There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of different plants that could be considered garden plants or houseplants, which means you can often end up with a plant you know nothing about.
The good news is that you can infer some aspects of care just by identifying the category of plant you have.
Common houseplants include:
- Epiphytes and climbers (the former won’t damage surfaces, but the latter can)
- Vining plants
- Trailing plants
- Flowering plants (i.e., plants grown specifically for their blooms)
- Cacti and succulents
The last two categories are closely related but have a few important differences.
When it comes to plants, one of the most important aspects is watering, and while some plants don’t mind sanding water, most don’t, and many actually like the soil to mostly dry out between waterings.
Succulents are a popular plant category that can range from tiny to massive trees.
While individual watering needs can vary significantly from one plant to another, here’s a primer on identifying your mystery plant’s succulent (with relative accuracy) and a baseline guide on watering it.
How To Water Your Succulent Plants Indoors?
Most indoor succulents can be watered when the plant’s soil is dry 2” inches down.
However, be warned that some plants, especially larger ones, may need even less water.
What Is A Succulent?
Succulents are a special type of plant that stores water in its body.
There are three major places where water might be stored.
The most famous succulents are plants such as aloe vera, which store the water in their leaves.
Another popular type of succulent, especially trees such as desert rose (Adenium obesum), store the water in a swollen organ at or just above ground level known as a caudex.
Finally, geophytes (plants that store water in their roots) are sometimes included in the category of succulents, although their inclusion varies.
Cacti are also often considered a subgroup of succulents, but they have some crucial differences. Hailing from the family Cactaceae, cacti feature protective spines.
They are explicitly adapted for arid environments, whereas the majority of succulents come from tropical regions and various ecosystems ranging from rainforests to deserts.
Note: Not All Succulents are Equal!
It’s important to identify your succulent to give it the best care, as the water needs of a succulent can vary greatly.
The good news is that the soak-and-sry method can help prevent overwatering, but knowing your plant means you may not have water nearly as often as this guide recommends.
An indoor succulent with a caudex (Desert Rose) and deep roots may only need to be watered half as often because it can access soil moisture at levels that a plant with shallower roots can’t reach.
Phone applications can be a great way to identify your plant. Simply take a picture of the plant, and the database will match it with similar plants and give you some basic info on each match.
In some cases, you’ll even have access to other plant lovers worldwide who can help identify when the database has too many matches.
Avoid Using Schedules
Any plant needs amount and frequency of water vary on several environmental factors, such as:
- Soil consistency
- Sun exposure
As a result, giving your plants specific amounts on specific days can easily lead to overwatering or underwatering.
Sadly, this method is still widely taught, despite how dangerous it can be to the plant.
The good news is that far more accurate methods, such as the soak and dry method, make proper watering a snap.
Succulents And Water Consumption
Succulents are adapted to handle periods of drought, even though many of them grow in tropical regions.
This is because they’re often competing with other plants for resources in these environments.
You can generally tell if a succulent has too much or too little water by feeling the storage organs.
Succulent leaves which feel hard and look thin are a clear sign of underwatering, as is a caudex that looks deflated.
Meanwhile, succulent leaves will feel mushy and may be discolored if the plant has too much water, and rot (stem rot, crown rot, and root rot) is a high risk when any succulent is overwatered.
The Benefits Of The Soak-And-Dry Method
The soak and dry method is a godsend to anyone worried about watering.
No method is entirely fool-proof, but this method is about as close as you can get.
Instead of waiting for the plant to show signs of stress or relying on calendars, this method pays attention to the soil itself.
This automatically accounts for all but one variable related to water consumption.
The final variable is the depth and spread of the plant’s root system.
Plants with shallow roots will need to be watered more often than those with deep roots because the latter can collect moisture further down in the pot (or garden soil) than shallow roots.
Another benefit is that this method tells you when to stop watering.
This ensures you never overwater a plant, even if you water it more often than it needs.
If you have a plant with a watering depth of 2″ to 4″ inches, you can water at any point before the dryness passes that 4″ inch mark and still be okay (although you’ll generally want to wait until it hits that earlier 2″ inch depth to save yourself time and effort).
Using The Finger Trick With Succulents
The finger trick is a quick and easy way to check soil dryness.
On an average-sized adult human hand, the distance between the tip and first knuckle of the index finger is approximately 1″ inch, and the finger itself is usually around 3″ inches from base to end.
Here are the following tips to keep in mind:
- If you have smaller or larger hands, you can place your finger beside a ruler to discover where each inch is.
- Stick your finger straight down in the soil.
- Since we don’t know the species or cultivar of the succulent, aim for a safe depth of 2″ inches.
- If it feels dry at that depth, the plant needs watering, but you can wait a while longer if it’s still damp.
- Pull your finger straight back out if you can’t tell from feeling alone.
- Damp soil will be darker and stick to the finger, while dry soil won’t.
- As a backup, you can stick a popsicle stick or bamboo chopstick into the soil to the correct depth and leave it there for 20 to 30 minutes.
- When you pull it out, you should be able to see any moisture visibly.
Using The Soak-And-Dry Method With Succulents
The big trick to using the soak and dry method is to pour slowly.
You’ve got a good flow rate if you start pouring and the soil immediately soaks it up.
Using room temperature water, pour slowly and evenly, working your way around the plant.
Avoid getting the plant or its foliage wet, as this can lead to rot, sunburn, or infection if the water doesn’t evaporate quickly.
Two basic signs indicate the soil is saturated and it’s time to stop watering, such as:
- When the soil surface can no longer absorb as fast as you’re pouring (this sign will also work on outdoor plants).
- When you see moisture beginning to seep from the pot’s drainage holes.
You only need to see one of these signs, at which point the plant will have just the right amount of water for its needs.