How to Water Succulents – the Right Way

If you’ve killed off every succulent you’ve ever had – you’re not alone.  Unfortunately, the easiest and surest way to kill a succulent is to over or under-water it.

However, once you learn how to water succulents the right way, the rest of succulent care will seem like a breeze!

(This post may contain affiliate links.)

Should Succulents be Watered Regularly? 

Succulents have a reputation for being low-maintenance plants due to their drought tolerance. While this is indeed true, they do need water to survive and they perform best when watered regularly.

Since succulents and cacti store water in their stems and leaves, they’re able to survive long periods without water. But this doesn’t mean they’ll look or perform their best if starved for water for an extended period of time!

Regular watering helps succulents grow strong roots systems and helps them look vibrant and healthy.

Thankfully, observing the leaves of your succulents will give you clues as to whether or not they’re getting the right amount of water.

If you see yellow, translucent, and soggy leaves on your succulent, as shown in the photo below, then you’ve been over-watering (a common mistake!).

Stop watering your plant until the soil feels dry several inches deep.

On the other hand, if you see brown, dry, and crispy leaves on the top or middle section of your succulent, then you’ve been under-watering and the plant is in major distress and need of water.

Give your succulent a deep watering and then water it again in a few days when the soil feels dry about an inch or two deep.

when to water succulents
This plant rotted due to over -watering. The leaves are soggy, losing color, and showing signs of mold.

If you see dry leaves at the bottom of your plant, though, as shown below, know that this is the plant’s natural growing process, so don’t be alarmed. Succulents drop old leaves as they prepare to grow new ones from the center.

Simply tug off these dry leaves and discard them (this is referred to as “pruning”).

dry leaves on succulents

Supplies for Watering Succulents

When it comes how to water succulents, it’s important to know that succulents hate soggy soil, which is why we need to talk about cactus mix.

Planting your succulents in cactus mix gets you started off on the right foot because this soil mix is created to be very fast-draining.

Cactus mix simply doesn’t retain as much water as regular potting soil does which is a good thing, especially if you tend to over-water your plants.

“Cactus Mix” is widely available at the garden centers and through online retailers, so it’s pretty easy to find.

Aside from cactus mix, you’ll also need a watering can, and/or a watering squeeze bottle or watering syringe, plus a pot with a drainage hole like this terracotta pot. Terra cotta pots make wonderful pots for succulents because they wick away moisture.

TIP: If you’re already using regular potting soil, you can make it more fast-draining by adding pumice, perlie, or coarse sand. OR you can be more conservative with the amount of water you give your plant.

How Often To Water Succulents

When it comes to how often to water succulents, various factors help determine the answer, and those factors include climate and temperature, whether you’re growing them indoors or outdoors, and what kind of pot and soil you’re using.

But there IS a general rule of thumb when it comes to watering succulents and this is it: water succulents ONLY when the topsoil feels dry about one to two inches deep, and water deeply until you see that water is freely escaping from the pot’s drainage hole.

When you see water draining from the bottom of your pot, you’ll know that the soil has received adequate moisture.

If growing succulents directly in the ground, water until you feel that the soil is sufficiently moist. 

Generally speaking, I wait about a week between waterings. This is usually how long it takes for the soil in my growing zone (Zone 9b) to dry out.

We get triple-digit summers here, so I water more during the summer and less during the winter.

Most succulents are not actively growing during the winter so they have less need for water. The soil also takes much longer to dry out during these months.

I always touch the soil to see how dry it feels before I decide if it’s time to water. If it feels dry about an inch or two deep, I know it’s time to water again.

Tools for Watering Indoor Succulent Arrangements

Watering cans are great because they’re inexpensive, light-weight, and effective. I prefer ones with thin spouts because I like to get in between the plants when watering. I always aim to water the soil directly, not the leaves, because I don’t like water spots!

Some tools I find very helpful for watering compact succulent arrangements are watering squeeze bottles or watering syringes because they allow you to be more precise when watering. (You can use these tools for your houseplants, too!).

