Why Do Succulents Not Need a Lot of Water?

Succulents are known for their plump, fleshy leaves and cute appearance, but more than that, they are widely associated with their exceptional survival skills. These plants are durable and can survive for long periods without water. But why is this the case?

Succulents do not need a lot of water because they are drought-resistant plants that store water inside their leaves, hence the name succulent. These plants are used to living in the desert and adapting to dry conditions, which is why too much water can harm them.

The rest of this article will explain everything you need to know about why succulents do not need a lot of water. Read on to learn more about how often you should water your succulents and some of the best tips for doing so. 

When to Water Succulents

While succulents can survive for long periods without access to water, underwatering is good for no plant. However, overwatering can have effects that are just as detrimental. So, exactly how often should you be watering your succulents?

You should water your succulents when the soil has fully dried since your last watering session. This drying process can take anywhere from two to four weeks, depending on the temperature, humidity, and season. 

To determine when your succulent should be watered, the best thing to do is to stick your finger or a wooden chopstick 2-3 inches (5-7.6 cm) deep into the soil to check if there’s any moisture in the pot. If so, refrain from watering until the soil is dry enough and crumbly.

It’s vital to let your succulent dry out between waterings because they don’t need a lot of water. These plants are native to desert regions where the atmosphere is hot and dry, and rains are heavy but brief and not very frequent.

To adapt, they store water within their leaves, which is why they don’t require much hydration. However, don’t wait until the soil is bone dry. Otherwise, it can become hydrophobic, repelling water and leaving the roots dehydrated.

While constantly moist soil is healthy and even recommended for other houseplants, this is detrimental to succulents because constantly high moisture levels can cause root rot and even drowning

By waiting for your potting mix to dry enough between waterings, you can simulate desert conditions and give your succulent the care it naturally craves. 

Recommended Watering Methods

Watering succulents is not as simple as it sounds. There are many watering methods, some of which are less beneficial than others.

In this section, I’ll discuss the best ways to water succulents to keep your plant happy and healthy. 

Water Over a Drain to Simulate Rain

Watering your succulents over a drain to mimic rain is one of the most highly recommended and effective ways to hydrate your plant.

You can use a bathtub, sink, shower, or outdoor drain for this method. The idea is to simulate desert rain by watering the succulent from above, drenching the plant, and letting the excess water drain out of the holes completely.

In the desert, the rains are strong and brief. A succulent will be absolutely soaked, and then when it dries out, the water drains through a rocky substrate, leaving the plant to rely on the water it absorbed from the rain and stored in its leaves.

This is why succulent experts recommend drenching your succulents, letting them dry, and repeating the cycle.

Here’s how to water your succulents over a drain to simulate desert rain:

Choose a Well-Draining Area

Place your succulent in a well-draining place that you don’t mind getting wet. This can be a bathtub, a kitchen or bathroom sink, a shower, or an outdoor drain.

Turn on the Water & Water Your Succulent From Above

If you’re outdoors, you can use the shower setting on your garden hose or a watering can with a shower head. Indoors, you can use a faucet. Make sure to drench your entire succulent as heavy rain would.

Let the Water Drain Out Completely

Failure to let the water drain out can lead to root rot, drowning, and even plant death. It might be a good idea to let it sit outside to drain for an hour or two, or at least until you don’t see any more water dripping through the pot’s drainage holes. The sun will also evaporate the water on top of the leaves to prevent water-soaked spots that can rot.

Allow the Soil to Dry Out Before Re-Watering

You’ll want to wait for your succulent’s soil to become dry halfway down the pot—or up to 3 inches (7.6 cm) deep for larger pots—before you water again. Again, this is really crucial because it will provide your plant with desert conditions to keep it thriving. 

Using a Watering Can

A more straightforward way to water your succulents is to use a watering can and pour the water directly into the soil.

For this method, keep the pots in their proper place if they have a drainage tray or an outer decorative pot you can empty out. 

