You have those beautiful cacti in the windowsill and another bunch of plants thriving in the balcony but your favorite succulent doesn’t look well and the two most frequent issues are under watering and overwatering with latter being more common among our kind (the nature lovers aka gardeners).
Naturally, you will cut down on watering immediately but usually the problem doesn’t get solved just by doing that. Simply put, you want to know if your plant can be saved or not. Yes, it can be saved given that the damage is not too far gone. Don’t worry if it’s that bad, you can salvage the leaves and stem and propagate them.
Reasons behind overwatering
Too much water. Since succulents store water in their leaves and stem (which helps them survive long periods of drought), giving them too much water will only cause their leaves and tissues to become bloated, and eventually burst.
Aside from too much water, overwatering can also be due to the soil's quality and the pot that you are using for your succulents. Keep in mind that if the soil does not drain well and fast enough or if it has already become poor in quality over time, you'll risk your succulents sitting in wet more than they should be, which will only lead them to rot. The pot you are using also plays a big part in making sure that your succulents won't get overwatered, as using the right one will promote better water drainage and air circulation, which will assist the soil to dry faster.
Succulents with compacted or densely packed roots may also end up suffering from being overwatered, as these roots may block the pot's drainage hole, causing any excess water to stay inside the pot longer, as it is unable to find its way out. With that in mind, make sure to do some regular checkups on your succulents and loosen the roots up a little by rubbing the roots very gently.
Signs of Overwatering
You think you have overwatered the plant but still it’s better to make sure that that’s the case and not something else. Let’s go through the following and confirm overwatering is the main trouble.
1. How does the soil look?
It’s clogged with water and wet. You will get clumps of soil and not separate grains of soil.
2. What are the early signs of overwatering
Before a succulent drowns from too much water, it would often show some early signs to help you rescue before it gets really serious. So as soon as you see that your succulent is showing 1 or more of the signs below, take immediate action to save it.
- The first sign of overwatering that you should watch out for is discoloration and change in the leaves form. You'll see that the leaves will start to become yellow or pale (starting from the bottom), soft, and squishy.
- The next sign you should look out for is if your succulent begin to drop its leaves very easily, even from just a slight sway or touch as it gets swell up with water.
- If overwatering continues, you'll notice that the leaves will start to turn brown or black. Once this begins to happen, it means that your succulent is either rotting or suffering from a fungal disease caused by too much water.
The first sign of overwatering that you should watch out for is discoloration and change in the leaves form.
3. What does a rotting succulent look like
A rotting succulent will appear to have black leaves starting from the bottom of the succulents plant and stems that will either look brown or black and mushy. All these are your indicators that your succulent is already rotting in the roots up due to too much water, and leaving it in this condition, will cause the plant to turn into a mushy mess after just a couple of days.
How to save overwatered succulents
1. Keep away from the sun
Yes, I understand that it sounds counterintuitive when you want to get rid of the excess water from the soil. The rationale is this. the succulent is already under stress from too much water and direct sunlight just compounds the problem. Most succulents need bright indirect light so direct sunlight is a big no.
Lay the overwatered succulent somewhere bright and dry but away from direct sunlight.
2. Let the roots air dry
Dig the succulent out of the soil and remove excess soil stuck to the roots, cut off any brown/black roots as these are rotten already. Leave the plant on a mesh or any kind of strainer till the roots have air dried from anywhere two to three days. When the roots are dry completely, plant them back in the pot.
If the roots are completely rotten, remove all of them and part of the stem that is puckered and has black or brown spots. You can plant the succulent stem in the soil for propagation.
3. Change the soil
If your succulent is already planted in succulent soil, store bought or homemade, you might not have to change it completely. Generally, algae (green living matter) grow on overwatered soil. If this is the case, it’s your job to get rid of all the top soil (throw it in the bin far from your plants) and replace it with fresh succulent soil.
In the not so bad but bad enough scenario, your succulent is planted in the usual potting mix, it is better that you prepare soil that’s suitable for succulents. Just take three parts potting soil, two parts poultry grit and one part perlite, this mixture provides good drainage and ventilation.
It is better that you prepare soil that’s suitable for succulents.
You can substitute the last two ingredients with sand and pumice and if you are short on time, just order a bag of succulent mix.
How to avoid overwatering succulents
1. Keep track of your watering routine
Using a marked pitcher or measuring cup to control how much water you are giving your succulents is really helpful, especially if the pots you are using don’t have any drainage holes. Tools like moisture meters or hygrometers would be a big help as well in assisting you to know when is the right time to give your succulents a good soak of water. Also, remember to check when your plant is actively growing, as they will most likely need to be watered more during this time of the year compared to when they are in their dormancy period.
2. Improve the Drainage
This step is important otherwise you might encounter the same overwatering problem the next time. There are two ways you can do this: take another pot that’s larger than your succulent pot and put 2 inches of gravel or expanded shale in it. Place your succulent planter on it so the roots don’t have to sit in excess water each time you water.
Note: The gravel must not get submerged in water otherwise you will be back to square one.
The second method requires succulent soil and is explained in detail in the section below.
3. Use the right kind of soil
Remember, succulents generally like a good drink of water, and then have some time to dry out. So if the soil you are using for your succulents is compact and doesn't drain fast enough, then their roots will still be sitting in wet soil for too long, even though you are just giving it the right amount of water it needs.
With that in mind, it's highly recommended to use a succulent or cactus soil mix (available at a local store near you), added with some perlite to promote better drainage and aeration. You can also blend your own potting medium by mixing 3 parts of regular soil, 2 parts bark fines, and 1 part perlite or pumice.
4. Promote better airflow
Promoting better airflow to your succulents also prevent overwatering, as it assists in lowering the humidity in moist conditions that may also encourage pest and disease.
To ensure proper air circulation, it's recommended to place your outdoor succulents with enough space between them (about 3 to 5-inches apart), and near a window, if kept indoors.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the color of overwatered succulent?
The leaves close to the bottom are brown whereas the overall leaves and stems look bloated and feel squishy to the touch instead of firm. The leaves seem lighter or show translucence (can be the whole leaf or just patches) due to excess water breaking the cell walls. New growth will be brown.
2. How to differentiate overwatering and underwatering
An underwatered succulent will have soil that feels dry and leaves with brown tips, dry, and will start to curl, drop, or even drop. An overwatered succulent, on the other hand, will have yellowing leaves, browning tips, and also wilting (with wet or soggy soil).
Propagation is the last resort in case your succulent can’t recover from its condition. Cut a few surviving healthy leaves from the base or stem and let the ends dry for 5 to 7 days. Plant them in a tray or a shallow pot in succulent soil mix. Water regularly for the roots to grow but make sure there is good drainage.
You can also watch this video to see some of the tips in action:
See more about Water therapy for succulents
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