How To Spot & Fix Overwatered Succulents

Updated: Jun 11

Succulents store water in their leaves, stems and roots in order to survive the harsh, dry conditions they have to deal with in their native homelands.


These days succulents find themselves in cultivation, in peoples homes and gardens where water situation is not as dire. In fact, most succulents likely get a bit too much water than they need.


While some succulents will cope just fine, even when they get overwatered many can have adverse reactions.


In this article I will cover signs of overwatering, how to prevent overwatering succulents, how to save an overwatered succulent and which succulents are prone to react badly to being overwatered. The advice is based on my personal experience as an owner of succulent nursery and growing hundreds of thousands of these wonderful plants every year.



Signs of overwatered succulents


  • Yellow leaves

  • Translucent leaves

  • Splitting leaves

  • Mushy leaves

  • Brown leaves

  • Black leaves

  • Dark brown/black spots

  • Leaves falling off

  • Fungus


Yellow leaves


Yellowing leaves are quite common in succulents and may not always be directly related to overwatering. However, yellow leaves are also one of the signs of succulents suffering from being watered too much.


I have written a separate article on why succulents develop yellow leaves. Yellowing is not always a bad sign and can happen naturally in many succulents, though sometimes it’s a result of stress and succulents dying and so it may be worth while reading this article.


Pachyphytum Diamond yellow leaves due to overwatering
Pachyphytum Diamond yellow leaves due to overwatering

When a succulent is overwatered and its stress response is yellow leaves, they will likely be swollen with all that extra water.


The amount of yellow leaves in this case can vary and may or may not result in further damage. Some succulents may only get one or two swollen, yellow leaves but will then get on with their lives and continue to grow normally. Others may lose a whole bunch of leaves once they get yellow and some may even have all their leaves turn yellow and eventually die.



Leaves that turn yellow because of overwatering will fall off the stem after some time.


Translucent leaves


Overwatered succulents will often end up with large, swollen, translucent leaves. They can have a yellow or light brown tinge, but look like you can see through them.


A translucent leaf is a dead leaf which will eventually fall off the stem and rot.


Some succulents will only get one or two leaves like this and will be unaffected. Others may all end up translucent and, therefore, die.



See through leaves are not always a sign of overwatering and can happen on extremely hot, sunny days when succulents are exposed to strong UV.


Splitting leaves


Succulent leaves can split when they have been getting watered too much. I see this happening on succulents with very fleshy leaves after a rainy period of more than a week or after heavy rain.


The leaves will look like they have been cut and the wound has opened right up.


Fenestraria Rhopalophylla split leaves due to overwatering
Fenestraria Rhopalophylla split leaves due to overwatering

Split leaves are not always going to die off, unlike the translucent and yellow leaves. The wound will probably discolour to a brownish shade.


Leaves on succulents can also split when there’s too much nitrogen rich fertilizer given to them.


Mushy leaves & roots


Some succulents can end up with mushy, rotting leaves and roots when they have been overwatered. Mushy leaves almost exclusively happen due to too much water.


Mushy Peperomia Prostrata leaf
Mushy Peperomia Prostrata leaf

When a succulent leaf has turned into mush, it should be taken off straight away as it will start rotting on top of other leaves and increase the humidity around that plant. Mushy leaves can rot surrounding leaves as well.



Mushy, rotting roots should be taken, though once the roots start rotting, the whole plant may be at the point of no return. If the stalk is turning brown it will need to be cut of from the healthy parts of the plant asap.


Brown leaves & stem


Brown leaves on succulents can happen due to various reasons and overwatering is one of them. When leaves turn brown on succulents because of too much water they are also likely to be very soft.


In most cases brown leaves are a direct result of plant being in some level of distress, however, when only one or two leaves are brown it is likely the plant will recover by itself.


When multiple leaves start going brown a succulent may be starting to rot.


Dark brown or black spots


Brown spots are usually fungal spots that appear as circles. Some can be quite small and some can cover over half of the leaf.



