How Much and How Often Should You Water Succulents?
Succulents are popular plants for their low-maintenance care profile. But they still need water. And the question for many new succulent owners is, how much and how often should you actually be watering them? In this article, gardening expert and houseplant enthusiast Madison Moulton takes you through everything you need to know about succulents and their moisture requirements.
Succulents are a beloved group of plants with beautifully plump leaves and remarkable ease of care. Unfortunately, they have also fallen victim to many gardeners and self-proclaimed plant parents due to incorrect watering schedules.
Whether you frequently fuss and overwater, causing your succulents to rot, or forget about them and underwater, causing them to shrivel up, you will certainly see problems in your plants.
If you want to get watering right and avoid these issues in the future, continue reading to find out when to water your succulents, and how much water they need to keep them happy.
Succulents are a vast group of plants united by their juicy, fleshy leaves. The hundreds of species in more than 50 plant families have evolved to store moisture and survive in their dry and often harsh native habitats. The name succulent comes from the Latin word for juice or sap.
Most succulents come from desert regions, but they can also be found along mountainsides in rocky conditions. Here, accustomed to drought, they evolved to store moisture from quick rains.
Since the term succulent is a general and not scientific classification, there is no clear indicator of every plant included in this group. But what is clear is that they all have similar watering needs and require little attention.
How Often Should You Water Succulents?
Succulents are not considered thirsty plants – quite the opposite. They are happy to live in dry soil for long periods without any additional watering. They survive on the moisture stored in their leaves. This water-wise nature means you won’t need to water very often. Or, at least, far less often than you would other herbaceous plants in your garden.
Unfortunately, there is no exact schedule of when to water. Some require watering every two weeks, while others can last a few weeks longer before a top-up. The actual time will depend on a number of factors that can influence watering needs.
The most important consideration is the type of plant. Different succulent types and species have slightly different watering needs. Low water usage is consistent across the entire group. However, specifics down to weeks or days will depend on the type of succulent you choose to grow.
You can take a look at the leaves to give you a basic idea of how much your specific type requires. The thicker and juicier the leaves, the less often they will need water. Thick leaves indicate plenty of moisture storage, meaning they can survive far longer without water than thin-leaved plants.
Size also plays a role in watering. Smaller plants will use less water, but will also dry out quicker when planted in smaller containers. Plants in large containers will take much longer to dry out completely. Their established root systems also mean they can usually last a couple of weeks without additional watering.
The best way to test whether it’s time to water again is to feel the moisture levels in the soil and lift up the container.
Once the soil has dried out completely and the container is light, you can water again. If you’re unsure, it’s always better to wait a couple of days before watering. These plants are designed to survive drought but won’t last when given more water than they are used to.
How Much Water Do Succulents Need?
Due to their low water needs, gardeners tend to make mistakes when it comes to the amount of water they give their succulents. Believing they live off little to no water, some choose to add only a small amount of water to the top layer of soil when planted in containers.
Unfortunately, this quickly leads to problems with underwatering. Moisture does not reach the roots lower down in the container. This is why you should always water from the base of the plant.
Underwatering causes the plant to seek moisture above, creating problems with growth. A moist top layer will also convince you the plant is well-watered. But this isn’t always the case, evidenced by many pots that have soil show up dry at the bottom.
In their native habitats, succulents typically receive rain in quick, heavy batches. The soil becomes completely soaked.
This allows the roots to absorb as much moisture as they need and transport it to the leaves for storage. Due to the well-draining nature of the soil, excess moisture washes away quickly, leaving the roots dry again.
To replicate this, you should water your succulents deeply and evenly until water runs through the drainage holes. As long as the plants are in the right conditions and the soil drains well, you should have no problems with overwatering.
Rather than focusing on a specific amount of water to provide, simply continue adding water to the soil until all areas are drenched. Avoid favoring one side as this can cause the roots to move in this direction seeking moisture, resulting in lopsided growth.
How The Environment Impacts Watering Schedules
Size and variety isn’t the only influence on when you should water. The environment your plant is placed in has a massive impact on how quickly the soil dries out, dictating when you should be watering again.
Sunlight is the number one factor to look out for. Succulents in their preferred full sun conditions will dry out quite quickly. For small plants in tiny pots, this could mean watering as often as once every 10 days.
However, if your succulent is placed indoors and in lower light than they are used to (although this is not recommended for strong growth), they may only need water every couple of weeks at minimum.
Heat and the season also have an impact. Succulents love warmth and grow best in higher temperatures. But these conditions also cause the soil to dry out quicker. In winter, when little moisture is used and growth slows, you can potentially wait a few months before watering again.
Check the performance of your plant and its environment. This will help you adapt your watering schedule week by week to avoid overwatering and underwatering.
Signs of Underwatering In Succulents
Succulents take quite a while to indicate they need water. However, if the soil is left dry for very long periods, you will begin to notice a few issues in the leaves.
The first is small wrinkles that deepen over time. Without moisture holding up the structure in the leaves, they begin to shrivel as they use up the last of their water reserves. Over time, the leaves become smaller and may change color. Eventually, they will crisp up and fall off the main plant completely.
If you notice yellowing or browning along with dry and compacted soil, you’ve likely underwatered. Luckily, if you catch the problem early, drenching the soil should return the leaves to normal in a couple of hours.
For those who have underwatered, make sure you don’t overcompensate in the future by watering too much. Just remind yourself to check the soil more often than you were previously, only watering when the soil has just dried out.
Signs of Overwatering In Succulents
Overwatering is a far more dangerous issue for these sensitive plants. Excess moisture can be caused by watering too soon or by inadequate drainage, either in the container or in the soil your succulent is planted in.
An overwatered succulent will develop leaves that are mushy and soft rather than strong and fleshy. They will often begin to rot at the point attached to the stem, especially close to the soil line around the base of the plant.
The leaves can also lose their vibrant colors, turning yellow, translucent or a dramatic black depending on the progression of the problem. Eventually, they will begin to drop off the plant until you are only left with a rotting stem.
Avoid this common succulent killer by improving drainage and waiting until the soil is completely dry before watering again.
Watering succulents can be tricky if you don’t understand their needs and how they differ from other garden plants. Test the soil before watering each time and leave them to dry out completely before you consider watering again. They will be far happier this way than if they are overwatered.