Unlike other plants, succulents can survive without water for long periods. However, it is vital to remember that succulents still need to be watered from time to time.
How long can your succulent survive without water?
There is no straightforward answer to this question because there are a few variables that need to be considered. Here is a brief look at each of these and how these influence a succulent’s ability to survive dry spells.
Each type of succulent will have its unique needs in terms of the level of care required, including its watering needs. Some types of succulents can store more water compared to others. And as such, these species can go on longer without water.
As a general rule of thumb, species with thicker stems and leaves can store more water. These parts become swollen with water after storing water. Eventually, these parts shrivel as water is distributed to the other plant parts. As the plant loses more water, it may lose some of its leaves.
The timeline for this process varies from one species to another. Succulents like Graptopetalum Paraguayense and Crassula Ovata can hold water in as long as three months. There are even some cacti species than can last without water for as long as six months.
On the other hand, succulents with thin leaves and stems cannot survive long without water. A few examples of these are the Epiphyllums and Glauca.
2. Container size
Compared to succulents planted directly to the ground, those planted into containers cannot survive long periods without water.
One reason behind this is the fact that succulents planted on the ground have more access to moisture from the soil. In contrast, moisture in pots evaporates quicker. The rate of evaporation is influenced by the color of the container as well as the area where the pot is stored.
Dark-colored pots, especially those that are placed in areas with direct sunlight do not hold moisture as well as light-colored pots placed in partial shade.
Pot size also determines the level of moisture a container can hold. Simply put, the larger the pot size, the higher the amount of moisture it can store.
And as such, if you have succulents planted in small pots, these may need frequent watering compared to those planted in larger pots.
Where do you keep your succulents? Those grown outdoors will require frequent watering compared to those grown indoors.
Like most plants, succulents require adequate sunlight to grow and thrive. However, too much exposure to the sun means that your plant will dry up faster. There are even some species that are sensitive to sunlight that these get sunburned.
Broadly speaking, succulents thrive in an area that has access to the morning and afternoon sun. If you have no other option but place your succulents in a location that has full sun for most of the day, you can reduce sunlight by using shade cloth.
Most succulents grown indoors still require sunlight. But because there is not too much air circulation indoors, succulents grown indoors will retain more moisture and can survive without watering by as much as two weeks.
4. Plant age
As a rule of thumb, younger succulents grown from cuttings or offsets require frequent watering compared to established, adult plants.
Most species of succulents need to be watered every other day until these are fully established. In contrast, an adult Crassula Ovata can go on for months without moisture.
If you have young succulents, make sure to check if the soil mix is completely dried up before watering these.
Another critical factor that affects the level of moisture required by a succulent is the seasons.
During the warmer months, succulents require more moisture compared to the cooler seasons. The main reason behind that is that the higher temperatures make the moisture evaporate faster. In turn, this means that you will need to water your succulents more often.
However, you will also need to factor where in the world you live in. If you live in a place with a cooler climate, your succulents may not require as much moisture compared if you live in a location with a warmer climate.
6. Natural cycles
Succulents undergo two cycles: growth and dormancy. These cycles depend mostly on the species of a succulent.
Generally speaking, most succulents go dormant during winter. However, succulents like Aeoniums go dormant during summer.
When succulents go dormant during the winter, they do not require as much moisture. However, if your succulent goes dormant during summer, it is a good idea to water it from time to time to protect it from the high temperature and faster water evaporation rate.
While it is critical for succulent owners to monitor the moisture level of their plants, you should avoid the temptation of overwatering.
In fact, one of the leading causes of death among succulents is overwatering. If you water your succulents too much, too often, its roots can rot, leading to its death. See our article on how to save an overwatered succulent for more information.
Succulents breathe through their roots. And if these rot, your plant will have difficulty breathing and will die eventually.
Here are a few tips that will help you avoid overwatering your succulents.
Find a suitable container
Some succulent owners think that their plants do not like getting soaked in water. The truth is succulents like their roots to be soaked in water. However, they also like to excess moisture drained quickly.
The easiest way to achieve both goals is to place your plant inside a container with holes that facilitate the removal of excess moisture.
Use the soak and dry method
It is difficult to give an exact amount of water that succulents need. As such, it is easy for beginners to overwater their plants.
One good way to avoid this problem is to use the soak and dry method of watering plants.
All you have to do is to water your succulent until it is completely soaked. If you placed your plant in a container with drainage holes, the excess water should dry off quickly.
After that, check the soil and see if it is completely dry. If the soil is completely dry, you can water your plant again. If the soil is still wet, wait a couple of days before watering it again.
Choose a fast-draining soil mix
The amount of moisture stored in a pot may also be influenced by the type of soil mix you use for your succulents.
Unlike other plants, succulents prefer fast-draining soil which can drain water out as quickly as it can soak it up. This type of soil mix contains the right balance of organic and inorganic materials.
Organic materials like peat moss provide succulents with nutrients while inorganic materials like coarse sand provide structural support and facilitate drainage of excess moisture.
In the wild, succulents can survive in harsh conditions, going through long periods without water. But if you intend to keep and propagate these plants, you need to determine for yourself how much water your succulents need for them to flourish.
Image: istockphoto.com / alpssimon