How to Keep Your Succulents Happy

Tending these plants takes a bit of education, but it’s well worth it.

If you are trying to grow succulents indoors then there are any number of reasons why you might be inadvertently killing them. For people with an otherwise green thumb this can be a frustrating experience. But, have no fear- if you have some droopy succulents then there may still be hope yet. Here’s how to diagnose and correct problems with potted succulent plants.

small potted succulents
Via/ Unsplash

Overwatering

Since succulents naturally grow in hot, dry, sunny locations (like deserts) they are not used to having a lot of water. In fact the reason why some succulents can have plump leaves is that they are very efficient at storing water. More famous water-conserving succulents include cacti and aloe plants, but all plants in this group have this skill. Because of this, overwatering is the most common problem with succulents indoors.

succulent leaves
Via/ Flickr

A plant’s reaction to overwatering can range from rotting to turning pale colors to shriveled leaves. When leaves become puckered it may seem at first glance that the plant needs more water, but in fact if any plant sits in water for too long then it can damage the root system so that getting a drink down the road becomes incredibly difficult for the plant. Rot can also occur on the leaves as water expands beyond the normal cells that are made for holding water, rotting the leaf from the inside out.

When in doubt research your varieties of succulents, but for the most part a “loving neglect” approach to watering them will make for happier plants.

If the soil is too moist you can repot with dry soil or allow the plant to dry off, sans soil, in another pot for a day or two before repotting into dry soil.

Repotting

Pots with no drainage can result in some of the same problems as above, so making sure your succulents can drain is essential. Using two different kinds of drainage is ideal for these little guys, like lining a pot that has drain holes with pebbles before placing the plant and soil inside. This way the roots never sit in water.

succulents in terra cotta pot
Via/ Flickr

If a succulent has been left too long in one pot then the roots can sometimes clog the drainage holes which can lead to root rot. For this reason repotting is often the fix that succulents need. Compared to other plants they usually resist damage from repotting fairly well.

Underwatering

It may seem like you can’t underwater plants that are adapted to grow in the desert, but trust me, you can. Every plant has its limits and eventually a lack of water can cause a plant to die. While some amount of dryness can be normal depending on the species of plant you’re caring for, multiple brown and crispy leaves can mean it’s time to water it more regularly.

dried out Echeveria  leaves
Via/ Flickr

If the soil is completely dry, the leaves are brown, and you know you haven’t watered the plant for a long time then you’ll need to give the plant a big drink of water and watch what happens. If the pot has very good drainage then you may have to water again since the water may run out too quickly. Many succulents enjoy a big water once every 2-3 weeks.

If the plant doesn’t respond, then it might be time to give the plant a soak in water, devoid of soil. This can stimulate and rehydrate a plant that is having a hard time. Only the roots should be submerged and you can leave the plant like this for 24-72 hours. Then you can let the plant dry out before repotting so that the tender roots are as undamaged as possible. However, this approach won’t bring back all plants.

copper watering can
Via/ Flickr

Choice of Soil

Many succulents, having adapted to desert life, prefer a soil that dries out more quickly, like a sandy soil. Regular potting soil can often yield subpar results for these plants since the soil never fully dries out between waterings. A mix of potting soil, sand, and perlite can help correct this problem. In this case coarse sand is better than beach or fine sand. You can also buy prepared succulent soil for just this purpose.

cacti in pots
Via/ Flickr

Caring for succulents can be challenging if you don’t know what to look out for, but the two main takeaways for happy succulent plants are (1) drier is better and (2) drainage is paramount. Growing healthy succulents is all about giving them what they need to thrive.