Succulents are plants with thick, bulging leaves, famous for storing water in hot, arid climates where rain is scarce. Watering succulents badly is the biggest cause of problems with these plants so this guide will explain the best and the worst ways to water them.
A complete guide to watering a succulent
There are 2 other questions to answer first, which will determine how often.
- Is it fall or winter? In winter, most succulents are dormant and need a lot less water than usual. Check the soil; see if it’s damp or completely dry. Give your succulent plants a monthly watering if the soil feels dry in the colder months. Check more frequently in spring and summer and water when the soil is parched.
- Is the soil dry? If so, then this is a good time to water. This is the best measure for any type of succulent. If the soil is damp, then do not water! The one golden rule with succulents is: do not water unless the soil is dry.
How do you know when a succulent needs water?
You know a succulent plant needs water when:
- The leaves look dried out or shrivelled. Think of a dried prune or a person stumbling in a desert, craving water. Add water! Check the leaves – if they are full, they look like a plump cushion, and full to the maximum they do not need water. If the leaves look like dried fruit – all wrinkly and wilting, then this is the time to water them.
- The soil feel completely parched to the touch.
- The leaves are soft and they feel rubbery. Can you bend them over easily? This is a sure sign they need water.
How to water indoor succulents
- If it is spring or summer, you need to check your plant weekly and see how dry the soil feels. This involves digging in the soil with a stick or finger. When the soil is dry, water thoroughly. Make sure you empty any excess water that sits in the saucer or tray to avoid root rot.
- In the fall and winter, most succulents are dormant so need even less water. Probably once a month is enough but if your home is very warm and hot due to heating, then it may need a bit more water and more frequently. Always test first and water if dry.
How often do I need to water baby succulents?
Baby succulents are usually individual leaves and stems which you have removed from the mother plant, in order to propagate new plants. Do not water them yet!
In the wild, animals and high winds often knock leaves and stems from succulent plants so nature has found a way to propagate them by ensuring that a new plant can grow from these parts.
It is important to allow removed leaves and stems a few days to dry out and heal. Allow 4-5 days and then place individual leaves flat on a thin layer of soil.
- Individual leaves will sprout roots and maybe a little rosette of new leaves, if left on dry soil for a few days after you remove them. As soon as roots appear, you can water these babies well. Soak them and allow the excess to drain away. Remember that adult plants have a whole big pot and babies just a tiny one, so more frequent watering is needed at the beginning of their lives.
- Shoots with a few leaves will start to grow roots if you leave them for a few days to dry out. One the cut part is “healed”, plant them in some shallow sand or succulent compost and begin watering. Once roots appear you can pot these on to make new plants. Water them well every 2-3 days allowing the soil to dry out first.
- Once they become established resume the normal watering weekly in summer and monthly in winter or whenever the soil feels dry.
Also Check: How Often Should You Water a Snake Plant?
How do you care for succulents indoors?
Succulents make fantastic houseplants. Some like the jade can last as long as 100 years if you look after them well. Succulents will thrive provided you give them:
- Indirect sunlight. Direct sunlight may cause leaf burn so move your succulents to a sunny location where there is bright light but it is not direct.
- Suitable soil. Use compost for succulents and add sand or grit for drainage. See more about adding charcoal and pebbles to aid drainage below.
- Occasional water. Over watering is much worse than under watering! Check the soil and if it is dry, then you can get out the watering can.
- A warm temperature in summer in daytime; cooler at night. Succulents will not tolerate drafts, cold or frost. Ensure the plant is not in a draft. In winter 50 degrees Fahrenheit is an ideal temperature but make sure that the plant is not in a frost pocket when the heating turns off at night.
In summer: Open windows to improve ventilation. These plants enjoy fresh air when it is warm and then a cooler temperature at night.
In winter, when they are dormant, ensure that the temperature never drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit which is their minimum, although succulents would probably be happier about 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
How often should I water succulents in summer?
The plant is growing and expanding in the summer months so water thoroughly once a week, once you have checked that the last watering has gone and the soil is dry.
Wet the whole root ball and drain away any excess water so that the plant’s roots are not sitting in it.
Check your plant more often in summer during a hot period and top up if the leaves are wilting or the soil feels super dry. If your succulents are outdoors they may enjoy the odd rain shower too.
How often should I water succulents in winter?
The plant is closing down for winter and becoming dormant so it needs much less water. Only water your plant when the pot is dry, maybe once a month.
