Succulents are the ideal potted plants for any home. From jade and orchid to aloe and cacti, they add distinct color and shape to every decor style.
It's not difficult to keep succulents alive, but they still require some care, and knowing when and how to water them is one big key to ensuring they flourish for years to come.
The task of hydrating a succulent begins before you add the first drop of water. You need to start somewhere, and selecting the right container for the job is critical.
Succulents don't like oversized pots, and the primary reason for this is that it results in too much water retention. Choose something that fits your plant — no more than an inch of space around it — and has plenty of drainage holes. Without an exit strategy, water will pool at the bottom of the pot, creating a poor growing environment.
Soil works hand-in-hand with watering times and amounts. A general cactus blend sold in garden stores is a foolproof option. Putting stones at the bottom of the pot before adding soil will optimize drainage.
To make your own gritty mix, combine equal parts of dry potting soil and sand. If you want some extra help with drainage, incorporate perlite or pumice stones. Adding a bit of compost is beneficial, too. Once you plant your succulent, don't water it immediately.
You have to get to know your succulent to figure out the best watering cycle. As a general rule, many owners start out watering once every week or two, and then deviate from this depending on the succulent's particular needs, which will vary by species, season, and environment.
To gauge when you should water your plant, feel the soil. If it's completely dry or you can stick a finger down to the second knuckle without sensing moisture, it's time to give your succulent a drink.
Succulents are drought-resistant, but just giving them a splash or spray of water isn't a healthy way to take care of these plants. Instead, they need a thorough soaking, which emulates their natural environment of long dry spells punctuated by intense rain. Pour the water in slowly, letting the soil absorb it all. Repeat this process until the water consistently drains from the bottom of the pot. The goal is to have moist — but not saturated — soil throughout.
Adding a liquid cactus fertilizer to your water once or twice a year is advantageous. Or you can make your own compost tea, which is cheap, eco-friendly, and effective. All you need to do is soak scraps like crushed eggshells, banana peels, and coffee grounds in water. Strain out the excess, and use this infusion to water your succulent.
Even though it's generally not beneficial to spray your succulents, there are a few occasions when it's not only okay, but necessary. Air plants take what they need to survive from their atmospheric environment. As their roots aren't geared to drink up water, they require humidity. Spraying the leaves occasionally, especially in a dry environment, is important to keeping them alive. These are the only succulents that should intentionally have moist leaves.
The one instance you should spray the soil is during propagation. Usually, succulent roots are shallow, so drenching the soil is harmful to babies. Spray, mist, or use a squeeze bottle to slightly water the roots. Water them at shorter intervals than established plants.
The wet-dry watering cycle helps succulents grow in a healthy way. It provides a period of hydration, then encourages the root system to expand as it looks for more water. But when these spreading roots are searching for water during a dry spell and can't find any, the succulent leaves will start to show this lack.
Wrinkled, shriveled, dried, flat, or dead leaves are telltale signs of too little water. If you see this, soak the soil immediately. Your succulent should bounce back after a nice drink.
There are some obvious signs that a succulent has been overwatered. Yellow, soft, mushy, and translucent leaves are a primary indicator. Blackened, decaying, and dropping leaves are the next clue. These can indicate the phases of root rot.
Take action if you see your plant is overwatered. If the problem's caught early on, replanting the succulent in fresh dry soil is your best bet.
It's always better to underwater your succulent than overwater. A dry plant can usually spring to life again once it's rehydrated, but you can't take moisture out of a plant — overwatering often results in tragedy. The leaves will swell and burst, and the stems will eventually rot. At this point, you won't be able to save the plant.
Just when you've figured out a good watering schedule for your plant, the dormant season might arrive, requiring you to re-evaluate. Usually, this occurs in the winter, but not all succulents subscribe to this timetable. Do your research so you can provide ideal conditions.
When your plant is dormant, cut its water supply in half, and stop any fertilizing. For a typical succulent, fertilize and begin to water normally again in the early spring.
Dedicated growers often keep track of their watering stats. Having a schedule to reference dates and quantities is a great way to get to know your individual plants. You can do this by hand or maintain a spreadsheet.
These days, there are also a lot of plant care apps that will send you watering reminders so you'll always have happy and healthy plants.