Succulents may thrive in arid, desert-like conditions, but that doesn’t mean they can survive indefinitely without water. Figuring out how to keep these beautiful plants properly hydrated can be tricky, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a home gardener who hasn’t either drowned or parched a succulent at some point in their life.
Fortunately, this guide will teach you how all the tips and tricks to properly water your succulents to make sure they prosper!
What is a Succulent?
A succulent is any plant that stores water inside its thick stem or leaf tissue. Some succulents, like agaves, hold water inside their fleshy leaves, whereas others, like cacti, may lack leaf systems altogether, instead retaining water in their stems.
Many popular decorative plant species fall into the succulent category, including snake plants, aloes, jade plants, zebra plants, and prickly pears. Succulents do not comprise a single taxonomic group but rather, succulent species exist across at least 50 distinct plant families.
This diversity means taking care of your succulent can be challenging; there’s no one-size-fits-all method for correct watering. So, learning to keep your succulent properly hydrated requires observing it closely and keeping its growing environment in mind.
What You Will Need
Though not every succulent needs the same care, you’ll generally need the same tools across the board.
- A watering can with a narrow spout
- Cactus mix (if needed)
- A watering squeeze bottle (if your succulents are planted closely together)
Take Stock of Your plants
To determine whether you need to change the way you’ve been watering your succulents, take a look at their leaves and stems.
Underwatered leafy succulents will appear crispy or brown. (Dropped leaves are not necessarily a sign of dehydration, as many species do this naturally as part of their growth cycle.) On the other hand, if your leafy succulent looks mushy, colorless, yellowed, or even black, you may be overwatering it.
Leafless cacti have a different way of telling you they’re receiving too much or too little water. Wilting and decay at the base of the stem, and black spines turning to light brown indicate that the cactus is parched. A mushy texture, leaking, and rot point to overwatering.
Water the Right Way
Succulents require precision watering. Make sure to water only at the base of the plant, as any water settling on the leaves or stem may cause rot.
Rather than frequent, light waterings, succulents prefer a good soak. Water them until the bottom of the pot begins to leak, making sure to empty any water that collects in the tray underneath the pot to avoid root rot. You can also try bottom watering.
If your succulents are arranged in a close grouping, you may need to fit a water dropper or syringe in the narrow gaps between plants to ensure each plant gets enough water.
Water With the Right Frequency
The golden rule when it comes to watering succulents is to give them a drink whenever their soil feels dry a few inches deep from the top. How often this occurs will depend on several factors, one of which is the season.
Succulents may be summer or winter dormant, depending on the species. During its dormancy period, a succulent’s growth will slow down or stop altogether, meaning it will take in less water. Be sure to look up your species’ growth cycle so you know what to expect.
However, don’t simply neglect your succulent while it’s dormant. If your succulent is indoors and your home’s seasonal temperature variation is not too extreme, you may even be able to continue with something close to your usual watering routine.
Another way in which the seasons may influence your succulent’s water uptake is by affecting how long it takes their soil to dry out. In the summer, soil may dry out faster than usual, whereas, in the winter, soil may retain moisture for a long time.
Apart from seasonal changes, the size of your succulents’ container will influence how frequently you need to water them. A small container will drain more quickly than a deep one.
Finally, everyone has a different home environment. Factors such as humidity and airflow will affect your plants’ health and water needs.
With so many factors at play, your best bet is to keep checking your plants’ soil. Your succulents may need to be watered anywhere from once a week to once every few weeks.
Adjust Your Soil if Needed
If your succulents are showing signs of overwatering, take a look at their soil. Make sure you grow your succulents in a fast-draining soil mixture, rather than in regular potting soil.
You can find cactus mix at many garden shops, or make it yourself by combining three parts potting soil, three parts gravel or coarse sand, and one part perlite or pumice. Avoid using potting soil that contains fertilizer, as this may burn succulents.
Just Add Water!
Every succulent and growing environment is different, so the best way to figure out the optimal watering regime for your plants is to monitor their leaves, stems, and soil closely, keeping in mind the impact of changing seasons.
Your succulents will thank you with vibrant hues, strong stems, and a lovely desert vibe!