7 Simple Steps To Watering A Portulacaria Afra Plant

Portulacaria afra is a type of flowering succulent, often used as both an outdoor and indoor plant. Portulacaria afra is extremely sensitive to overwatering and requires careful attention to watering in order to prevent root rot.

Watering succulents can be tricky for new gardeners because they don’t need to be watered as often as tropical houseplants. So, if you naturally try to water them like other plants, they may not survive. Many variables and factors affect how and when you should water these plants. Since it grows both indoors and outdoors, the watering rules may vary.

With simple watering rules and methods, you can make your Portulacaria Afra thrive better and fast. This article has prepared the 7 rules to water your Portulacaria Afra properly. Though the plant is drought tolerant, it performs better when following important rules during watering. Have a look at the following:

1. How Often to Water the Plant

How often to water your succulents plants differ from one area to another and from one plant to another. Some of the factors that determine how often to water your plant include


This is the necessary amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. And since succulents absorb moisture from the atmosphere, their watering schedule may differ from one place to another, based on the level of humidity. For example, if you live in areas with high humidity, the soil takes more time to dry out completely. Therefore, water the plant less frequently. 

Plant inside a bottle with water vapor.
Humidity is the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere.

However, humidity is less in dry and warm conditions, and the soil will dry out faster. Therefore, watering them more regularly is recommended. On the other hand, winter conditions mean high humidity. Thus, water the plant less frequently. 

Succulent size

How often you water your Elephant Bush depends on how big or small your plant is. Bigger plants have a more robust root system that store important nutrients, helping them go for days without water. In that case, they have lower water demand. On the other hand, smaller plants are actively growing, and their water demand is high.


Elephant Bush exposed to more sunlight for long hours has different water demands to those under the shade. So, before watering succulents, what does the rule say? Before proceeding, check out the soil first by dipping your finger into the soil a few inches to see if the soil is dry. If dry, then water the plant, but if still moist, wait until it dries to avoid overwatering. 

Elephant bush in a pot outside absorbing sunlight.
A plant that is exposed to more sunlight for long hours has different water demands.

2. Indoor Plant Consumes Less Water than the Outdoor.

Elephant Bush planted indoors may require less water compared to the outdoor ones. Outdoor, there is a higher evaporation rate due to high temperatures, and the airflow is high. Indoor environment limits the airflow, managing low temperatures. It means the evaporation rate is low. Thus the plant needs less water. 

When watering, give your indoor plant less water than your outdoor plant. Indoor plants also tend to hold water for long. Reason being, the slow rates of evaporations. Therefore, water them less to prevent overwatering the plant.

3. Water the Plant in the Root Zone

When watering Elephant plants, your focus should only be on the root area. Remember, only the roots need access to water. Avoid watering the stem or the leaves. Water absorption happens in the roots and is later distributed equally to other plant parts.

Wetting the foliage does not only wastewater but is also dangerous to the Portulacaria Afra plant. The plant will be exposed to diseases when leaves are watered. Also, wetting the leaves and exposing them to sunlight immediately leads to slight burn marks.

When the plant is watered in the evening, and you spread water on the leaves, it may cause the leaf mound disease. Efficient watering means the water reaches the roots and not the leaves. Too little water quantities reach the topsoil but will not get to the root cap of the plant. Water the plant deeply, and ensure that the can is near the roots to prevent water spillover. 

4. Use a Well-Drained Potting Mix

Some people tend to overlook the soil they use to plant the Elephant Bush. Soil determines a lot, especially when it comes to watering. However, there are different choices of soil to use when planting Portulacaria Afra. Always remember to grow the plant in well-draining soil.

A cactus on the pot.
Soil determines a lot, especially when it comes to watering.

Think about the environment the bush plant flourishes. It is an arid plant, meaning it needs minimal rainfall. Therefore, the plant adapts well in areas with little water. Also, the roots absorb water quickly. This means that soil used for this plant should drain fast to avoid rotting. 

Here is a suggestion on making good soil with good drainage.

