Oh succulents; how their popularity marches on and on! They come in a wide range of sizes, forms, colors and shapes making them appealing to almost everyone. Are you new to the fun, wacky world of these fleshy beauties? Have you ever wondered how to water succulents?
Stick around for the answer and other things good to know. I’ll answer it right now in a nutshell: it depends. Not to be vague but there are a lot of variables involved which I’ll point out down below. This post (plus the video towards the end) serves as a guide and will give you things to think about when determining how to water your succulents, whether they’re planted in the ground, in pots or growing as houseplants.
Let me start this party off by defining what I mean by succulents here. All cacti are succulents but this isn’t about cacti. This is about those fleshy little beauties you see in pots, dish gardens, terrariums, kissing balls, wreaths, and living walls, as well as growing in the garden in some more temperate climates.
These are what I’m referring to in this post – the tapestry of “fleshies” planted in this bed at Barrel & Branches nursery in Encinitas, CA.
Cacti like these Golden Barrels can handle the strong sun & crazy heat here in the Sonoran Desert. These grow without supplemental water.
I for one love succulents and have been growing them for years. I’ve grown them both indoors and outdoors in very different climate zones. My first run in with a succulent was as a kid on our farmette in Litchfield County, CT. A 4′ Jade Plant in a huge container grew in the greenhouse off of our dining room. How exotic I thought that plant was!
I grew a few succulents on my deck in San Francisco. They were just coming on the mainstream market as my many years of living in the City by the Bay were wrapping up. My passion for them really sparked when I moved south.
I lived in Santa Barbara for 10 years and grew heaps of succulents which were planted in the garden and also in containers. The coast of Southern California (San Diego right up into the Central Coast) is the ideal climate for growing succulents outdoors. The fog tends to linger until mid-morning and the temps are mild year round.
I now live in Tucson, Arizona which is far from ideal climate for growing fleshy succulents. Nevertheless, they’re sold in almost every nursery along with stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joes etc. The Sonoran Desert is hotter in summer and colder in the winter than the California coast.
Not to mention the fact that the omnipresent intense summer sun will fry them. This applies to other places like Phoenix, Palm Springs, and Las Vegas. As you can imagine, succulents need watering more often here. On to the good stuff!
How you water your succulents is an integral part of keeping them alive.
The beautiful succulent garden at the Sherman Library & Gardens in Cororna Del Mar. It’s 2 blocks from the Pacific Ocean & definitely worth a visit if you’re in or visiting Orange County.
How to Water Succulents Outdoors
You might want to read this post I did not too long ago about how much sun succulents need. How much water succulents need goes hand in hand with how much sun (& heat) they’re getting. I’ll share my experiences and you can adjust accordingly to your climate/growing conditions.
Along the California Coast
The majority of my succulent growing experience was garnered in Santa Barbara. The summer temps average around 75F & the temps in winter rarely dip below 40F.
The succulents growing in my garden were on dip which ran once every 8-10 days in the warmer months. I watered the ones in containers approximately 7 days. The fog lessened the need for constant watering & succulents thrived here.
I started dabbling in the world of succulent gardening in San Francisco when I bought a few at the UC Davis Botanic Garden. Succulents weren’t readily available then like they are now. They grew on my east facing deck in containers and I watered them every 2-4 weeks depending on the intensity of the fog. It’s easy to overwater succulents in a climate like this!
In the Sonoran Desert
It’s a much tougher climate for succulents than in southern California. Here I grow all mine in containers in bright shade. In summer, I water those in larger pots approximately every 7 days & the ones in smaller pots every 5 days. My hanging succulents I water twice a week.
In the spring & late fall (before & after the intense heat) it’s about every 10 days. In the winter months I back the watering off to every 2 weeks; more or less depending on the temps.
My Christmas (actually Thanksgiving) Cactus, Epiphyllum guatemalense & Dancing Bones grow under a skylight in the guest bath.
How to Water Succulents Indoors
Succulents need high light (out of direct, hot sun) to do well indoors. Some do better indoors than others. That being said, how often you water them depends on how much light they’re getting & how warm your house temps are.
I water my succulents growing indoors about every 2 weeks in the summer months. In the cooler, darker winter months it’s every 3-4 weeks. They get watered less frequently than my succulents growing outdoors; & rightfully so.
My epiphytes, the Christmas Cactus, Dancing Bones & Epiphyllums, get watered every week in the summer & every other week in the winter. These get a spray down in the kitchen sink because they’re native to the tropics & subtropics. My other succulents I don’t mist or spray.
When it comes to watering succulents indoors, just know that less is more. As a guideline, it’ll be every 7-14 days in the warmers months & very 3-4 weeks in winter. You want to give them a thorough watering & let the soil dry out before watering again.
The 2 categories below will help you factor in how often you’ll need to water.
A tapestry of succulents growing in fountains at Cordova Gardens in Encinitas.
