As the last clutches of winter give way to springier days, and temperatures nudge a little higher up the thermometer, the majority of succulents and cacti will come out of dormancy and look forward to a nice drink of water. Given the general UK temperatures of April 2017, chances are you have already found a watering can and given your plants a bit of a splash. One question I get asked a fair amount is how much to water succulents and how often – the truth is there isn’t a one size fits all answer – it really does depend on the environment you have chosen for your plant.
When to water:
Most people know that succulents like to dry out between waterings and have probably heard the phrase ‘if in doubt don’t water!’ However experience and familiarity with your plant is really what will help you keep your succulent looking good. After a while, you will probably be able to tell from the weight of the container if your succulent needs to be watered, and visual clues like withered and puckered leaves will suggest you need to get watering, like these poor guys:
Another suggestion is to stop watering when the clocks go back in October and resume watering when the clocks go forward in the spring. I find this to be a good bit of advice if you live in the UK although it should be treated with caution. Some succulents are winter active and summer dormant but even so in a UK winter you are very likely to loose a succulent to rot if you water too much or too frequently because the winter light levels are just not strong enough for the plant to need the same amount of water it will need in the summer. Having said that, central heating can really dry succulents out, so if your plant is looking parched, oblige and give it a drop, enough to wet the root ball, but not drench it.
If you don’t know, find out exactly which species or cultivar your succulent is, or at the very least its genus. Then look up its watering requirements. Some succulents are a fair bit thirstier than others and it is beneficial to know where along the moisture scale your plant prefers to be before you start watering – one misplaced heavy water could prove fatal to some succulents. They do say that thinner succulents require more frequent watering than the chubbier varieties – but having said that, some species of Haworthia have very thin leaves but I have found them to be very tolerant of long dry spells. So it really does pay to research rather than assume your succulent has exactly the same requirements than the next.
How much to water:
Again this does depend on the environment the plant is in, the time of year and to a certain degree, the type of container the plant lives in. During a dry hot summer, as long as your succulent has plenty of light and excellent drainage, you could give it a good drenching. However if you would rather play it safe but feel your succulent would benefit from a little hydration, give it an inch of water – or enough to moisten the root ball, leave it and then see how it responds. If there are no changes within a day or two, give it a little bit more. If it plumps up then job done (at least for now).
How to water:
When it comes to the methods of watering however, I suggest looking at your container to determine the best way:
Containers without drainage holes:
There aren’t a huge amount of pots that come with drainage holes – at least not indoor containers. Succulents and Cacti need adequate drainage for long term good health. However, in a UK climate, where you can get away with less watering, you can also get away with planting succulents in non-draining containers (for a while). Use a plastic syringe to water in these cases. It is recommended by various you-tubers and after trying it, I can see the benefit – you can control how much water you give the plant and where you water. It also encourages you to water in smaller amounts, enough to wet the root ball but not drench the soil, giving the succulent a better chance.
Containers with drainage holes:
A drainage hole makes everything easier – you can water a bit more freely. Water using a small indoor watering can. However still allow the compost to dry out between waterings – don’t water more frequently than necessary otherwise you may still face the risk of rot and plant stress. The nice thing about containers with drainage holes is that you know that any excess salts in the soil will escape, improving the plant’s overall health. Also bear in mind the material of your container. Terracotta is ideal for succulents as the pots normally have a drainage hole and the material is porous, so it allows excess moisture to escape and air to get in so the roots of the plant can breathe.
When watering from above, take care not to get too much water on the plant itself – quite often, water droplets get stuck in the plant’s nooks (see the the Aloe below) and hang around which may lead to rot. When this happens I use a corner of a piece of toilet paper to gently soak up the water droplet.
Pots within pots:
Quite often people may keep their succulent in its original plastic pot and then sit it in a slightly larger decorative container. This makes watering a doddle. Take the succulent from the decorative pot. Hold the plastic pot over the sink and use a watering can to water directly overhead. The excess water should drain from the drainage holes in the plastic pot straight away from the plant’s roots. Sit it in an empty basin for a little while so any lasting drops of water can escape. Then sit the plant back in its decorative pot. Easy.
Watering correctly can feel like a bit of a puzzle when you first get aquainted with succulents. While they don’t like to have wet roots, they do need water in order to survive, but knowing how much is usually a challenge to master. As with life, its all about trial and error. Hopefully the tips in this blog will help you. I have found that watering according to the container type to be the most helpful guide but no doubt you will find the best methods that work for you.