Remember, for indoor succulents, you should avoid getting water on the leaves as much as possible. This is because indoor succulents aren’t exposed to as much direct sun as outdoor succulents, so the water will not evaporate as easily.

If water sits too long on succulent leaves, they can grow wrinkled or squishy and even begin to rot, which isn’t good for their health. 

So, if you’re watering indoors with a watering can, it’s a good idea to invest in small watering cans with thin, precise spouts. This will allow you to water the soil without wetting the leaves of your succulents, keeping your plants safe from unhealthy amounts of moisture. 

Bottom Water Your Succulent

Another excellent method is to bottom water your succulent, which means allowing the water to enter the soil from the bottom up rather than from the top down.

When you water succulents from the top, the water doesn’t always reach the bottom, which is the most important part of the plant. Even if you notice water leaking from the drainage holes, this doesn’t mean the roots got access to as much water as they needed.

Because of this, many people prefer to bottom water their succulents to ensure the roots are exposed to enough water and that the water can drain more easily due to its close proximity to the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot.

Here’s how to bottom water your succulent:

Determine Whether You Want to Use a Bathtub or Sink

Bathtubs and sinks are the most convenient spaces for executing this method because they have easy access to a faucet and a large container to hold the water in. But you can also use a plastic tub and hose if you want. 

Fill the Bathtub or Sink With a Few Inches (5 cm) of Water

You want to fill it up with enough water to soak through the bottom of the pot’s drainage holes and into the soil. Too much water will cause the pot to float (if it’s light enough). And if there’s too little water, there won’t be enough for the succulent to absorb.

Keep the Succulent Pot in the Water

If you keep your succulent in a decorative pot, remove the inner pot and use that, as lots of decorative pots don’t have drainage holes and won’t be able to take in the water. 

Leave your succulent pot standing with its drainage holes exposed to the water for 10-30 minutes. You’ll know the soil has absorbed enough moisture if the surface feels moist.

Remove Your Succulent From the Water

Let it drain excess moisture. You can let it rest above your shower, sink, or bath drain or sit in the sun for about an hour to ensure the water fully exits the pot’s drainage holes so rot doesn’t occur. 

Give Your Plant Time to Dry Out

Make sure your succulent fully dries before you water it again, and then repeat. As with all watering methods, ensure that your succulent’s soil has the chance to dry out completely between waterings.

The Best Way to Water a Succulent

We’ve talked about some easy ways to water your succulents. However, what is the best way to water these resilient plants? 

The best way to water a succulent is to simulate the cycle of brief, heavy rains and prolonged dry spells that these plants experience in the desert. Drenching your succulent and letting it dry out completely before its next watering will keep it thriving. 

While watering cans and bottom watering are also reliable ways to water, we recommend the rain simulation method. This is the best because it resembles the conditions a succulent would survive in the wild.

Why Avoid Spraying Your Succulents

There seems to be a common belief that plant owners should spray their succulents with water. Retailers even sell spritzers and spray bottles explicitly marketed for succulents. But is it a good idea to spray your succulents, or is this harmful to them? 

You should not spray your succulents. If you keep your succulents indoors, spraying them frequently is not helpful and will do the plant more harm than good. Water on indoor plants can’t evaporate as easily as on outdoor plants and might even cause mold and rot.

In the desert, water usually evaporates quickly, which is why so many plants (like succulents) develop water storage systems. 

Because succulents are built to withstand hot and dry desert conditions, they are not used to having moisture stay on their leaves for long periods of time. When this happens, rot can occur, and the overall health of your succulent will decline. You might experience wrinkled, withering plants with soft and squishy leaves.

Even though succulents benefit from relatively infrequent watering, watering them with small amounts of water (like through a spray bottle) without doing much to let them fully drain is not what a succulent needs.

Instead of using the spray bottle method, refer to the previous sections for the best succulent watering techniques.

How to Water Succulents Seasonally

The seasons significantly affect how often you need to water your succulents.

