Underwatering vs. Overwatering Succulents and How to Rescue Them

Succulents are known for being nearly impossible to kill. many people think that succulents need very little moisture and that they’re incredibly easy to care for, and you have the essential ingredients for succulent craze.

While succulent plants are usually hassle-free, overwatering or underwatering can pose issues. Succulents need good drainage and the soil should not be too damp. These plants hate water, and their roots and especially close to their leaves. Succulents will rot when exposed to wet conditions. However, this doesn’t mean you should just just mist them or sprinkle the soil. This can leave your succulent plant dehydrated.

I recommend using a soak and dry method when watering succulents. CactiCo succulents are wrapped in a moss ball (kokedama) which allows to water them from the bottom up without having to wet their leaves. Soak your kokedama in a about 2 inches of water and then wait one to two weeks to water it again. Check to see if the soil is dry. If it is, then you can water your succulent again. Do not water your succulents if the soil is still moist. By following this method, you can make sure your plant gets just the right amount of hydration.

There are a few differences between overwatered vs. underwatered succulents. We’ve included some of them below and also added helpful tips for saving your plant from these watering issues.

Signs of Overwatering Succulents:

Overwatered Echeveria Succulent

Over watering is one of the most common ways to kill succulents. An early sign of over watering is your succulent’s leaves falling off with just a slight bump. As the damage from over watering continues, your succulent’s leaves will begin to yellow and look more transparent. The leaves will feel mushy and wet. At this point the best option is to let your succulent dry out for a few days and reduce your watering frequency in the future.

If your succulent starts to blacken around the stem or leaves, it is suffering from rot. You’ll want to cut off the succulent above the rot, allow the cutting to dry for a few days and then replant the cutting in soil.

Since these plants store moisture in their thick leaves and stems, you don’t need to water them often. If your green friends start looking sick, they might be feeling moisture overload. Here are some signs to watch out for:

  • Mushy foliage

When your plant’s leaves get more H2O than they need, the excess gets stored in storage cells. With extra liquid coursing through the plant, the leaves will swell up and become mushy and soft.

  • Discolored, drooping leaves

Leaves will start discoloring as excess moisture flows into them. They may become lighter and more translucent. When the leaves start drooping, the slightest touch will cause them to fall off. With too much moisture, they can even eventually rot from the inside and turn black.

  • Rotting roots

If you notice signs that your plant is overwatered, check the roots. If the roots are dark and shriveled up, this is a sign of rot from overwatering. 

How to Save Your Overwatered Succulents:

If you notice your succulents showing signs of excess hydration, there are a few things you can do to save them.

  • Dry the succulent roots

Take the plant out of its soil and leave it somewhere to dry. Do not expose to direct sun light during that time, as direct sunlight can be stressful.

  • Use new succulent soil

If your potting soil is too wet, then that means your plant is constantly sitting in dampness. You can remedy this by changing the succulent soil. Use a dry, fresh mix.

  • Increase drainage

Using well-draining soil is essential to succulent health. To help improve drainage, you can add gravel to the mix so that excess moisture can easily trickle out.

Signs of Underwatering Succulents:

Signs of Underwatered SucculentSucculents can survive with minimal water, but they still shouldn’t be completely deprived of hydration. When a succulent isn’t getting enough water you’ll notice the leaves start to look limp and soft. You may begin to notice wrinkling near the top of the plant in the new growth. The lower leaves of succulents will die eventually as part of their normal life cycle. If you notice that the leaves are drying up faster than usual, you’ll want to increase your watering frequency slightly. These are signs that your succulents are dehydrated: 

  • Wrinkled, shriveled leaves

Succulents store moisture in their leaves, and this can last them for weeks during droughts. When the plant is deprived of hydration, its leaves will become wrinkled and shriveled.

  • Flimsy, browning leaves

Without hydration to keep the plant lush and plump, its leaves will become flimsy. They can also turn brown. Although the leaves turn soft when underwatered, they won’t turn mushy (as in the case of overwatered plants).

  • Roots growing above the soil

Roots will form above the soil line when the plant tries to get moisture from the air. This is your plant’s way of saying that the soil is too dry. 

Saving Underwatered Succulents

It’s much easier to rescue a succulent that has been under watered so when in doubt, water less often. 

To save an underwatered succulent, the first thing you should do is water it! Don’t just lightly mist the ground of the pot. For best results soak your succulent pot or kokedama in a bowl of room temperature water.  Do not use highly chlorinated sink water. Use rain water or distilled water for best results. Be careful not to wet the leaves, as this can lead to rot.  After a few days, your plant should look healthy again.

When the soil completely dries out (typically after two weeks), you can water the plant again and follow a regular watering routine. To avoid underwatering your plant, you can use a watering schedule. Track the number of times you water your succulent in a month. You can even set reminders using your phone or an app. Remember to let the soil dry between watering. Once you find the right rhythm, your plant will be good to go again!


Back to blog