Can Succulents Grow in Water?

Growing succulents hydroponically can reduce your need to water, help cuttings root quicker, and reduce the mess that comes with planting in soil. But there are also several downsides to consider that impact overall growth and survival. In this article, gardening expert Madison Moulton answers the question – can succulents grow in water?

View of cacti and succulents grow in water on a light windowsill. Moon Cactus and Haworthiopsis limifolia grow in tall glass bottles, jars and glasses filled with water. Haworthiopsis limifolia is small, rosette-forming plant features tightly packed, upright leaves that are triangular in cross-section and covered with pronounced, raised ridges resembling the texture of a file or washboard. The Moon Cactus is a small, globular cactus with sharp yellowish-brown spines on its ribs.

Succulents are beloved for their low-maintenance nature. These plants are not fussy and generally grow better when left alone. Watering is one of the only tasks to stay on top of (but water sparsely, considering their drought tolerance). There is a way to take watering out of the equation, too – hydroponics.

Succulents are not ideal candidates for growing in water for reasons we’ll discuss later. But it’s not impossible either, albeit risky, if you want your succulents to stay alive long-term.

There are a few reasons why gardeners try this method and also a few good reasons not to. Let’s look at the pros and cons and step-by-step to answer whether succulents can grow in water.

What Are Succulents?

Close-up of four Echeveria succulents in blue glass jars on a wooden windowsill. Echeveria is a diverse and visually striking genus of succulent plants prized for their captivating rosette-shaped foliage. The leaves are fleshy, thick, and arranged in a symmetrical, overlapping pattern, creating a distinctive rosette. They include shades of green, blue, and pink at the tips. The leaves are covered with a white matte coating.
These plants, adapted to dry conditions, store water in leaves.

Succulents are a group of plants defined by their ability to retain water in their leaves. Originating from environments with drier soil or less rainfall, they evolved to store excess moisture in their leaves and stems to support growth in times of drought.

Succulents are often paired with cacti, but there is a distinction between the two. Cacti are plants in the family Cactaceae, while succulents are incredibly diverse and feature a range of families, genera, and species. To simplify the distinction, all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti (although you may disagree with even that, depending on what scientific field you’re in).

Thanks to their native environments, succulent growing conditions are a little different from other plants you may have experience with, especially indoors. Most appreciate a full day of direct sun and grow best in gritty soil that drains well. As they store water, they don’t need watering often and prefer soil to remain dry rather than soggy.

Although these conditions are easier to replicate outdoors, succulents have become popular among houseplant lovers, too. One of the ways indoor growers attempt to root or permanently display their succulents is hydroponically (in water).

Can Succulents Grow in Water?

Close-up of three Pachyphytum Margrit succulents and one cactus in glass jars filled with water on a wooden shelf. Pachyphytum 'Margrit' is a stunning succulent known for its compact and rosette-shaped form. The plant features thick, fleshy leaves arranged in tight spirals, forming a symmetrical and visually appealing structure. The leaves are blue-gray in color, with a powdery or frosty coating.
While succulents can root in water, long-term hydroponic growth poses risks of rot and stunted development.

Given their preference for limited watering, it makes sense to assume succulents can’t grow in water. However, if you’ve ever tried rooting a broken stem or stray leaf in water, you may have found they develop roots quite quickly.

Technically, it is possible to grow succulents this way, but there are caveats.

I wouldn’t recommend attempting to grow succulents hydroponically long-term. It’s not impossible, but the risk of rotting or lack of growth is high, making it far simpler to grow in soil if you want to keep your succulents alive.

Succulents are not adapted to sitting in consistently moist soil, let alone water permanently. There are a few reasons you may want to try it, but there are also reasons it’s not the best idea.

Reasons To Grow Succulents In Water

Close-up of a small Crassula ovata cutting in a glass of water on a bluish background. This resilient and slow-growing plant features thick, glossy, oval-shaped leaves that are jade green with pinkish edges.
Try this method for propagating cuttings, providing quicker rooting and simplified care without soil-related issues.

The best reason for using water to grow succulents is to root cuttings for propagation. Succulent stems root well in water, ready to be transplanted into the soil once they are a few inches long. Although there is an increased risk of rot before roots develop, rooting in water does allow you to monitor progress. It’s generally quicker than rooting in soil, too.

There are also the benefits of hydroponics to consider. Lack of soil simplifies care and avoids any messy mishaps, especially if you’re keeping your succulents indoors. It reduces the risk of soil-borne pests and diseases attacking your plants. And as they will be sitting in water permanently, you won’t need to worry about monitoring soil moisture to water at the perfect time.