Every season brings changes to the environment. These changes include temperature, humidity, and light intensity, which will affect your succulent watering habits.

Here’s how to water your succulents according to the season: 

Winter and Fall

Succulents don’t actively grow during the cooler months of the year. Because of this, they usually don’t need much water during winter and fall because they don’t use a lot of it. So, you don’t need to worry about watering your succulents as frequently during winter and fall. 

In addition, your succulent’s soil will take more time to dry out during this time of year. When temperatures are lower, you might only need to water your succulent every four weeks. 

However, every region is different, so checking the soil moisture levels before watering is essential, just in case you need to wait longer or water sooner. 

Spring and Summer

Most succulents grow more actively in the spring and summer months. These are the warmest and driest seasons, and also when succulents experience active growth, which means they use up much more water compared to winter and fall.

Since many regions are hotter during this time of year, you’ll need to water your succulents more frequently, about every two weeks, and maybe even less, depending on how quickly the soil dries up.

The Effects of Underwatering a Succulent

Although succulents are renowned drought survivors with excellent adaptability, underwatering can be detrimental to any plant, including succulents.

When you underwater a succulent, this can cause the plant to turn yellow or dry up. If you notice your succulent turning wrinkled and shriveled with crispy leaves, this is a good sign that you’re underwatering your plant.

Another symptom of underwatering is the growth of aerial roots. Aerial roots are aboveground roots that sprout from succulents when the underground roots aren’t getting the nutrients, carbon dioxide, or water they need. They sprout aerial roots to absorb these things from the air.

These roots are completely normal and aren’t harmful to the succulent. In fact, these roots are quite helpful for the plant and are another example of the many wonderful survival techniques succulents have to adapt to harsh conditions. 

However, they are usually a sign that some adjustments must be made. So, if you notice that your succulent is growing aerial roots, you should water your plant more frequently.

The Best Tools for Succulent Watering

We’ve discussed why a succulent needs little water, how often you should water your plants, and some techniques you can use to water succulents successfully.

Now, let’s talk about some of the best tools for succulent watering and why you should consider keeping these on hand.

A Soil Moisture Meter

A soil moisture meter is one of the best tools to have as a home gardener. Soil moisture meters measure the water level in your succulent’s soil, which helps determine when you should water them. 

Some succulents may have prickly leaves or they like to be snug in their pots, leaving you with no room to do the finger test to check the soil moisture. Although a pencil or a chopstick will work just well, a soil moisture meter will give you a more accurate reading of the soil’s moisture levels.

A Small Watering Can With a Thin Spout

If you use a watering can to water your indoor succulents, you should get a watering can with a thin spout.

Thin spouts on watering cans are great for succulents because they allow you to water the soil directly. As I’ve discussed above, getting too much water on the leaves means the water will not easily evaporate indoors and might cause rot. Therefore, a watering can with thin spouts can help you avoid this. 

You also want a watering can that is small and easy to carry, as it will be easier to control and help you avoid spilling water on the leaves. This is also convenient for storage.

For more information on how to water outdoor succulents, read my other article: How To Water Outdoor Succulents (Tips And Tricks)

Final Thoughts

Succulents are drought-resistant plants that don’t need a lot of water because they store water in their leaves. This is an important survival tactic since succulents are native to desert regions and prefer to be in desert-like conditions. Overwatering a succulent can cause damage like rot.

A few methods to water your succulents include:  

  • Watering them over a drain to mimic rain and desert-like conditions. 
  • Using a watering can. 
  • Bottom watering your succulent. 

By understanding why succulents do not need a lot of water and following these watering tips, you can maintain good care habits and keep your succulents thriving.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the founder of TheGrowingLeaf.com and its lead content writer. He created the website in 2022 as a resource for horticulture lovers and beginners alike, compiling all the gardening tips he discovered over the years. Alex has a passion for caring for plants, turning backyards into feel-good places, and sharing his knowledge with the rest of the world.

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