Those Pinterest-perfect succulent gardens can be a total feast for the eyes. And so it’s no surprise that you feel compelled to start your own little succulent collection. Now, it’s been a few weeks since you got back from the plant nursery, and your succulents… well, they just don’t look quite as picture-perfect as they did on those pretty, minimalist store shelves. What happened?
Most people tout the succulent as the ideal plant for the not-so-gifted gardener. Often considered low-maintenance and easy to care for, succulents typically seem like a suitable plant of choice for budding botanists. But much like any other type of plant, succulents require unique, special, and specific care in order to thrive, grow, and propagate.
One of the biggest rookie mistakes that first-time succulent owners make involves watering. Succulents are plants, so they need water – duh. But do they need as much water as you’re giving them? Probably not.
The Botanical Curiosity That is the Succulent
Way back in elementary school, we were taught that plants need three basic elements to survive. These include:
When you’ve got a potted succulent sitting pretty on a windowsill, then there’s not much else you need to provide than water. More often than not, people tend to believe that more water equals a happier plant. That may be true, but it depends on the kind of plant you’re caring for. Unfortunately, the same doesn’t apply to succulents.
To give you a better understanding, first, let’s take a look into this curious plant’s name – succulent. According to Merriam-Webster, succulent means juicy, moist, or having fleshy tissues that conserve moisture. With that basic idea, we can assume that the succulent is named so because it’s naturally evolved to retain more water than your average household plant. And that’s absolutely right.
Try breaking off one of your succulent’s leaves then cut it open. You’re likely to find some mushy, green pulp that’s wet and leaky. This is how succulents manage to thrive in hot weather and even deserts – because they’re able to retain water to survive such demanding conditions.
The iconic thorny cactus is actually a sub-type of the succulent and is best known for its hardy resistance against direct heat exposure, scorching hot climates, and long-lasting droughts.
So, what does all of this have to do with your watering habits?
How Much Water Does a Succulent Need?
Succulents have their own internal water reservoir. Giving it more water than it needs could result to stunted growth, rot, and death. So exactly how much water does a succulent need? There are a few factors worth considering.
Succulents have what you might call a period of growth. They thrive in hot weather, so they require more energy during summer and spring. And because the warmer weather makes it easier for excess moisture to evaporate from the soil, providing water more frequently can be beneficial during these specific seasons.
On the contrary, colder seasons slow down succulent growth. During this time, you might notice your plants remain the same size throughout the fall and winter, and you’re unlikely to see any new leaves sprouting about. Because of the decreased activity, your succulent won’t need as much water during this period. You can also attribute that to the fact that colder weather permits moisture to stay in the soil for longer, relieving the need to provide more.
During hotter seasons, water your succulent at least once every two weeks. During autumn and winter, providing water just once a month can be more than enough to keep your plant healthy, since it’s dormant during this time. But remember: watering a succulent means more than simply following a schedule. Inspect the soil – is it still moist? Then you might be able to postpone watering for another day or two.
Types of Succulents
There are 200 types of succulents, and each one is different from the last. From the geometric echeveria to the allegedly money-attracting jade plant, every succulent looks different and requires unique care.
In terms of water, different succulent varieties call for varying amounts. A good rule of thumb is to check the leaves. Types of succulents with thicker, denser leaves will likely require far less water. Those with thinner leaves, like the snake plant, should thrive better when watered more frequently.
Soil and Sun
The type of soil you use, your pot of choice, and the amount of sunlight your succulent gets should all be factored into your water calculations. Soil that’s fat, loamy, thick, and moisture retentive will resist evaporation and thus stay wet for longer. If you’re using this type of soil, water sparingly and try not to soak the earth too much.
Another factor worth considering is the pot or plot of land where your succulents are planted. Containments with poor drainage can pool water at the base. If there aren’t enough holes in your pot’s base, then providing less water can help prevent moisture from staying stagnant at the root.
Succulents that are exposed to more sunlight or heat will lose groundwater to evaporation. Sunlight will dry out the moisture in the soil more rapidly, thus making frequent watering a little more appropriate. In these conditions, consider providing enough water on a weekly basis.
What are the Signs of an Overwatered Succulent?
How can you tell if you’ve gone overboard with watering your precious little plant? Fortunately for you, your succulent will serve a bunch of signs that can make it easier for you to figure out whether you need to adjust your watering practices to better meet its needs.
Here are some of the tell-tale signs of an overwatered succulent:
Pale leaves – Some succulents – like the sedum genus – naturally have much lighter leaves. But when subjected to too much water, leaves can turn even paler. In some cases, the leaves might even start to look translucent, giving your succulent some ghostly appeal.
Flimsy leaves – One of the first signs you’ll notice is the lack of leaf integrity. Even the gentlest touch can cause low-hanging leaves near the roots fall off effortlessly.
Mushy, bursting leaves – Take a peek at the soil underneath your succulent. Are there any leaves you can inspect? Fallen leaves will often tell you more about the overall status of your plant. Mushy, engorged leaves that appear to ‘burst’ from too much water are characteristic of too much watering.
Rot – Overwatered succulents will start to rot from the root up, showcasing dull, brown colors and black spots that rise from the soil-part of the plant. This will spread like an infection, affecting the lowest leaves and then working its way to the top of the plant. When left on its own, rot will completely consume your plant.
Proper Watering Practices
If you’ve yet to see any signs of overwatering – or if the indications have just begun – then you can adjust your watering practices to better match your plant’s needs. Remember – every plant requires unique care depending on its specific type. Nonetheless, these general techniques can be beneficial in most cases.