One exception is the Christmas cactus, if you include this plant as a succulent. Because it flowers at Christmas, you need to water it more in the winter and less in summer.
This is because in its native country, the summer occurs at a different time. Check your plant labels carefully when you buy them so you know its watering needs!
Related: How Often to Water Jade Plant?
How do you water succulents without drainage?
Succulents love dry, arid landscapes and adore soil which drains away excess moisture. To grow succulent plants without drainage is asking for trouble. So if your pot has no drainage holes I suggest adding some drainage using these methods.
- To aid drainage, first add a layer of small pebbles in the base of your pot. These help the water to drain away from the roots of the plant.
- Put a thin layer of activated charcoal over this layer of pebbles. Charcoal is extremely porous, allowing roots to form well, and it also adds air and oxygen into the soil, while slowing the leaching of essential nutrients.
- Add a top layer of sand and potting soil, suitable for succulents.
- In this way, water will first soak through soil, then meet charcoal and stay in the pebbles. It is not ideal but it is better than having the roots of your succulents sitting in wet soil.
An added advantage to this layered planting is that the roots of the plant will be higher in your pot, therefore less likely to get root rot. See how to fix this below.
Succulents thrive in hot countries where it is sunny, rain is scarce and when it comes, it is usually a storm drench so if you water this pot now, it drains away quickly and your plant gets a good soaking without wet roots.
Do you water succulents from top or bottom?
Both ways are possible.
- Bottom watering. The advantage of watering from the bottom is that the roots sense there is water available and will aim for it. This should improve the root system and the overall top growth of the plant, as this is the natural way for any plant to source water, if rooted outdoors.
- Top watering is easy for the gardener, so test the soil is dry, and then give the whole plant a good soaking, ensuring that any excess is able to leak onto a saucer or tray. Empty this tray after watering too to avoid root rot.
Why do you put pebbles on succulents?
The main purpose of placing pebbles on the soil of the potted succulent plant is:
- To enhance drainage, a practical reason.
- To reduce moisture loss. Succulents and cacti naturally grow in sandy soils that drain quickly. Succulent roots should never be left in wet soil. The rocks help move water through the soil to prevent the roots from rotting.
- Decoration. Plant lovers like their succulents to look good and this adds an extra touch to your indoor décor.
Can I water my succulents with ice cubes?
It is best not to! Succulents really hate the cold and this would stress the plant by placing cubes of freezing water which melt slowly, lowering the overall soil temperature.
Particularly in the summer period, succulents are looking for a desert-like environment with sun, little rain, hot temperatures and definitely no ice.
If you have lots of ice after a party, then allow it to melt in a container so it is warmed up before you use it to water your succulent.
How many types of succulent are there?
This wonderful group of plants includes 60 plant families and 10,000 or more species. The name comes from the Latin sucus which translates as sap or juice. These plants store water well!
The number is constantly increasing because gardeners love to hybridize and crossbreed these plants, often as bonsai.
Some popular succulents include Aloe Vera, Agave, the Snake Plant, Euphorbia and a number of cacti like plants native to Brazil and South Africa.
Are there succulents that don’t need drainage?
You can grow succulents without drainage holes but why bother? In the wild, your succulents prefer harsh, sunny conditions where rain is scarce, like Africa and Central or South America. Try to match those conditions as closely as you can.
It is infinitely better to give all succulent plants drainage. The leaves, stems and roots of succulent plants are all expert at holding water for use in dry periods.
What does an overwatered succulent look like?
Let’s take a Jade plant as an example. If you water too much, the leaves will start to drop off. They may turn a yellow colour as well. Overwatering can also cause root rot, which can be fatal for a desert plant. See how to fix this below.
Can you grow succulents in just rocks?
Experienced gardeners often add rocks to the top of the soil in which succulents grow. Maybe this is where this question comes from! Pebbles are great to aid drainage but the succulent does need some soil in order to thrive.
They like gritty, sandy soil which drains really well so that their roots do not sit in wet. So it’s fine to add a pebble layer on top of soil but don’t forget the brown stuff for the good of the plant.
Can I use tap water for my succulents?
Yes you can but our tap water tends to have chlorine and other cleansing agents added. Over time, these chemicals show up as salts in the soil. You will notice white areas in the top of the soil, which look like salt. Why not try using saved rain water, boiled water or distilled water and see if this stops the salty residue?
A final word
The main problem with succulents derives from over watering so take it easy when you water and check that the soil is dry before you get start. Your succulents will love you for your patience and live a very long life!