How to Save an Overwatered Succulent? a Practical Guide

Succulents the marvelous plants with their thick fleshy leaves of various color are heart warmers where ever we see them. You may be a fan of regular flowering plants, but then also when you see that succulent section in the garden nurseries they just pull you towards them.

There are many varieties of succulents some with rosette leaves, some with no leaf like structure but fleshy round or elongated green growth. They can be of varying shapes, size, and color. So now you decided to take a few or one home. The plant looks healthy and growing well. You take good care of the plant like your other plants. 

We have placed it in succulent mix, watered it and provided adequate light, but after a few days or month you start to notice that the plant leaves are dropping one by one. Now we go into panic mode we are not sure what we are doing wrong we try everything but the leaves just keep falling off and finally the succulent dies. 

This problem might be due to rotting, rotting can occur in roots, stem or leaves. The main reason for rotting is fungal or bacterial attack which can be due to overwatering, water logging etc.

In this topic we will see how we how to save an overwatered succulent.

Identifying an overwatered succulent

how to save an overwatered succulent

Now how can you identify if the succulent has been over watered or whether the reason that your succulent look limply with leaves falling off is due to over watering or under watering or any other reason. If you have been watering your succulent on a regular basis and you start to notice the below mentioned symptoms on your succulents then this might be a case of overwatering. A healthy succulent plant would have plump, fleshy leaves which are firm to touch and not mushy.

  • The plant looks very sick in appearance
  • Discolouration of leaves – light or translucent leaves 
  • Leaves feel soft and mushy to touch
  • Leaves fall off very easily with slight touch
  • Stem might have slight discolouration like brown or black spot

These are some of the points that you need to keep an eye on in case of overwatered succulent.

The discoloration and squishy leaves occur because the leaves take up extra water and store the excess water in storage cells. This causes the water run through the leaf which causes a discoloration of the leaf and as the leaf begins to rot the leaves feel squishy. 

The discolored leaf can finally turn black as it start to rot from the inside, this indicate that the plant is rotting or has caught a fungal disease due to excess water intake.

Overwatered plant leaves also drop off very easily as the leaves swell up with water.

Types of rotting

Mainly three types of rotting can occur in succulents

how to save an overwatered succulent

Leaf rot – here the leaves take up too much water and start to get infected with fungus causing it to rot. The succulent can be saved if we follow a few steps.

Stem rot – black spot or colouration occur from inside the stem 

Root rot – with root rot the root get damaged and there will be root loss. Half of the root can be destroyed due to this causing the plant to shrivel up as water and nutrient intake is stopped. In this case the leaves look like the plant is under watered but the issue is overwatering.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of succulent is necessary to identify what type of rotting occurred on the succulent. For this we may have to dig up the succulent, don’t worry the succulents can survive even repotting after digging it up. If the root look fine and there is no damage then there is no root rot issue. It might be due to stem rot which might be occurring just below the soil. After the diagnosis and accessing how much damage the succulent is in, we can start the treatment of the succulent. Succulents can survive most of the rot if diagnosed early and cared for.

Based on the type of rot and extend of rotting we can save the succulent. 

how to save an overwatered succulent?

Root rot

if the root rot is slight we can still save the plant. The roots are the most essential part of the plant as they help to absorb water and nutrients. Once the plant has been dug out and the damage is minimum then we can just take it out of the pot and squeeze out excess water if any, then just leave the plant out of the container for it to dry up for two days.

The soil dries up and this prevents the root rot from developing further.

If the root rot is severe, with most of the root rotted away then we need to remove the plant from the container. 

Rinse the plant root to remove the excess soil and cut away the rotted roots.  Discard the soil as it might contain fungi so it is best to not use the soil washing the container also help to remove the fungi. Keep the plant aside for a few days so that the roots dry out before you pot them again.

Stem rot

if the stem rot is slight then the rotting section can be separated and the plant salvaged. Cut the stem at the rot and check for any rot inside the stem. If there are any rots inside the stem then we need to completely remove the rot or cut away the part completely. 

Now leave the succulent out for two to three days so that the cut is callused over. Once the stem is callused over we can plant the succulent in a good well drained soil mix and water it only when the soil is really dry. We can also use rooting hormone to accelerate the root growth. In a few week we can observe that the roots would have developed from the cut area and the succulent is growing.

Leaf rot

in case of leaf rot immediately remove the rotten leafs. Check if any root or stem rot is there, if any amputate the portion and salvage whatever is left of the plant.

