If you love succulent plants, you need to know how to air dry them as part of their routine care and for certain circumstances. While there are many components that contribute to a healthy succulent, a root system that’s in great shape and mostly dry is critical. Fortunately, the process is very easy. All you need are a pair of scissors, tissues, and a place to lay your succulents out to dry.
To air-dry succulents, you’ll need to gently remove your entire plant from its existing dirt to get started. You’ll then trim the roots, rinse it thoroughly, dry it with tissue, and set it out to air dry it for a few to several days.
As simple as it may sound, there are also some advanced techniques and further details you should be aware of in order to maximize the beneficial effects of the air-drying process. Regardless of why you’re drying your succulent, we’ve got the information you need. Read on for a thorough guide that expands on the basic steps mentioned above, as well as some advanced tips about succulents and suggested techniques for the process.
Background About Succulents
According to Howard Griffiths and Jamie Males of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences and Physiological Ecology in a Science Direct article, all succulents have large living cells to store withdrawable water tucked right into their leaves and stem. This means they suck up all the water they’re given and live off it for days and even weeks on end.
As may go without saying, their natural, built-in capabilities to hang onto every drop of water they’re given means they’re extremely drought-resistant and are native to dry habitats.
Given too much water, poor drainage in the pot, or a combination of the two, the soil has nowhere to go with it, and the roots are prone to rotting from excess standing moisture that the plant doesn’t need. Wet, rotting roots means your succulent’s health is at risk, so that’s where air drying can come in.
When Should I Consider Air Drying My Succulent?
At first thought, it may seem counterintuitive to remove a plant from its pot, trim its roots, and leave it out in the open air to dry. For many plants, it’s true that this would be a death sentence.
However, remember that for a succulent plant, this process provides a surprisingly healthy refresh and reset experience for it. Overall, a succulent that’s been air-dried more easily adapts to its new climate, pot, and soil. It gives the plant a chance to take root all over again, fueling it with renewed health.
There are a number of circumstances that may provoke you to consider air-drying your succulent. You will want to air dry your succulent if you:
- Plan to bring home a brand new succulent. Air drying and repotting a succulent is a great step for a brand-new plant that appears to have room for improvement. It’ll give it a fresh start and a chance to re-grow some healthy roots and leaves.
- Notice it’s looking unhealthy or in need of a fresh start. Any succulent you’ve had a year or more could probably use an annual tune-up. This could include root pruning, air drying, soil change-out, and repotting. Additionally, if you feel your plant has been overwatered, its roots may begin to rot, and it needs to be air-dried following this complete process.
- Are you preparing to ship your succulent? If you’re shipping your plant to someone, opt to send it once it’s all dried out. You don’t want a wet succulent plant in the package trying to grow. It’ll become spindly or discolored in the mail. Additionally, being in a damp and dark environment with minimal air circulation like inside a shipping container for a long time can encourage fast growth of bacteria or fungi, leading to a rotting succulent.
- As an added bonus, a dried succulent will weigh less than one whose cells are pumped full of water. If your package weight plays into shipping costs, you may just save some money. Note: Before you pop it in the mail, check with the agricultural department where you’re shipping to ensure the law allows this plant’s shipping.
- Are you looking to propagate it? Before propagating your succulent plant, you must ensure the stems or leaves you’re working with are thoroughly dry before placing them into the soil. As mentioned previously, a moist end tucked into the soil can be stifled and begin to rot.
Purchase or Gather Your Succulent
First things first, get your succulent ready. Whether it’s a brand new plant you just picked up from the store or one of your beloved long-time plants from the backyard greenhouse, a good air dry can benefit most any succulent. It can liven up this type of plant or help prepare it for shipping or propagating.
Almost all brand new succulents should get a thorough air dry and repotting when you bring them home, as you can’t always trust the conditions they have grown outside of your care. You won’t know how long it’s been in its too-small pot at the store, whether or not it has poor quality parts of its roots, mealy bugs, or scraggly leaves at their base that need cleaning up.
Gently Remove It From Its Pot
Now that you have your succulent at hand, it’s time to expose those roots. Get a container ready to catch the dirt if you prefer to keep a cleaner working space and make for a simpler clean up.
If your succulent is in a soft or flexible wrapping, cut or pull that apart to get a hold of your plant. You may gently squeeze the sides of the container to help loosen things up. If it’s in a firm pot, flip it upside down and gently wiggle it till the succulent – along with its roots and dirt – shakes right out into your protective hand.
Remove the Dirt
A wooden kabob stick, caramel apple stick, chopstick, or other similar styles of stick may help maximize efficiency with this step. No stick? No problem. An old toothbrush or your fingers can also easily do just what you need.
Carefully, begin gently sifting through the root system to shake out all the dirt. Using a stick, toothbrush, or your fingers, poke through various sections of the roots to knock the dirt out and separate the roots. Feel free to brush off any tiny baby roots that are clinging to the dirt.
As you get down to having a nearly-dirtless plant, feel free to remove any dead leaves that may be hidden at the base of the plant sitting just on top of where the dirt was.
If the roots and soil feel dry, break them up and continue removing as much soil as you can. You may squish and pinch the roots, which might feel as though you’re causing damage, but that’s alright.
If the roots and soil feel wet, gently remove as much dirt as possible and consider stopping to let it dry for approximately twenty-four hours before continuing with the next steps. This protects those soggy wet roots from too much damage as you try to break them away from the soil.
Tip: If you were to re-plant a wet root plant immediately without drying it, it would be prone to root rot.
Inspect the Roots
Get right up close and take a good long look at your succulent’s roots. If your plant appears root-bound, also sometimes known as pot-bound, its roots will be a dense ball, filling the pot and circling the perimeter.
