How to Water Succulents

One of the most common causes of death for succulents is overwatering. Because succulents naturally grow in climates with infrequent rain, they’ve adapted in a way that allows them to store water for much longer than regular houseplants. As such, they can’t be watered the same way. When learning how to water succulents, let’s look at both hand-watering and drip irrigation.

Overwatered Succulent
An overwatered echeveria succulent; photo by House & Fig.

How to Water Succulents

One of the biggest mistakes I see with succulent newbies is overhead watering of succulents. This is tragic! Always hand-water succulents at the base toward the roots, NEVER into the crown (top) of the plant. Standing water in the crown often leads to root rot.

When to Water Succulents

The most important rule for watering succulents is this: Only water when the soil in the succulents’ growing container is bone dry. Succulents like it when soil approaches dry before being watered. Let the soil dry out completely between waterings and then soak the soil when it’s time to water again. If the soil isn’t crumbly, dry dirt, don’t water it. See, most houseplants want their soil moist at all times. Not your succulent.

Water sparingly from spring to autumn but avoid watering altogether in autumn and winter. Most succulents are slow growing.

prickly pear cactus in bloom

Irrigation for Succulents

Succulents do best with a drip irrigation system; they do not enjoy or need overhead water like a lawn. Use whatever system your landscape installer recommends with a timer. We like Orbit and use the B-hyve app to remotely set and modify the irrigation system’s timer. The app is really handy if you’re on a long vacation during winter when the system is off and it hasn’t rained—or when it’s raining a lot and you need to turn off the system so your succulents don’t get over-watered. You can reset timers, and start and stop the system from your phone.

All succulents can be tied to a single zone on your irrigation system. Trees like yucca and ponytail palm can also go in the same zone. Drought-tolerant trees like fern pines and oleander need more water during establishment and heavy drought periods, so they should go in a separate “tree” zone.

Run irrigation systems in the morning (6 a.m. or earlier) for 30-60 minutes, depending on plants and their age. See our Irrigation Recommendations for Dry Gardens post.

It’s often said that cacti and succulents thrive on neglect. Although that might be true when it comes to maintenance, such as trimming or fertilizing, these hardy plants do need a little attention and consistent, infrequent, light watering.

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