How to Water Succulents in Pots without Drainage

There are some amazing planters and pots for succulents that don’t have drainage holes. Find out how to properly water your succulents in one of them!

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Figuring out how often to water your succulents can be tricky. But, it’s usually even harder in pots without a drainage hole.

Succulents need their roots to dry out quickly.

They don’t like to sit in water for more than a day or two and will begin to rot if they stay wet for much longer.

This is why I highly recommend using pots with a drainage hole when you are first starting out with succulents. However, if you’re growing succulents indoors, it’s likely you want a pot without a drainage hole so you can keep your succulents on the counter and not worry about water coming out the bottom of the pot.

This post on watering succulents is just what I needed! Now my succulents are thriving!
Echeveria ‘Lola’, Echeveria pulidonis, Sempervivum ‘Cebenese’, Echeveria ‘Blue Curls’

Let me tell you a few simple ways to make watering succulents in pots without a drainage hole easier.

Well-draining soil

Using a well draining soil is extremely important for pots without drainage because it allows for more airflow. Even though the water still has nowhere to flow out, it’s easier for the water to evaporate if the soil has large particles (1/4″ or 6mm is ideal).

I generally use the gritty mix from Bonsai Jack, however, I also frequently use pumice in glass containers. The pumice tends to look a little cleaner in the glass.

Find out how to water your succulents in a glass or non-draining container!
Gasteria ‘Marble’

Adding larger materials to the bottom is a way that people frequently “add drainage” to a pot. However, this actually causes problems for succulents because it causes water to pool at the bottom of the pot. Then, the soil at the top of the pot traps the water in making it harder for the water to evaporate.

Using a consistent particle size, about 1/4″ (6mm) throughout your planter is the best way to allow water to evaporate quickly.

Measure it out

One of the biggest problems with a non-draining pot is knowing how much water you’ve poured in. Glass containers are helpful because you can see the water level as you’re pouring the water on.

However, this isn’t the case with many non-draining planters.

I recommend measuring out the amount of water you pour on your plants.

You can do this a variety of ways. The simplest is to use a measuring cup, which you likely already have at home.

Use a measuring cup to get the perfect amount of water for your succulents

Another great option is this squeeze bottle from my favorite garden tools set. It has measurements on the side so you can see how much water is in the bottle.

This post was just what I needed to keep my succulents alive!
Haworthia fasciata

My friends at Lula’s Garden send out an adorable pipette with each of their arrangements. I use four pipettes full of water on each succulent in my jewel garden. It’s easy to do and doesn’t make a mess!

Using a pipette can be a great way to water succulents in a container without a drainage hole
Haworthia fasciata, Crassula perforata from Lula’s Garden

You can also use any sort of cup or even measuring spoons. The key is simply to pour on a designated amount of water. If you use your kitchen sink or a watering can, it’s hard to know how much water your succulent is getting and it’s easy to overflow the pot or give it too much water.

How much water

The trickiest part about watering succulents without drainage is knowing how much water it needs.

The goal is to pour on enough water that all the soil gets wet but avoid having excess water pool at the bottom of the pot.

If you happen to pour on too much water, you can use a rag or paper towels to try and absorb some of it. If your pot is fairly small, you may be able to pour the excess water off.

Use a rag to absorb excess water if you pour too much on your succulents

Different soil types retain different amounts of water, so even after you decide on an amount of water to give your succulents, you’ll need to keep an eye out for symptoms of watering problems.

That said, I generally recommend pouring on water equal to half the volume of your planter. So, if your planter holds about a cup of soil, you’ll pour on 1/2 cup of water.

Use this as a starting point and, again, adjust as needed based on what your plant tells you over the next few weeks. Both the amount of water you use and the frequency of watering will determine how healthy your succulent is.

Measuring out a specific amount of water is the best way to keep succulents alive in a planter without a drainage hole
Recommended tools for watering non-draining planters: measuring cup, squeeze bottle, pipette (from Lula’s Garden)

How often to water

I get asked this question over and over and the answer is simple:

Water only when the soil is completely dry.

Stop killing your succulents! Learn how to water succulents in non-draining planters
Graptosedum ‘California Sunset’, Haworthia fasciata from Lula’s Garden

Watering on a set weekly or bi-weekly schedule doesn’t always work out.

Watering when the soil is dry (rather than on a set schedule) is especially important for non-draining pots because the water doesn’t dry out as quickly as it does in a pot with a drainage hole. This means your succulent has access to water longer and will likely survive with more time between watering.

How to tell when the soil is dry

There are a variety of ways to tell when the soil is dry, but the best method is to check the weight of your pot. Start by pouring on your pre-determined amount of water.

Next, lift the pot with both hands (unless it’s super tiny). Move it up and down to get an idea of how much it weighs. Then over the next few days lift it from time to time. When the water has evaporated completely, you’ll find there is a noticeable difference in weight.

Combine Jovibarbas and Sedums to make a beautiful succulent rock garden
Jovibarba heuffelii ‘Passat’, Sedum seiboldii, Jovibarba hirta ‘Hedge hog’, Sempervivum viliosum

I recommend allowing it another 2-3 days of drying time before watering again unless you have a very thin leaved succulent like a Portulacaria afra.

