Whoever said that succulents are super easy to grow indoors has clearly never overwatered a succulent before and it shows. Contrary to popular belief, these common houseplants can be tricky for many plant lovers to keep happy indoors. However, once you get the hang of caring for them, succulents truly can be very hardy and forgiving houseplants. The trick is understanding what they need and how to give it to them. So before you go accidentally overwatering that beautiful new succulent you just brought home, here’s what you need to know about how often you should be watering succulents grown indoors.
How Succulents Hold Water
Succulents are plants that store water in their leaves, stems, and/or roots. In addition to these water-storing capabilities, succulents have several other ways that they use and retain water efficiently. These include wide, shallow root systems; a protective waxy coating on their leaves; and a unique type of photosynthesis called Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM). Compared to regular photosynthesis, CAM helps succulents conserve water during extreme daytime temperatures. Plants that utilize CAM prevent evapotranspiration during the day by only opening their stomata to exchange gasses at night. The rest of the photosynthesis process occurs normally.
All of these features make succulents extremely drought tolerant and perfect for arid climates and soil conditions. So how often exactly will a succulent need to be watered? Ultimately, while most succulents won’t need regular watering, the answer will largely depend on your plant’s growing conditions.
Factors Influencing Watering
Several factors influence how often a succulent needs to be watered. These factors include succulent type, light, temperature and humidity, soil type, and even the type of pot it is growing in. Here’s what you need to know about how these conditions influence water needs.
Type of Succulent
First things first, the amount of water your succulent needs will depend on the type of succulent that you have. There are over 10,000 types of succulents from many different plant families all around the world. Some succulents are native to arid, desert climates while others are native to rainforest conditions. Properly identifying your succulent is an important first step in understanding its basic care requirements.
As with any plant, the amount of light a succulent receives will play a large role in how much water it requires. Generally speaking, the more light a plant consumes the more water it needs. This means that a succulent growing in bright light conditions will need to be watered more often than the same succulent growing in low-light conditions.
Temperature and Humidity
The temperature and humidity of a succulent’s growing environment will also play a role in how often it needs water. Hot, dry conditions will cause a succulent to use up its stored water more quickly than cool, humid conditions. So if you have one succulent that is living in a particularly warm location of your home and another that is living in a cooler location, you can expect to be watering the first succulent more often.
Since they are drought-tolerant plants, succulents do best in soil that is well-draining. However, if they are planted in soil that is less well-draining, they do not be watered as often as if they are potted in an airy, well-draining mix.
Surprisingly, even the type of pot that your succulent is planted in can influence how often it needs to be watered. This mainly has to do with the material that the pot is made out of. For example, terracotta absorbs moisture from the soil while plastic does not. So succulents that are planted in terracotta pots will need to be watered more often than succulents that are planted in plastic pots, given all other environmental conditions are the same.
When to Water Succulents
As you have probably gathered by now, there is no easy calculation when it comes to how often a succulent should be watered. However, there are signs to watch out for that will tell you whether or not your succulent is ready for a drink.
First, most succulents enjoy having their soil dry out thoroughly between waterings. You can check that the soil is dry by sticking your finger down a few inches into the soil, or by using a moisture meter which will give you a more accurate reading. Once the soil is completely dry it is usually safe to give your plant some water. Second, when succulents are thirsty their leaves will begin to pucker slightly. This is a sign that the plant has started using some of the water that it’s been storing in its leaves, and is an indication that it is ready for a good watering.
Signs Your Succulent is Underwatered
If your succulent is displaying dry, shriveled leaves or is beginning to grow roots on stems and branches above the soil it is likely underwatered. Luckily, unless your succulent has completely dried out (which would occur after an extensive time without water), most succulents bounce back quickly after a thorough watering. You may lose a few leaves but the plant itself should be fine. However, if you notice that your succulent’s leaves aren’t plumping back up after you water it, the roots themselves may have dried out. Don’t fret - the plant can still be saved! Simply chop the stem above the dried roots, let the chopped end callous over for a day or two, and then stick it in water where it will begin to grow fresh roots. Once the roots are a couple of inches long, you can move the plant back to soil.
Signs Your Succulent is Overwatered
Overwatering a succulent is one of the most common reasons that succulents die when grown indoors. Watch out for waterlogged soil, brown mushy leaves, and mushy stems (a common symptom of root rot). We’ll let you in on a little secret - most succulents can survive weeks, or even months without water if needed. So if you are ever on the fence about whether or not your succulent needs to be watered; set down the watering can, back away slowly, and wait a few more days before you water. Your succulent will be fine, we promise. It will probably even be happier for it.
Heather Kropp, Angela Halasey. "CAM Plants". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 02 Aug 2014. ASU - Ask A Biologist, Web. 7 Jul 2022. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/cam-plants