No doubt about it- succulents of all shapes, sizes and colors are ultra-popular, both as houseplants and for growing outdoors. And with their adorable looks and easy care, it’s not hard to see why. But one there’s one key issue that can quickly spell danger for your succulent plants: incorrect watering habits.
How often should you water succulents? Check the soil moisture on a weekly basis, and give water when the soil has completely dried out throughout the pot. Many indoor succulent growers find that their plants need water every 7-14 days in the spring and summer and every 4-6 weeks in the winter. For outdoor succulents, watering frequency varies greatly based on sun exposure and natural rainfall.
In this article, you’ll learn how to recognize when your succulent needs water and when to wait a little longer. We’ll also cover the details on how to water succulent plants both indoors and outdoors, and list some tools to help you get the job done right.
Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
How Much Water Do Succulents Get in Their Native Habitat?
If cared for correctly, many succulents can live a long time. But a common mistake in caring for plants is the urge to give too much water, which comes from a good place of wanting your plant to have the resources it needs to thrive. In fact, overwatering is the #1 cause of plant death.
The key to understanding how often to water succulents is to learn about their natural growing habits.
You’ll find succulents in desert/semi-desert conditions and some high-elevation alpine regions. In these climates, succulents can go weeks without rain. And when it does finally rain, the water disappears quickly due to harsh sun and wind exposure.
But a succulent is perfectly equipped to survive in these conditions:
- The roots quickly suck in as much moisture as they can.
- In their chunky leaves, succulents have oversized water-storage cells to save the excess moisture for later.
In fact, according to a study published in the scientific journal Current Biology, a succulent’s leaves and stems may up to 90% to 95% water.
However, water in a pot or your garden doesn’t drain away as quickly as rainfall in a succulent’s natural habitat. And your plant can only absorb so much water, so when it’s at capacity, the extra moisture gets trapped in the soil.
When this happens, malicious fungi multiply in the soil and attack the root system. This is known as root rot, and if it’s allowed to progress, the roots will eventually fail and your plant will die.
Overwatering and root rot is a danger for all plants, but it can happen much faster and be harder to treat for desert natives like succulents.
By mimicking their natural growing conditions as closely as you can, your succulents have the best chances for success in your home or garden.
How Often to Water Succulents
Armed with this information, exactly how often should you water your succulents?
Only as often as they need it.
Since succulents are adapted to a cycle of drying out before getting flooded at the next rainfall, that’s your goal too.
Now, I realize that’s not a concrete answer at all. But the truth is that sticking to a rigid routine instead of responding to your plant’s actual needs is a surefire way to bring about your succulent’s untimely death.
But in the way of some guidelines, watering your indoor succulents every 1 to 2 weeks is a pretty common practice for indoor succulents. As for how often to water succulents outdoors, the timeframe varies significantly based on local weather conditions.
How to Know When to Water Succulents
Here are 3 main signs that your succulent needs water:
- The soil is dry all the way to the bottom of the pot
- The pot feels light
- The leaves are starting to look shriveled
Let’s break it down a little more:
1. The Soil is Dry All the Way to the Bottom of the Pot
You can test this by feel with your finger or by using a moisture meter.
If you’re going by feel, stick your finger into the pot. You’ll know your plant is ready for a drink when the soil feels dry to the touch as far down as you can reach.
If you feel even the smallest amount of moisture, do not water. Then check again in a day or two.
If you don’t feel like going the manual route, a moisture meter is a great option. The meter has a long metallic probe with a moisture-sensitive tip and a display screen that shows you the amount of moisture detected. The screen shows a range of readings on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being no moisture and 10 corresponding to a lot of moisture.
Insert the meter as far into the planter as you can. The lower levels of soil tend to hold on to moisture for the longest, so you want to make sure and test those.
Common tropical houseplants, like philodendrons and pothos, are ready for a drink when a moisture meter reads 3 or so.
But not succulents! You’re looking for your succulents to get all the way down to 1 before giving water.
2. The Pot Feels Light
If you pick up your succulent pot and it feels light as a feather, that’s a pretty good sign that there’s no moisture to speak of left in the soil.
