Do you ever feel like you struggle with overwatering your succulent? Are you done trying to figure out if your succulent needs or doesn't need water? If this sounds familiar, then you should try a semi-hydroponic setup.
Semi-hydroponics is a way to raise different plants that takes the guess-work out of watering plants. Succulents, in particular, often flourish in such a setup.
Hydroponics is a type of horticulture where plants are grown without soil using a nutrient solution. This frequently entails using active pumps to pump nutrient solutions along the roots of plants.
Semi-hydroponics, as the name implies, is a form of hydroponics. However, instead of having the plants' roots grow in water, it utilizes an inert medium to wick the appropriate amounts of moisture to the plants’ roots.
This method of raising plants was initially developed to grow orchids, but many other plants, including succulents, actually thrive in a similar setup.
The most frequent mistake made when taking care of succulents is overwatering. This can occur with either too frequent watering or watering at a higher quantity than a succulent needs. When the succulent’s roots sit in constant humidity, it promotes root rot.
Root rot, however, occurs mainly because the roots cannot breathe in a water-logged medium. Without proper gas exchange, toxins build up and the root eventually rots.
In semi-hydroponics, the air circulation is abundant, and therefore, root rot does not occur as frequently. In fact, with the proper setup, it is almost impossible to overwater a succulent.
In a semi-hydroponic system, there is always available moisture and food source for your succulent. This helps to eliminate the stress that succulents go through when they lack moisture or when it is only intermittently available. For this reason, many succulents grow faster in semi-hydroponics.
Semi-hydroponic setups rely on a proper nutrient solution for the succulent to grow. In soil, organic matter in the soil can provide the necessary nutrients for growth.
However, in semi-hydroponic setups, the medium is inert so it cannot provide nutrients to the succulents. Therefore, every time you water your succulent in a semi-hydroponic setup, you will need to feed it a fertilizer solution.
To set up a semi-hydroponic system, you will need to buy an inert medium. Keep reading below for my recommended setup, which uses LECA pebbles that are readily available and relatively inexpensive.
Setting up a semi-hydroponic system is not difficult and is not expensive, but it does require planning.
Any container that is longer vertically than it is horizontally will work.
Some people use glass containers, but I prefer using cylindrical take-out containers. They are inexpensive and very effective. They also require less work to drill a hole into.
I spray paint my semi-hydroponic containers. This prevents the nutrient solution from being exposed to the sun and thereby prevents algae growth.
This step is purely optional. Many hobbyists prefer their containers to be clear so that they can see the water level remaining in their containers.
Drill two holes into your container roughly 1.5-2 inches from the bottom of the container. I tend to drill my holes 2 inches above the bottom of the container so I could wait longer before re-watering.
Whichever height you choose, make sure that both holes are at the same height. I recommend you to measure it out with a ruler.
I highly recommend buying lightweight expanded clay aggregates (LECA). The original brand name is Hydroton, but you can use any LECA pebbles on the market.
These clay pebbles are extremely porous and wick water upwards in the container. Best of all, they are inexpensive and can be reused.
Put your LECA pebbles in a vessel and
rinse it out with water until you no longer see orange-ish particles
in the water. Soak the LECA in water for about 30 minutes and then
rinse it out once last time before putting it into your plastic
This step is likely the most challenging part of the process.
As carefully as possible, take your succulent out of the soil that it is growing in. Lightly put its roots under a faucet and try to eliminate as much the surrounding soil as possible.
Put your succulent’s roots into the container and lightly surround it with LECA pebbles.
The final step is to cut a slit and a hole in your container's lid so it can surround your succulent. The point of this is to allow for more humidity to remain within the container.
Once your semi-hydroponic setup is complete, watering is quite simple.
Water with an appropriate fertilizer solution whenever the container is dry. Fill the container rapidly so that the fertilizer solution reaches the top. This will saturate the medium and refill the reservoir as the solution drains down to the level of the drain holes.
Generally speaking, you will be watering once every 1-2 weeks depending on your ambient humidity and heat.
You can leave your setup inside your house near a window to fulfill your succulent's sun requirements or you can even leave it outside.
Again, no need to worry if it rains as the rain will flush out of the drain holes. This might change the fertilizer solution's actual concentration, but this is okay for short periods. I would still strive to water your succulent with fertilizer solution once every 1-2 weeks.
After the initial transplant, succulents tend to grow slowly as they adapt their roots to the new environment. Don't fret if you do not see much growth for one month. After about a month, you should notice that all of a sudden, your succulent will grow rapidly as long as it is receiving the proper amount of sun.
Jeffrey is a practicing physician who enjoys planting in the garden and raising succulents and orchids as a hobby.
He loves science, and as such, enjoys trying to find techniques to raise plants that can be as controlled as possible.
In his free time, he enjoys reading, learning new topics, and drinking wine. He also has a blog that is about all things related to planting called The Green Pinky