To get the best potting soil, start with an essential cactus soil available in most garden centers. Then, mix the soil with organic matters like peat moss or coir, the main ingredient for potting soil. You can also add an inorganic substance that allows water to quickly soak and drain out of the soil. In addition, the inorganic substance maintains a crumbly and airy mix.

5. Type of Pot Matters

Figuring out the best watering routine that you can use for your Elephant Bush can be somewhat tricky. But knowing the type of pot you have is a deciding factor to know how often your plant needs water. Some materials used to make these pots determine their ability to drain or retain the water.

Terracotta pots, for example, are porous and the most breathable pots to use. However, planting your Elephant Bush in the terracotta pot means the watering should be habitual. This is critical if you reside in hot areas. Plastic pots and ceramic ones, on the contrary, help to conserve water but are less breathable compared to terracotta’s, hence the need to reduce watering intervals.

Elephant bush plants in a separate pots.
Knowing the type of pot you have is a deciding factor to know how often your plant needs water.

Whether using terracotta or ceramic pots, observe the rules associated with watering succulents. Water when the soil is dry to prevent dampness and molds. Regardless of the soil material used, ensure the pot has holes at the bottom to drain excess water from the pot. When watering, pour water continuously until it starts to drain from the base of the can.

6. Know the Correct Water Type for the Plant

Rainwater is the best option when deciding on the type of water to use. Rainwater contains more oxygen than tap water. The rainwater chemistry, including airflow and oxygen retention, is better than tap water. Rainwater has chemicals that have vital nutrients needed by the plant. When carbon dioxide mixes with other minerals, the chemicals formulate, releasing zinc and manganese.

Rainwater has 78 % nitrogen, an element that makes the plant greener. Other ingredients in rainwater essential for the plant include nitrate and ammonium forms. When they drop from the skies, they are absorbed by the plant immediately, through the roots and the leaves. The nutrients make the plant more robust and healthy. 

If there is no rainwater, use distilled water for watering the Elephant Bush. Purified water is also perfect for the plant. Avoid using tap water because it contains treated chemicals that will build up in the soil as salt when choosing water type. If rainwater and distilled water are unavailable, boil water at night and let it settle the whole night to water in the morning.

7. Water the Plant in the Morning and the Evening

Watering the Elephant Bush in the morning prepares the plant for the long hours of sunlight during the day. Watering the plant in the evening cools the plant. Watering at the two intervals helps the plant retain water and ensure it absorbs as much as possible. Watering the plant in the afternoon, especially during the summer season, makes the plant lose all the water through evaporation.

A girl watering the plants in the morning.
Watering the plants in the morning prepares the plant for the long hours of sunlight during the day.

However, watering in the morning could be preferable to watering in the evening during the winter. Soaking the plant in the evening soaks the leaves in freezing water for long, and it causes root rot. Morning watering is again preferred because the plant has enough time to dry before the sun goes down. However, the water can shock the plant during this time as it cools down indefinitely, thus the need for moderation.

Signs of Underwatered Elephant Bush

Now that you know the rules for watering the elephant plant, you should also know how to identify an underwatered elephant plant. Underwatered Portulacaria Afra has flat and limp leaves. Don’t worry if you notice such a sign, as it is an indication that the plant needs a proper soak. Underwatered Elephant Bush will have faded foliage, dull in color, and if left for too long without water, some leaves start to fall off the plant when touched.

Signs of Overwatered Elephant Bush

Overwatering this succulent is a big mistake any gardener can make. However, the plant can forgive you for underwatering but not overwatering. Overwatered Elephant Bush develops a mushy stem, and the leaves start yellowing and are more transparent. When you notice such signs, cut back the watering frequency until the plant recovers, or it will begin to rot.

Bottom Line

When watering the elephant plant, soak and dry methods are the best. During the dormant seasons, water the plant less as there is no growth, and the plant uses less water. Water the plant appropriately and enjoy its beautiful foliage. Remember that your plant always communicates what it wants and does not want. Therefore, never ignore the signs it is giving you. 

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