Water Therapy for Succulents: A Controversial Practice

Water therapy for succulents is a famous and equally controversial practice.

The goal of this article is to explain everything about succulent water therapy. What it is, what it is for, in which cases it can be used and, obviously, how to successfully perform water therapy for succulents.

water therapy for succulents

What is water therapy for succulents?

Water therapy is a practice that consists of removing the substrate from a succulent and immersing the roots directly in water for a certain period of time, which can vary from one day to several weeks.

This practice has become very popular on social media. Perhaps you have come across pictures of succulents on the net with their roots submerged in water and wonder why they do it and how succulents support this. In this article we will explain everything to you.

It is worth clarifying that “water therapy” should not be confused with “reproduction or propagation in water”. Don't miss our article on propagating succulents in water where you can clearly understand the difference.

What is the use of water therapy for succulents?

Succulent water therapy serves to rehydrate them quickly. It is not an irrigation method, nor is it something that must be done frequently on a plant. Water therapy is usually used in very specific cases, which we will talk about in detail below.

The idea is to put the roots of the plant in direct contact with water so that they are deeply hydrated. The effect that is achieved in this way is not the same as when watering the plant as is normally done. 

Sometimes succulents that have been deprived of water for long periods of time or exposed to extreme temperatures have trouble absorbing water. No matter how much we water, it simply seems that they do not hydrate and we can, in our desperation, water too much causing the rotting of its roots without obtaining the expected objective that is not more than the plant to hydrate itself.

In this practice, the soil for succulents is removed because, contrary to what is usually believed, it is not only excess water that causes rot in succulents. Usually the roots of a succulent rot due to bacteria and fungi present in the substrate that proliferate with excess moisture, not to the water itself. 

It seems that succulents put only in water (without substrate) do not rot because the bacteria, fungi and pathogens present in the substrate are not present in the water. This makes it possible to root and propagate succulents in water effectively and sometimes faster than the traditional way.

Now, the process of removing the substrate, putting the succulent in water and planting again can be stressful for the plant and cause damage to the roots, so it is only advisable to perform water therapy in very specific cases.

When to use water therapy on succulents?

As we explained earlier, the purpose of therapy is to quickly rehydrate a succulent. Ideally, you should never have to resort to this therapy.

If you water well and have a suitable succulent substrate, it should not be necessary to use succulent water therapy.

Don't miss our article on how often to water succulents and the best way to water succulents.

There are two scenarios in which you will probably have to resort to succulent water therapy:

succulent water therapy

1. For plants that arrive by mail or parcel

It is becoming more and more popular to buy succulents from far away and have them shipped by mail. There are many plant stores that ship internationally where plants can spend up to several weeks being transported without water or light.

Because of this, succulents become stressed and dehydrated during travel. Hence, some people who buy plants in this way, especially those who acquire them “bare root” (that is, plants that come without substrate, with exposed roots), decide to perform water therapy for a few days before planting the succulents in their definitive home.

2. For succulents with extreme dehydration

Usually, a succulent shows clear signs of dehydration when it has its dull leaves, soft leaves, wrinkled leaves, stems, and leaves pointing toward the ground.

Water therapy is very popular for saving dehydrated, stressed and burned succulents. This can happen from lack of watering, or from sudden surges of heat or simply by exposing a succulent to conditions to which it is not adapted.

This method will serve to hydrate the plant, but it is worth clarifying that in cases where the scars are caused by sunburn, they will not heal with therapy. You have to wait for the plant to recover over time or to renew its leaves.

Water therapy has worked very well for us and we only use it when it is strictly necessary. That is, when we see that a plant does not hydrate after several irrigations due to prolonged stress and, consequently, its appearance worsens more and more. Next, we will explain how to carry out the process.

How to perform water therapy on succulents

1. Let the substrate of your succulent dry

You should start this process with a “bare root” plant or with the substrate completely dry.