Reasons Not To Grow Succulents In Water

Close-up of succulents and cacti growing on a white wooden windowsill. There are Echeveria Etiolation and cacti in glass jars and glasses filled with water.
This method increases the risk of rot and slows growth but offers convenience and visual appeal.

These benefits do come with a few significant downsides, the most important of which is rot. Succulents are prone to rot when exposed to too much moisture, so the risk of your plant dying earlier than it would planted in the soil is high.

Growth will likely be slower, too, due to the less-than-optimal environment and limited space. This may not be an issue for small indoor displays, but keep in mind that your succulents will look far happier and grow to their full potential when planted in soil instead.

Finally, although maintenance in soil care and watering is reduced, there are other care tasks to complete if you want to grow succulents hydroponically. The water needs to be topped up consistently to stop the roots from being exposed to the air and replaced often to prevent bacterial buildup. For long-term displays, you’ll also need to add nutrients to the water to fuel growth.

Considering the downsides, I avoid using water and prefer to stick to soil. It’s a much better environment for the plants and avoids the disappointment of an early death. But it’s hard to deny the convenience and visual benefits of the hydroponic method, making it worth a try if you have a succulent you’re willing to risk.

Which Succulents Grow Well In Water?

Close-up of Ceropegia woodii succulent cuttings in glass jars with water on a wooden table indoors. Ceropegia woodii, commonly known as String of Hearts, is a charming trailing succulent with a distinct appearance. The plant features cascading stems adorned with small, heart-shaped leaves that are green or variegated with shades of silver or purple.
Successful succulent water growth starts with choosing cuttings ready for propagation.

If you do want to use the water method successfully, it’s important to start with the right plants.

While it is possible to transplant from soil to water, the potential for rot is much higher than starting with cuttings. The roots formed in soil are slightly different from those formed in water, and soil roots accustomed to plenty of airflow and dry soil will not be happy plopped into a glass of water.

It’s best to choose a plant that’s ready for propagation, with a long stem that can stretch near the water and keep the leaves dry. Start with cuttings to allow the plant to better adapt to hydroponic growing.

Taller succulents are also easier to root in water than shorter ones. This gives you a bit of breathing room for topping up the water and avoids moisture sitting close to the leaves, risking rot.

These are the succulents most start out with when growing hydroponically, rooting quickly in water:

  • Echeveria
  • Crassula
  • Sempervivum
  • Ceropegia
  • Kalanchoe

How To Grow Succulents In Water

Close-up of two clear containers filled with water containing echeveria succulents taking root. Echeveria succulents are renowned for their exquisite and rosette-shaped appearance. These plants feature fleshy, thick leaves that form compact, symmetrically arranged rosettes in various sizes, colors, and textures. The leaves are powdery purple with pinkish tips.
Get your succulent cutting, remove lower leaves, let it callous, and root in water.

Once you’ve chosen your plant, it’s time to get it in the water. You’ll need a glass vase or jar, shears, and clear plastic wrap. Follow these steps to get started:

  • Trim the cutting. Using sharp and clean shears, remove a stem from an existing plant. Ideally, you want around 4 inches of stem for easier rooting and care, but shorter stems also work.
  • Remove any leaves from the bottom third of the stem. This stops any leaves from sitting in the water while maintaining the shape of the succulent.
  • Allow the cutting to heal. Leave it on a piece of newspaper for a couple of days to allow the open areas to callous. This reduces the risk of rot early on.
  • Fill a jar with water and cover the opening with plastic wrap. Make a hole in the center for the stem to fit through, holding it in place and keeping the leaves dry. If your succulent is large enough to rest on the jar opening without the leaves falling in, you can skip this step.
  • Place the cutting in the jar so the stem sits just above the water line. You can submerge the stem, but it may rot before any roots develop. Keeping it just out of the water and maintaining that water level closely allows roots to grow downwards into the water, keeping the rest of the plant dry.
  • Place the jar in a sunny spot and continue to top up the water as needed. Change the water regularly. Replace it completely and clean the jar if you notice any bacterial buildup.

Final Thoughts

Using water to grow succulents is not ideal for the health of the plants, but it’s also not impossible. Follow these steps if you want to give it a try indoors.

Close-up of female hands about to divide succulents on a blurred background. She is holding a Jade Plant in her hand. It is a popular succulent that features thick, fleshy, oval-shaped leaves that are glossy and vibrant green, tinged with red along the edges.

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