Are All Succulents Drought Tolerant?

Drought Tolerant Succulent

Succulents are well known for their ability to withstand extreme conditions. On the other hand, all plants are different. A good question to ask is if all succulents are drought tolerant. 

Mostly all succulents are drought tolerant because of their water-efficient system. Their wide, shallow roots make the most of every watering while their thick leaves hold water when the plant needs it. Other features such as thin hairs on the leaves help the plant to retain moisture.

If you live in a dry climate but want to spruce up your home or garden with plants, knowing what succulents can thrive in extreme environments is helpful. Even though there are many succulents out there, they have a lot of common features when it comes to water-efficiency. This article will describe why most succulents are drought-tolerant and give you some things to look for when buying a drought-tolerant succulent. 

Know the Difference Between Drought Tolerance and Drought Resistance

Before we get into the article’s main topic, it is essential to know the difference between drought-tolerant and drought-resistant plants. Many people think they are the same thing, but the difference is quite significant. 

Drought tolerance is when a plant can survive a long time with only a small amount of water. Many plants that are drought tolerant reside in areas with minimal rainfall. Even though they can survive with only a small amount of water, they would still die if they received no water at all for long periods. 

On the other hand, when a plant is drought resistant, it can survive for months without any water at all. Since these two terms mean different things, you should be sure to know if your plant is drought tolerant or drought-resistant; otherwise, you could quickly kill it. 

Most Succulents Are Drought Tolerant

Succulents are widely known for being easy to care for and hard to kill because they are native to arid climates. These types of environments are very dry and get under 10 inches of rain annually. 

Not all succulents are drought tolerant. There are a select few that do need more water than once a week. When you purchase a new succulent, make sure to read the tag that comes with the plant, talk to an experienced gardener, or ask the salesperson how to care for it. 

That being said, most succulents are drought tolerant because of their unique ways of storing and conserving water. The plants are meant to gain and hold water for long periods. Let’s take a look at why succulents are drought tolerant. 

Why Are Most Succulents Drought Tolerant? 

Succulents have a few different features that keep them thriving in dry environments. Many succulents have little to no leaves, and the ones that do shed their leaves in the dry months. This helps retain the water in the plant since moisture can easily escape through broad leaves. 

Furthermore, the stems and leaves of succulents are water-proof since they have waxy cuticles that retain the leaves’ water. 

Succulents are also considered CAM plants. CAM is short for Crassulacean Acid Metabolism, which is a different type of photosynthesis. CAM plants open their stomates at night and absorb carbon dioxide. Then during the day, their stomates close, and the process of photosynthesis can occur. This whole process saves a lot more water than normal photosynthesis does. CAM plants only lose one-tenth of water compared to other plants. 

Most succulents also have roots that spread far and wide around the plant, just under the soil. This way, when it rains, it is easy for the shallow roots to absorb the water. Some plants also have small hairs on the stems and leaves to protect the plant from the sun and dry temperatures. This also helps the plant to retain water. 

As you can see, the main job of almost all succulents is to absorb as much water as they can. It then uses the different features listed above to keep that water inside the plant not to dry out. 

How to Know if Your Succulent Is Drought Tolerant

Even though most succulents are drought-tolerant, some may not be. Fortunately, there are ways to tell if your succulent can thrive in dry conditions. Let’s look at a few. 

When They Have Thick, Fleshy Leaves

Succulents that have thick, fleshy leaves are most likely drought tolerant. This is because those thick leaves have water stored inside of them. The stored water will stay in the leaves until the plant is in dire need of moisture. 

When the Leaves Have a Grey Color to Them

Another effortless way to spot a suitable plant for dry conditions is when the leaves look a bit grey. You can look for dull green and blue colors as well. This odd coloring is due to the small hairs on the plant’s leaves. As mentioned earlier, those hairs protect the leaves from the hot sun, which lowers the amount of lost water. 

Furthermore, some succulents have flowers. You can also look for hairs that are on the flowers too! If you spot those, that plant will be drought-tolerant. 

When the Succulent Has Small Leaves

If the succulent you are looking at has small leaves, it is most likely resistant to dry climates. This is because the less surface area there is, the less amount of water lost. Plants that have broad leaves lose more water much quicker. 

If the Leaves Have a Coating of Wax or Oil

Many drought-tolerant succulents have a coating of wax or even oil on their leaves. If your succulent has a shiny surface, it most likely has a coating. This coating will keep water from escaping. It will also protect the plant from harsh conditions. 

If Your Succulent Has Vertical Leaves

Many succulents have leaves that lay vertically instead of horizontally. A lot of other plants have their leaves horizontal to receive the most sun possible. This is not ideal for succulents. So if your succulent has vertical leaves, it will most likely be a drought-tolerant succulent. This is because it can avoid the harsh mid-afternoon sun. The vertical leaves will keep its temperature low, and therefore make it easier to retain moisture. 

Even though succulents have a lot of similar qualities to each other, there will still be differences. The Gardener’s Guide to Succulents is a great resource for those looking for more information on specific kinds of succulents. The book has information on over 125 different succulents!

Succulents Need More Water in Their Growing Season

Even though succulents are made to thrive in dry conditions, their growing season is something to keep in mind. Most succulents have a rapid growing season in the spring and summer. This means that they take water from their roots at a much higher rate than it does in the winter. During their growing season, you can water it up to three times a week. 


Mostly all succulents are drought tolerant. This is because many different features help them retain water efficiently. First of all, many drought-tolerant succulents have small, thick, and fleshy leaves. The small leaves decrease the amount of moisture lost since they have a low surface area. Furthermore, the leaves are thick because they hold water inside of them to use later. 

The leaves also have a coating of either wax or oil. This keeps the water inside the leaves secure and protects the plant from the hot sun and harsh, dry climate conditions. Many succulents have hair on the flowers and leaves as well. This is another feature that protects the plant from extreme conditions. Lastly, succulents have wide, shallow roots to make the most of each watering. 

Tina Painter

Tina Painter is a Succulent Plant Advisor. She is interested in helping others learn the proper care, maintenance, and growth of healthy succulent plants. Tina is well known as a succulent lover and is in the process of developing her "Growing Succulents Masterclass for Succulent Lovers." She also loves creating artistic and whimsical gardens with succulents.

Recent Posts