How to water succulents

As you might know, the number one killer of succulents* is over-watering. You might think, oh, that’s not me, I’m a great plant parent. I err on the side of negligence and leave them thirsty for weeks on end. There’s no chance of over-watering if I’m not watering them at all, right?

Right.

Unless you keep them outside and have forgotten that it’s rainy season in the tropics.

Oops.

Well, survival of the fittest and all that, luckily they’re not all dead. But I thought it a good time as any to share a great tip I learned about how to water succulents. While over-watering is a sure-fire way to kill them, under-watering doesn’t make for a healthy plant either. Bear in mind also that when we say “over-water”, it’s a little misleading. These guys actually love a good drenching and to have their roots soaked through and through. But that’s only if they’ve had a chance to thoroughly dry out beforehand, and if they’re able to dry out completely afterwards.

Checking for dry soil is pretty easy, so it’s the part about getting enough water to the roots that’s the trickiest. Succulents have very shallow root systems, so if you’re watering from the top of the soil down with the water draining out, there’s a chance the roots don’t actually get much of a drink as the water is simply by-passing them. The tip I learned is therefore to water from the bottom up, rather than top down. Note that this will only work if your succulents are potted into pots with holes at the bottom. I usually have mine in plastic pots with holes, and I put them into my painted pots in between waterings. I find this keeps the decorative pots nice and clean, and minimises the chance of the plants sitting in water for longer than they should. It also then becomes irrelevant whether my decorative pots have holes or not which also makes things easier.

Here are the steps I follow when watering my succulents.

1. Check that the soil is COMPLETELY dry before watering. A good way to test this is to just hold the pot as pictured below. It should feel light as a feather. If it’s really dry (maybe a little too dry), the soil will likely have come away from the sides of the pot.

Succulent in plastic pot
Plastic pot with holes at the bottom

2. Fill a tray up with about 1cm of water (or higher if you’re watering a few at the one time). You can use any old takeaway container or dish, I tend to use the painted ones I have that already sit outside. Place the succulent into the tray, and check that the water reaches up the side of the plastic pot above the height of the holes. Leave the plant in the tray until all the water has been soaked up, usually around 30 minutes or so. Once all the water has disappeared, pick up the individual pot and see if the soil at the top is wet. The pot should feel much heavier than before. If the top soil is wet, you know that the water has made its way all the way up from the bottom, so all the roots in between are now good and hydrated.

Watering succulents
Sitting in their water tray

3. Pour out any remaining water and place the plants back into their decorative pots, or simply leave them in the tray if that’s where they usually belong.

Zen dish with succulents
Tray of succulents
Back into their painted pots
Back into their painted pots

And that’s it! It’s a pretty simple way to water succulents and I only need to do this once every 2 or 3 weeks given I live in a humid environment (or not at all these days as it really has been raining every single day).

How do you water your succulents? Do you follow this method, or do you have another way that works well for you? Please let me know in the comments below, I love to learn new tips from the plant community!

– END –

*unproven statistic…but it feels about right.

7 thoughts on “How to water succulents

    • The Rain in Spain Post authorReply

      Carefully loosen the plant from the soil and when you pull it up gently the roots should come up as well. Fill your new pot part-way with succulent/cactus soil and make a small “well” or dip in the soil. Place the roots of your plant into your “well” and then top up with soil, leaving about 1 to 2cm of space from the top of the pot. You can buy soil mix that is specifically for succulents / cactus which is usually fast-draining soil. Hope that helps!

  1. Jennie robinson Reply

    Your method is the way I do it. I find it much faster as my collection is growing. Haven’t had any casualties yet, touch wood. I was beginning to think i was doing it the wrong way as i read so many articles that said water from the top until the water drains out. The water doesn’t stay in the tray for long as i wait until they are thirsty and it is sucked up very quickly. Hungry little critters!

    • The Rain in Spain Post authorReply

      Yes it’s a bit confusing when being advised to water until water drains out – good soil for succulents will always be fast draining and the water shoots right through! Good to know that you find the tray method works well for you too 🙂

  2. CL Reply

    Thanks For thE advice. Would this work aS well for cactus too?

    • The Rain in Spain Post authorReply

      Yes it works for cactus too, though I find they’re less fussy than succulents and I can also do a top-down watering approach without issues 🙂

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