Visually attractive and more distinctive than other, more traditional, houseplants, cacti and many succulent plants are an increasingly popular choice for homes and offices. This is largely because, in addition to their unique appearance, these plants have a reputation for being low maintenance and easy to care for.
Many succulents are drought tolerant and often thrive if slightly neglected. This makes them a popular choice for many people who are new to plant care. What isn’t as well known is that many cactus and succulent plants have very specific watering needs. If these are not met, the plants start to struggle and may even die.
Native to dry and arid areas most cactus and succulent plants, such as aloe plants, are able to store moisture in their stems and leaves. This enables them to survive long periods without moisture. However, depriving the plants of moisture for too long causes them to become dehydrated. Regular hydration encourages a strong root system to form. It also keeps the plants looking healthy and vibrant.
Learning how to water succulents is a key part of successfully caring for succulent plants. A daunting prospect, the easiest way to accidentally kill your succulent is by implementing the wrong watering routine. However, once this skill is mastered, succulent care is pleasingly easy.
This guide to how to water succulents is designed to take you through everything that you need to know.
Knowing how to correctly care for your plants enables them to thrive.
How Often Should You Water Succulents?
Knowing when to do so is possibly the most important part of learning how to water succulents.
It can be difficult to know how and when to water houseplants. In general you should hydrate the plants only when the soil feels completely dry to the touch.
How quickly the soil dries out depends on a number of factors including the surrounding growing conditions, such as the temperature and climate as well as the size of the plant, the size of the pot and, the position that the plant is sitting in. For example, smaller or short pots tend to dry out more quickly than larger containers. As a rule of thumb, healthy, growing indoor plants require hydration once every 14 to 21 days.
If you struggle to tell whether your plants require watering, wait until the soil is completely dry before introducing moisture. You should also keep a close eye on the plant, watering as soon as the first signs of dehydration appear. If you want a more reliable way to measure the moisture content of your soil than just sticking your finger into the earth, a soil moisture meter is a great investment. These useful tools provide you with an accurate way to measure the moisture content of your soil.
Signs That Your Succulents are Thirsty
The appearance of a plant tells you a lot about how healthy or thirsty it is. A succulent in need of moisture usually has wrinkly foliage. In more extreme cases the leaves may also start to fall from the plant.
Healthy foliage is a sign that your plant is not, presently, in need of a drink.
Brown, dry crispy leaves at the top or middle of the plant are signs that it is under watered and needs a drink.
Dry leaves at the bottom of the plant are not necessarily a sign that the plant is thirsty. Lower leaves often dry out and shrivel as part of the natural growing process. As new leaves develop in the center or towards the top of the plant, the older leaves at the bottom wither and die. These shriveled leaves can be gently pulled from the plant and discarded to keep the plant looking healthy.
Remember it is better to under water your plants than it is to overwater them. Yellow or translucent foliage, as well as soggy leaves, are signs that the plant is overwatered. If you notice any of these signs, refrain from watering your plants again until the soil is dry to a depth of several inches.
What You Should use to Water Succulents
As well as knowing when and how to water succulents, it is also important to use the correct tools. This ensures that your plants are thoroughly hydrated.
You should never use a spray bottle to water succulents. While these are great for misting, and watering young plants or cuttings, spray bottles are not going to fully soak the soil. Instead you should use a watering can or garden hose.
When the soil is suitably dry, use the watering can to soak the soil. Try to keep the leaves as dry as possible. If your succulents are growing outside there is no need to water the plants when it is raining, humid or hot unless the soil is drying out or the plant is showing signs of dehydration.
Remember to always check the soil before watering. If you are uncertain, or the soil still feels a little wet, wait a day or two. It is easier to save an underwater plant than an overwatered specimen.
If you are able to grow succulents outside, use a garden hose to soak the soil around the plants. As with watering other plants, this is best done in the early morning. This gives the wet leaves plenty of time to dry out in the sun before the cooler evening temperatures arrive.
For houseplants, use a watering can with a long spout. This enables you to soak the soil whilst also keeping the foliage dry.
A watering can is a great tool for hydrating indoor and pot plants.
Remember, some plants require more frequent watering than others. Just because the soil around one succulent is dry and in need of moisture it doesn’t mean that every succulent in your collection requires watering.
The Soak and Dry Method
When you are learning how to water succulents, the soak and dry method is often described as the best way to rehydrate your plants.
As the name suggests this method simply requires you to completely wet or soak the soil. Following this soaking ,the soil around the plant is allowed to almost completely dry out before watering again.
Watering only when the soil is dry replicates the plant’s native growing conditions. In their native areas many succulents tolerate dry soil and heavy, wet spells that are often short and infrequent. For example, many desert areas experience prolonged dry spells and flash floods and rainy spells lasting for up to 30 hours. While your succulents don’t want anything this extreme, the soak and dry method replicates it on a smaller, more manageable scale.