Learn how to water succulents indoors!

Watering squeeze bottles (as shown in the photo above) or watering syringes are excellent for avoiding messes and designating different amounts of water to each small plant.

They come in especially handy when watering compact succulent crafts, such as these DIY succulent Christmas ornaments. 

A few gentle squeezes of the watering bottle is all you need for a smaller arrangement or a small DIY succulent craft.

Water Succulents Thoroughly

Always aim to water the soil, not the leaves. This not only helps prevent water spots on the leaves but it also helps to prevent rotting leaves. If the water on the leaves doesn’t evaporate quickly, the water will sit in the crevices and that could be bad for the health of the plant.

This is not a problem with outdoor succulents, of course, since the sun dries up the water quickly.

Just keep in mind that it’s the soil that needs water, not the actual leaves.

The photo below shows how to properly water succulents: the spout of the watering can is watering the soil.

how to water succulents

What To Avoid When Watering Succulents

After your plant sits for a few minutes, make sure to discard the drained water from the saucer.

Many people don’t realize how crucial this step is when learning how to water succulents the right way.

If you don’t discard the drained water from the saucer, then the roots of your plant will be exposed to too much moisture for an extended period of time, which can cause them to rot.

*This happened to me once after I left a potted Echevarria Lola in a saucer that was full of water. I forgot to drain the saucer and within 2 days, my little plant had rotted!

Now let’s quickly talk about what tool you should avoid when watering your succulents: spray bottles! 

Never use a spray bottle to spray water onto the leaves of your succulents!

Here’s why: The roots are the only part of the succulent plant that needs to be watered, the leaves don’t benefit from being sprayed – they get their water directly from the roots.

Remember, learning how to properly water succulents means watering the soil, NOT the leaves. It’s simply a waste of water.

In fact, when you plant your succulents, always make sure that all of the leaves sit on top of the soil because you want them to remain as dry as possible.

[Side note: If you need more information on caring for succulents, grab our free succulent care ebook to learn the top 5 ways I keep my succulents looking healthy and vibrant!] 

How to Water Succulents Outdoors

If you’re growing succulents outdoors that are planted directly into the ground, then it’s okay to use a watering hose to water your succulents.

They’ll be sitting under direct sunlight, so they’re far less prone to rotting if the leaves get wet.

I know it’s hard to not water your plants overhead when they’ve been planted in the ground, so just inspect your leaves every few days to make sure they’re not suffering from water overload.

As with all my other plants and flowers, I aim to water the soil directly.

As to when to water outdoor succulents: water when the soil feels dry. 

You Now Know How to Water Succulents the Right Way!

Congratulations! You now know how to water succulents!

All that’s left is for you to get some practice.

I’ll leave you with a couple quick tips:

Always remember that less is more when it comes to how much and how often to water succulents and cacti. It’s easier to save an under-watered succulent than it is to save an over-watered succulent!

Also be mindful of the weather conditions, especially during hot summers and rainy days.

TIP: Bring your potted succulents indoors if it’s too hot outside (over 90 degrees) to avoid sunburn, or if you expect rain, to avoid root rot.

Best of luck – I think you’re doing to LOVE having succulents in your home and garden!

Let’s Connect

About Me

Hi, I'm Natalie! I'm so glad you're here learning about your favorite plants. My hope is to encourage your love of succulents and help you understand how to care for them and make them a part of your home, too, via plant crafts and beautiful arrangements!

  1. 12.20.18

    I’m so happy to have found your website, you gave me so much info on my Succulent plants. I do believe that I may have not watered on one plant in time. But l hope l was able to save it. Thanks
    Susan Raven

    • 12.26.18
      Natalie Linda said:

      I’m so glad this post helped you, Susan! Thanks for letting me know : ) Good luck with your succulents!

  2. 1.16.19
    Dakumpitiya A Upali said:

    Thanks for sharing your experience with the public of succulent lovers.
    Good luck.