Things to Consider When Watering Succulents
The drier your environment, the more often you’ll water.
The hotter, the more often.
The more sun, the more often (just know that fleshy succulents will burn in hot, direct sun).
The smaller the pot size, the more often. This applies to low dishes too.
The more humid your environment is, the less often you’ll water.
The more fog you have, the less often.
In winter, less often. This is the time for all plants to rest.
The denser the soil mix, the less often (because it holds more water).
If there is no drain hole, the less often. Water cautiously. Here’s how to plant & water succulents in pots with no drain holes. Planting succulents in terrariums or low glass dishes is common. Again, mind the amount & frequency of the watering.
Consider the pot type. Unglazed clay & terra cotta are porous so the roots get air. The mix may dry out more often. You may have to water succulents in plastic & glazed pots (like ceramics) which aren’t porous a bit less often.
I’ve found that succulents with thin stems & smaller leaves, such as String Of Pearls, String Of Bananas & Ruby Necklace need watering more often than succulents with thick stems & leaves such as Echvererias, Paddle Plants, Aloe Vera & the like can go longer without water.
Succulents like these at Roger’s Gardens growing in driftwood will need watering more often.
Good Things to Know About Watering Succulents
There are no special watering techniques when it comes to succulents. The only thing I’d say is to water the soil & not the foliage.
I’ve never use distilled water when watering my succulents. Other plants are susceptible to the salts & can tip but I haven’t found that to be true when it comes to the fleshies.
Don’t “splash & go”. Succulents would rather get a thorough watering less often than a little bit of water here & there.
I water all my plants, including succulents, with room temperature water.
Don’t water your succulents too often – they’re very subject to root rot. They store water in their fleshy leaves, stems & roots.
Hand in hand with the above, down let them sit in a saucer full of water. It’ll keep the soil mix way too wet.
If you live in a rainy climate, you may need to grow your succulents under the cover of something like a porch . They “mush out” fast!
If you have a watering system, succulents will do much better if they’re on drip rather than spray.
Follow the weather & water accordingly. For instance, here in Tucson our winter 2 years ago warm & sunny so I watered more often. Last winter was much cooler so I watered less often.
Succulents don’t like a heavy or dense soil mix. It’s best to plant succulents in a light mix to prevent over watering. Here’s my favorite DIY succulent & cactus mix if you’re into making your own.
Or, a few online options for buying succulent & cactus mix: Bonsai Jack (this 1 is very gritty; great for those prone to overwatering!), Hoffman’s (this is more cost effective if you have a lot of succulents but you might have to add pumice or perlite), or Superfly Bonsai (another fast draining 1 like Bonsai Jack which is great for indoor succulents).
Over watering / Under watering
Just like with all plants (especially houseplants) there’s a line between too much water & too little water. If the leaves & stems are yellowed, shriveled & look dried, then your succulent is under watered. If the leaves & stems are mushy & brown, then it’s over watered. Don’t worry about the occasional lower leaf drying out on succulents is normal – it’s how they grow.
More Tips for Watering Succulents
Watering Succulents After Repotting
I water my succulents a few days before repotting them. After repotting, I let them settle in for 5-7 days before watering. From then on, I resume watering as usual.
Watering Succulent Pups
I’ll let the newly planted succulent babies settle in for 1-5 days (depending on the succulent) before watering. Then, I water them more often than I do an established plant until the roots are grown in.
Watering Succulents When on Vacation
I travel a lot. Unless you’re gone for over 3 weeks, your succulents should be fine. Most people turn down their air conditioning & heat when away lessening the chance of them going dry for an extended period.
Watering Small Succulents (2-4″ pot size)
It’s common to see succulents sold in small pots. Because the soil mass is small, it’l dry out faster. Water these more often; on the average once a week.
General guidelines for succulents in pots
In small pots, water every 7 days.
In medium pots, water every 10 days.
In large pots, water every 14 days.
Where to Water Succulents
I’ve gotten this question a couple of times. I water the soil all around the pot (not just on 1 side) & avoid getting the leaves wet. The epiphytes are different – they appreciate a spray or mist.
I love Spiral Aloes. They’re not very common & are extremely slow growing so I wanted to share this pic with you.
So, as you see there are lots of variables involved when it comes to watering succulents. The conditions they’re growing in (how humid, how hot or cold, pot size, composition of soil mix, intensity of the sun, or whether they’re inside or out, all come into play.
I hope this helps and gives you some things to think about. Just remember, when it comes to watering succulents, easy on the liquid love!
Got More Questions About Succulents? We Got Answers!
- How Much Sun Do Succulents Need?
- Succulent and Cactus Soil Mix for Pots
- How to Transplant Succulents into Pots
- Aloe Vera 101: A Round Up of Aloe Vera Plant Care Guides
You can find more houseplant info in my simple and easy to digest houseplant care guide: Keep Your Houseplants Alive