How Can I Save My Overwatered Succulents?

How Can I Save My Overwatered Succulents?

Chris
6 minute read

Succulents are cute and vibrant plants that are native to dry, sunny landscapes. This makes them drought-tolerant, storing water in their leaves in case of a water shortage. This also means that they can be extremely sensitive to excess moisture. In general, it is safer to under-water than to overwater your succulents. One of the biggest mistakes one can make is accidentally overwatering their succulents. In this blog post, we are going to discuss a bit of succulent troubleshooting and walk you through the steps of what you should do in the event that your succulent has been overwatered.



a photo of a rotted Echeveria

 

Step 1: Identify the signs

Just like all other plants, succulents shed their old leaves to focus their energy into newer growth. If you notice one or two yellowing leaves by the base of your plant and the soil feels dry, it is likely that your plant is just doing what it is meant to do.

However, if the soil in your succulent’s pot has stayed wet for several days, you may notice the following:

 

  1. Multiple yellow, mushy leaves. If you notice that a few of your succulents’ leaves are quickly turning yellow or translucent and mushy, this is a sign the soil is too moist and there is a potential for root rot.

a photo of a Jade Plant with yellowing leaves a photo of an Echeveria with yellowing leavesㅤㅤㅤ

 

  1. The stem or centre of the plant is greying or blackening. This is a sign that rot has already moved its way up toward the plant itself and now the plant has begun to rot. If the succulent has a stem such as kalanchoe, crassula, etc, you may be able to save the top of the plant by cutting the stem just above the blackened section with a pair of sterile scissors or knife. However, if it is a rosette type succulent such as echeveria, once the plant has reached this stage, then unfortunately there is nothing you can do to reverse or stop the damage. If you can salvage a leaf or two then you can try and propagate the plant. Cacti are also trickier to save. Taller species can be easier to salvage due to their height whereas the shorter ball-like cacti are likely goners at this stage.

 

  


a photo of an aeonium succulent with rotted stem cut off

 

Step 2: Unpot and inspect

If the plant is still mostly green, then it is likely that it can be saved if acted upon quickly. Unpot the succulent, removing as much damp soil from the roots as you possibly can by gently massaging the root system. Discard soggy soil and remove any yellow or mushy leaves. If you see any rotting roots (dark in colour, mushy to the touch) then prune them back with a pair of sterile scissors. In more severe cases, you may need to prune all the roots or even a section of the stem and re-root the plant altogether. 

a photo of a haworthia with roots rotted off

Step 3: Let the plant heal

Place the plant someplace with good air circulation in bright but indirect sunlight to dry. Leave the plant to recover for a week or so, checking in on it periodically to make sure it is stable. 

 

a photo of a person repotting a healed haworthia

Step 4: Repot

After a week or so, if the plant seems stable and has not suffered any more damage, repot it into fresh, dry succulent soil. Avoid watering for a week or two after repotting. Slowly ease the plant back into a watering routine by giving it small sips at a time.


Tips to help avoid overwatering your succulent:

    ㅤㅤ    a photo of a wrinkled, thirsty Echeveria

  • As mentioned at the beginning of this post, it is better to under water than over water your succulent. Succulents will tell you when they are thirsty – their leaves will shrivel and look wrinkly.


a photo of Plant Collective succulent soil

  • Use a well-draining soil mix created specifically for succulents that contains gritty materials and no peat moss.


    a photo of a bag of perlite a photo of a bag of pumice ​​​ㅤㅤㅤ

  • Perlite and/or pumice stones can be added to and soil mix to help provide better drainage and aeration.


a photo of two succulents in hand-painted terra cotta pots

  • Terra cotta or unglazed clay pots are the best, as they quickly wick away excess moisture from the soil. Plastic is second best and ceramic and glazed clay pots should only be used if you are more experienced and understand succulent care needs. If the look or colour of terra cotta isn’t for you, you can always spice it up by painting the pot! If using a decorative cachepot (a pot without drainage), keep the succulent in their plastic nursery pot and simply remove the nursery pot from the cachepot to water.

a photo of turquoise ceramic pots with drainage holes

  • Use a pot with a drainage hole! If your desired decorative planter does not have a drainage hole, then use it as a cachepot instead of potting the plant directly into it.


    a photo os a person potting a hwaorthia

  • Be mindful of the size of pot you plant your succulent in. You want the pot to be only an inch or two larger than the root system. You want to have a good balance of soil and roots - if there is much more soil than roots then the soil will stay wet longer because the plant's roots will not be able to absorb all the moisture in time.


a photo of a bare-root cactus

  • Only repot once every year or two when your plant has outgrown its pot. You will know it has outgrown the pot when you notice roots growing out of the bottom or top of the pot. Again, when repotting, only size up an inch or two maximum in pot size.

a photo of a person adding a base layer rocks for drainage

  • Add rocks or clay balls (Leca) to the bottom of the pot to help increase drainage. Pro tip: save packing peanuts or any other styrofoam packaging as they can be cut into smaller bits that are excellent to use at the bottom of plant pots for drainage.

a photo of sempervivum succulents in bright sunlight

  • Place your succulents someplace warm and sunny. Not only does this help the soil to dry but will also keep your succulents compact, colourful and happy!


a photo of a cactus and a pink watering can

  • Decrease watering in fall and wintertime. Less sun and warmth mean it will take the soil longer to dry out. Modify your watering schedule to once or twice a month maximum in colder months.


a photo of a succulent arrangement

  • If you choose to plant your succulent in an arrangement, make sure it is planted with other succulents and not other types of plants such as leafy tropicals that require frequent watering.

 


Life is full of trials and errors and owning plants comes with no exceptions. We live and learn from our mistakes and that’s what makes us better and more mindful plant parents moving forward. Best of luck and happy growing! 

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