They’ll be visible from the outside edge, so take note. You’ll want to remove some of those roots in the next step when you trim things down, and we suggest you consider a larger pot for its next home. Root-bound plants have outgrown their existing pot, and they experience slowed or nonexistent new growth.
If you see any black or brown roots, they’re already rotten and will have to go, also.
If you have a huge network of roots for a moderate-sized succulent, make note that you’ll want to do some pruning.
Trim the Roots
A critical part of this process is pruning your succulent’s roots. Think of this as a haircut or nail clipping for your plant. It’s good for it and part of important hygiene.
Look back at what you discovered while examining the roots in step number four, and prepare to get snipping. Using your preferred type of scissors, begin to cut.
Trim away any old or rotten roots that are brown or black because they’re not doing your plant any good. This removes any possible fungi, as well. Trimming these roots back makes way for fresh new roots to grow and support your plant.
Cut off any roots that appear straggly or dead, and trim down the overall root system if it’s approaching the same size as the succulent itself. This is the time to clean up a root-bound plant, also.
During this process, it’s good to clear away almost all existing roots. Don’t worry when your root system looks tiny – this is good for your succulent, and the roots will grow back.
If you decide every bit of your plant’s roots have to go due to rotten parts or fungi, you may cut off the whole root system in its entirety and propagate your succulent’s stem or leaf. Learn more about propagation here or below, after our step-by-step section.
Tip: If you are propagating a leaf or stem, you still need to let it out to dry for several days so it can scab over before you proceed with the process.
Clean Your Succulent in Gently Running Tap Water
Once your roots are cut back to how you like them, run your plant under a gentle flow of tap water. Swish and pinch, tilt and turn. Let the water flow onto all parts of your plant and wash it up. You should see almost no traces of soil when you’re done with this step.
Soak Your Plant in Tap Water
Give your succulent a nice cool soak. Place it in a bath of tepid tap water to soak for five to seven minutes. Final traces of dirt don’t stand a chance, and your plant may enjoy a nice little plump-up.
Thoroughly Dry Your Plant
Remove your succulent from its water and give it a gentle shake. Using a clean, soft towel, facial tissue, or toilet tissue, dab up the water. Take your time and carefully wipe all surfaces of your succulent, ensuring you get down to the leaf bases and along the stem.
Find a Bright Yet Shaded Area
The perfect air drying spot is one that’s bright and dry, yet away from direct sunlight, so you don’t burn the plant or the roots. You need air circulation, no added moisture, and natural light to provide optimal air drying conditions.
Once you’ve identified that location, proceed to step eight for the final equipment needs.
Place It on an Absorbent Tissue, Mesh, or Strainer
In your selected drying spot, place absorbent tissue, a breathable mesh, or strainer down. Place your pruned, washed, and dried succulent in the spot with ample space around it, and get ready to wait.
Go for coffee, do an exercise class, or spend a couple of nights away, because the air-drying needs time to do its work all on its own.
Three days is a good consideration for the minimum end of air-drying time. Some plants are happiest to air dry for up to seven days.
Check on it daily and feel how moist it is. If you notice leaves that are becoming discolored or shriveled, your succulent is telling you it’s dry enough now and thirsty.
What to Do Next After Air-Drying
Once you’ve made it this far, you’ve completed the succulent air-drying process. The next steps will vary depending on what you intend to do with your succulent.
If You’re Repotting
If you’re repotting to keep this succulent, we suggest ensuring your new pot has a drainage hole. It’s also wise to give your revitalized plant some fresh new nutrient-packed, well-draining soil for its new home. When you plant it and fill in the dirt, avoid letting any soil fall between the lower leaves.
Even though you’ve just let your succulent air dry for days, remember that any roots you cut in the pruning process are considered damaged until they callous over and eventually start to grow back. Don’t water right away, but instead wait a few more days. Be on the lookout for any discoloration or shriveled leaves, which indicate it needs a drink of water.
If You’re Shipping
There are lots of tips and tricks out there for shipping succulents. The folks at Sublime Succulents confirm that succulents are a hardy variety that tends to hold up well in the mail. Not needing water for days helps their brawn, so as long as you package to protect them physically, they’ll be just fine. Still aim to keep their postal service journey as brief as possible to minimize unnecessary stress on the plant.
We suggest that after drying, you carefully wrap each plant in tissue paper or similar. You may wish to add a few layers depending on the delicacy of your plant. For cacti or something with spines, opt for a thicker packing paper to protect those pokes.
At this point, if the size is right, you might choose to put your wrapped succulent in an egg carton or similar container for added protection or give it a few go-arounds of bubble wrap.
Select a strong corrugated cardboard shipping box to prevent any rough handlings on the journey from crushing your precious succulent cargo. Ship in the most direct route possible, and you’re done.
If You’re Propagating
If your root prunes in step five turned next-level and you decided that everything had to go, you can re-plant your stem after it’s dried and calloused.
Take it from an expert. Lor with Garden Answer has more than a million YouTube subscribers, so you can trust her advice is spot on. In this video, she gives you a complete how-to explanation about propagating succulents from leaves, stems, and plant tops in under three minutes:
One important disclaimer to keep in mind that she mentions is some succulent varieties are patented, meaning it’s illegal to propagate. To know if this applies to yours, look at the tag or pot and check for an indication. Alternatively, you can do a Google search to find out more about your particular plant variety.
That wraps up our complete guide to air drying succulents. We hope you found this helpful, learned some new tips, and feel empowered with great information to care for your succulents. Enjoy your rejuvenated plants for a long time to come.