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Watering Succulents

By: Jennifer Howell
Watering succulents can be tricky — learn how to identify if you have been overwatering or underwatering.

collection of succulents: Keep your succulents looking this healthy with our tips.

How to water succulents right

People think succulents are easy to grow — just put them in the sun and rarely water them, right? Actually, many succulents are native to cool, arid locations, so too much sun and heat can cause them to dry out too fast.

Succulents do need to be watered, just not as often as tropical houseplants. Every one to two weeks should be right, depending on the size of the pot, light and temperature. Take a look here for some common symptoms your succulents might show if they are suffering from watering problems.

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brown or burned leaves on succulent: This ‘Letizia’ sedeveria’s (Sedeveria hybrid) brown foliage is caused by water standing in the rosette of the leaves in a hot greenhouse.

Brown or burned leaves

Too much sun can cause scorching and browning of leaves, whether the plant is watered correctly or not. The ‘Letizia’ sedeveria above was burned by water standing on the foliage in hot sun. Browning on the tips indicates sunburn in dry conditions when the plant needs more water. Some leaves may fall off if damaged too much.

What to do if my succulent has brown or burned leaves

Move the plant out of hot, direct sun. Scorched leaves will not improve in appearance, so trim them off. Make sure the plant is not too wet or too dry.


shriveled leaves on succulent: This ‘Spekboom’ elephant bush (Portulacaria afra) will exhibit shriveled foliage when underwatered.

Shriveled leaves

Underwatered succulents like the elephant bush above will have shriveled foliage that is often dull or light in color. If left too long, some leaves will drop off, especially if touched.

What to do if my succulent has shriveled leaves

Give an underwatered succulent a good thorough drink until water runs out the drainage hole. If the soil is pulling away from the side of the pot, soak the whole container in a pan of water for a half hour to rehydrate the root ball, then dump out any excess water.


succulent losing leaves: Underwatering an echeveria (Echeveria hybrid) will cause lower leaves to dry up.

Losing leaves

Many succulents will lose lower leaves as they age and grow. But when it loses a significant number of leaves all at once, like the echeveria above, it has been too dry and is trying to conserve moisture.

What to do if my succulent is losing leaves

Give it a soak and check it more frequently.

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mushy stems on succulent: This aloe vera (Aloe vera) has been overwatered as evident by its yellowing, limp leaves.

Soft, mushy stems

An overwatered succulent, like the aloe vera above, will have yellow, soft, or even squishy leaves. The stem may be blackened at the soil line where it has rotted off.

What to do if my succulent has soft, mushy leaves

If it is just yellowing and soft, dry it out and it may recover. A succulent with a rotted stem may be a lost cause, though you might be able to start a cutting.

Products to Help You Grow Succulents:
Cactus and Succulent Soil Mix
Succulent Plant Food
Succulent Tool Kit

Published: May 14, 2020
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