In case there are healthy leafs you can place them on soil top after the base callus over in a fresh container with soil mix and keep spraying water lightly so that the top soil is wet. Now in a few weeks you would be able to see roots emerging from the leaf base, soon new tiny growth will appear and in a few month you would have new plant which is the clone of mother plant.

Echeveria is a succulent that is commonly prone to rotting due to overwatering. 

Steps to salvage overwatered succulent

  • Remove the plant from the potting mix 
  • Discard and clean the pot thoroughly
  • Check for the signs of rot
  • If root rot or stem rot or leaves rot are there remove the rotted portion
  • Clean the salvaged part
  • Leave it out to dry for few days to callus over
  • If the roots are salvageable then pot them in fresh succulent mix and water moderately
  • Water only when the top 2 inches of the soil feels very dry
  • Monitor succulents for any signs of rot
  • Any healthy part left can be propagated to give new plants
  • Always use a plant with good drainage
  • Use succulent mix soil for healthy succulent

Prevent overwatering

There are few steps that you can take to prevent overwatering. Some steps that can help you have a healthy succulent.

Pot with good drainage

It is important to have a good drainage pot. Holes in the bottom of the pot help to remove excess water. Plastic pots can retain water in the soil and can take time to dry out the soil so instead using a terracotta, clay etc., will accelerate the drying of the soil and remove the excess water or moisture in the soil.

While using plastic pots the frequency of watering may need to be reduced as the soil will retain the moisture longer than the case of terracotta. Whatever pot you are using it is important to remember to let the soil dry completely before the next watering 

Succulent mix soil

A good soil mix is important for healthy succulent growth. If we use the regular potting mix for succulent it can quickly lead to rotting, as the soil retains more moisture.

For succulents the ideal soil would be a mixture that allows quick drainage and also provide aeration. Many succulent or cactus mix are available in the market which serves the purpose of succulent growth. 

You can also create your own succulent mixture by mixing garden soil, coarse sand (not fine grain), perlite, peat moss or coir. The content should be mixed so that it provide good aeration and retain moisture to a small amount as possible.

Set a water schedule

To avoid overwatering another good practice to keep in mind is to have a water schedule. Set a routine to water you succulents instead of watering them daily. Most potted succulents need to be watered only once in a week (this depends on the temperature of your area). By checking the soil moisture between watering’s set a constant schedule and stick to it. 

Measure the water level

Another great step to take for preventing overwatering is to measure how much water you are supplying your potted succulents. For this you can use a measuring cup or a large syringe with marking so that you get good idea of how much water you are giving to your succulent.

You can also check the soil moisture before watering the succulent by inserting your fingers into the soil mix and if it feels moist then don’t water, the drawback of this is that the top soil may be dry but the deeper soil may be wet. 

Another method is by using a stick or bamboo skewer, insert the skewer down into the pot and then take it out if moisture is present then while taking out the skewer the surface will be covered by dirt indicating that the soil is wet. So we should avoid watering.

Spray bottle

Spraying water on the succulents can also be a positive way to help succulent growth. We need to be careful when spraying the succulents the water should not get logged into the leaves or stems. Water logging can cause growth of bacteria or fungi and this can also lead to rotting. So the best step to take is to spray water on the soil away from the stem and leaves of the succulents.

Dormancy period

Succulents generally go into a dormant period during cold weather and during this period the plant growth will be very slow and it doesn’t require as much as water as during growing period. So while watering keep in mind the water requirement during dormancy period of the succulents. It is also essential to know the species of succulent you have so that you know when is the dormancy period of each plant and when to limit the water requirement.

special plants

Some species of succulents are very sensitive to water so it is best to have a thorough knowledge of the species you have and the water requirement it has. Few plants like lithops, echeveria are particularly sensitive to water. It is best to water these plants when the soil turns dry. We can also water the plant when the leaves shrivel a little. 

Conclusion

Succulents are wonderful plants that require care from us. They can grow brilliant as per the care provided by us or they can perish due to inadequate care. Succulents can be said to be fuzzy about their requirements. 

It is important to give the succulents what they require like light, soil and water. Potted succulents require more care than garden planted succulents. Water is the most important element required by all the plant the same goes for succulent too much or too little can leads to damage of the succulent. 

Most of the succulent death occur by overwatering so we need to keep in mind the water level, period of dormancy, water frequency etc. while watering. By keeping these few details in mind we can grow beautiful healthy succulents.

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