You can verify this by feeling the soil or using a moisture meter. But in time, you’ll probably learn how to pretty accurately gauge your plant’s moisture level by feel alone.
3. The Leaves are Starting to Look Shriveled
A succulent’s leaves are plump from being packed with moisture. And when that moisture starts getting depleted, the leaf will lose its firm, smooth surface and start to look wrinkled.
This is a later sign of thirst, signifying that your succulent has had to dip into its water reserves. While your plant will likely recover just fine if the leaves are a little shriveled, it’s best to try to water before it reaches this stage.
Watering Indoor Succulents
Succulents make great houseplants, and they’re easy to care for once you master a watering routine that works for you.
It’s just a few simple steps:
- Check the soil moisture frequently
- Give an appropriate amount of water for your container
- Water the soil, not the leaves
1. Check the Soil Moisture Frequently
Checking on your succulent’s soil once a week is usually a good place to start.
If you find that the soil is dry as a bone every week, you can try checking a little more often, maybe every 5 days.
On the other hand, if you’re consistently finding that the soil is still a bit damp in your weekly check, stretch out your checks to every 9 days or so.
2. Give an Appropriate Amount of Water for Your Container
Once the soil has fully dried out, it’s time to give some water.
If your succulents are living in a pot or vessel with drainage holes, do this:
- Make sure you have a saucer under your pot.
- Water the plant thoroughly, giving enough so that water runs freely through the pot’s drainage holes.
- Allow the pot to sit in the saucer for just a few minutes (10 minutes maximum). You want to give the soil enough time to absorb moisture, but leaving the pot sitting in standing water will over-saturate the soil.
- After the brief soak, drain away the remaining water. Leave the saucer under your pot for at least an hour to prevent any leakage on your furniture.
If your succulent garden is in a pot without drainage holes, give just enough water to moisten the top 1 to 2 inches of soil. You need to be careful not to over-water since this can flood the plant’s roots and lead to root rot.
If you’re in doubt, always err on side of giving less water.
3. Water the Soil, Not the Leaves
Succulent leaves can develop mold or mildew if they have standing water on them, especially if it happens repeatedly.
Be careful to aim the water stream directly onto the soil, avoiding any splashing or water running over the leaves. A watering bottle or can with a small spout makes this a lot easier, especially for species with leaves that are almost level with the soil, like echeveria.
Watering Outdoor Succulents
You have far less control over the environmental conditions outside than you do inside, and your watering routine will depend greatly on your local climate. For hot, dry areas, you may need to water your succulents every few days, and in damp, cooler regions, you may not need to give extra water at all.
Outdoor Succulents in Pots or Planters
Typically, you can treat potted outdoor succulents in much the same way as if you were growing them indoors. This is especially true if you have your plants in a sheltered area, like a covered porch.
- Use a fast-draining succulent soil
- Use a pot with plenty of drainage (I don’t recommend using a container that has no drainage holes for outdoor succulents. If your plants are exposed to just one moderate rainfall, they can easily drown or develop root rot.)
- Check the soil moisture often
- Only give water when the soil is dry
- Aim water at the soil, not the leaves
Outdoor Succulents in Garden or Landscape Beds
If you’re growing succulents outside in your garden or landscape beds, mix in some drainage-enhancing materials at your planting site. Here are some suggestions:
- Cactus blend soil
Keep in mind that succulents planted in the ground have the benefit of groundwater, and they’re usually in a more open area that gets rainfall. Both of these factors help the soil stay naturally moist with no additional help from you.
However, growing in an open area also means that your plants will likely get plenty of sunshine and wind exposure, which will dry the soil out a bit faster.
So how often you’ll need to water really comes down to the weather your region gets. Make it a habit to check on the soil moisture every few days, and give water when the top several inches of soil are dry.
Again, try to aim the water at the soil, but it’s less critical here. Since succulents in gardens/landscape beds are exposed to the elements, moisture on the leaves will evaporate pretty quickly.
