When I first came across the question “Are self watering pots good for succulents?”, my first reaction was to say “No”. This is because I know that succulents definitely don’t want to be overwatered and their soil needs to dry out completely before any more water is added.
While self-watering pots are great for other indoor plants such as African violets, snake plants or other tropical plants, they may not be a good choice for succulents.
Overwatering Is One Of The Most Common Reasons That Succulents Die
One of the most common fail rates for succulent growers can be attributed to overwatering. By their very nature, succulents have water-retention properties. These allow them to survive in sometimes very harsh conditions where rainfall is minimal.
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They do this by storing water in their stems, leaves and roots. This sustains the plants during long periods of dry weather. Then, when it rains again, the plants fill up their water reservoirs and so the cycle continues.
If the plants receive more water than they can store, the plant cells become waterlogged and are in danger of bursting because they just can’t hold any more water.
Additionally, if succulent roots are left sitting in water for any length of time, they become mushy and root rot sets in.
So, when you think about self-watering pots, you would immediately think about the water reservoir at the bottom of the pot that holds the water until it’s used up and you have to refill it.
However, when you consider this logically, the water reservoir sits well below the soil level in the base of the pot. Therefore, it’s quite possible that the roots of the succulent wouldn’t actually be sitting in water at all.
To evaluate whether self-watering pots are good for succulents, let’s first have a look at exactly how they work and how the stored water replenishes the plant.
How Self-Watering Containers Work
A self-watering pot has numerous parts to it. There’s the pot itself that holds the soil and supports the roots of the plant.
Below the pot is a water reservoir that you fill and then this will keep the plant watered until the water is all used up and you have to refill it again.
The other component of a self-watering pot is the wicking system. This is how the water is absorbed into the soil making it available to the plant’s roots.
In addition, most self-watering pots also have a water level indicator that lets you know when the water level is low so that you can refill it.
So, let’s have a look at the major self-watering components to see how they work.
The Water Reservoir
The water reservoir is usually a separate compartment that just sits in the base of the pot. This is the section that you fill with water and keeps the plant moist.
For many succulents, it can be a good way of watering them because you’re not saturating the soil and waiting for excess water to drain away.
The Wicking System
In many self-watering pots, the wicking system consists of some sort of material that connects the water in the reservoir with the soil in the pot.
Essentially, wicking works using a capillary action. Through this action, the water is drawn upwards along the wick so that it can be absorbed by the soil.
In some cases, the wicking material can be made from cotton or even a porous terracotta-type material. Think of it as being similar to the wick in a candle.
The Water Level Indicator
The water level indicator shows you how much water is left in the reservoir so that you can top it up when necessary so that your plants get enough water. It could be a clear window in the side of the reservoir section or a float marker that shows the level of the water clearly.
To show you exactly how these components make up self watering pots, here are a few examples I found on Amazon.
With this planter, the reservoir is actually a hard plastic pot in which you place another pot that holds the soil and the plant roots. There’s a separator in the base of the plastic pot that your pot plant can sit on.
Then, there are two pieces of cotton rope that act as the wicks. The plastic reservoir or container is opaque so you can see exactly where the water level is.
The unit comes complete with the inner pot for your plant which has 12 drainage holes. These will certainly give the plants good drainage.
I like the versatility of this planter because you can either have it as a standing pot or attach the included hanging chains. This makes it ideal for succulents that like to spill out over the edge of the pot.
These pots also come in a small range of different colors to suit your interior decor.
I would definitely give these a try with some hardy succulents. But, my advice would be to put water in the bottom reservoir first and place your pot inside. Then, when the water level goes down, remove the plant and fill the reservoir before putting the plant back in.
If you just water the soil in the pot plant, the excess water will drain through and discolor the water in the reservoir.
This is a similar type of self-watering pot that I think would be suitable for succulents. It looks like the roots of the plants sit well above the water level which is great. The water is also wicked into the soil using cotton rope.