Fungal disease is not a good sign as it can affect surrounding plants and can completely kill of a succulent.


Leaves falling off


Leaves falling off succulents happen for a multitude of reasons and many times, it is not something to get concerned about. But it is also a stress response and a sign of trouble.


When leaves start falling off a lot, it is time to look at possible causes one of which can be overwatering. Before leaves fall off they can change colour to yellow or brown, but they can also fall off without a warning.



Too much water will fill up succulent leaves right up, causing them to fall off. Some of these leaves will die and rot after falling off, but some may still be alive and able to produce leaf babies.


Leaves of overwatered succulents are unlikely to shrivel before falling off and tend to drop as they are and then turn mushy.


Fungus


Although we covered fungus a bit in the brown and black spots, there are many types of fungal diseases that will pop up when there is too much moisture.


Fungus can present itself in potting mix, as mould, mildew and dark spots. Any fungus thrives in humid environment and while, it may not always be your fault fungus has appeared on your succulents, it can be a sign of overwatering.



Fungi will have hard time thriving when the potting mix is not continually soaked, the pot has a drainage hole and the humidity is low.


How to prevent overwatering?


  • Succulent potting mix

  • Perlite, pumice, lava rock

  • Pots with drainage

  • Outdoor spot in the sun

  • Controlled watering

  • Greenhouse


Succulent potting mix


Using good quality succulent potting mix as a potting medium is one of the best ways of preventing succulents from getting overwatered, even if they have been overwatered. This may sound confusing so let me explain.


Succulent potting mix will ensure water can drain fast and dries out much quicker than conventional potting mix. It will also create air bubbles so the roots will be able to breathe when it rains too much or when you’ve accidentally watered a little too often.



A lot of potting mix brands make very substandard succulent potting mix. Good potting mix for succulents should not smell, have lots of gritty bits such as composted pine bark fines, coarse sand with large grains, pumice/perlite and not a lot of finer sand or wet components such as peat moss.


Succulent potting mix should also not have any nitrogen rich components. Instead, slow release fertilizer needs to be mixed in.


If you’re interested in reading a bit more about succulent potting mix and how to make your own, see this article.


Perlite, pumice, lava rock


Potting mix can be made even more free draining by adding pumice, perlite or lava rock. They will not only create drainage but also add minerals and nutrients to the potting mix.



When we expect a rainy season, I always add perlite and pumice to our already well draining succulent potting mix. As a result, very few of our outdoor grown succulents suffer during too much rain.


Pots with drainage


It is always a good idea to plant succulents in pots with a drainage hole. While, if you can control the watering, succulents can survive in pots without a hole, it is much easier to look after them if there is one.


Lifting the pot in the air by placing it in a plant stand or similar when wet weather is expected will help the water drain quicker. When a pot is sitting on a table and it is raining heavily, water cannot escape fast enough.


Outdoor spot in the sun


A good sunny spot will ensure overwatering on your part will not be a problem. Most succulents need a sunny spot outdoors to grow well. If they are in too much shade or indoors, they are likely to suffer from overwatering. The sun will ensure water evaporates fast and it also makes the life-giving photosynthesis happen.


Succulents that prefer shade to the sun also exist, but they are in the minority. It pays off to know and research your succulents to establish what kind of growing conditions they need to be happy.


Controlled watering


Watering when the potting mix has dried up is the best way to prevent overwatering. A thorough drench about once a week in the warm months and once a month during winter should ensure the succulents get the right amount. The frequency may, however, differ based on your climate and weather.



If it’s rainy and cool during summer, then succulents may need even less watering than once per week. Similarly, if the winter is warmer and dried than usual, it is possible you’ll need to water more than once a month.


The good news is that succulents are unlikely to die if they are not watered exactly one week from the last time they've been watered. All that water in their leaves and stems will ensure they have quite a bit of emergency storage.


In general, when the potting mix feels dry to the touch, it is usually good to water again.


Greenhouse


A covered greenhouse will obviously prevent rainwater from getting to succulents and is a great way to stop overwatering by rain.


