How to Water Succulents (Because Overwatering Is *Way* Too Common)

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Succulents have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years as the ideal starter plant (even if you’re convinced you can’t keep anything green alive). They’re available in every color and shape you can imagine, and they come in hundreds of varieties ranging from tiny windowsill plants to large garden accents. They’re also sturdy, low-maintenance houseplants, once you get the hang of their basic care requirements, including how to water succulents—which admittedly can be a sticking point for some new plant parents.

The number one watering mistake? “Watering them often as you would a typical houseplant,” says Debra Lee Baldwin, succulent expert and author of Designing with Succulents. “By definition, succulents store water in their fleshy tissues to survive long periods without it. They resent too much water!” Overwatering your succulent eventually leads to soggy soil, mushy foliage and plant death.

Succulents actually include many different types of cacti, which typically have spines or barbed bristles. Interestingly, all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. However, their care is very similar, especially when it comes to watering, and both make unique and interesting houseplants.

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Read on to learn exactly how to care for and water your succulents:

What Kind of Light Do Succulents Need?

They prefer bright light on a sunny windowsill with no drafts. East, west or south-facing windows work best. Rotate pots every week so they won’t reach for the light and become gangly and unattractive. Colorful succulents, such as jades and aloes, may revert to green if not given adequate light. If you don’t have the right natural lighting conditions, they’ll do well under a grow light, too.

How Often Should I Water Succulents?

There’s no one-size-fits-all rule. It depends on the conditions in your home and the type of succulent, but typically, you won’t need to water them more than once every week to ten days (some can go two weeks). “Know your plants. There are so many succulent varieties from all over the world,” says Baldwin. “And use common sense. The fatter the plant is, the more water it contains, so it won’t need watered as frequently.” For example, round cacti need far less water than sedums, which have tiny leaves the size of grains of rice.

How Can I Tell if I Need to Water my Succulent?

Don’t stick to a schedule, but instead, focus on the conditions in your home throughout the year. For example, your plant may need watered more (or less!) often in the dry indoor air of your home in winter. Your best bet is to check the soil before watering. “The soil should be dry or barely moist,” says Baldwin. “Stick a chopstick into the soil, and if no soil clings to it when it comes out, it’s time to water.”

If soil sticks to the chopstick, wait a few more days and check again. As with most houseplants, it’s better to err on the side of too dry than too wet. When it is time to water, give your plant a nice, long drink so that water runs out the bottom of the pot (and make sure the pot has a hole in the bottom so your plant won’t drown!). Then dump out the saucer beneath the pot after the excess water has drained out. If you have succulents in a terrarium, water sparingly with an eye dropper.

How Do I Know if I’m Overwatering Succulents?

If the soil remains wet or your plant starts to get squishy and the leaves drop or become translucent, you’re probably giving it too much water. Let the soil dry out well before you water again. If the plant still seems mostly healthy, it may recover if you leave it alone.

However, if most of the plant is super-squishy, you can try to propagate a new plant by pulling off one of the healthier-looking leaves, letting it dry out for a few days, then dipping in rooting hormone and replanting. You may (or may not) get lucky and create a new baby succulent. However, if that seems like too much effort, toss your soggy plant, chalk it up to experience and start again by treating yourself to a new succulent.

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purewow author

Freelance Gardening Editor

Arricca Elin SanSone is a gardener with more than 15 years of experience. In addition to PureWow, she writes for Prevention, Country Living, Veranda, The Spruce and many other...