How to Water Succulents: Comprehensive Guide
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You’ve probably heard from all your friends that succulents are supposedly the easiest indoor plants to care for. They tend to be the set-it-and-forget-it types. The ones that don’t need frequent waterings.
Until you ended up killing a couple of succulents and cacti unknowingly probably because you forgot to water them.
That is, until one day, you read the Neverland guide on how to water your succulents and now you’re living happily surrounded by aloes, echeverias, sedums, and cacti all over your apartment.
Succulents are known as low-maintenance because they’re able to store water in their leaves, stems, and roots which allows them to live healthily and survive in between waterings. Most succulents will need a good watering every 2-3 weeks, but some are able to survive more than a month without water!
Most succulents are drought-tolerant and used to growing in dry, arid environments living for long periods without enough water. Although succulents can be forgiving when it comes to water, it is one of the most important care instructions to get right for a healthy, and thriving succulent.
Below, we’ll cover the proper etiquette for watering your succulent and how you can set it up for success. Proper water schedules will create a healthy root system and make your succulents actually low-maintenance plants. The most critical components to get your watering downright are: proper soil, your pot selection, and the proper watering method.
Step 1: Proper Soil & Pot
Before getting down to the dirty with water, we’re going to cover the critical low-hanging fruit for succulent care: the right well-draining soil and the right planter with good drainage.
You’ll always want to make sure you are growing succulents and cacti in cactus or succulent soil. Garden centers and online marketplaces like Neverland will offer specialized cacti and succulent potting soil which typically includes a soil mix, perlite, pumice, sand, vermiculite, or other grainy substances that enable proper soil aeration.
These substances in potting mixes allow water to seep through rather than get logged in the soil.
You can also use regular houseplant potting mix, but we recommend amending with sand or perlite to encourage fast-draining of excess water.
The second most important element to your succulent’s health is the right pot with a drain hole. There are several factors to consider when selecting the proper succulent pot. In fact, we cover them all in more detail in our in-depth guide on succulent pots here. But, most importantly, you’ll want to choose a pot with a drainage hole at a minimum.
Depending on the humidity of the area you live in, you can also consider the material of the pot. Terracotta pots tend to evaporate and wick away moisture quite rapidly making them a great option for humid climates. On the other hand, if you live in an already dry climate, consider plastic pots which retain moisture.
Now that we’ve covered two of the critical steps to ensuring your succulent’s health, let’s talk about how to water you succulent properly.
Step 2: Keep Light & Seasonality In Mind
As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to water your succulents once the entire soil in your succulent container is dry. You want to allow the soil to completely dry in between waterings. It should be crackling, dry like the desert, and not just the top of the soil.
There can be exceptions to tropical succulents like a string of pearls or string of hearts, but even those prefer soil on the dry side.
A few things to consider about watering frequency is the season. Most succulent’s active growing seasons are in the spring and summer, and they will require more water to nourish their growth.
During these times, you’ll likely want to water them every two weeks. In the winter months, when succulents go into dormancy, you will want to water them once a month if not once every month and a half.
Light is another factor to consider in the watering schedule. If you’re growing a succulent outdoors in the scorching sun, your soil will dry out faster and will require more water.
If you’re growing your succulent indoors in bright indirect light to low light, you’ll want to extend your watering schedule to water less frequently.
How can you tell if your succulent is overwatered?
You know you have an overwatered succulent in your hands if you see the leaves of the succulent become soft, squishy, and even translucent. If you’re seeing signs of discoloration in your leaves, you are likely giving your plant too much water. Pause any watering for a period of time to let your soil fully dry. If you believe your plant is experiencing root rot, we recommend taking a few cuttings and growing new plants.
How can you tell if your succulent is under-watered?
You know you have an underwatered succulent in your hands if the leaves are starting to shrivel up and drop off of your succulent. If you’ve noticed your once plump succulent is starting to look smaller, shriveled, then your succulent needs water and it’s time to give it a nice bottom water soak.
Step 3: Watering Methods & Watering Tips
The best recommended way to succulent watering is the soak and dry approach or bottom watering method.
To do this, take your succulent in its container (with a drain hole!) and set it in a sink or a bowl filled with water. You’ll want to make sure that your entire pot is submerged except for an inch or two.
Let it sit for 15-20 minutes to allow the soil to soak up the moisture. After 15-20 minutes, you can take out your succulent from the water and allow all excess water to drain from the container.
Avoid using a spray bottle and misting your succulent.
Succulents prefer to be watered with hefty amount of water at once and misting can cause a build up of water on the leaves (not the soil where it needs to be!) causing fungal disease and pest infestations.
How to water succulents in pots without drain holes?
Sometimes, the decor selection comes in front of the function (drainage holes). We know how tempting beautiful, minimalist pots can be - but alas, they lack the hole you need to drain excess water.
If you’re growing succulents in containers without drainage holes, we recommend extra well-draining soil. Amend your existing soil with perlite and sand even more so to allow air circulation and water evaporation.
In these cases, your only option to water your succulent is via top watering. You will want to water just enough where the entirety of the soil is moist, but not soggy. As a general rule of thumb, consider measuring out water half the size of your current succulent’s container.
Pour water over the soil (avoiding the plant itself) and allow the soil to absorb the water over a couple of minutes. It’s always better to start off with LESS water than more to be safe. You can always watch your succulent and adjust the watering schedule as necessary.
How do I water succulents that i’m propagating?
If your succulents are too small to submerge via bottom watering, then consider using a spray bottle (the one exception!) OR a squeeze bottle OR a watering can with a small spout where you can squirt water in between the leaves that you are propagating.
How do I water outdoor succulents?
After determining whether your succulent needs water, you’ll want to just use a regular water hose or a watering can to pour water on the surrounding soil of your succulent. Try to avoid the leaves of the succulent itself unless you know the water will evaporate fairly quickly. Keep in mind the light, humidity, and seasonal conditions that may affect your outdoor plants' watering schedules.
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