Factors That Affect How Often to Water Succulents
So you already know that you should only water your succulent when its soil is dry. But how long it takes to reach the “dried out” stage can vary a lot, mainly due to these factors:
- The size of the plant
- Air humidity
- Seasonal growth patterns
- Sun exposure
- The size of the pot
- Soil type/texture
1. The Size of the Plant
Typically, smaller plants require less water than larger ones, which makes sense: It just doesn’t take as many resources to support a small plant compared to a larger one.
Even if your succulent is still adorably tiny, it’s still a good idea to check up on its soil moisture frequently. And be prepared to shift your watering routine as your plant grows.
2. Air Humidity
The amount of moisture in the air directly affects the amount of moisture in your plant’s soil.
If the air is dry, it will pull moisture from wherever it can it find it. In this case, the dry air sucks water particles from your succulent’s soil.
In areas that have a high humidity level, the air is already holding quite a bit of moisture, so it won’t pull water particles from your plant’s soil very fast or even at all.
So if you live in a dry climate, like the Southwestern United States, your succulents will dry out more quickly and need more frequent watering.
On the other hand, if you live in a damp, rainy climate, like the Pacific Northwestern United States, your plant’s soil will naturally retain moisture for longer.
3. Seasonal Growth Patterns
Like many plants, succulents naturally have a seasonal dormant phase, running from roughly October through March. During this time, the plant slows its growth dramatically, and the demand for water also goes way down.
We wanted to get pro’s take on this, so we asked Lauren Quinn, Ph.D., a botanist and plant expert at Trees.com for her input on how often to water succulents in winter:
“Most succulents stop growing actively during the winter, unless they receive high-intensity supplemental light daily. If your succulents aren’t under a grow light and are planted in a fast-draining potting mix, you can safely water them once every 4 to 6 weeks during winter.
In the spring, when active growth resumes, they can likely be watered every 7-10 days. Again, check that the soil is completely dry before watering!”
When you do water in the winter, you can give about the same amount of water as you any other time of the year. It’s the just the frequency that needs to scale back.
4. Sun Exposure
Plants that have more sun exposure will also absorb more heat, causing faster evaporation.
If your indoor succulent gets more than about 8 hours of sunshine a day, you’ll probably find that your watering frequency is closer to 7 days than 14 days.
For outdoor succulents that are in full sun, check the soil moisture every few days and water as needed. And always make sure to take any natural rainfall into account.
5. The Size of the Pot
Nothing profound here: A larger pot holds more soil than a smaller pot does.
But where there’s extra soil, there’s also extra moisture, which we know is enemy #1 for almost any succulent.
Succulents like to grow in pretty tight quarters, and you should have your plant in a pot that’s no more than 1-2 inches larger in diameter than the plant itself. If you have a succulent arrangement, they can be packed in closely.
If you do have your succulent in a pot that’s larger than these guidelines, it’s incredibly easy to overwater.
The best course of action would be to move your plant into a smaller home.
But if that’s not possible, aim the water directly at the root ball instead of wetting the soil in the whole container. And make sure to test the soil moisture in the entire pot at least weekly; even moisture in an outlying area can damage your plant over time.
6. Soil Type/Texture
Succulents need fast-draining soil that has a light, airy texture. What you don’t want is heavy soil that compacts in the pot, making an impenetrable block of dirt that traps moisture around your plant.
But even if you plant your succulent in an ideal soil, it can still settle and become a bit compacted over time. When this happens, water can’t run out through the drainage holes. In the short term, you’ll need to be extra careful to assess the soil moisture before you give any water.
But the real solution is to repot your plant. Brush off as much old soil as possible, and replace it with a fresh batch. If the pot is still a good size for your plant, you can put it right back in the old pot.
Tools For Watering Succulents
So now that you know more about how often to water succulents, let’s look at the tools that help you get the job done!
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Soil with good drainage
- An appropriate planter
- A moisture meter
- A succulent watering bottle -OR-
- A succulent watering can
- A watering schedule
1. Soil with Good Drainage
Succulents grow best in cactus soil or succulent soil. These are specially formulated for a light texture that allows water to drain freely.
