How to Water Succulents
If you’ve killed off every succulent you’ve ever had – you’re not alone! Unfortunately, the quickest way to kill a succulent is to water it improperly. Talk about frustrating!
While watering can be a huge headache when you’re just starting out, understanding how succulents survive in the wild is a big help (thank goodness).
And believe me, taking the time to learn to water the right way is absolutely worth it. Once I learned how to water succulents, the rest of succulent care seemed like a breeze and I began to love my new plant collection more and more.
Unfortunately, there’s a misconception out there that you can completely neglect a succulent and come back months later to a perfectly stunning plant.
That’s not exactly true, though. While they are indeed drought tolerant, they do need water to survive and they perform best when watered regularly.
In this post, we’re going to talk about the best way to water succulents so you can finally start enjoying them! We’ll cover everything including:
- how succulents survive in the wild
- best watering supplies
- putting yourself on a watering schedule
- the difference between outdoor plants and indoor plants when it comes to watering
- how to water throughout the different seasons
So let’s get started!
(This post may contain affiliate links.)
How Do Succulents Survive in the Wild?
Succulent plants and cacti store water in their stems and leaves. This is how they’re able to survive long periods of drought in their natural habitat, which happens to be hot and dry.
I want to stress, however, that succulents DO NOT look their best when starved for water. Frankly, your plants won’t be very pretty when they’re dehydrated.
While they might survive, they’re not going to look like the healthy, lush plants you picked up at the garden nursery. And I know that can feel discouraging!
If you fell in love with how your succulents looked in the store, then I bet it’s your hope that they stay looking that way forever!
An important note: regular watering in addition to thorough watering is what helps succulents grow strong root systems which is very important to the health of the plant.
This is what helps them brace for harsh conditions like heat waves and long droughts.
In their natural habitat, succulents are accustomed to very dry conditions. The water they receive comes from heavy rains but this rainfall doesn’t happen regularly.
This is where the succulent’s roots and fleshy leaves do the heavy lifting (it’s a pretty neat process!).
Here’s how it works: the roots store water and send it up to the rest of the plant, including the succulent leaves, so they can store water, too.
This stored water is enough to get them through another period of drought until the next rainfall. It’s also what gives them that full, lush appearance, with leaves that feel firm.
Also, the size of the plant is a big factor in whether it’ll survive in the wild. Older, larger succulents are better equipped for drought because they’re stronger and can store more water.
Younger, smaller succulents can’t store a lot of water in their tiny leaves and they haven’t had much time to develop strong roots, which means they might not survive.
Oftentimes, one of the easiest ways to ensure our houseplants perform well in our home is to mimic their natural environment as best we can. For succulents, this means letting the top inch of the soil go dry between waterings. This mimics the natural dry period ey experience, followed by geneous rainfall.
Thankfully, observing the leaves of your succulents will give you clues as to whether they’re getting the right amount of water. It’s easy to spot both overwatered and underwatered succulents once you know what to look for. I’ve included photos to help you along later in this article!
I know we all want our succulents to have enough water to live on AND look beautiful at the same time, and this takes a little practice. Let’s get into it!
Supplies for Watering Succulents
You don’t need any special supplies to water succulents BUT well-draining soil and drainage holes are VERY important. Garden centers sell succulent soil aka cactus mix and it’s a good idea to use it instead regular potting soil.
But why is that? Well, potting soil is made to retain moisture because it’s meant for plants and flowers that need consistent moisture, like annuals.
This is not what succulents need, however. They hate sitting in soggy soil becaue it threatens their survival. Planting your succulents in cactus mix gets you started off on the right foot. This type of soil mix is created to be fast-draining, which helps to prevent root rot in the case of overwatering.
Cactus mix does not retain as much water as regular potting soil and this is especially beneficial if you tend to over-water your plants.
Always keep in mind that succulents need soil that allows excess water to flow through the pot and out of the drainage hole.
You can feel the difference, too; succulent soil is not dense or heavy, but light and chunkier than regular soil.
Now onto a list of useful watering supplies:
- watering can, and/or a watering squeeze bottle or watering syringe,
- a pot with a drainage hole like this terracotta pot
- Cactus mix aka succulents soil
- Soil moisture meter (optional)
If you’re wondering what type of pot material works best, I recommend terra cotta because it wicks away moisture and allows air to flow through the soil.
TIP: If you’re already using regular potting soil, you can make it more fast-draining by adding pumice, perlite, or coarse sand. OR you can be more conservative with the amount of water you give your plant.(You can even create your own mix with the help of this post on How to Make Your Own Succulent Soil).
