Succulents have long been one of my favourite types of plants. I love the variety of textures, colours and shapes within the species and the joy such unassuming plants can bring. Whether you have one or one hundred of these special plants, I encourage everyone to start a succulent collection. They are generally low maintenance and require little attention most of the time – including the frequency you need to water them.
The main cause of problems with succulents comes from over-watering (and occasionally under-watering). I have written this guide to help you with giving them enough to drink, whether you are growing them indoors or outdoors.
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They have adapted for drought –
There are many types of succulents including Echeverias, Aeoniums, Crassulas and Sedums. They originate from dry, arid regions (including deserts), so their leaves have adapted to store water to cope with long periods without rainfall. This means that they can curb dehydration, as they can draw on their water reserves.
Succulents DO require water –
Whilst many people give them too much water, it is also a common misconception that succulents are so easy-going that they require virtually no water at all. They can withstand relatively long periods of drought as they store water in their leaves, but will benefit from a good soaking every so often. Giving them a “big drink” rather than a sprinkling of water will imitate the downpours they would receive in their country of origin.
Watering outdoors –
Some succulents, such as most Sempervivum spp. can be kept outside in the UK all year round. Others will enjoy a spell outside, once the last frost has passed, before being brought inside for the cooler months. When growing succulents outside, you usually do not have to water them at all. Even during hot summers, the amount of rain we get here every couple of weeks is sufficient for them.
You will have a much healthier plant if you allow it to draw on it’s water stores as it would if grown “in the wild” – this is the way it has evolved. You should also see brighter, more vivid colours if you allow the soil to thoroughly dry out between waterings.
Photo by Andrew Black
Watering indoors –
You can grow some succulents inside your home, and many do really well when grown under glass (e.g. in a greenhouse or conservatory).
Over-watering can lead to root rot which if undetected may result in killing your plant. So, it is always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to watering succulents. Allow the soil to completely dry out between watering your plants – you can check the soil for moisture by sticking your finger into the soil. Once satisfied that it is dry, thoroughly soak the soil. You can do this by standing the plant pot in a saucer of water for half an hour or so (before disposing of any water left in the saucer) or by watering the soil from above.
It is always better to give your succulents a thorough watering, rather than using the “little and often” approach. You want to aim to replicate the torrential rainfalls they would receive in their natural habitat.
There isn’t a catchall answer to the frequency of watering required – it could be that you need to water your plants once a week, or as little as once a month. You will get to know the rhythm of your plants over time and you will soon understand what works for them. Generally, they will require little to no water during dormancy and through the winter and more water when they’re actively growing.
You can also try lifting the plant pot to feel the weight of it to determine if it’s time to water – it will feel lighter when the soil is dry.
Photo by Gary Meulemans
Watering regime for vibrant colour –
Succulents will produce their brightest, truest colours when they are not over-watered. If you notice that your plants are looking a bit faded in colour, try watering them less often. Once your plant has to try hard to seek out water and goodness from the soil it's in (or from its water stores) it will produce its best colours and strongest growth. This is also why it is a good idea not to pot your succulent into an overly large container – they prefer to be slightly under-potted in a tighter space. Again, this helps to simulate its natural environment.
Try leaving them alone for a bit to see how they reward you with their changing vivid colours. You may be happily surprised when you achieve some super colourful results!
A note on drainage –
Succulents and cacti hate sitting in waterlogged soil, so whilst this observation isn’t specifically about giving them water, it does coincide with it. To have healthy plants with adequate moisture, your soil and pot MUST have adequate drainage. Ensure containers have drainage holes and the potting medium you use is free-draining. This will prevent water from staying in the soil and saturating the roots. Find out more about soil for succulents here.
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Hopefully, that is everything you need to know about how to water your succulent plant. You can find out more about care of specific succulents in the Succulent care part of my Plant School. Of course, if you have any queries, send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or pop a comment below.
Header image by Tahlia Doyle