When to water your succulent plants

Bob Dluzen
The Detroit News

Succulents have been getting more and more popular over the past few years and it looks like their popularity is here to stay. One reason is because of their ability to tolerate a certain amount of neglect. 

These plants can be very forgiving if someone forgets about watering them even, in some cases, for weeks at a time. 

Because of their distinct physiology that evolved over eons in their native arid habitats, they actually prefer to dry out to a certain extent between watering. 

The ideal way to water succulents is to apply enough water to completely saturate all of the soil in its growing container. Then allow all free flowing water to drain out of the bottom of the pot.

This kind of watering ensures that all of the roots receive moisture and there are no dry spots. It also keeps excessive mineral build up from occurring in the soil due to hard water or from fertilizer.

One of the most common watering mistakes is when people let the pot or growing container stand in water left in the pot's saucer. They mistakenly think that the plant will simply take up as much water as it needs and leave the rest. This is sometimes done by people trying to stretch the number of days between watering. 

Always empty the saucer immediately after watering, don’t let any water remain. Standing water will eventually cause roots to rot. It’s the same reason why growing containers used for succulents should always have drainage holes.

Also, well-meaning frequent overwatering can inadvertently lead to root problems, especially this time of year during periods of lower light levels. Less sunlight during the winter months slows down plant growth resulting in a need for less water. 

So how do you know when it is time to irrigate a succulent plant? 

One common suggestion that you often hear is the soil feel test method where you stick your finger into the soil and feel how damp or how dry the soil is. The soil feel test is very subjective. An inexperienced plant owner may not have any idea what soil is supposed to feel like.

Another suggestion is to use a moisture meter, but that involves spending money on a gadget.

Some people say to watch for signs of wilting plants. That is also subjective and can put your plant at risk.  

Wilting can go too far even with succulents. Since succulents usually don’t wilt much even when dry, waiting for them to show obvious visible signs of wilting will mean it’s too late and the plant may be damaged . That can easily happen if you happen to walk away and forget to look at your plant again for a while.

The technique I use to judge when to water succulent plants is what I call the “easy, peasy, squeezy” method. That involves gently squeezing a few leaves from different parts of the plant. 

Succulents that still have sufficient water have leaves that are turgid and firm. Leaves that are beginning to soften indicate it’s time to water your plant. 

To determine if your succulent plant needs water, gently squeeze a few leaves from different parts of the plant.

Keep in mind, however, that plants with roots that have rotted due to excess water will also have soft leaves similar to plants that are too dry. That is because the rotted dead roots can no longer supply water to the top of the plant.

It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with how full leaves feel when the plant has recently been watered. Then you will know when the leaves begin to show signs of moisture loss. 

Each home has its own unique growing environment. Over time, as you gain more experience with your succulents you’ll be able to judge more accurately when they would like a drink of water.

Think of the squeeze test as giving your plant a little hug now and then.