    • 10.4.19
      SHERYL B said:

      Thank you so much for the detailed tips on succulent watering.
      As a plant lover and owner all my life, I still have killed succulents in my years. Hopefully this will make my succulents live many longer years.

  3. 5.13.19
    Phyllis Donnelly said:

    I was watering my plants all wrong, thank you for telling me the proper way. I hope it is not to lait.

    • 5.14.19
      Natalie Linda said:

      Glad I could help, Phyllis!

  4. 6.3.19
    pat said:

    I have a question about what type of pot works best. if a china pot has 1 hole , is the drainage adequate?

    • 6.4.19
      Natalie Linda said:

      Hi Pat,

      Yes, absolutely. If your pot has a drainage hole, it’s enough to let the excess water drain from the pot, so you should be good to go! (Don’t forget the cactus mix aka soil made specifically for succulents – it’ll help with drainage.)

      • 6.6.19
        Laurie said:

        What about when succulents change color? Does that indicate not enough water or a light exposure issue or what?

        • 6.7.19
          Natalie Linda said:

          Hi Laurie!

          Succulents can change color if they don’t receive enough sunlight. When succulents get plenty of light, they’re more able to retain their bright, colorful tones. When they don’t get the light they need, bright-colored succulents can turn green. Also, a “stressed” succulent that doesn’t get enough water can take on more red-orange tones. In fact, some people actually try to stress out there plants by cutting back on watering so that they can turn a different color! Hope this helps.

  5. 6.4.19
    Claire said:

    Thanks for the advice- I received a succulent/ cacti jar with no drainage but a good few inches of white sand at the bottom- I have killed the cacti but one succulent is just hanging on- but I’m scared to water it and now I think it’s too dry haha -should I ditch the jar??

    • 6.7.19
      Natalie Linda said:

      Hi Claire!

      Sometimes that can happen to succulents if there’s not enough air circulation or there’s too much moisture in the soil. Try repotting your succulent in a pot that has a drainage hole (using cactus mix!). Wait a few days before watering it, then water it thoroughly. Water again when the soil feels dry. Hopefully, it survives!

  6. 6.13.19
    Diane said:

    I have Jade and Christmas cactus and wonder if I should fertilize them? I have had them for many years and never able to make other plants from them. My Jade could really use a pruning. Any information greatly appreciated.

    • 7.12.19
      Natalie Linda said:

      Hi Diane,

      You can add liquid succulent fertilizer to your Jade and Christmas Cactus plants during the active growing season (Spring and Summer). Mix the liquid fertilizer into a watering can and mix with water, then water your plants as you normally would. Some succulent growers fertilize once a month during the growing season, while others only fertilize once at the beginning of Spring or during the Summer. I wrote a post on fertilizing succulents, here: https://natalielinda.com/how-to-fertilize-succulents/

      To prune your jade, taking your pruners and cut right above the brown “rings” on the woody stems. This will encourage more stems to grow from the cut and will help to achieve a fuller, bushier look.

      Good luck!

  7. 6.16.19
    Barbara Johnson said:

    Thanks for the excellent watering tips!

    • 6.18.19
      Natalie Linda said:

      Glad I could help!

  8. 6.28.19
    V6 said:

    Thank you so much for these helpful tips. Recently all my succulents are dying. When I bought them, I loosened the soil around the roots before planting them in a container. Does that have anything to do with the problem?
    Vivien

    • 7.11.19
      Natalie Linda said:

      Hi Vivien,

      Sorry to hear about your plants. I know many succulent growers loosen the soil from the roots before planting, with success. I actually don’t do this, I prefer to leave the soil intact unless the soil doesn’t appear to be a succulent or cactus mix. In my experience, they grow better this way. I also water a few days after planting instead of straight away to let the plants settle and any damaged roots heal before watering.

      Are your plants getting enough water? (The soil should dry out between waterings, over-watering can kill your plants). Also, succulents do need some reprieve from very hot temperatures during the Summer, perhaps they’re burning?

