The first thing to realize about succulents is that they have different water requirements compared to other houseplants or outdoor plants. In the case of other plants, they usually require watering every day. In some hotter places, you should even water the plants twice a day – once in the morning and once in the evening.
Succulents, on the other hand, are different. They have thickened, fleshy and engorged leaves or stems, usually to retain water in arid climates or soil conditions. As such, watering succulents can be less frequent compared to other plants.
- Do Succulents Need Water?
- How Often to Water Succulents
- How Much Water do Succulents Need?
- How to Tell if Succulent Needs Water
- Do You Water Succulents from the Top or Bottom?
Do Succulents Need Water?
Succulents do need water to survive. But how much water do succulents need? Many people have the misconception that succulents require a small amount of water every once in a while. While it is true that succulent plants are tough, and can normally survive drought, most succulents actually will not thrive under such conditions.
During their growing phase, succulent plants like regular watering. Most succulents belong to one of two categories – summer growers (winter dormant) and winter growers (summer dormant). Summer growers are succulents that grow actively in the summer months from May to August and become dormant in the winter months from November to February. Conversely, winter growers are succulents that grow actively in the winter months from November to February and become dormant in the summer.
To better understand the schedule for watering succulents, you need to first identify if your succulent is a summer grower or a winter grower. You can check out the list below to see in which category your succulent belongs.
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Summer Growing Succulents
Winter Growing Succulents
How Often to Water Succulents
As a general rule of thumb, succulents should be watered at least once a week during their growing phase. Some people water more often than this. When watering succulents, fully soak the soil, until water runs out of the drainage holes of the pots. However, make sure that the soil is completely dry before you water it the next time. This method is called the ‘soak and dry’ method.
To make sure that the soil is completely dry, stick a bamboo stick all the way into the soil. Wait a few minutes, and pull the stick out. If the stick is damp with soil stuck on it, the soil is not completely dry. However, if the stick comes out easily and dry, then the soil is completely dry and you can proceed to water your succulents.
On the other hand, when your succulents enter their dormancy phase, increase the interval between watering. The common idea is that succulents should be given just enough water so that they show no sign of shrivelling. This is where common sense is required. For example, if your summer growing succulents are kept indoors on a window sill in a heated room during winter, they will need more water than if they are kept outside.
Drainage Holes vs No Drainage Holes
How often to water succulents also depends on whether or not they are planted in containers with drainage holes.
Containers with drainage holes are highly recommended for succulents because succulents do not like to sit in water. Proper drainage allows excess water to flow out of the soil, which encourages robust root growth.
How to water succulents without drainage?
If your containers do not have drainage holes, you need to water even more sparingly. Use the bamboo stick trick above to check if the soil is completely dry before proceeding to water your succulents.
Indoors vs Outdoors
Depending on whether your succulents are placed indoors or outdoors, the frequency of watering succulents is different as well.
The 3 main factors that play a part in your watering schedule are humidity, temperature, and wind.
Outdoors, when temperature is high and the air is windy, the water in the soil dries up faster and therefore more frequent watering is required – sometimes as often as 3 times a week.
Indoors, it depends on whether or not your succulents are placed in a well-ventilated area, or receive direct sunlight by the windowsill. If the succulents are in a room that is cool and humid, you probably do not need to water more frequently than once a week.
Big Succulents vs Small Succulents
The size of your succulents also affects when you should water your succulents. Succulents that have thick leaves, thick stems and are bigger in size store more water than succulents that have thinner leaves, thinner stems, and are smaller in size.
For example, a Pachyphytum oviferum (Moonstone) stores more water in its stems and leaves compared to a Sedum japonicum ‘Tokyo Sun’ and therefore can sustain longer periods between watering.
How Much Water do Succulents Need?
We are not perfect and sometimes, we either overwater or underwater our succulents. Therefore, it is important to learn the difference between the two so that you can identify the problem and overcome it.
Overwatering succulents means not giving enough time for the soil to completely dry out between each watering. The soil is constantly damp and this gives rise to a lot of problems, the most common one being stem rot and root rot. If you start to notice rotting in the stems, it is most likely that you have overwatered the succulents and the roots have already rotted as well.
Overwatering also causes leaf split in succulents, which is explained further in this article: Succulent Leaves Splitting – Why it Happens and How to Prevent it
To resolve the problem of overwatering, the first thing you need to do is to stop watering your affected succulent altogether. Next, remove the succulent (roots and all) from the container it was in. Gently remove all the soil from the plant, dusting off any excess soil that may cling on to the roots.
After all the soil has been removed, look for rots in the plant. Break off or separate the healthy portion of the succulent from its rot, sacrificing the entire root system if you have too. Keep only the healthy remaining parts of the succulent and air-dry it for a couple of days. After that, plant the remaining succulent into dry soil and start watering one week later.
Underwatering succulents means not providing enough water for your succulents to grow. Your succulents may survive the scarcity of water, but may not thrive well under those conditions. If you start to notice your succulent leaves drying out frequently and appearing wrinkled, it is most likely that you are not providing enough water.
The way to resuscitate an underwatered succulent is easy – just increase the frequency of your watering. However, do not make the mistake of overwatering your succulents to ‘make up’ for the previous lack of water. If the soil is constantly damp, this will in turn cause the root of your succulents to rot. Instead, use the ‘soak and dry’ method mentioned above to make sure your succulents have just the water they need and not more.
Overwatering vs Underwatering Succulents
If you’re not sure on how often to water succulents, always err on the side of underwatering your succulents.
Succulents that have been underwatered and dried (not too excessively) can return to their vigorous state within a couple of days, sometimes within a couple of hours.
On the other hand, succulents that have been overwatered and suffering from rot will have a harder time recovering. Depending on the severity of the rot, sometimes the plant may never come back to life.
How to Tell if Succulent Needs Water
There are two simple ways to tell if your succulent needs water:
- It is a typical property of a succulent to store water in the plant and leaves.
Between two fingers gently press the leaves. The leaves of the succulent should be resilient (There is still enough water in the leaves). If the leaves feel quite limp and look shriveled, the succulent will probably need some water. Of course, always follow step 2 in case of possible doubts.
- Gently lift the succulent up from the pot.
This way you can see if the entire soil around the plant has dried up, or is still moist (and therefore darker in color). Only when the soil is completely dry can you give it another splash of water, otherwise the plant will rot.
Do You Water Succulents from the Top or Bottom?
Succulents should only be watered from the bottom, i.e. directly on the soil. There are basically 3 reasons why this is so:
- If the leaves of some species get wet when watering, they will change color.
- Wet succulent leaves also increases the risk of rot, especially in rosette succulents.
- Water droplets on the leaves act as magnifying glasses for the light that shines on the succulents, increasing risk of leaf burns.