How Much & How Often to Water Succulents: Facts & FAQ
Thick, fleshy, and up to 40 feet tall, succulents are a highly diverse group of plants that mostly grow in deserts. Designed by nature to handle droughts and full exposure to sunlight, they prefer above-average temps and don’t do well in overly-moisturized soil. So, the biggest question that most home gardeners ask is how much water do succulents need? How often do I feed them?
Now, while every single member of this family is different, at the very core, they’re still the same and should only be watered once in 2–3 weeks. But what about the humidity levels? Can succulents survive in frost? When do they bloom? These are just some of the questions that we’ll cover in this detailed guide. So, stay tuned!
|Well-drained, loose, rocky, nutrient-rich
|4.0–6.5 (aim for 5.5)
|Full exposure to sunlight
|Low, once in 2–3 weeks
|Early spring or summer
What Is a Succulent? Breaking It Down
Did you know that succulent plants can store water for months? That’s right! Their roots absorb moisture and retain it in their stems and leaves to access it later. That’s why the stems get fleshy and swollen after you water them properly. The short, spherical leaves, columnar shape, low stomata levels, strong ribs, and roots that can absorb water right off the ground all contribute to this.
Drought-resistant, the vast majority of succulents grow in deserts and semi-deserts. And while some species do prosper in rain areas, for most, the natural habitats are dry areas with low humidity levels, low rainfall, and a scorching sun. Succulents are native to Africa and the Americas but can be found on every single continent except for Antarctica. Oh, and one more thing: not all succulents are cacti!
How Much Water Do Succulents Need?
In contrast to most houseplants, succulents are used to limited water supplies. That means you should only water them when the soil is completely dry. Even if it’s a little moist, adding water will only harm the plant. Use your fingers to probe the soil: dip them at least 1–2 inches into it to check whether it’s still wet or not. Indoor succulents should be watered once or twice a week when it’s hot outside. Two cups should do.
During the cold winter days, water them every 3–4 weeks; 1.5 cups will be enough. When growing succulents outdoors, you will have to water them more frequently (once in 4–5 days during non-winter months). This greatly depends on the climate, humidity levels, and how much sunlight they get, of course. So, no matter where you live or how much sun the plants get, always check the soil first. This is a universal rule that applies to all plants.
The Best Watering Technique for Succulents
With succulents, a quick sprinkle here and there won’t cut it. Instead, use the deep watering technique. Pour the water slowly—give the soil time to absorb it. And don’t stop until you see the water escaping through the holes at the bottom of the container. Again, it’s important for the soil to be moisturized in its entirety, not just the top. That’s exactly why deep watering is the way to go here.
Now, if you have more than one plant in the house or the garden, it might be a bit hard to keep track. To avoid ruining your succulent(s), keep a schedule. It can be as simple as creating a list on your phone, downloading a dedicated app, or even writing it all down on a piece of paper. And remember that the bigger the plant, the more water it will need to grow.
Can Succulents Survive in Shade?
If you want your plants to be healthy, grow tall, and last for a long time, make sure they get at least 6–8 hours of sunlight during the day. Some species might get burned by the sun when fully exposed to it, though. So, check this before you pick the spot for planting. Now, can these plants survive in the shade? Partial shade might work, especially if you do everything right with the soil and watering.
The full shade will take a heavy toll on most succulent plants, however. Without proper exposure to the sun, they’ll wither and you won’t see steady growth. This is important: even if you live in a rainy, cloudy, and foggy area with minimal sunlight, you can still grow a cactus as long as it gets enough light during the day.
We recommend putting the pot on a south-facing windowsill—to get as much light as possible. Or, better yet, move the container(s) outdoors during the growing season to maximize their sun and light intake. Put the plants in the shade first (like for a day or two) and only then expose them to the sun.
What Is the Ideal Temperature? What About Humidity Levels?
Succulents naturally grow in hot, dry, and sun-scorched deserts. That’s why 40–80°F is a comfortable temperature for them. Most species can grow in 85–90 degrees as well, but anything higher than that might damage the leaves. And what about the lower temperature threshold? Does 40 degrees mean succulents can’t live through the winter?
Not quite: certain succulent plants can handle the frost. Will you have to cover them, or not? Again, it all comes down to the species. For example, Sempervivums aren’t afraid of the cold and have no problem growing outdoors all year round. Low temperatures make their stems and leaves thicker and brighter than usual. As for the humidity levels, 50–60% is the golden middle for succulents (just like for humans).
Picking the Right Soil for Steady Growth
Succulent plants aren’t big fans of high pH levels; instead, they prefer soil with 4.0–6.5 acidity. The soil should also be well-drained and loose: a standard cactus potting mix will be perfect. Next, most species thrive in rocky terrain. Putting gravel or limestone at the bottom of the pot/container will help with the drainage. Also, while this might come as a surprise, succulents grow best in organically-rich soil.
Fertilizing: The More, the Merrier?
Should you fertilize the soil every single month? You could do that, of course, and certain species will benefit from that greatly. However, even if you do this once or twice a year (in winter or spring and also during heavy rainfall), that will be more than enough. Succulents aren’t particularly fragile and the roots won’t “burn” from an overabundance of nutrients.
With that said, it’s better to play it safe than to overdo it. Please keep in mind that heavily-fertilized plants need more water to grow. First, it makes it a bit harder for the roots to reach the water in the soil. Second, the microorganisms that live in fertilizer products impact both the soil and the water in it.
The Container Also Matters
What’s the first thing to check before planting a succulent in a pot? The drainage holes, of course! Again, succulents don’t do too well in overly-moisturized environments, which is why the drainage system has to work flawlessly. Otherwise, the roots will rot, and the plant will be taken over by pests and diseases. This is important: no matter how wonderful the original container is, you will have to say goodbye to it eventually.
It’s recommended to transplant a cactus (or any other succulent) to a bigger pot once in 2–4 years. Do this in mid-winter/early spring. The moment you move it to the new pot, don’t forget to fertilize it generously. Speaking of fertilizing, if you do that consistently (at least every 6–12 months), you can stick with the old container for 3–4 years or even longer. But if you don’t, a replacement will be due in 2–3 years.
Are Succulents Edible? Are They Toxic?
If you’re looking to spice things up a bit and add a new flavor to a favorite dish, a succulent plant could help you with that. The leaves are a bit bitter and even have a peppery flavor, but that’s what makes them a go-to choice in many cuisines around the globe. Now, there are hundreds of different succulents out there, and they all taste slightly different. So, you might want to try a few to find your favorite one.
But wait—won’t you get poisoned if you eat a succulent? We’re happy to say that the probability of that is very low. Most succulent plants that grow on planet Earth aren’t at all toxic to humans. As long as you avoid the Kalanchoe and Euphorbia species, there won’t be anything to worry about. In any case, don’t eat too much, as that can quickly upset your stomach and maybe even cause nausea.
Succulents are quite popular in American households. We like to put these plants in pots near the windows and watch them grow. So, it’s only natural that we want to give them the best “treatment” we can. However, oftentimes, that leads to overwatering, which is the #1 killer of home-grown succulents. You need to water adequately—only when the soil gets dry.
Follow this simple rule, and you’ll get to enjoy steady growth! If the soil is well-drained and fertilized, and you ensure at least 6 hours of sunlight during the day, the plant will flourish. The key here is not to overdo it but rather cater to the plant’s needs and move it to a bigger container when the time comes.
Featured Image Credit: Marijana, Pixabay