  9. 7.10.19
    Jeannette Peterson said:

    Do you fertilize succulents?

    • 7.11.19
      Natalie Linda said:

      Hi Jeannette, I do. I use a liquid kelp fertilizer during their active growing season only (Spring-Summer). I add it to the watering can and mix with water. You can do it every month during the growing season or just once. I have a post on fertilizing succulents if you’re interested in learning more, https://natalielinda.com/how-to-fertilize-succulents/.

  10. 7.10.19
    Monika Wendt said:

    Thanks for all these interesting tips. It looks to me, a draining hole is always necessary!? or are their also other ways to water succulents?

    • 7.11.19
      Natalie Linda said:

      Hi Monika,

      I’ve successfully grown succulents in teacups and pots that don’t have a drainage hole. The trick is to water conservatively; I use much less water than I normally do and I always pay close attention to the succulents to make sure they’re not looking soggy or over-watered. In this instance, a watering squeeze bottle is a great tool to use because it really lets you control the amount of water you give to the pot. For beginners, I recommend starting with drainage holes until they get more comfortable with watering and identifying problems with their plants.

      Good luck!

  11. 7.14.19
    Dorothy said:

    Thank you for the great information on watering Succulents. I buy my succulents from Wal-Mart, here in NV. They have a very large variety of Succulents. The soil is always so very wet and black. By the time I realized what was wrong I had lost 2 plants. The plant fell apart because it rotted. With the information you gave ,I know what to do. THANKS AGAIN. Dorothy

    • 7.14.19
      Natalie Linda said:

      So glad I could help, Dorothy! Good luck with the rest of your succulents!

  12. 8.17.19
    Adrienne said:

    I knew it….I was told to wait until the entire pot that contained the succulent was bone dry then water. You said to water when it is dry a few inches down. My succulents were crying and I didn’t even know it. I did lose some but I started to water a little more frequently and they started looking better and then ran across your site. Thank you for your help.

  13. 9.15.19
    Diane said:

    What a big help you’ve been. I bought a Dessert Rose this year and spent way too much! It’s been a struggle since I brought it home. After reading your article I’m almost positive that it’s not getting enough water. I’ve been very afraid of overwatering it but I know now that the water should be coming out of the bottom. I’ll remedy that today. Thanks so much!

    • 9.18.19
      Natalie Linda said:

      So glad I could help, Diane! Good luck!

  14. 11.12.19
    Claudia Ch. said:

    I love succulents but at the end they die. I am zone 9b and the weather doesn’t help me. 🙁 I used the cactus soil, the pot with drainage … and watered once a week. But no working for me. I have a different varieties of succulents and I was thinking that maybe is the amount of light. They all are in the same spot. What do you think? Do you know a link the talk about the classification of the succulents?
    Thanks you. 🙂

    • 12.2.19
      Natalie Linda said:

      I’m in zone 9B, too! Our Summers are hot and dry, which means succulents that are outdoors need to be watered more frequently because the soil dries out so quickly. They also need protection from the harsh sun and weather over 90 degrees or they’ll get sunburned and potentially die. I either move my succulents to an area that gets shade during the afternoon hours or I build a tent over them to provide shade.

      I hope this helps!

  15. 11.12.19
    Kelly said:

    Where do you get a squeeze bottle from?

    • 12.4.19
      Natalie Linda said:

      Hi Kelly,

      From Amazon – it’s linked in the post.

  16. 1.12.20
    Ana said:

    I have a problem with mu succulent! My cat bit it and left tiny holes, I found the succulent on the floor and immediately plant it again in the pot. Will it survive? What should I do?

    • 1.12.20
      Natalie Linda said:

      Hi Ana,

      I think your succulent will be fine! Take care of it as you normally would, watering when the soil is dry.

      If the leaves with holes bother you, you can opt to prune those off (just tear off the leaf from the stem, making a clean break) and your plant will hopefully try to replace those leaves with new ones- though it may take a few months.

      Good luck!

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