How Often To Water Succulents
When it comes to how often to water succulents, various factors help determine the answer, and those factors include:
- climate and temperature
- time of year
- whether you’re growing them indoors or outdoors
- what type/size of pot and soil you’re using
A general rule of thumb is to water succulents when the soil feels dry a few inches deep into the pot or ground. Water deeply and generously; you should see water escaping out of the pot’s drainage hole.
When you see water draining from the bottom of your pot, you’ll know that the soil has received adequate moisture.
If growing succulents directly in the ground, give the soil a good soaking, especially during the warmer months.
Generally speaking, I wait about a week between waterings. This is usually how long it takes for the soil in my growing zone (Zone 9b) to dry out.
We get triple-digit summers here, so I water more during the summer months and less during the winter months.
This amounts to about once every other day in the summer and once every other week during the fall and winter. I always touch the soil to see how dry it feels before I decide if it’s time to water.
If it feels dry about an inch or two deep, I know it’s time to water again. If it’s still moist, I wait another day or two.
Many succulents are not actively growing during the winter so they have less need for water. The soil also takes much longer to dry out during these months.
I always touch the soil to see how dry it feels before I decide if it’s time to water. If it feels dry about an inch or two deep, I know it’s time to water again.
What To Avoid When Watering Succulents
For best results, opt for deep drinks of water over small sips. Keep in mind that succulents store water in their roots, stems, and leaves, so they’ll need a deep watering when their soil goes dry.
Always pour water onto the soil, not the leaves.
This not only helps prevent water spots on the leaves but it also helps to prevent rotting leaves.
If the water on the leaves doesn’t evaporate quickly, the water will sit in the crevices and that could be bad for the health of the plant if being grown indoors.
This is not a problem with outdoor succulents, of course, since the sun dries up the water quickly.
Keep in mind that it’s the soil that needs water, not the actual leaves.The photo below shows how to properly water succulents: the spout of the watering can is watering the soil directly.
After your plant sits for a few minutes, make sure to discard the drained water from the saucer. Many people don’t realize how crucial this step is when learning how to water succulents.
If you don’t discard the drained water from the saucer, then the roots of your plant will be exposed to too much moisture for an extended period of time, which can cause them to rot.
*This happened to me once after I left a potted Echevarria Lola in a saucer that was full of water.
I forgot to drain the saucer and within 3 days, my little plant started to rot!
Now let’s quickly talk about what tool you should avoid when watering your succulents: spray bottles! Never use a spray bottle to spray water onto the leaves of your succulents!
Here’s why: The roots are the only part of the succulent plant that needs to be watered, the leaves don’t benefit from being sprayed – they get their water directly from the roots.
Another important thing to remember is to avoid using ice cubes to water succulents. I recommend using room temperature water since it’s less likely to shock the plant.
Scalding hot water or icy cold water can feel shocking to the root system, which in turn jeopardizes the health of the plant.
Also, tap water and hose water is just fine.
After your plant sits for a few minutes, make sure to discard the drained water from the saucer.
How to Water Succulents Outdoors
If you’re growing succulents outdoors that are planted directly in the ground or in containers, then it’s extra important to be mindful of the weather. You don’t want to leave your plants to brace the elements alone without your help.
Your plants will most likely be sitting in direct sunlight for a least a few hours during the day, so they’re going to need moist soil to beat the heat during late spring and summer.
Remember to check the soil moisture with your hands or soil moisture meter every few days, especially if you live in a dry climate like I do (the soil dries out quickly!).
Here where I live, we experience numerous heat waves throughout the summer season that sometimes last days at a time. This is very hard on plants.
The best time to water succulents is in the morning before the sun has a chance to evaporate the water. This gives the roots plenty of time to soak in the water they need for storage.
On days when the temperature reaches above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, aim to check the soil daily.
Believe it or not, you might have to water the soil daily or every other day during these hot weeks.
Generous watering is the best way to protect your plant against these harsh summer conditions. Scorched roots can quickly kill a plant.
As to when to water outdoor succulents year-round: water when the soil feels dry.
In fact, when you plant your succulents, always make sure that all of the leaves sit on top of the soil because you want them to remain as dry as possible.
How to Water Succulents Indoors
Watering succulents indoors is a little different than watering them outdoors. This is because succulents are better protected from the elements when they’re inside your house as opposed to out in your yard.
You can protect them from harsh sun rays and heat waves, wind, heavy rainfall, and snow.
While underwatering tends to be a problem for people with outdoor succulents, overwatering is a common mistake when it comes to indoor succulents.
You need to be diligent with your watering frequency during the summer months but you can thankfully be much more relaxed with your indoor succulents.
The soil in your pots will likely dry out at a slower rate indoors, which means you don’t have to check the soil as regularly. You should still aim for once a week, though.
