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How to water succulents: an easy guide to happy, healthy plants

Succulents are a popular houseplant because they come in so many different sizes, shapes, styles, and colors. There are countless types of succulents to choose from, so it’s easy to find the perfect match for your individual space, whether it’s your desk, plant stand, windowsill, kitchen counter, or anywhere else that could use a little bit of life. By learning how to water a succulent properly and as often as required, you’ll be able to provide the best care for this unique plant.

Top-down view of a succlent
Isabela Kronemberger/Unsplash

How often should you water succulents in pots?

Succulents are widely considered to be one of the easiest plants to care for, but still, many people don’t know how much water succulents actually need. Because succulents naturally grow in climates with infrequent rain (think desert or near-desert conditions), they’ve adapted in a way that allows them to store water for much longer than regular houseplants. As such, they can’t be watered the same way. It’s recommended to let the soil dry out completely between waterings and then soak the soil when it’s time to water again. This process generally results in watering your indoor succulents once every two weeks. However, you may find you’ll need to adjust the time between waterings depending on the individual succulent and your climate.

In addition to proper watering, you’ll want to be sure your succulents are potted in a container with good drainage. Because succulents are so efficient at retaining water in their fleshy leaves, they’re very prone to root rot. If the soil can’t drain properly, either because it’s too compact or the pot has insufficient drainage, you risk the succulent sitting in wet soil for too long and drowning or rotting. The leaves can also rot if you get water on them and leave it there for too long. So be careful and direct with your watering!

How do you know when a succulent needs water?

When a succulent needs water will depend on a couple of things: the season and the succulent itself. Like all plants, succulents grow more in certain conditions and less in others. The warmer months are the succulent’s growing period. This is when you’ll want to use the soak-and-dry method once every two weeks. However, during the cooler months, succulents enter a period of dormancy in which they don’t require as much water. This is when you’ll need to rely more on reading the plant’s signs than following a schedule.

First and foremost, in either season, never water a succulent until the soil is completely dry from top to bottom. If you have trouble gauging that on your own, there are a couple simple methods to test. You can get a moisture meter that will read the approximate moisture level of your soil, or you can rely on the weight of the pot. Over time, you’ll get a good feel for how the succulent’s pot feels in your hands when it’s sufficiently hydrated and when it’s dry enough to need a drink. So when you pick up the pot later and it weighs virtually nothing, that’s a good indicator your plant is ready for a swim!

You’ll notice during the colder time of the year that the soil takes longer to fully dry out, so don’t water until it does—even if that means going a month between watering. Another signal to look for is the shriveling of leaves. That often indicates that the succulent is starting to dry out and needs to be watered. Again, this could take longer than two weeks during the plant’s dormancy period, so be patient and listen to what it’s telling you and you’ll be able to successfully keep succulents alive all year long.

A potted succulent
Kyaw Tun/Unsplash

How do you water indoor succulents?

It’s best to use the soak-and-dry method once every two weeks (approximately) to water your succulents. That means waiting for the plant to completely dry out, then thoroughly soaking it. Wait a couple of weeks or so for it to dry all the way out again, and then repeat.

Consider using something that can test the dryness of the soil from top to bottom. It could be as simple as sticking a butter knife in the soil, a wooden skewer, or even your finger if the pot is shallow enough. Be sure not to water the succulent until the soil is completely dry, or you could run the risk of causing root rot through overwatering.

To prevent the plant from rotting due to water sitting on the leaves, and to be sure you soak the soil effectively, use a watering can with a small spout or another type of direct watering method. That way, you’re only soaking the soil around the plant and not the plant itself.

If your pot has drainage holes, water the soil until water starts to come out of the drainage hole at the bottom. However, there are tons of cute succulent planters out there that don’t have drainage holes. You might be wondering at this point if you can still use them. The answer is yes but do so with caution. You can use diamond-tipped bits (which aren’t as expensive as they sound) to drill holes into ceramic pots, or place small garden rocks at the bottom of the pot before planting; the rocks will give excess water a place to sit while the soil dries out, and the plant’s roots will eventually soak up the extra water when it’s needed.

You’ll also have to pay closer attention to the signals from your succulent on when to water, since a pot without drainage can lengthen the “once every two weeks” time frame. Remember that one of the biggest causes of succulents dying is overwatering. It may take some trial and error to find the right balance. Keeping track of the plant’s ideal lighting requirements is also a good idea, as succulents that get a lot of light will usually dry out a bit more quickly than those in less sunny spots.

How much water does a small succulent need?

Smaller succulents work best in smaller containers so as long as you follow the above watering method, you should be good to go. Even if that adorable little pot doesn’t have drainage holes, if you place those rocks in the bottom and pay attention to the signals from your plant, you’ll have no trouble as a succulent parent. Pretty soon, you’ll have a thriving succulent garden. Don’t be shy—propagate their pups and share the love!

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