If your pot is too heavy to lift, you can stick a skewer down into the soil. Let it sit in the soil for about 30 seconds or so and then pull it out. If it’s still wet, wait to water. If it’s dry you should be fine to water again, although I recommend giving it another couple of days just to be safe. This is the method recommended by Lula’s Garden and they include a skewer with their arrangements.

Another option is to use a water meter. I haven’t personally found these to be very helpful, but I know a few people who swear by them. If you’re having a hard time with your watering schedule this may be worth a try.

What to do if you encounter problems

In an ideal world it would be easy for me to tell you to water once a week and all your plants will be perfectly healthy, but that just isn’t the case. It takes some experimenting to figure out what watering “schedule” is good for your plants.

Pay attention to the leaves of your succulents over time. If you start to notice your succulents are getting limp and withered or juicy and mushy, you’ll want to gradually change how you water. You can see more signs of watering problems here.

If your plants aren’t getting enough water (limp and withered) you’ll likely want to increase the amount of water you give them and maintain the same frequency. However, if you only water once a month it’s more likely that the frequency of watering is the issue.

Limp and dried out leaves are a sign your succulent isn't getting enough water
Portulacaria afra variegata

The stem and leaves should be firm when watered properly. If they start to become a bit transparent and look extra juicy, or if the leaves fall off with a very slight bump, you’ve likely over watered. In this case, cut back on the frequency of watering.

If you’re only watering once a month because the soil stays wet for a long time, you’ll want to change the amount of water instead of the frequency as well as re-evaluate your soil.

Leaves that look juicy and a bit transparent are a sign your succulent is getting too much water
Echeveria ‘Morning Beauty’

Making gradual changes is very important. If you suddenly start watering every other day when you had only been watering every 2-3 weeks your succulent is going to quickly begin to rot.

On the flip side, if you were watering daily and then cut back to once a month your succulent is going to dry out too quickly and die.

Knowing how to water succulents in pots without drainage takes some extra effort and will require you to pay a bit more attention to your succulents than if they were in a planter with a drainage hole. However, non-draining planters are a great option for using succulents in your home decor.

 

17 Responses to How to Water Succulents in Pots without Drainage

  1. Great information..you answered many of my watering questions…I do drill a hole in planters that don’t have them . It’s just easier. But…I don’t want to ruin pretty ones either so measuring amounts of water was a great tip. Thanks.

  2. So using rocks/pebbles at the bottom of a non-draining pot is not a good idea? I have an Earth Star sitting in a glass vase with rocks at the bottom and it hasn’t had issues. I’m planning on making polymer pots so I want to be sure if I should add drainage holes or just use the pebbles. (I also use vermiculite as my soil)

    Thanks!

    • From my experience adding draining holes is very worth it. It makes watering easier and keeps my succulents happy and healthy. The biggest issue with the rocks at the bottom is it limits the amount of soil. It can work but if your soil particle size is dramatically different than the rocks it is more likely to be problematic.

  3. Love your articles. Thankyou so much. Question. Can succulents be planted in straight pumice? Wondering if I understood that correctly.

    • Glad I could help! Yes, that is correct. Pumice is still a good soil choice for the water to get through and can also allow the roots to grow healthy within it.

  4. Hi, I have a succulent that seems to be dying. I have only had it for about a month. I am not sure of the name, but it is a dark green colour and has leaves that go out in sort of a can I feel like I have given an adequate amount of water, but not too much. The succulent has been in my room for awhile, but the light didn’t seem great so for the past few days it has been outside. Lots of mini flies are surrounding it, and it is flopping over and shrivelling up. Please help! :(
    Thanks

  5. my succulents have been outside and doing well. last year i moved to a warmer area and they survived not being watered for months. Lately we have had some down pour of 3 inches of rain for several days. im worried they are drowning. should i re-pot all? i would like to combind all my small planters into three large planters. another concern in the depth . what can i use as filler at the bottom?

    Thank You for your time,
    BlueSkies, Teresa

  6. I’m planning to make pots for succulents on my pottery wheel. as you said some people don’t want a drain whole because they want them inside. do you have some suggestions for this? shape or size that would help maybe… what about a ridge with a mesh screen where water can fall through to bottom of pot? There’s a sample of my first attempt on my website.
    http://www.fairfield-studios.com/
    thank you!

    • That sounds like fun, I love making pottery! If there is no drainage hole, then it is best for the pot to be shallow. This will allow the soil to still dry out quickly. Another option would be to make a matching plate to catch the water draining out.

  7. I have been making miniature gardens for a few years with succulents. Less water is better for sure. I use a spray bottle to get straight to the individual plants in a garden scene, it also help to not get the accessories wet thst are in the garden. Best rule of thumb I know is to feel the soil with your finger. My grandmomma always told me just give them a little drink!

Let us know what you think!

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My adventure with succulents started with three small plants on the window sill of my basement apartment. Within a year I had propagated them and purchased more, totaling over 100 plants!

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