Watering Succulents and Cacti.

Watering Succulents and Cacti.

When scrolling through social media, you read some strange comments about how people look after their succulents and cacti.

I once saw someone post that, “I haven’t watered this cactus for 7 years”.  Yikes, while a cactus can go through periods of non-watering, they still require some moisture.

While we get told not to overwater cacti, they do need regular watering, especially when they are in active growth.   When I first started collecting cacti, I was told it is best to underwater, as then you can easily apply more water, if necessary.  Overwater them, especially in winter and you may have fatal consequences.

New roots, recently repotted, coldness, frosts, sitting on a drip tray, no drainage holes, stressed plant (due to bugs, etc) can all affect your plant’s ability when you overwater them.

Here’s a hint, over winter, or when you are not sure how much water to give.   Instead of pouring the water all over the plant and saturating every area, just pour the water down one side of the pot, so that a segment of the plant’s roots will have contact with the water.   Next time water a different area.

As well, most succulents and cacti can handle cold extremes, so long as they are given the ideal situation.   That is free draining soil and reduced watering over winter.   There are people in CHCH who have them outside and they do fine.  It is the cold and being constantly wet, that is the killing combination.  Of course, some varieties are more suspectable, so I am referring to general varieties for this.

Old, neglected cacti plants are often hard to water.   Often simply pouring the water on, does very little, it doesn’t soak in and just runs straight off.  A dunking is a great way of helping them uptake water again.  But not always successful.   The soil can get so hydrophobic, that no amount of dunking will work. 

A thorough repot, pruning off any dead roots, removing the worst of the old soil.   Then potting into a new, clean pot, in dry soil is the best.   Do not water in but wait a week or more, to ensure the roots have callused from the disturbance.

If you notice your plant, suddenly leans over, feels squishy, or gets new decolourisation on it, then there may be rot forming.   Plants can get rot in their roots, or anywhere on the stem.    Immediate action is required, to try and save this plant.

Remove it from the soil.   Check the roots are still ok.   Chop the squishy bits off.  Whether the rot is in the root area or the actual plant area. Keep chopping until you reach a healthy colour again.   If possible, apply some anti-fungal powder.  D earth, cinnamon, or store-bought alternative.  (Baking soda, chilli powder).  

Allowing the roots to dry off for a while before repotting, even if they haven’t been cut, won’t hurt them.   I often chop, apply powder, have a cuppa, and then come back to pot my plant.  Pot it up, but do not water it.   Let it settle for a week or more before watering.

Keep an eye on it for a few weeks, it may develop more rot, no matter how much care you have taken.


Always clean and sterilise your tools, especially between plants that are affected by something.   A jar of meths is ideal to dip your pruners in.    

I had a lovely, big, newly-acquired Euphorbia resinifera, that may have got damaged when transporting it home.   It may have been stabbed by another plant; I don’t know.   But this plant, no matter how often I tried to save it, slowly died within a couple of months.     I tried multiple times to stop the rot, but nothing worked.    

It must have had 20 heads on it.   All I managed to save, were 2 cuttings that are doing ok. 

 Cacti and succulents are often considered plants that do not need any care.   Like all plants, if they are given ideal conditions, adequate water, and fertiliser they will reward us with more steady growth and a healthy flowering display.   Cacti and succulents do not need huge amount of fertiliser, but a weak solution regularly will ensure they are kept healthy.

Some cacti will refrain from flowering and shrink in size or just turn a weak colour, if they are not getting sufficient nourishment.  A stressed plant: neglected, underfed or underwatered will be more prone to insect infestations, as the plant is already struggling. 

Remember to care for your plants and they will reward you, with strong growth and flowers.

* Plant Care over Winter

* Light Requirements, especially for succulents and cacti

Posted: Thursday 1 February 2024


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