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If you’re worried you’re not providing your cacti and succulents with enough water, don’t be. It’s easier to fix dehydration than overwatering.
Cacti and succulents all share a modified morphology adapted for water storage and conservation. Their evolutionary adaptation has enabled them to thrive in arid (xeriscape) settings, requiring much less water than other houseplants. The more significant risk to succulents is overwatering.
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How Much Water Does a Succulent Need?
The truth is that we all have to manage our time and resources wisely. We’re all maximizing our satisfaction bandwidth while minimizing the required input.
Succulents offer the maximum return on effort, adding aesthetic beautification without demanding meticulous care.
And with succulents, there is no shortage of variety, enough to satisfy even the most aesthetically demanding designer.
With cacti and succulents, you get a wide variety of flowers, hanging baskets, structural forms, and sizes to add beauty and intrigue indoors and out, in offices and homes.
You get all this without having to be paranoid about watering routines.
Native to dry regions in South Africa, Central, and South America, succulents have evolved to thrive in these xeric conditions, storing water in their morphology and managing transpiration.
However, even if they can withstand drought conditions, it is still easy to drown and overwater succulents, so this guide includes the knowledge you need to keep them happy and healthy.
Why do Succulents Need Less Water
The ecological significance of water storage for plants living in arid settings, especially those that use CAM and C4 photosynthesis, has long been the subject of extensive research.
CAM Photosynthesis (Crassulacean acid metabolism) is found in plants that have developed the ability to photosynthesize during the day, store it, and only open their stoma at night to breathe.
With CAM photosynthesis, the leaves’ stomata (breathing pores) remain shut during the day to reduce evapotranspiration, opening at night to collect carbon dioxide (CO2) for the finalization of the photosynthesis process. In this way, moisture loss in the midday sun is limited.
Additionally, succulents have evolved to have greater water retention abilities in their morphology.
Without losing water during the day, like other plants, and storing water in their leaves, succulent succulents can survive droughts without dehydrating.
For Succulents, How much is Too Much Water?
For a succulent, too much water can be defined as “A root-state that is seldom allowed to be dry.” Too much water is when a succulent’s roots are damp more often than not.
Succulents, unlike most houseplants, cannot tolerate moist soil and require their soil to dry out occasionally.
Dry conditions make them happy and feel right at home, and happy succulents mean a happier you.
It, therefore, stands to reason that if your potting soil is inclined to retain water, it will hamper the root’s ability to remain dry.
This entails managing water retention (field capacity), air availability (porosity), and the tension between the two to meet the needs of a specific plant species.
For Succulents, How Much Water is Too Little Water?
Succulents typically have short root systems close to the soil surface since they are native to drier regions of the world, allowing them to swiftly absorb any rainwater that percolates into the soil during sporadic rain.
The force that water exerts against a cell wall is known as turgor pressure. Turgor pressure is created when water fills the cells and pushes up on the cell membrane and wall which is also known as mechanical action.
Water moves up the plant and reaches all cells easier thanks to the higher concentration of solutes inside the cell.
To maintain the established flow of nutrients from the roots, xylem drops may start to emerge on leaves (guttation) at night after all cells have reached their optimal turgor pressure.
Loss of Turgidity
When there is insufficient water, your plant loses turgidity (becomes flaccid) as the cells’ internal pressure drops. Leaves droop, surface areas contract and wrinkle, and the plant may start wilting.
This can indicate that your plant has insufficient access to water. I say may because wilting can also be due to bacteria, fungi, or viruses blocking vascular tissue.
The latter may be caused by excess water accumulated around the roots due to improper drainage.
How To Know When Succulents Need Water?
We see that loss of turgidity means insufficient internal cell pressure that could be caused by underwatering. However, the same signs can mean we are overwatering!
Wilting leaves are therefore not the best indicator of a plant’s need for hydration. Rather follow the following test methods:
- Feel the dryness of the potting soil to determine the soil’s moisture content with your hands. Water is required if the mixture feels dry at the tip after inserting your finger up to your second knuckle.
- A clay pot’s potting mixture shrinks away from the sides as it dries out. Tapping the pot’s side with a stick or your knuckles will sound hollow if water is needed; if the sound is dull, the soil is moist.
- Calculated weight: Weight loss is seen as potting mixtures dries out.
- Assess the soil color: The potting mixtures’ color will change from dark to light as they dry.
A tell-tale sign of root rot is brown to black lesions with mushy roots that are gray to black. Look for weblike red-brown mycelium across the leaves and the potting medium’s surface.
The greatest threat to succulents is your love expressed as watering. If in doubt, don’t water for a day or two before watering aging. Their love language is dry roots, so give them that.
When surrounded by water, roots cannot absorb oxygen, something they need as much as we do.
Humans can go without food for three weeks, without water for three days, and without air for three minutes – air is the most essential.
Porous clay pots need more regular watering than nonporous, glazed, or plastic pots because water evaporates quickly from their sides.
Use a pot with drainage holes because you’ll need well-draining soil and don’t want your succulents to get wet feet. Excess water must be able to drain freely through drainage holes, so don’t cover them with pebbles.
Succulents and Cacti will thrive where relative humidity levels of between 30 and 40 percent are maintained – which is lower than what humans are comfortable in.
How much water does a succulent need? Enough to keep it alive without drowning it. You can ensure your succulent’s happiness by providing good drainage, specific light requirements, deep but intermittent watering (allowing soil to dry out between waterings), and good air circulation.
Succulents are not only adapted to arid conditions; they need xeric (characterized by, relating to, or requiring only a small amount of moisture) environments.
Limited watering and well-draining soil relatively low in organic matter are essential for their health.
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