What Are Succulents, Anyway?
“Succulent” refers to thick, fleshy plants that have evolved to store water to survive arid climates or tough soil conditions. Often the water is stored in the leaves, giving succulents their signature (and irresistibly cute) look. Other succulents may store water in their stems, and some succulents are geophytes — plants with underground organs that store food or other nutrients.
Succulents are sometimes mistakenly thought of as just desert plants, but their reach goes far beyond that. You can find succulents across multiple plant families with dozens of varieties growing all over the world — from houseleeks high in the Pyrenees mountains to ice plant, a South African native you can find sprawling alongside California’s coastal highways.
How Often to Water Succulents
Watering is usually the top question we receive when it comes to succulent care. Unfortunately, there’s no perfect watering schedule. Watering requirements for all plants, not just succulents, will change by the season, and even by the week. Plants won’t need to be watered as frequently in the winter as they will need in the summer because most plants go dormant during winter; likewise, your plants will need less water during a string of cloudy, overcast days.
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 saucer full of shallow water and wait until the water is absorbed into the soil, then remove the planter from the saucer. Another option, especially if your planter doesn’t have a drainage hole, is to water your succulents is by using a spray bottle. Mist the leaves, and then get in close to the base of the plant and spray the top layer of the soil so the roots can take in some water, too.
Oops, I Overwatered My Succulent
Because of the nature of how succulents grow and store water, the number one mistake home gardeners make is overwatering. One key sign a succulent has been overwatered includes yellowing, translucent leaves that may be mushy due to the excess water causing the plant’s cell walls to burst. They tend to fall off easily if touched.
Succulents should never sit in standing water; it quickly leads to root rot, 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’re not able to create one, add a few layers of pebbles to the bottom of the planter before adding the succulent and planting medium.
If the damage is already done, all hope isn’t lost — many succulents thankfully don’t mind a quick emergency transfer. Remove the succulent from the wet planting medium and remove any rotten leaves or cut off any rotten stem with a pair of sharp, clean scissors. If the soil is soaked, you can even give the root ball a gentle squeeze. Leave it to dry in a sunny spot. In the meantime, clean out the planter thoroughly; it’s best to start by scrubbing with warm water and soap, then follow up a 10 percent bleach solution to sanitize. This will help prevent any bacteria that formed from infecting your succulent. After the succulent has had some time to dry out, replant in fresh soil.