How to Tell if Your Succulent Needs More or Less Water

If you’re a succulent enthusiast, you know that one of the biggest challenges is understanding whether you’re over or underwatering your plants. As a beginner myself, I remember feeling overwhelmed by all the information out there on proper succulent watering techniques. But fear not! Mastering this skill is all about interpreting the signs that your succulent gives you.

Decoding Your Succulent’s Appearance

One foolproof way to assess your succulent’s watering needs is by examining its leaves. An underwatered succulent will have wrinkly and shriveled leaves, while an overwatered one will have soft, mushy, and almost translucent leaves. These visible signs are clear indicators of whether you’re giving your plant too much or too little water.

However, it’s not always that simple. Sometimes an underwatered succulent can mimic the behaviors of an overwatered one. In these cases, it’s important to consider other factors to accurately determine the watering needs of your succulent.

Identifying an Underwatered Succulent

Succulents are resilient plants that have adapted to thrive in dry conditions. However, they still need water to stay healthy. Here are some signs that your succulent needs more hydration:

  • Shriveled leaves: As the plant’s water storage runs low, its leaves will start to wrinkle and shrivel. The more severe the water deprivation, the droopier and more wilted the plant will become.
  • Dried up, brown, dead leaves: The bottom leaves of an underwatered succulent will dry out first as the plant depletes its water reserves. Some plants may even drop dried up leaves to conserve energy and water for survival.
  • Soft and flat leaves: When touched, the leaves of an underwatered succulent will feel soft and flat. They lose their plumpness and firmness, giving the impression of deflated leaves.

Recognizing an Overwatered Succulent

Succulents have built-in water storage capacities that allow them to survive without water for long periods. But when they receive too much water, their leaves and tissues can swell up and eventually rupture. Here’s how to tell if your succulent is overwatered:

  • Soft, mushy, translucent leaves: An overwatered plant will have soft, mushy leaves that may also appear shriveled. This is where it gets confusing, as underwatered plants can also have shriveled leaves. However, in the case of overwatering, the leaves will feel mushy and translucent. Overall, the plant will look sickly and unhealthy.
  • Leaves turning black: If overwatering continues, the leaves may start to rot and turn black. This rotting usually begins from the center of the plant and progresses upwards. Black leaves indicate that the plant is decaying or susceptible to fungal diseases caused by excessive moisture.
  • Leaf drop: An overwatered succulent may shed its leaves. The leaves become saturated with water, causing them to swell and eventually fall off. Distinguishing between over and underwatering based on leaf drop is relatively simple: an overwatered plant will shed leaves with even a slight touch, while an underwatered plant will drop brown, dried-up bottom leaves.

Paying Attention to Your Watering Techniques

Ultimately, the best way to determine whether you’re over or underwatering your succulent is to closely monitor your watering habits. Consider how often you water your plants and whether you have a strict schedule or water sporadically.

Since watering requirements vary based on climate, humidity, temperature, and the growing season, it’s crucial to observe your specific conditions. A general guideline is to check the moisture in the soil by feeling the top inch before watering. If it feels dry, it’s time to water again.

For example, in my dry climate with ample sunlight, I water my succulents every 7-10 days during hot summer months. As the weather cools down in fall and winter, I reduce watering to every 2-3 weeks. I prefer thorough watering, allowing the plants to dry out between waterings. I only mist the leaves and baby plants I’m propagating, as succulents benefit most from a good drink followed by dry periods.

Remember, your watering needs may differ based on your location, sunlight exposure, and other variables. While guidelines are helpful, it’s crucial to tailor your approach to suit your unique circumstances.

The Role of Potting Mix or Soil

Proper soil and watering practices go hand in hand when caring for succulents. Using a well-draining potting mix is essential for their well-being. Succulents don’t like sitting in wet soil for extended periods as it increases the risk of root rot.

Choosing the right potting mix is crucial to prevent waterlogging. You can enhance drainage by adding ingredients like coarse sand, perlite, pumice, or small pebbles to the mix. For more soil ideas and recipes, take a look at “Best Soil for Succulents.”

Nursing an Underwatered Succulent Back to Health

Dealing with an underwatered succulent is much easier than rescuing an overwatered one. From personal experience, I find it simpler to address underwatering.

Typically, an underwatered plant will bounce back after one or two thorough watering sessions. The key is not to panic and overcompensate by watering excessively. Instead, give the plant a generous watering and allow it to dry out before watering again.

Remember, the worst thing you can do is panic and overwater. Stick to your current watering routine and make adjustments as necessary. For example, if you were watering your plant once a month or less, try increasing the frequency to every two weeks. You’ll notice visible improvements after each watering session.

Salvaging an Overwatered Succulent

Depending on the situation, there are several steps you can take to save an overwatered succulent. First, refrain from watering the plant and give it enough time to dry out. I recommend waiting at least a week, if not longer, until the topsoil feels dry before watering again.

Make sure your overwatered succulent receives adequate light, as this aids in the drying process. Insufficient light will cause the plant to deteriorate rapidly. Experiment with different locations until you find the spot that offers the best light conditions for your succulent.

If you notice that the soil remains consistently moist or suspect that the potting mix may be inadequate, gently remove the plant from the soil. Let it dry in a shady area for a few days before repotting it in a well-draining mix. You can improve drainage by adding perlite, pumice, or coarse sand. For more information, refer to “Best Soil for Succulents.”

Breathing Life into a Dying Succulent

Depending on the extent of the damage, it may still be possible to save a succulent that has been overwatered. Start by removing any dead or mushy parts from the plant and keep the green and viable portions. Dry the cuttings for a few days and then propagate them in a suitable, well-draining potting mix. This can lead to new root growth and the development of a new plant.

I’ve personally rescued several dying plants by using leaf or stem cuttings. Sometimes, all you need are a few leaves to propagate and start new baby plants. Succulents have an incredible ability to survive despite adverse conditions.

Related Articles and Resources

If you want to delve deeper into succulent care and related topics, consider exploring these articles:

  • “Why Are the Leaves on my Succulent Turning Brown?”
  • “Why Are the Leaves on my Jelly Bean Plant Falling Off?”
  • “Common Problems with Succulents and How to Fix Them”

Additionally, my website’s resource page offers various tools to help you check moisture levels in both soil and the surrounding environment.

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Big Echeveria Stem Cutting Growing Roots

Translucent succulent leaf from overwatering, shriveled succulent leaves from underwatering