2. Remove the substrate

Take your succulent out of its container and remove the substrate. Ideally, remove the substrate completely, but this can sometimes be very difficult. Try to slowly and gently remove as much of the substrate as possible until the roots of the plant are fully exposed.

3. Put the roots in contact with the water

Place your succulent in a container so that you can cover the roots with water, leaving the rest of the plant dry. We advise you to use a glass or transparent container that allows you to see the plant.

Because roots enjoy darkness, you may prefer to use dark containers. In our experience the brown glass ones work very well.

Try to fit the size of the container according to the plant. Ideally, the leaves of the succulent are supported on the edge of the container and the stem and roots suspended, so that only the roots are in contact with the water.

4. Leave it and observe the process

During the time of therapy you should control the water level so that the roots are always in contact and ensure that the water is clean, so you may have to change it regularly.

Take the succulent out of the water when you notice that it has benefited from the therapy. How do you know? It should look hydrated, full, shiny and healthy. It is also normal to begin to see new growth and root growth appear underwater.

The time in which this occurs will depend on how dehydrated the succulent was when you started. Some people only leave them 24 hours, others up to 72, others a whole week. We have left a succulent for up to two weeks. There is no standard time for this process, you should know how to interpret the appearance of your plant to leave it a little longer in therapy or to remove it.

During this process it is not normal for the plant to turn yellow, brown or black, have a weaker appearance, lose leaves and appear translucent. Those are all signs of excess water and possible rot. If you see any of these signs, remove your succulent from the water immediately.

5. Plant your succulent anew

Once your plant has benefited from water therapy, it is time to put it back in the substrate. Take it out of the water, let the roots drain off excess water, and plant it in a completely dry substrate.

We recommend you wait at least three days before starting the watering. The roots when manipulated suffer injuries that with the excess of humidity in the substrate can lead to rotting.

Simply wait a few days after planting it before resuming watering. This will not harm your succulent, as it will be very well hydrated after therapy.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of water is used in the water therapy for succulents?

You can use rainwater, drinking water with a stable pH, distilled water or, if you have no other option, tap water. If possible, use potable water, water that you would drink.

Why does the succulent not rot in water?

Many people freak out when they see succulents in water because these plants are very sensitive to overwatering and prone to root rot. However, rot is not caused by the water itself, but by the presence of bacteria and pathogens in the substrate that multiply with excess moisture. Because of this, succulents found in clean water do not rot.

Are water therapy and water propagation the same?

No, they are not the same. Water therapy and water propagation serve different purposes. The idea behind therapy is to quickly hydrate a succulent, while the purpose of propagation is to root a leaf or cutting to multiply a species.

If you want to learn more about propagation we recommend you read our article on propagating succulents.

Can you use water therapy as a form of irrigation?

No. Therapy is not a form of irrigation and should not be abused. The roots of the plants are mistreated every time they are manipulated, when they are removed from the substrate, put in water and again in the substrate they suffer damage. If this occurs regularly they may be more susceptible to rot.

We recommend reading our articles on how to water succulents and how often to water succulents. With proper irrigation, you may never have to resort to water therapy.

Can you submerge the whole plant?

Yes and no. There are those who soak the entire plant in water for a few minutes and plant it again, but we do not recommend it.

In reality, the succulent absorbs moisture through the roots, so the logical thing is to only put the roots in contact with the water. In addition, standing water between the leaves for a long time and in closed places can lead to localized rot.

Some succulents take up to several weeks to hydrate, with a “dip” of minutes not having enough time to absorb the necessary water. In Succulent Alley we recommend putting only the roots in contact, since that is how it has worked for us.

Can I leave the succulent in water forever?

No. Succulents in addition to water need nutrients to live and the nutrients are found in the substrate. If you leave your succulent alone in water you will notice that over time it begins to die from nutrient deficiencies.

In fact, the nutrients in the substrate are depleted over time and need to be renewed by changing the substrate or by fertilizing. We recommend that you read our articles on homemade fertilization with banana tea and eggshells.

Some people do hydroponically grow succulents using nutrient solutions in water. You can find out more about it.

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