What are succulents anyway?
“Succulent” refers to thick, fleshy plants that have evolved to store water to survive dry climates or harsh soil conditions. Water is often stored in the leaves, giving succulents their signature (and irresistibly cute) look. Other succulents can store water in their stems, and some succulents are geophytes — plants with underground organs that store food or other nutrients.
Succulents are sometimes mistaken for just desert plants, but their range goes far beyond that. You can find succulents in several plant families with dozens of varieties growing around the world — from houseleek high in the Pyrenees to ice plant, a South African native that you can find along California’s coastal highways.
How often to water succulents
When it comes to maintenance, the most common question we get asked is how often succulents should be watered. Unfortunately, there is no perfect watering schedule. As with all plants, how much to water succulents changes from season to season and even week to week. Plants don’t need to be watered as frequently in winter as they do in summer, as most plants are dormant in winter; Likewise, your plants will require less water during a series of overcast, overcast days.
Tips for watering succulents
Plants should only be watered when the soil or planting medium is completely dry. A good, reliable way to water your succulents is to place your planter on a tray of shallow water, wait for the water to soak into the soil, and then remove the planter from the tray.
Another option, especially if your planter doesn’t have a drainage hole, is to water your succulents with a spray bottle. Mist the leaves and then get close to the base of the plant and mist the top layer of soil to allow the roots to absorb some water as well.
Oops, I overwatered my succulent
Because of the way succulents grow and retain water, the most common mistake home gardeners make is overwatering. A key sign that a succulent has been overwatered is yellowed, translucent leaves, which may be mushy because the excess water is cracking the plant’s cell walls. They tend to fall off easily when touched.
Succulents should never stand in standing water; it leads to root rot quickly, so proper drainage is essential. Self-watering planters have built-in drainage trays and are a novice gardener’s best friend. If your planter doesn’t have a drainage hole and you can’t create one, add a few layers of pebbles to the bottom of the planter before adding the succulent and growing medium.
If the damage is already done, all hope is not lost — thankfully, many succulents don’t mind a quick emergency transfer. Remove the succulent from the wet planting medium and remove any rotten leaves or snip off any rotten stems with sharp, clean scissors. If the soil is soggy, you can even squeeze the root ball slightly. Leave to dry in a sunny place. In the meantime, thoroughly clean the planter; It’s best to start by scrubbing with warm water and soap, then follow with a 10% bleach solution to disinfect. This will help prevent any bacteria that has built up from infecting your succulent. After the succulent has had some time to dry out, transplant it to fresh soil.
Underwatering is a less common problem for these drought-tolerant plants, but you can probably tell: shriveled, drooping leaves can mean the plant has had to resort to its internal water source. You should look for even wrinkling throughout the plant; If the rest of the plant looks healthy but there are shriveled leaves at the base of the plant, these may just be older leaves that you can carefully remove.
Keep in mind that succulents in small planters will need more frequent watering than those in larger containers or in the ground. Smaller containers naturally dry out faster.