Controlled watering will need to be practiced when succulents are in a greenhouse, though do make sure you watch your succulents for signs of distress. Greenhouses can get incredibly hot in summer, drying out succulents at a fast rate.


How to save overwatered succulents?


Overwatered succulents can’t always be saved. If rot has taken hold and spread through the plant or when all the leaves have fallen off, it is unlikely the plant will survive any rescue efforts. But if the signs of overwatering are mild, the succulent can still be saved.


  • Re-potting

  • Bright spot outdoors

  • Move undercover

  • Drying the roots

  • Cutting top off

  • Cutting brown or mushy bits


Re-potting


When a succulent is having a reaction to being overwatered and is sitting in soggy potting mix, the best thing to do is get the roots out of the wet and into dry potting mix.


Soggy potting mix may also harbour fungus and if you see any on the roots, wash it away prior to potting up.


Bright spot outdoors


Overwatered succulents in shade or too dark a spot will benefit greatly from being in a bright spot outdoors, where air and the sun will help dry them out.



In summer or during hot spells, succulents may need to be reintroduced to the sun if they have been in shade for too long as they will not be used to the sun’s UV. Best way of doing this is to place them under 30% shade cloth which will radiate harmful UV rays back out while still letting sun through.


Most succulents need at least four hours of direct sun followed by bright light each day. Very few succulents will be able to survive indoors or in deep shade. It is also much easier to overwater succulents indoors or when they are in shade as the water does not evaporate as fast.


Drying the roots


Taking overwatered succulents out of the pot and drying the roots will help greatly. They can be left in a bright but shaded spot for a day or two, or until the root-ball is dry to the touch.


By drying the roots, the water from leaves will be used up to sustain the succulent and should help rectify any overwatering issues.


Cutting the top off


Cutting the top off succulents or cutting off healthy parts can be done in extreme cases of overwatering when the succulent starts to rot. Rot can spread from anywhere but usually starts from the roots and spreads through the stem and into the leaves.


When caught early it may possible to isolate parts of the plant and repotting them as cuttings or leaves.



Once the rot has reached all the way to the top of the plant, it is unlikely to be saved.


Rot will often manifest as brown stem and leaves. Cuttings will only work if the rot has not spread to that part. Once the cut is made, you will be able to see clearly if the rot (brown) has spread.


Echeveria Romeo rot
The rot has spread throughout this Echeveria Romeo and nothing of it can be saved

Cutting off brown or mushy bits


Brown and mushy bits do not always mean rot, but they can cause it to start. So when you can see any yellowing, brown or mushy stems or leaves, cut them off.


Succulents prone to dying from overwatering


Some succulents are easier to kill by overwatering than others. In general Echeveria, especially Echeveria hybrids, Pachyphytum and Lithops can very easily die from overwatering


Below are the worst offenders when it comes to sensitivity to overwatering.


  • Some Cacti-like Euphorbia (Mammilaris & Aerigunosa)

  • Lithops

  • Fenestraria Rhophalophylla (Baby Toes

  • Bishop’s Cap (Astrophytum myriostigma).

  • Cotyledon Tomentosa & Cotyledon Tomentosa Variegata

  • Graptoveria Amethorum

  • Pachyphytum

  • Echeveria Pearl Von Nurnberg

  • Echeveria Purple Pearl

  • Echeveria Purpurosum

  • Echeveria Romeo

  • Echeveria Lauii

It is also worth remembering that sometimes, you can just get unlucky and have a plant die even when it should not be sensitive to overwatering.


I have often found a couple of rotted succulents after the rain while their hundreds of brothers and sisters in the same tray were just fine.


In conclusion, overwatered succulents that have had a bad reaction to the extra water should be quite easy to spot as their leaves will change colour to brown or yellow shades, split or turn translucent.


Fixing overwatered succulents is not difficult as long as rot hasn’t spread right across the plant.


If you found this article helpful you may also be interested in how long can succulents survive without water.