What I like about these is that you can just fill the reservoir through the lip opening near the base of the pot. This means that you don’t have to lift the plant out to fill the water reservoir. You just have to be careful not to overfill it.
What To Avoid
While researching different types of self-watering pots, there are definitely some that I would avoid when it comes to growing succulents.
Firstly, you want to avoid those pots that are designed for orchids. These pots have a net-style inner with holes all around. I think that these might just keep the mix too damp for healthy succulents.
Plus, the huge number of holes will not hold the organic matter that succulents need to grow in. Primarily, they’re designed for orchids which a mainly grown in pine bark.
You also want to avoid self-watering labeled pots that are just plant pots with saucers under them. These are definitely not a good idea for succulents because there’s the danger of the roots constantly sitting in water.
I’ve also seen pots that have the wick going from the water reservoir into the top of the plant pot using a cotton wick. With these types of pots, I believe the soil might get too damp. Having the wick going through the base of the pot or a drainage hole is a much better idea for succulents.
You also want to avoid using those self-watering spikes in your succulent pots as these will keep the soil constantly moist. This is definitely not something you want when growing succulents.
Most succulent species need the soil to dry out in between watering to remain healthy.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of Using Self-Watering Systems for Succulents
As you would imagine, there are both advantages and disadvantages to using self-watering pots for succulents. These are the same whether you use plastic or ceramic pots.
- If used correctly, there’s less chance of overwatering your plants.
- With careful monitoring, it’s easy to provide your succulents the drier conditions that they need.
- These pots can take the guesswork out of keeping your succulents hydrated.
- If not used correctly, there’s a danger that your plants will be overwatered.
- These pots are not suitable for succulents such as cacti which can go for months without needing extra water.
- They require adequate monitoring early on to ensure that the growth mix is not staying moist all the time.
- While self-watering plants are great for frequent travelers to maintain a consistent moisture level, when you grow succulents in them, they’ll need closer monitoring to avoid soggy conditions.
Top Tips For Using Self-Watering Pots To Grow Succulent Plants
Here are some tips that I can suggest when using self-watering pots to grow succulents.
- When you first set up the self-watering system, ensure that the mix in the plant pot has been watered and all the excess water has been allowed to drain away before putting this into the planter and on top of the reservoir.
- Always use a proprietary succulent mix that is open and airy and drains well.
- Monitor the level of the water in the reservoir and don’t fill it right up in the beginning. Just fill it halfway and then check how long it takes for the plant to use up the water. If you have less water in the reservoir, there’s less chance of overwatering your succulents.
- Be sure to monitor your plant carefully for the first month or so to ensure that it’s not getting too much water.
- You also want to monitor the moisture level in the soil. If the soil is constantly damp, empty the reservoir and let the soil dry out completely before you add in any more water. Succulents will not thrive in constantly moist soil.
Frequently Asked Questions
While many succulent species can be grown in self-watering pots with good monitoring to ensure that the soil does not stay damp all the time, cacti should not be grown in these types of pots.
Succulents that are being overwatered will often display leaves and stems that become soft, wrinkled and mushy. Some leaves may even become translucent. Plus, the leaves will drop off the plant.
If used correctly, self-watering planters should not cause root rot. This is because the water in the reservoir sits below the level of the soil and hence, the roots aren’t constantly sitting in water.
For succulents, it’s best to always fill the reservoir from the bottom rather than through the soil that the plant is growing in.
If you’re a succulent grower, you might have been wondering whether self-watering pots are good for growing succulents. While there are a variety of different self-watering planters that are good for growing these plants, there are also some that you should avoid.
If you choose to use a self-watering pot to grow your succulents, just make sure that you monitor the plant effectively. Always ensure that the soil is not constantly damp. You also want to avoid growing cacti species in these pots because they really need dry soil in between watering.
As long as you understand the concept of avoiding overwatering your succulents, you should be able to grow them in suitable self-watering planters without a problem.
Plus, there’s a wide range of different types of plants that you can grow very successfully in these types of pots. This allows you to create a wonderful indoor garden using the best plants for each spot in your home.