Deeply watering the plants gives them access to lots of water. The drought spell gives the roots time to develop and grow, searching for more moisture. This method enables the plants to develop a large and healthy root system. This, in turn, enables the plants to better withstand longer periods of drought, particularly when compared to other plants. It also enables them to produce more healthy foliage and flowers.
Make sure that your plants are in a well draining potting soil and the pots have drainage holes before implementing the soak and dry method. I will explain more about the importance of choosing both the right soil and right pot later.
When watering your plants try to soak the soil, keeping the foliage as dry as possible. This is particularly important for indoor plants. Allowing excess liquid to sit on the leaves can cause issues such as powdery mildew to develop. Should your plants develop powdery mildew, this article outlines a number of effective ways to treat the issue.
Outside plants are less likely to suffer from issues surrounding wet leaves because airflow means that the leaves dry quicker. If you do get the leaves of your houseplants wet, dry them with a paper towel.
A good how to water succulents tip is to place the pots on a saucer or in a bowl when watering. When watering the excess liquid drains out and gathers in the saucer.
Allow the plant to sit in the excess liquid for about 30 to 60 minutes before returning it to its usual position. Doing this, for just a short period, enables the soil and plant to take on ample moisture but not so much that root rot is likely to develop. Remember, many types of succulent and cacti do not like to sit in liquid for more than 2 to 3 days.
What Type of Water to Use
Many people recommend avoiding using tap water. This is because, in some areas, tap water contains minerals such as calcium or magnesium. If allowed to build up in the soil these can cause white spots to form on the foliage.
If you are using tap water to hydrate your plants, allow it to stand overnight before watering any plants. This gives some of the chemicals time to dissipate in the air. It also gives the liquid time to warm up to room temperature, helping to prevent the plants from developing issues such as cold water shock.
Instead of tap water, you can use distilled water. Alternatively, why not collect rainwater with a back garden water barrel? Not only is rainwater perfectly safe for your plants, using it cuts down on your excess water usage helping you to save money and the environment.
Using collected rainwater is a great, environmentally friendly way to rehydrate plants.
How Your Soil Choice is Important for Healthy Plants
The soil that you use plays a key role in how often you need to water succulents.
A heavy or poor draining soil retains too much moisture. This can cause succulent plants to develop root rot. Instead you should plant succulent and cacti plants in a good succulent specific soil mix. These are light and airy meaning that excess moisture is quick to drain away. Ideally the soil in the top half of the pot should be dry within 3 days of a heavy watering.
When planting or transplanting a succulent, use fresh, good quality soil mix. This should be both light and gritty. Avoid using general purpose potting soils. These are not recommended because they stay wet for too long. You can create your own gritty cactus soil mix by combining a light, porous potting soil with pumice or perlite.
Plant in a well draining, cactus soil.
Selecting the Right Pot for Your Succulents
Planting your specimens in the right sort of pot is a surprisingly important part of knowing how to water succulents.
Your chosen container should have at least one drainage hole in the bottom. This is important because it allows the excess liquid to drain away from the soil, preventing root rot from developing. Drainage holes also enable air to flow through the soil, helping it to dry out quickly.
The material that the pot is made from is also important. A porous ceramic or terracotta pot enables the excess moisture in the soil to evaporate more quickly than a plastic pot. Our guide to choosing succulent pots contains more information about this.
How to Water Succulent Leaves of Babies when Propagating
Leaf cuttings, offsets and developing new plants have slightly different moisture requirements than larger, established plants.
When explaining how to water succulents I explained how a spray bottle should be avoided because it doesn’t hydrate the soil well enough. However, when watering cuttings and developing plants a Plant Mister Spray Bottle is the preferred option.
Use the spray bottle to mist the leaves and top layer of soil once a day with fresh water. Ideally the soil should remain damp or moist at all times. It should not be allowed to dry out or become overly wet. The leaves, like some succulent roots, absorb moisture from the air around them. Lightly spraying the soil is enough to keep them healthy and productive.
Regularly check the roots to prevent them from drying out. This can happen if they don’t absorb enough moisture.
Knowing when and how to water succulents is an important part of succulent care.
Keep A Record
Keeping a record of when you last watered your plants is a great way to monitor how much moisture they require and prevent issues such as overwatering. It is particularly useful if your plants are in an office or shared living space where they may be watered by more than one person.
While you can use an app, such as the Succulent Tracker app, to monitor your plants watering routine, a simple piece of paper or Plant Watering Tracker Log Book is just as effective. Paper records are easier to update if more than one person is involved in plant care.
To sum up, learning how to water succulents is not as daunting a task as it may first seem. If you are new to caring for a succulent, water it once every two weeks. Watch the plant and soil during this time, if your succulent starts to show signs of being either over or underwatered, amend your routine accordingly.
Knowing how to water succulents is a key part of keeping the plants healthy and happy. A daunting prospect, following the rules outlined here make it an easy part of succulent care.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.