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Can You Save an Overwatered Succulent?

An overwatered succulent is not always a death sentence, but it’s without doubt one of the most common causes why succulents fail to last as long as they should.

It’s not something that succulent owners purposefully do. Instead overwatering stems from a lack of knowledge about the watering needs of these plants.

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Succulents have adapted to arid, often desert-like growing conditions, so while welcomed from time to time, water is not needed that regularly or that often by succulents, let alone cacti.

To help you prevent overwatering in your succulents and send them to their untimely demise, I’ll teach you how to water your succulents correctly. I’ll also discuss what you can do to help save an overwatered succulent.

How to Tell if Your Succulent is Under or Overwatered?

If you suspect you have overwatered your succulent, you’re probably right. Succulents are more likely to die from being overwatered than because of a lack of water.

The signs of underwatering and overwatering often overlap. You can simply take a look at the succulent, examine its leaves and stems and conclude that it’s actually suffering from dehydration, while in fact it’s overwatering that’s causing it to become dehydrated.

This makes it difficult to distinguish between the problems, but not impossible.

A succulent that shows signs of dehydration will have:

  • Wrinkled or shriveled up leaves
  • Dried up, dead leaves at the bottom of the plant or throughout the plant
  • Leaves look like they have been deflated (soft and flat)
  • The plant is droopy and wilted
  • Roots are dry
  • Soil is dry and no longer absorbs water

A succulent that’s overwatered will show the following signs:

  • Leaves that feel soft and mushy to the touch
  • Leaves that yellow or become translucent from too much water
  • Rotting stem or rotting lower leaves
  • Bad smelling soil or soil with white fungus growing on the surface
  • Leaves that drop or turn black
  • Rotting roots

Because of the roots rotting, sometimes the leaves of an overwatered succulent can also become shriveled and wrinkled and even dry because the roots can no longer transport water and nutrients to the leaves and stem of the plant.

But as you can see by going over the list, an overwatered succulent will first have mushy, soft leaves and its soil will show fungal growth. It will even be smelly if the rotting is advanced.

If overwatering gets to a very advanced stage, it may be difficult or impossible to save the plant. Caught early enough, and overwatered succulent can still be saved and things can be turned around.

Saving an Overwatered Succulent from Dying

There are a few things you can and should do to improve an overwatered succulent’s chances of survival. These interventions are especially efficient if the rotting caused by overwatering hasn’t progressed to an extreme.

Here’s what to do if you’ve been overwatering your succulent:

  • The first thing to do is stop watering (for at least a week, but even longer)
  • Move your succulent to a sunny location to help the soil dry out faster
  • If the soil is staying moist despite moving to a sunny and warm location, it means the potting mix is not good, and you should remove the succulent from the pot
  • Inspect the roots and remove any roots that feel soft or mushy or show visible signs of rotting or damage
  • Allow the succulent to dry in a shady location for a couple of days
  • If enough roots can be saved to replant your succulent, then replant in suitable potting media that’s created for succulents and cacti
  • If roots are too far damaged, but there are healthy stem cuttings or leaf cutting, try to root them

Remember that succulents can be propagated from stem cuttings or leaf cuttings, so you can try to propagate them if the roots are too far gone and there are remaining healthy stems or leaves.

How to Water Your Succulents the Right Way?

Always allow the top inch of soil to dry out before watering. If the soil is moist, check back a couple of days later. This rule is easy enough to follow, but you do need to account for weather and season.

In summer, you may end up watering more frequently, weekly, for example, but you should not keep that schedule throughout the dormancy period. In fall and winter, cut back on watering and spread out watering to every 2-3 weeks.

Why are My Succulents Rotting?

Overwatering can cause chemical processes in the soil that favor fungal overgrowth and rotting. When water sits too long at the roots, they start to become soft, mushy and unable to absorb more water.

The soil may take a long time to dry out because it’s not well-draining or because it’s compacted, or because there isn’t enough light and warmth that can help with evaporation.

As a result, rotting will move from the roots to the stem and cause widespread damage.

Why Succulent Leaves Drooping?

Drooping succulent leaves are primarily a sign of dehydration. With lack of enough water, the leaves will wrinkle and droop.

But drooping leaves can also signal a lack of water and nutrients when an overwatered succulent can no longer deliver moisture to the leaves.

Lack of light and sudden exposure to low temperatures can also cause your succulent’s leaves to droop.

It’s important to examine the underlying cause that’s most likely to make your succulent’s leaves droop and make immediate changes to remedy the situation before it’s too late.

Wrapping Up

Whether you’ve become overzealous with the watering can or you were simply not aware of how often you’re watering your succulent, overwatering happens more often than underwatering.

While both damaging, overwatering will quickly show its damaging effects. With care and quick intervention, you can still save an overwatered succulent. If your succulent is already dying, you can try to save it by propagating any healthy stems or leaves.

The best medicine, as I always say, is prevention. So understand your succulent’s watering needs and water them correctly, so you’ll never have to worry about over or underwatering again.

Updated: January 20, 2021

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