Succulents have a reputation of being a little too sensitive to water and many people can get very worried about watering succulents or leaving them in the rain. So will water kill succulents?
Water can kill some succulents, however, it is also essential to their survival. All succulents need to be watered, but just how much can differ between genera and species.
In our experience, the great majority of succulents, including cacti, will deal with water and lots of rain just fine.
It is impossible to give a universal advice that will apply to everybody and their plants. There is a great number of influencing factors other than the species of succulent that can alter the sensitivity of succulents to water, and whether or not they can get killed by it . Below I will share my experience as a nursery owner who grows hundreds of thousands of succulents every year, most of them exposed to rain.
Currently, I have some 40,000 plants in our small nursery. We used to have many more once upon a time, but have since downsized. 95% of these succulents grows outdoors exposed to the elements and so get watered often during rainy periods. This year has been particularly wet and it's been raining almost every other day. As a result our plants have been continually quite wet for some time.
Some of our more sensitive species such as Echeveria Romeo, Echeveria Lauii, many Cotyledon, Lithops, Fenestraria Rhophalophylla and some furry cacti had to be moved into polytunnels with a solid cover. These plants are fine outdoors unprotected during dry years, but when the weather is wet it would cause fungal spots (or other diseases) and would very likely completely rot and kill some of these more sensitive succulents.
In previous years drought has persisted and so all of our succulents endured heat and only occasional rain. We had to water often as the temperatures were also above average. In these dry years all of our succulents, including the above mentioned sensitive types, were outdoors.
There are many other factors, however, that will determine how well succulents will cope with water.
Although the hardiest of succulents will grow in any bog standard potting mix, many others will not, especially, during extremes such as heatwaves and heavy rain periods. If in pots, succulents should have a good quality succulent potting mix. Premium potting mix can also be amended to suit succulents by adding perlite and/or pumice. In our experience sandy potting mix is not great for succulents as it gets too heavy when wet.
During rainy periods, it may be a good idea to make the potting mix super well draining by adding pumice, perlite, pine bark fines or other draining agents that will help water get through the pot faster. However, once the rainy periods subside, the succulents may need to be watered a bit more often as the water retention of altered mixes is not great and can easily dry out a succulent when hot.
In the garden, succulents grow much better and are also more hardy and so no alternations to soil are usually required. We found succulents will grow just about anywhere in the ground as long as they are not planted in areas that can flood.
It will, of course, help if the garden soil is turned over and a bit of potting mix is worked through, especially when the soil is too sandy or solid.
Climate can greatly influence how well succulents survive excess water. Tropical climate can be a bit too much for some varieties and we’ve had reports from some of our customers in the tropical parts of Australia saying the more sensitive types just can easily get killed by water.
The hardy succulents tend to survive ok. If you live in a tropical climate it may be a good idea to grow succulents undercover and control the water intake, only watering when potting mix has completely dried out.
In parts of the world where winters are quite harsh (frost & snow) succulents can go deeply dormant and will not require water for almost the whole of winter. If you live in such climate it is also essential that your succulents are protected from frost as the majority of succulents are not frost hardy.
Most succulents need a certain amount of bright light and sun to grow well and are not suitable to be planted in shaded areas or indoors. There are, however, succulents tolerant of shade such as Haworthia, Gasteria, Ceropegia, Sansevieria etc.). These succulents will grow in a bright spot indoors but even they can be killed by too much water and should only be watered when the potting mix dries up from previous watering.
Sun loving succulents grown in too much shade indoors or outdoors are also very sensitive to overwatering, rot and disease. In the shade water evaporates slower and causes the humidity to rise. Many succulents particularly dislike being in shade as well as being wet in a humid setting. Too much water combined with lack of sunlight can kill succulents easily.
In general, older the succulent the hardier it is. Young cuttings and small plants may die if sitting in soggy, overwatered potting mix. It is, however, important that young plants and cutting are watered regularly. The potting mix just needs to be well draining so water does not suffocate the roots.
As mentioned above, some species are incredibly sensitive to water and humidity. Often, the advice for most succulents is to be careful with water (even the hardy types) and so it can come down to trial and error to figure out which plants are sensitive and which are not.
My advice here would be to keep any prized/ rare/ expensive plants out of too much rain and water when potting mix has dried out.
In another one of my articles i have created a list of tough indoor and outdoor succulents for beginners that are hard to kill by too much water.
Most succulents are not as sensitive to water as you may think. We have another, similar article on succulents in the rain which contains some extra info for those of you wanting further info.