Written by Elizabeth B.
There’s little not to love about succulents. With hundreds of varieties to satisfy every gardener’s taste and space, you can’t go wrong. Well, unless you don’t know how to water succulents, of course.
These unique plants grow in arid environments with high temperatures and low rainfall. Like cacti, they’ve adapted to store water in their stems and leaves to compensate for little water and poor soil. Too often, an eager new succulent owner brings home a beautiful plant under the assumption that it doesn’t need to be watered. When the leaves start to wrinkle and bend from lack of water, they’re confused.
Confusion no more! We’re sharing everything you need to know about watering indoor and outdoor plants, container and soil requirements, signs of water distress, and how to water baby succulents and propagating leaves.
How to Water Succulents
It’s best to give your indoor succulents deep drinks of water instead of sips here and there. Water your succulent until water escapes from the drainage hole(s) into the saucer beneath. Empty the saucer. Check on your plant one week later. If the soil is dry, give it another good drink. If the soil is still moist, wait another week. The most crucial point here is that the soil is dry before you add more water.
In the Ground
As long as the soil is well-draining, both hardy and annual succulents can thrive in the ground. Older plants with established root systems will tolerate dry conditions. Depending on the season, you can get away with weekly watering. Younger plants will need watered more often, usually every four-five days. In general, outdoor succulents need more water than indoor plants.
The amount of water that your succulent needs in an outdoor container will depend on the size, particularly the planter’s depth. Established, adult succulents planted in shallow containers will need watering more often, typically every three-four days. But every new plant will be different. Make sure to apply the same rule of thumb as indoor plants: water thoroughly and then check the soil’s moisture level one week later.
For all succulents, no matter location, it’s better to err on the side of underwatered than overwatered. If you want a more accurate method to ensure optimal watering (and to help you remember when you last watered), you can use a plant app such as Succulent Tracker.
The type of soil in which your succulent grows is almost as important as its watering method. For potted indoor plants, fast-draining soil is critical. Succulents hate to stay wet for long. You can find soil specifically for succulents and cacti at any Green Thumb nursery location. More “gritty” mixes drain even faster than traditional succulent soil because the composition relies on clay and coir. You can also mix your own soil in a pinch by combining equal parts light, porous potting soil with perlite or pumice.
In the Ground
To plant succulents in the ground, we recommend raising the garden bed or mounding the soil where the plants will live. Build a 2-3 foot mound with homemade or commercial organic-based compost mixed with perlite. Mounds made of this nutritious yet porous base will ensure efficient drainage away from the plant’s roots.
We recommend the same soil type for succulents in containers that live outside: well-draining, porous, and light. You can move indoor potted plants outside in the summer but be sure to introduce them to direct sunlight slowly. Start with a shadier location and then gradually move to full sun. Your succulent should not be in full sun from mid-morning to late afternoon.
For indoor and outdoor succulents, you should use a pot with at least one drain hole at the bottom with a saucer underneath. Be sure to empty the saucer once it’s filled with water. You can add drainage holes to most containers with a diamond tip drill bit.
The material of the container is also important to consider. We recommend terracotta or ceramic planters. These materials are porous, and thus, water will evaporate faster than in a glass or plastic container.
How to Water Propagating Leaves and Baby Succulents
If you’re propagating a succulent plant, the watering regimen is a bit different. It’s actually the opposite of what you should do for adult plants.
Prepare for propagation by planting babies in a shallow container with soil and laying leaves in between in a single layer. Place the container in a windowsill or other location where it will get plenty of sun. Then follow these watering rules for the fastest growth:
- Use a spray or squeeze bottle all over the leaves and baby plants. For propagation, regular sips of water are best.
- Water them daily. Keep an eye on the roots to ensure that they don’t dry out.
- Keep the soil damp, but not sopping, at all times. You want the leaves to have access to water all the time.
Signs that Your Succulent is Not Getting Enough Water
It happens. You either overwater or fail to remember to water your sweet succulents. Before you know it, they’re not looking great…at all. The good news is that there are tell-tale signs that your succulents are struggling:
Signs of Overwatering
- Leaves fall off easily
- Leaves are discolored, dark, and transparent
- Leaves feel soft, soggy, and mushy
Signs of Underwatering
- Leaves are wrinkly, rubbery, and bend easily
- Aerial roots start to grow from the stem. These are white, pink, or clear tendrils trying to absorb water from the air to compensate for a lack in the soil.
Avoid These Watering Mistakes
We’re gone over everything that you should do to keep succulents thriving. Now let’s quickly touch on the watering methods to avoid:
- Don’t use a spray bottle on adult plants. (Spraying down baby succulents and propagating leaves is ok.) Mature plants only absorb water through their roots. Standing water on their leaves can cause them to rot.
- Don’t water outdoor plants at midday or when it’s extremely hot, humid, or raining. Like most outdoor plants, you should water succulents in the morning.
- Avoid tap water. Use filtered, rain, or distilled water instead. If you must use tap water, leave it out overnight to allow mineral deposits to dissipate naturally.
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