We’ve covered this topic in great detail in our article on the best soil to use for aloe plants. We talked about soils you can purchase and also a recipe for making your own. So definitely stop by!
2. An Appropriate Planter
Creativity is king here, and you can use any vessel you desire as a home for your succulents. However, some pots are far easier to work with than others.
A pot with pre-made drainage holes and a breathable material lets excess moisture escape and also allows for healthy airflow to your plant’s roots, closely resembling a succulent’s native habitat. A couple of examples of breathable materials include terra cotta, cement and unglazed ceramic.
What if you want to plant your succulent in a glass bottle or a teacup that has no drainage holes at all? You can use these, but it will require a greater commitment on your part to check the soil moisture more frequently and water accordingly.
Instead of watering generously when the soil dries out, you’ll need to give a much smaller amount of water at a time. This will probably translate to more frequent waterings, but only when the soil has dried out thoroughly. So plan to check the soil moisture every few days.
3. A Moisture Meter
In many instances, just using your finger to check the soil moisture works just fine. But if you have your succulents in a deeper planter or they’re densely packed in, it can be hard to tell by feel if the lower soil levels are dried out or still holding onto some moisture.
That’s where a moisture meter can come in really handy! Plus, a meter is a great way to verify what you’re feeling when you’re just learning how to care for plants. And it’s just easier sometimes (which is my reason for using a meter much of the time).
4. A Succulent Watering Bottle
We’ve already established that getting a succulent’s leaves wet during watering can lead to fungal growth and disease. One of the very best ways to avoid this danger is to use a watering vessel with a targeted spout that lets your aim the water stream precisely on the soil.
This watering bottle is perfect for the task. The sides are squeezable for easily giving the exact amount of water you want. And the spout is curved to let you direct water at the soil even in densely-planted succulent arrangements.
5. A Succulent Watering Can
If you’d prefer to use a watering can rather than a bottle, that works just fine too. Look for a small one with a long spout that lets you water the soil without splashing the leaves, just like the watering bottle does.
6. A Watering Schedule
I know- we stressed the point earlier that watering your succulents on a schedule is a bad idea.
But keeping a record of when you checked the moisture level and when you needed to add water can help you:
- Identify patterns
- Remind you to check the soil regularly
- Help you better plan your watering routine
You can put a reminder on your phone or download our printable, beginner-friendly Succulent Watering Record below.
How Often to Water Baby Succulents
So you’ve harvested some leaves or stem cuttings from your succulents for propagation. Here’s where the rules for how often to water your succulents change for a while.
For leaf propagations, don’t give any water until you see new root growth. At that point, you can start to gently moisten the soil around the leaves, being careful not to get water on the leaves. Once the baby succulents have roots and new leaves, you can plant them and start to water them a bit more frequently.
As for stem cuttings, allow the cut end to callous over, and don’t give any water until new roots form. It’s often the easiest to keep an eye on root development by standing the cuttings upright in a small, empty pot. Once you have new root growth, plant your stem propagations in soil and water lightly.
There are a lot of variables about this process, and seeing it visually is super helpful. This video from Sucs for You does an outstanding job of outlining the process for keeping your propagations watered and healthy. It’s a must-see!
Can You Overwater Succulents?
Yes, getting too much water is the most common reason for succulents to die. The early signs of overwatering include:
- Squishy leaves
- Leaves that split or burst from too much moisture
- Yellowish leaf discoloration
- The lower leaves drop off the plant
Depending on the severity of the overwatering, you may just need to hold off on giving any more water for several days. Or you may need to remove your plant from its pot and replace the wet soil with dry.
Frequently Asked Questions about How Often to Water Succulents
I hope this post has answered your questions about how often to water succulents and boosted your confidence to take good care of your little green friends.
And remember: you’re much better off giving too little water than too much. So don’t be afraid to start off with a light watering hand and increase that amount as you go along.
We’d love to hear from you! Do you have any other questions about watering succulents, or do you have any helpful succulent care tips you’ve picked up? We learn as a community, so your input matters!