Succulents have a reputation of being a little too sensitive to water and many people can get very conscious about watering succulents or leaving them in the rain. So will water kill succulents?
Water can certainly 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 will deal with water and lots of rain just fine.
It is important to point out that it can be impossible to give a universal advice that will apply to everybody and their plants as there is a great number of influencing factors other than the species of succulent that can alter the outcome. Below I share my experience as a nursery owner who grows their own succulents.
There are currently some 30,000 plants in our modest nursery (we used to have many more once upon a time, but have since downsized) of which about 95% grows outdoors exposed to the elements. This year has been particularly wet and it has been raining almost every other day. As a result our plants have been continually quite wet for some time.
In previous years we have been in drought and so all of our succulents were exposed to the very occasional rain we were getting. We had to water often as the temperatures were also above average.
Last year (2020) and so far this year, the rain was above average and some of our more sensitive species such as Echeveria Romeo, Echeveria Lauii, many Cotyledons, Lithops, Rhophalophyllas and some furry cacti had to be moved into polytunnels as the rain would definitely impact their appearance, cause fungal spots and would very likely completely rot some. But again, most of the plants stayed outdoors in the rain.
There are many factors, however, that will determine how well even a hardy succulent will cope with water.
Although the hardiest of succulents will grow in any bog standard potting mix, many others will not. Especially if the conditions (lots of rain, heatwaves etc.) are a bit testing. 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 in 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 little more often as the water retention of altered mixes is not great.
In the garden, succulents grow much better and are also more hardy and so no alternations to soil are required. We found succulents will grow just about anywhere in the ground as long as they are not planted in areas that can flood.
Climate can very much 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 won’t grow. 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 that are tolerant of shade such as haworthias, gasterias, ceropegia etc.). Sun loving succulents that are in too much shade/indoors are also very sensitive to overwatering and can definitely be killed by too much water and the lack of sun light.
In general, older the succulent the hardier it is. Young cuttings and small plants may react badly to overwatering (though they do need water, just not a soggy potting mix).
As mentioned above some species are particularly 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.
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.