dissipate. 

Use the correct soil: The correct soil is important in ensuring watering success. Many succulents come in the standard pot soil, which is not ideal as it retains moisture. The soil should be well-draining, with a gritty texture. 2/3 of it should be inorganic, while 1/3 should be composed of organic material such as pine bark or coconut noir. A good inorganic soil amendment is perlite, which improves soil aeration and keeps it well-draining. 

Use a pot with drainage holes: Drainage holes are important to allow excess water to flow away from the plant so that the soil doesn’t become waterlogged, which increases the risk of rot. You should use a pot with drainage holes, especially if you are a beginner. The material of the pot is also important. Pots made from porous materials such as terracotta and ceramic evaporate faster than plastic or glass pots. 

How often should you water: Generally, succulents should be watered 14 – 21 days, and 14 – 30 days for cacti. Succulents in shallow pots in sunny areas require more watering than those in deep pots or less bright areas. Make sure the soil is completely dry before watering. You may find it helpful to record it in a notebook or on your phone to keep track. There is a Succulent Tracker app you can download to help you keep track of your succulents. If you see dry, brown leaves on your succulent, it is under watered and needs to be watered. Don’t be worried if you see shriveled leaves on the bottom, as this is a normal process for the plant to get rid of old leaves and push forward new roots. 

Water without Drainage

If you are growing your succulents in terrariums or other containers without drainage holes, then you need to be more vigilant in monitoring your succulents for watering problems. You should use soil that contain large particles such as pumice to allow the water to evaporate. While many people tend to add pebbles or charcoal to the bottom, this can be harmful as it causes water to pool, leading to rotten roots. As it can be difficult to measure how much water you’ve poured in, you can use a measuring cup to help you. A good amount of water is generally half the amount of soil the succulent is planted in. 

succulents in cans

How to Deal with Watering Problems

Constantly overwatering your succulents can cause root rot, one of the most common problems that can affect and kill succulents. The probability of root increases with poor-draining soil and too much moisture. If your leaves become transparent and droopy, with an overly flexible texture, then your succulent may be experiencing root rot. To check, dig up your plant. If it has firm, white roots, then it is merely overwatered and does not have root rot. 

If the roots are black or brown, then they are experiencing root rot. In both cases, remove the soil from the roots and place it in an airy place where they can dry before placing them in well-draining soil. Trim the rotten part of the roots, making sure to cut a few centimeters above the infected area to remove the rot. 

If the disease has spread to the leaves and stems, you need to cut off the plant to try to salvage it. Cut off the rotten part and leave the healthy cuttings for several days in a dry place to develop a callus so that you can replant them in the soil. Once you have replanted your plants, wait 1 – 2 days before watering. While some gardeners suggest using sulfur, it is not advisable as it kills off beneficial fungus and bacteria, upsetting the plant’s natural balance. 

By contrast, your succulent may become underwatered and severely distressed. Water therapy, the technique of submerging dehydrated plants directly in the water, has been promoted as a popular trend to remedy this problem. Before placing your plants in water, it is important to remove all soil from the roots to prevent root rot. 

However, there are concerns that this method can damage the roots of your succulents. Therefore, water therapy should be used sparingly during severe conditions. If you notice your succulents have become underwatered, then you should try extensively watering them before trying water therapy. Water therapy may be beneficial in cases of severely dried out or sun damaged plants. It is recommended that you let the roots dry out completely before replanting to avoid breaking the roots. 


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