How often should I water succulents?  Do succulents need water?

How often should I water succulents? Do succulents need water?

A common idea that people have about succulents is that they do not ‘require/need’ water.  This is a myth. All plants need water including succulents.  Yes they can survive long periods of ‘drought’, ie no water, but they ‘do‘ need water to live. How often and how much is the question. As succulents store water in their leaves, stems, or roots they can survive when there is a drought, therefore it is better for a succulent to be too dry than over watered. Do not use a spray bottle, the roots of the succulent need water.

Generally, you should water more often in the summer when the plant is actively growing than in the winter when the plant goes into semi-dormancy. Watering also depends on quite a few variables with regard to the succulents growing conditions: 

Is the plant grown in a pot or the ground
Pot size
Drainage
Inside the house or outside
Type of soil
Temperatures
Light Conditions – ie how much and how strong is the sun
Succulent genus/species
Maturity of the plant
Time of Year – Spring/Summer/Autumn Winter

Lets assume that the soil is free draining, the pot has drainage holes and the succulent has the right amount of sun/shade exposure.

Indoor Succulents
How much?
Give a good soaking—water should run out drainage holes at the bottom of the pot
Be sure to empty the water that runs into the saucer
How often?
Let the soil dry out completely before you next water.  It does not mean it needs water as soon as the soil it dries out, just to let the soil dry before you do water again.
Larger pots can hold more moisture, small shallow pots will dry out a lot quicker and may require
to be watered more frequently

Outdoor in Pots
Outdoor pots generally require more regular watering than indoor pots due to warmer conditions.
How much?
Give a good soaking—water should run out drainage holes at the bottom of the pot
Be sure to empty the water that runs into the saucer
How often?
Let the soil dry out completely before you next water. It does not mean it needs water as soon as the soil it dries out, just to let the soil dry before you do water again.
Larger pots can hold more moisture, small shallow pots will dry out a lot quicker and may require
to be watered more frequently

Succulent in large pot

Large pots hold more moisture so do not dry out so quickly

succulent in small pot

Small pots will dry out a lot quicker than a large pot as it holds less moisture.

Summer
Pots will dry out a lot quicker in spring/summer compared to autumn/winter.  So the need for watering will be required more often in the warmer months.
Winter
Winter rains can keep the pots moist continuously, but as they are in pots consider moving them to a sunny position under the eaves of the house to control the amount of water they receive.  This can also protect them from frost.  Don’t forget to water them while they are under the eaves though!

Succulents in the Ground
Succulents growing in the ground have different watering requirements to those that are grown in pots.  The soil temperature stays cooler and doesn’t dry out as quickly. The succulents will also establish a stronger root system.

succulent garden australia succulent growing in wall succulents in wall

The succulents above are growing in my garden.  I very rarely water them myself, they survive on annual rainfall.

How Much?
Consideration regarding natural rainfall is required when deciding how much to water succulents in the ground. As with succulents in pots give the succulents a good soaking, ensuring the water does not pool around the base/roots of the plant.
How Often?
Winter
In the Winter you should not have to water succulents growing in the ground at all. As long as you ensure they are grown in good draining soil – ie not clay soils.  Most succulents can cope with a lot of rain.  Planting succulents on banks, in walls or building a mound of soil and planting the succulent on the top of the mound will ensure their roots do not sit in water and they will then cope with rain.
Summer
In Spring or Summer if they receive rain once every 7-10 days you still should not need to water them at all.  If there is no rain once per fortnight should suffice, or even once per month. 

There is no simple answer to how often to water succulents.  Sometimes it is more about when to recognise that they need to be watered or when they have had too much water.

Signs of an Over-watered Succulent
An over watered succulent has leaves that are soft and squishy, they will drop off easily from the plant  and can be pale green or sometimes yellow or orange in colour.
Remedy: Do not water for ‘at least’ two weeks to give the plant time to dry out properly.  If the leaves drop off take them out of the pot/away from the plant.  Sometimes it may be too late and they will not recover but if you catch the signs of over watering early the succulent should survive.

overwatered succulent

This succulent shows classic signs of over watering. The lower leaves are lying flat.  They are also soft, spongy and pale compared to the new leaves growing from the centre.  These leaves will fall off very easily.

over watered succulent survivor

This is the same succulent 6 months later.  Soon after I took the previous photo I  re-potted the plant into soil that was specifically designed for succulents and stopped watering.  I did not water it for about 10-12 weeks.  This was hard to do, however, I kept a close eye on it and the longer I didn’t water the healthier it looked.

Signs of an Under-watered Succulent
An under watered succulent’s upper leaves become dry and crispy, the entire plant becomes shrivelled  and many leaves shrivel at the tips.  The leaves look puckered and dry.
Remedy: Firstly, check the soil, you could be watering the succulent but the soil is not holding any moisture for the roots.  Re-pot the succulent if this is the case.  If the soil is ok just give the plant a good soaking of water and keep in mind this succulent may need watering a little more regularly compared to other species of succulents.

Underwatered succulent leaves

Classic under watering. The leaves are puckered/shrivelled.

Watering mature plants versus new succulents
Established plants will have a stronger root system and tolerate dry conditions better than new plants.  Especially succulents that are growing in the ground.  So a mature plant is more likely to survive longer without water/require less regular watering than a younger one.

 

echeveria strawberry heart

A mature plant growing in the ground will have established roots and require less watering than a younger plant.

How should I water the succulent leaves I’m propagating?
Until the leaves develop the tiny roots the leaves shouldn’t require any water.  It would not be detrimental to water them but why waste your time doing so!  Once the roots develop a once per week watering should be sufficient, watering the leaf and the soil.  The roots – which are still  above ground  – will absorb any moisture in the air and soil below.

Should I water after re-potting a succulent?
Succulents are the opposite of normal plants and do not require ‘watering in’ or water when re-potted or planted in the ground.  They actually prefer not to watered straight away.

Should I use a moisture metre?
Moisture metres are a great idea to test the moisture in the middle of a pot.  When the top soil may be dry the soil below may still be wet and therefore the pot does not require more water.  You can buy moisture metres from your local hardware store.  

I agree, this is a lot to consider and may sound complicated but just consider the following basic steps for any of your succulents. 

  • check the soil conditions to see if it dry or moist
  • look for signs of over or under watering
  • if you are unsure whether to water – do not water!