Succulents store water in their fleshy stems and leaves. This is why they are able to survive in dry sunny areas. As a result, succulents grown as houseplants need less watering than other types of plants. So, what happens if your succulent is overwatered?
Roots need oxygen to function properly and absorb water and nutrients. When a plant is overwatered, the soil becomes too wet, such that air spaces between the soil particles are filled with water. This creates oxygen deficiency which makes the roots suffocate and die.
Overwatering can also cause fungal problems. Damp soil is a breeding ground for fungi that causes root rot. Planting succulents in containers without drainage or in soil that doesn’t drain sharply can also cause the problem of root rot and soil fungal infections.
What does an overwatered succulent look like?
Roots play an important role in the growth and development of plants. Apart from anchoring the plant in the soil, they absorb water, nutrients, and other minerals needed by the plant. When roots are not able to function properly, a plant will no longer receive these essential elements.
If your succulent is overwatered, you can tell from the following signs:
- Wilting leaves – This is a sign that the plant is not getting enough water. However, wilting can also be caused by other issues, such as too much sun or insufficient light.
- Succulent dropping leaves – Succulent leaves falling off can also be a sign of overwatering. A plant may drop leaves due inappropriate supply of water, nutrients, and sunlight.
- Leaves turning yellow – Yellowing leaves are another sign that the plant is in distress as a result of overwatering. However, yellowing can also be caused by nutrient deficiency or insect pests.
- Soft, mushy roots – When roots rot, they become dark and mushy. This is a critical stage of root rot, and at this point, it can be difficult to save the plant unless you act with speed.
How to Save an Overwatered Succulent
Saving an overwatered succulent requires a quick intervention and some adjustments to its care routine. If you think your succulent is overwatered, there are a few things you can do to revive it.
The first step is to stick your finger into the soil a few inches deep. If the soil is too soggy, tilt the pot to pour out any excess water. You may also use paper towels to dab the excess water from the soil. Next, let the soil dry out completely as you watch over the plant.
If the plant is showing severe signs of root rot, it may not easily recover. When roots are completely damaged, the only option remaining is to repot the succulent in a fresh soil mix.
Reporting overwatered succulent
- Carefully take the succulent out of the waterlogged soil to prevent any further damage to the roots.
- Inspect the roots for signs of rot, healthy roots are firm and white. If they appear black, mushy, or foul-smelling, trim away the affected parts using clean, sharp knife or pruning shears. Make sure to cut above the damaged area.
- Place the succulent in a warm, dry location with good air circulation. Avoid direct sunlight during this time to prevent further stress on the plant. Let it dry for at least a few days, or until the cut ends have calloused over.
- Select a pot with drainage holes at the bottom, slightly larger than the root ball. Use a succulent or cactus potting mix, or create your own mix by combining regular potting soil with perlite or coarse sand to improve drainage.
- Gently place the succulent in the new pot and fill in around the root ball with your prepared succulent soil mix. Press the soil lightly to stabilize the plant.
- After repotting, wait about 3 days before watering the succulent again. When you do water, only give it a small amount, just enough to moisten the soil but not soak it. Water the soil directly and avoid getting water on the leaves to prevent rot.
- Going forward, adjust your watering schedule to ensure the succulent’s soil dries out completely between waterings. The frequency of watering will depend on your climate but generally, it’s better to underwater the succulent slightly than to overwater.
Succulents thrive in bright light but avoid placing your repotted plant immediately in direct sunlight. Gradually reintroduce it to its preferred light conditions over a few days. You may also prune a few leaves before repotting. This will help the plant to focus its energy on new growth.
Monitor the succulent for the next few weeks. Look for signs of improvement, such as new growth, healthy leaves, and sturdy stems. With proper attention and adjustments to its care routine, your overwatered succulent should recover and thrive again.
Tip: If you can’t save your succulent at all, try to take a healthy leaf or cutting, plant it in a succulent potting mix and place it in a location with bright indirect sunlight. Water sparingly and in a few weeks the leaf or stem cutting might root.
Watering succulents can be a delicate balance. You can easily overwater or underwater if you don’t understand the watering needs of your plant. A good rule of thumb is to water only when the soil feels dry to the touch. So, always insert your finger in the soil to test the moisture level before watering.
Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if you have an overwatered or an underwatered succulent as symptoms may appear similar. In both cases, the plant may shrivel, turn yellow or wilt and die. So to be sure of what you are dealing with, inspect the soil for moisture and probably the state of the roots and treat as needed.
How to care for succulents – Texas A&M University
Cacti and succulents – University of Minnesota Extension
Growing Succulents Indoors – Iowa State University
My name is Diane M Lewik, and I am the founder of this website. I am a degree holder in plant biology from the University of California – Berkeley. Over years, I have cultivated a vast collection of succulents and I have learned a great deal about how to grow and care for these unique plants.