Use a long-spout watering can – Someone started watering their succulents with a spray can and it somehow took off as a trend. But experts will tell you to avoid using spray cans at all costs. Spritzing the soil with water will only penetrate so far into its depth. With most of the topsoil moist, your plant will be forced to project roots above the soil to absorb the water.
Instead, choose a long-spout watering can. Measure out just enough water to soak the soil in your pot all the way through. Direct the spout just underneath the bottom leaves and seek to water the entire soil surface.
Avoid routine watering – It may seem logical to water your succulent on a routine schedule, but that might not always be the best idea. As a plant-parent, it would be wiser to water your succulent based on how it looks as opposed to what day of the week it is.
As a general rule of thumb, you should check your plant’s soil for moisture. Is it still wet or damp to touch? Then you probably won’t need to water just yet. Is it dry and relatively free of moisture? Then a well-deserved watering should be in order.
When in Doubt, Underwater – The best piece of advice for any succulent owner would be to underwater whenever in doubt. These hardy plants have evolved to thrive even in the warmest, driest, most arid conditions. Even when deprived of water, a shriveled succulent proves to be easier to save than one that’s been engorged with too much moisture.
If you’re still trying to get a hang of your unique plant, start off by giving it less water. Gradually work up to the ideal water quantity and frequency by watching how it reacts to the small amounts that you provide to start.
4 Tips to Save an Overwatered Succulent
Maybe it took you a while to realize that you were giving your pretty little plant a little too much water, and now the signs of rot are apparent. Black spots, mushy fallen leaves, and a soft, brown colored stem resulting to a lopsided structure – what’s a newbie to do?
Before you toss out that sorry looking succulent and head back down to the store, there are a few things you can do to save it. Take heed – the chances of success depend on a range of factors, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll work perfectly for your plant. But with careful execution, you might just be able to salvage your dying succulent to give it a new lease on life.
1. Stop Watering – The first and most practical solution against an overwatered succulent would be to cease providing it water. If the leaves are engorged and easily fall off, but there are yet to be signs of rot, then dialing down on water supply can help your succulent recuperate and return to its healthy state.
Avoid watering your plant and observe it for the duration of a week. Touch the soil at the end of the 7 day period and check for moisture. If it’s still too moist, then you might have to re-pot your plant since the soil might be the problem for not being able to dry up fast enough. But if it’s much less moist, then you can keep the succulent in the same pot.
When is it time to resupply with water? Check the leaves – do they look healthy, more saturated with color, and are they firm to touch? If yes, then the succulent might have used up the excess moisture, making it ready for resupply. Do not water your succulent again until the moisture from the soil is completely dried out.
2. Uproot it – Seems a little drastic especially if your succulent is already looking sickly. But uprooting it spares it from the continued onslaught of moisture, and gives you a better idea of whether there’s any rot occurring at the root.
Gently dig it out of its soil, being careful not to damage the plant’s stem, leaves, or root system. Shake off any clumps of soil that might have clung to the delicate hair-like roots. Place it on a clean dry sheet and let it dry out for a few days. Keep it in a warm, dry place but away from direct sunlight.
Once the succulent returns to normal with firm leaves and better color, then you can try to re-pot it. This time, make sure you choose the right kind of soil. Porous, quick-draining potting soil is best. Avoid mixtures with peat moss since they tend to hold more moisture for longer. If you can’t find any potting soil specifically for succulents, you can make your own by mixing together potting soil, coarse sand, and perlite or pumice. Equal parts should do just the trick.
When it comes to your pot of choice, always select one that has enough drainage holes. Small pots are fine since succulents don’t tend to reach out with their roots.
3. Perform Succulent Surgery – After uprooting your plant, you see that the roots and bottom leaves are completely rotten. Needless to say, drying it out at this point would be absolutely pointless, and leaving it to fend for itself would only encourage rot to thrive.
While it might be daunting to try to cut up your succulent, it actually couldn’t be any easier. Locate the area on the stem where the rot stops. With a washed, straight knife cut the succulent with one clean swipe. You should now have a half succulent that’s free from rot. Inspect its leaves and stem – there should be absolutely no rot left on the cutting.
You can leave the rotten half in the pot and see whether it will continue to thrive. While that might be unlikely, there are some cases when even rotten succulents sprout out new growths. Do not water it, position it near warm sunlight and fresh air, and observe it for the next one to two weeks.
As for the other, clean half, take your succulent and place it on a dry, clean sheet. Over the next few days, it should start to sprout a new root system. You should be able to re-pot it within the next one or two weeks. If the leaves shrivel up, mist the cutting with water. Avoid keeping it in a vase full of water at all costs.
4. Save the Leaves – If rot has gotten so bad that cutting the plant would be absolutely impossible, then the only option left would be to salvage any viable leaves that you can. Inspect the entire plant for whole intact leaves and gently pull them away from the stem. Only complete leaves will work for the propagation process.
Even for more experienced succulent parents, propagation from leaves can be tricky. So try to get as many of them as you can to increase your chances of success. Place them on a tray layered with the ideal potting soil mix and place them in a warm room with lots of fresh air. Indirect sunlight can be great to help them thrive.
In a few weeks’ time, you should see a tiny replica of the mother plant sprouting from the bottom of the leaves, along with a small root system. Once the outgrowth is big enough, you can place it in its own pot.
Save the Succulents!
Succulent care is no joke. Requiring specific and precise care, succulents can be a lot tougher to care for than most people claim. But with the right strategies and a whole lot of patience, you can become the plant-parent you’ve always hoped to be, with a garden full of beautiful geometric succulents sitting pretty in your home.
Remember – water can be your succulents’ worst enemy. So when it doubt, start a drought! Otherwise, you can try our tried, tested, and trusted tactics to save your succulent from rot and give it a brand new chance at surviving and thriving.