Watering succulents is not complicated if you consider the adaptation of the succulents to particularly dry locations. In this post I would like to tell you the best way to water succulents.
Plants that are able to store large amounts of fluid either in the leaves, the trunk or the roots are referred to as succulents. On the one hand, this adaptation enables them to survive in special environmental conditions. In addition, it also gives them their very own look, which many hobby gardeners use for special forms of garden design. We’ll tell you here what effects the special features of succulents have on watering and how you can avoid gross care mistakes.
Succulents in Nature
Although the popular, sap-rich plants can come from a wide variety of regions, the prevailing conditions there have many of the same properties:
- Highly permeable soils with high drainage capacity
- Low water storage capacity of the substrate
- High proportion of coarse soil components, on the other hand low proportion of humus
- Intense sun exposure
- Low humidity
- Overall low frequency and amount of precipitation
- Water supply through rare but intense precipitation, e.g. thunderstorms or heavy rain
When it comes to humidity, there are individual representatives of the succulent family that – unlike the usual environment – thrive in regions with very high humidity. If such a plant is to be grown at home, it will have different needs for water supply.
10 Tips on Watering Succulents
1. Note the growth phase
With the exception of the winter growers and the living stones (lithops), the development of the succulents begins in spring, from the beginning of March, or when the plants come out of winter dormancy. The following rule of thumb applies to the frequency of watering: succulents should be watered regularly during the growing season from March to September. Succulents can also dry up!
2. Spraying – another way of watering succulents
While it is controversial, it is recommended by some professionals. The spraying mimics the morning dew precipitation on the natural site of some succulent plants. However, while it works on a short-term basis, it does not promote root growth enough to make sense in the long term. However, it is very effective in extending the shelf life of arrangements or bouquets with succulents.
Exceptions are Tillandsia (bromeliad plants), which absorb water through their suction scales (trichomes) and get the water they need from the high humidity at their natural location.
3. Note the thickness of the leaves
Succulents with thick leaves require less water than succulents with thinner leaves. This is because their water reservoirs are not that big. It is useful to keep this in mind when putting together arrangements. Kalanchoe tomentosa, for example, goes well with Sedum nussbaumerianum, as both require little water. Foliage succulents tend to need more water in general.
4. Well-drained substrate
A good substrate is the basis for successful growth. It is permeable to water and dries off within a few days after watering. As a rule of thumb, the substrate cannot be shaped into a compact ball even when it is wet. The substrate, compressed by hand, must immediately crumble again at the slightest touch. If this is not the case, it is missing the rough components.
5. Use a container with a drainage hole
Whether it is a clay or plastic pot, it is important that the pot has a large drainage hole. This means that excess irrigation water can flow away unhindered. Otherwise it can easily lead to root damage. This is particularly important for bowls or other vessels. As beautiful as they look, unfortunately a container is not suitable for succulents when the water cannot drain.
6. Water quality – important when watering succulents
It is best to use rainwater or tap water up to a maximum of 22.4° English hardness. Hard water has to be treated with special fertilizers, technical or chemical measures. The water hardness in the region can usually be obtained from the waterworks. When it comes to temperature, it is best to rely on room temperature.
7. Let dry between waterings – water succulents, but not too often
After the soil has dried off, pause watering for approximately 5 to 7 days, or 1 to 3 days for deciduous succulents (foliage succulents). The substrate should dry off but not be bone dry before watering again. Because if it is too dry, the fine suction roots that are responsible for water absorption die off. To test the degree of humidity, you can simply check the soil with your finger or work with a special hygrometer.
Drying off does not mean drying out completely. Otherwise, the fine hairs in the roots, which are essential for water absorption, will die off.
8. Pour off excess water
If the root ball is too long in the water, the roots start to rot: the death sentence for the succulent plant. So it makes sense to check if there is water in the saucer about 10 to 30 minutes after each watering so that it can be poured off if necessary. Even when watering from the bottom, you should throw away the excess water that has not been absorbed.
9. Use stone for watering
A stone offers a point for watering from above without the risk of watering in rosettes or on leaves. Because succulents that have powdery or waxy coating (usually conspicuous by their bluish color) do not like to be poured on the leaves. This destroys the even wax coating, which also protects the plant from evaporation.
10. Avoid watering in rosettes
If water remains in the center of rosettes, it can lead to rot, especially in cooler and cloudy weather. (Particularly problematic with many Echeveria and Aloe species).
Summary: Best Way to Water Succulents
- During the growth phase (mostly March to approx. September) water seldom but thoroughly
- Outside the growth phase, reduce the frequency and duration of watering
- Interval between watering phases 5 to 7 days, for deciduous succulents 1 to 3 days
- Avoid waterlogging
- Pour off excess water from the saucer when using potted plants
- Allow the substrate to dry off between waterings
- Ideally use rainwater or tap water that is not too hard
Frequent Care Mistakes in Irrigation
Since the representatives of the succulent family are generally quite undemanding and therefore easy to keep, recurring errors – apart from incorrect environment conditions – are mainly limited to watering the plants. In order to avoid significantly damaged or even completely dead plants, the most common mistakes and their consequences are briefly named here:
1. Waterlogging in the soil
- Caused by: Insufficiently permeable substrate, too much water, no drainage hole in the pot
- Leads to: Root rot and plant death
2. Damage on leaves
- Caused by: Watering from above
- Leads to: Initially yellowing, over time increasingly soft leaves, later withering
3. Damage in rosettes or stems
- Caused by: Pouring into the rosette of the succulents
- Leads to: Stagnant water on the rosette or stem, in the long term the whole plant will die off because of the stem rot
Succulent plants can vary greatly in terms of their water requirements. As a rule of thumb, it can be stated that thicker leaves mean less water is required than thinner leaves. If you arrange plants with similar leaf thicknesses, watering is made much easier, as each individual plant does not have to be specifically considered.