A good rule of thumb for indoor succulents is to make sure the soil in the pot dries out completely before watering again. This will be instrumental in helping you prevent overwatering and root rot.
Keep in mind that small pots dry out quickly so if you’re growing tiny succulents in two-inch pots, you’ll need to check the soil regularly.
If you’re like me, you might have a few succulent arrangements or crafts that are small and compact.
If you do, a watering squeeze bottle or small watering can is an excellent way to avoid spills and messes while watering adequately.
The tiny spouts make it convenient when having to squeeze through tight areas to reach the soil.
Best tip: when watering indoors, make sure to water the soil directly and avoid overhead watering and getting water on the leaves. Always remember that it’s the soil that needs to be watered, NOT the leaves, which is why we avoid spray bottles! This will keep the skin of your leaves dry and healthy.
Signs of Overwatering
Overwatering is probably the worst thing that can happen to a succulent because it can ruin leaves beyond repair and even worse- kill the root system. By the time you notice signs of overwatering, it might be too late to save the roots and stem.
Hopefully, though, you’ll be better prepared to notice the signs early on after reading this.
Let’s settle one thing first: overwatering doesn’t pertain to the amount of water you give your plant but the frequency in which you give it water.
As long as you let the soil go dry between waterings, you’ll be able to avoid overwatering, even if you give it plenty of water each time.
By not letting the soil dry out, however, you’re forcing your succulent’s root system to live in soggy soil for an extended period of time, which leads to root rot.
Signs of overwatering are thankfully obvious IF you pay attention and remember to glance at your plants regularly.
If you see yellow, translucent, and soggy leaves on your succulent, as shown in the photo below, then you’ve been over-watering (a common mistake!).
If you see only a few translucent and soggy leaves on your plants, then your plant has an excellent chance of survival.
Simply tug off the soggy leaves and discard them. Then, stop all watering and let the soil dry out COMPLETELY.
This should take a few days to a week, maybe even a little longer depending on the weather. When the soil feels is bone-dry, you can water again, thoroughly.
*If most of your plant is covered in mushy leaves that are yellow or black, check the stem. Is the stem also soggy or turning black in color?
That’s an obvious sign of root rot. It means the root system has rotted and you’ll need to move on to propagation if you wish to save any healthy leaves on the plant.
Head here for a step-by-step tutorial on succulent propagation with photos and instructions.
Signs of Underwatering
Underwatering is another serious problem that can affect your succulent’s chance of survival. Unfortunately, I see a lot of advice that leads people to underwater their succulents in an effort to prevent overwatering.
I made this mistake in the past and it’s the reason I couldn’t keep my succulents alive or looking vibrant.
Please understand that dry, wrinkly leaves at the bottom of the succulent (as shown below) is a completely normal growth process and no cause for alarm.
Your plant is simply getting rid of older leaves to direct its energy towards creating new leaves towards the top of the succulent.
On the other hand, if you see brown, dry, and crispy leaves at the top or middle section of your succulent, then you’ve been under-watering and the plant is in major distress and in need of water.
Give your succulent a deep watering and then water it again in a few days when the soil feels dry.
Another sign of underwatering is aeriel roots, which happens when the plant has gone weeks without ample water. It’s your plant’s way of preserving itself until the next watering. See the thin roots that have grown on the stem outside of the soil?
Those are aerial roots and the plant has grown them in hopes of catching water however it can, even from moisture in the air. It’s pretty neat!
It’s something you want to avoid, though, because it means your plant is putting its energy into surviving instead of creating new, beautiful leaves and a stronger root system.
Shriveling leaves caused by underwatering also might not return to their once-healthy state, so keep this in mind. I’ve had a underwatered succulents that were past being saved; they were simply too scorched to survive.
This is what happens out in the wild, too. Not all succulents will survive extended drought. They simply wither away to nothing.
Some types of succulents, particularly older ones or ones with larger, thick leavers, are better equipped to withstand drought and high temperatures.
Now that about covers everything you need to know about
Congratulations! You now know how to water succulents! All that’s left is for you to get some practice.
I’ll leave you with a couple quick tips: Always remember that less is more when it comes to how much and how often to water succulents and cacti.
It’s easier to save an under-watered succulent than it is to save an over-watered succulent!
Congratulations! You now know how to water succulents! All that’s left is for you to get some practice!
Best of luck!
For Related Blog Posts:
How to Keep Air Plants Alive: Easy Care Tips for Beginners
Pothos Plant Propagation: How to Grow Pothos Cuttings
How to Care for a Pothos Plant
How to Care for a Jade Plant
Why Are My Succulent Leaves Shriveling?