Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:24 pm
Succulents are often touted as extremely low-maintenance houseplants for the inexperienced, as they require little water. Of course, this is true in principle, but some knowledge is required for ideal watering of these impressive plants. Read here what makes a plant a succulent in the first place and how you should water your succulents to cultivate healthy and long-lasting plants.
What plants belong to the succulents?
It is not only with the question of the correct watering of succulents that the ambiguities begin. Often there is already uncertainty about which plants are meant by the term. Many might first think of thick-leaf plants such as Echeveria and Crassula or the classic Aloe vera. Often succulents are also mistakenly equated with cacti. It is correct that all members of the cactus family (Cactaceae) are called succulents. While this means that every cactus is a succulent, not every succulent is a cactus.
Succulents do not describe a botanical family or group; the name simply refers to their ability to store water. Accordingly, succulents are found in a wide variety of plant families, for example, among the agave family (Agavaceae), the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae), or even the orchid family (Orchidaceae).
Did you know? These plants are also succulents.
Begonias: Some begonia species, such as wax begonia (Begonia cucullata) and maple-leaved begonia (Begonia dregei) are succulent. The thick, firm leaves give it away.
Flaming Cheetah: Grandma’s favorite, the colorful Flaming Cheetah (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana), is also categorized as a succulent and can store considerable amounts of water.
Green lily: You can’t tell by its leaves, because Chlorophytum comosum is a root succulent.
Depending on which part of the plant fulfills the function of water storage, a further distinction is made between stem, leaf and root succulents. The fleshy leaves of many leaf succulents are often surrounded by an additional layer of wax or small hairs. The wax cover protects against desiccation, dirt and diseases because it is hydrophobic, i.e. water-repellent. Thanks to their water-retaining tissue, succulents can survive long periods of drought, which is why you rarely need to water them.
Watering succulents: This is how it works
Although most succulents can survive long periods of drought, they should not suffer a permanent lack of water. Therefore, instead of large amounts of water, regularity is most important when watering succulents. Always water the substrate surface, not the leaves, so as not to damage their protective covering. In the case of rosette-shaped succulents such as echeveria or aloe species, water should not be allowed to stand in the center of the leaves. Standing water for long periods of time will cause rotting and, in the worst case, even death of the plant.
Use low-lime water
Succulent plants prefer water that is as lime-free as possible. Therefore, it is best to use rainwater or, if the tap water in your region is particularly hard, boil it first. However, most succulents are not sensitive to water that is only slightly calcareous.
Observe vegetation cycle
Like all plants, succulents are subject to annually changing periods of growth and dormancy. The period of the year when they are actively growing is called the growing season. For the rest of the year, plants are in what is called dormancy.
For most succulents, the growing season begins in the spring and ends in the fall. During this time, water regularly but sparingly. Always water your succulents again when the top layer of the substrate has dried thoroughly. During dormancy, water only enough to prevent the substrate from drying out completely. Exceptions are so-called winter waxers: these are some succulents that originate from areas of the southern hemisphere, for example from the south of Africa. Many thrive in other climates where precipitation can be expected almost only in the cold season. Therefore, it is not surprising that these succulents do not expect suitable growing conditions even in European summers and prefer to sprout in winter. Therefore, such species, for example, Pelargonium or Aeonium, are watered sparingly throughout the year.
Soil moisture can be easily checked with a finger. If you want to be sure, you can also provide the substrate with a watering indicator that measures the moisture content.
Thickness of the leaves
Another indication of how much you need to water succulents is the thickness of the leaves, or stem. Thick, fleshy plants with firm epidermis indicate large water stores and therefore low water needs. This is the case, for example, with living stones (Lithops). Thin leaves, accordingly, can trap less moisture and require slightly more water.
The biggest enemies of a succulent are waterlogging and overwatering. Not only the leaves suffer from constant wetness, but especially the roots. But thanks to some precautionary measures, you can fortunately avoid this problem from the very beginning.
Substrate & Planter
A substrate mixed with a high proportion of sand provides sufficient water permeability. Special succulent soil usually consists of a mixture of a slightly humusy soil and sand. Coarser components such as lava granules or expanded clay balls additionally loosen up the soil. In the case of planters, it is also essential that the water used for watering can drain away, i.e. that there is some kind of drainage. Therefore, the bottom of the pot must be provided with one or more holes. Two to three larger stones or shards of clay at the bottom of the pot provide enough of a buffer so that the drainage is unobstructed.
Any water that accumulates in the saucer should be poured off within a short time after watering the succulents. Glass dishes planted with small succulents look very pretty, but here it is even more important to pour off excess water regularly.
Signs of overwatering
Succulents that have been watered too much or too often usually have slightly spongy, sunken leaves. Sometimes they even feel damp on the outside and turn yellow. Plants that have been kept too dry are instead more likely to be recognized by the pot root ball. A very dried out root ball usually shrinks in on itself, the pot is no longer filled.