Succulents are known for their tolerance to drought, but that doesn’t mean they don’t ever need water. In fact, compared to cacti, for example, succulents have higher water requirements.
On the other hand, overwatering is one of the major concerns with succulents. Therefore, you must strike a good balance between not overwatering your succulents but also not depriving them of water.
Because it’s easy to overdo watering, you’ll need to understand when and how often to water succulents. To help you develop a keen eye for detecting the watering needs of your succulents, I’ve put together a practical guideline that you can read below.
Succulent Watering Tips – When & How Often?
One of the first pieces of advice I can give you about watering succulents is to water them cautiously and be mindful of environmental conditions that can influence watering frequency.
Here are some factors that will have a say in how often to water succulents:
Whether you’re keeping your succulents indoors or out, the higher the temperatures in your area, the more often you need to water your succulents, unless the soil is dense and has a tendency to hold a bit more water.
Generally, direct light should be avoided for succulents as their leaves can get scorched rather easily. If your succulents do get a few hours of direct sunlight per day, you’ll need to increase watering frequency to keep up with the evaporation that’s caused by too much sun exposure.
In high humidity environments, succulents will require less frequent watering compared to dry and arid environments. Although their leaves, roots and stems can store water, their water-storing abilities aren’t as good as that of cactus plants.
Plant Size, Pot Size & Pot Type
A growing and still developing succulent may need more water than one that’s already well established. Usually, the smaller the pot size, the more frequently it needs watering because a small pot with fast-draining potting media will dry out fast.
The material of the pot is also important. For succulents, clay or terracotta pots are best. They allow the soil to dry out better because of the porous structure of these pots.
Plastic pots will hold moisture much longer, which isn’t ideal seeing how succulents are prone to root rot if water saturation is too high.
The potting medium for succulents should provide enough aeration for the roots, should have minimal moisture holding capacity and should drain fast.
You can use commercially available succulent and cacti mixes or create your own mix with potting media that checks off these requirements.
As I will discuss below, the soil’s level of dryness is a good indicator to whether or not your need to water your succulent.
The time of year will also determine the frequency at which you’re going to need to water your succulents. During the growing seasons (spring, summer, autumn), succulents will need to be watered more often.
In winter, these plants usually enter a dormant stage and you may need to hold off watering or water only very sparingly.
How to Water Succulents?
In terms of watering technique, succulents like it best if you water the soil and not the foliage, which can be susceptible to fungus if watered from above. Water all around and not just on one side.
One exception includes epiphytes, which enjoy increased humidity and should be misted if the air is too dry in your home.
Another thing to understand about succulent watering is that you shouldn’t just pour a little water on the soil and be on your way. Succulents should receive a thorough watering, even if it’s done infrequently, rather than get a little water more frequently. Water the pot all around and not just on a single side.
Always, without fail, assess the dryness of the soil — if the soil is still moist from the last watering, don’t water again until the top inch of soil feels dry again. This is a reliable test to prevent overwatering and has worked out well for my succulents.
A further thing you should care about when watering succulents is to empty the saucer once you’re finished watering to prevent the soil from becoming too wet.
Use room temperature water, especially for succulents that are sensitive to any type of cold drafts or low temperatures.
Succulents are highly susceptible to root rot, so make sure the pot you’re keeping your succulents in has draining holes on the bottom.
In closed terrariums, you should be mindful to avoid overwatering and create an environment that can support the requirements of your succulents.
If you’re keeping succulents outside, they may need a cover if there’s too much rain pouring down in your area.
You should always be mindful of the weather and adjust your watering routine accordingly to prevent the roots from rotting or the plants from becoming shriveled and dry out.
Next, let’s see some of the signs of overwatering or underwatering your succulents.
How Often to Water Succulents?
Seeing how multiple environmental factors come into play when it comes to watering your succulents, it’s hard to draw up a fixed watering schedule to accommodate the watering needs of all succulents.
Just to give you an example, some of my succulents will need to be watered weekly because they’re in small pots, my other succulents that are in a larger pot I water only every two weeks.
When repotting my succulents, I usually water them before (a few days before), but not immediately after repotting. I usually wait 5-7 days, and then I continue my normal watering routine.
If I propagate succulents, once the pups are rooted, I water them more frequently than my mature and established succulents, because pups are still growing.
If all these things seem a bit arbitrary to you, it’s because they kind of are. But at the end of the day it all boils down to checking the dryness of the potting medium.
Stick the tip of your finger into the soil until the soil reaches the first knuckle to evaluate whether the potting medium is still moist or dried out. If moist, don’t water just yet, wait a couple of days, and check back later.
This is a pretty reliable test that I’ve been using with a lot of success ever since I’ve made the mistake to overwater my first succulents.
There are other tricks to assess the moisture level of the soil such as stabbing the soil with a wooden stick or lifting the pot to see if it’s lighter (a pot with moist soil will be heavier), but I find that the finger dip test is the most reliable one.
To help you get an even better idea about things, below you can read about the symptoms of the two extremes in succulent watering — overwatering and underwatering.
Signs You’re Overwatering Succulents
An overwatered succulent will show some obvious signs that are usually hard to ignore. The signs to look out for include:
- Some succulents will have yellow leaves or turn brown (e.g. aloe vera plants may turn brown if they’re overwatered)
- Stems, leaves may feel soft to the touch or mushy
- You may see noticeable rotting at the base of the plant
Root rot is rarely reversible and once it settles in, it’s already too late to save the plant. In early stages you may be able to salvage the plant by replanting it to a fresh pot, removing rotten roots, and holding off watering.
Signs You’re Underwatering Succulents
Signs of underwatering may take a bit longer to appear given the natural tendency of these plants to withstand a bit of drought.
While succulents are forgiving if you’re not regular in your watering routine, continuously forgetting to water them will sooner or later lead to the following symptoms:
- Browning of leaves
- Drooping plant and wrinkled leaves
- Shriveled and puckered aspect
Generally, you’ll be able to tell that your succulent is underwatered just by looking at the leaves.
An underwatered succulent is much easier to save than an overwatered one, and usually it only takes a thorough watering to nurse the plant back to good health.
Some of the signs of underwatering or overwatering may be caused by other issues as well, so it’s important to rule out the possibility of other causes before you reach the conclusion that underwatering / overwatering may be causing these symptoms.
If you follow the guidelines I offered in this article, you’ll easily get the hang of watering succulents without falling into extremes.
Remember that overwatering is a much bigger issue than underwatering, so it’s always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to this matter.
As I mentioned before, it’s difficult to set up a fixed watering schedule, especially if environmental conditions are changing.
It’s always best to do a finger dip test before you water your succulents to assess the dryness of the soil and consider the temperature, light exposure, humidity, and all other factors I discussed in this article.