Succulents are delightful little plants that boast a variety of fun colors, textures, and shapes. They are sometimes said to "thrive on neglect," and while they definitely don't require much fussing over, it's still best to know what they like and what they don't. Here are our top tips for succulent growing and care.
First, What are Succulents?
Simply put, succulents are plants that store water in their stems or leaves, which are thick and fleshy. There are about 60 plant families within the succulent group. Cacti are a type of succulent, but not all cacti are succulents. (Cacti are a subgroup of succulents that have areoles, which are mounds of flesh from which spines, hair, leaves, or flower grow.)
In general, because they store water in their leaves, succulents can survive long periods of drought and do best in bright light and arid climates.
Types of Succulents
There are two main types of succulents: hardy succulents and soft succulents. The difference between hardy and soft succulents has to do with how they survive or thrive in various temperatures.
Hardy succulents will survive winter in most parts of the United States, most to USDA Zone 5. (Go here to find your zone.) Although many hardy succulents will survive cold temperatures, they may go dormant or change colors.
Soft succulents, on the other hand, are less tolerant of cold temperatures. Succulents rated USDA Zone 9 and above are typically considered soft succulents. Keep in mind, however, that even soft succulents may be grown indoors when weather is frosty.
Best Indoor Succulents
As we've learned, identifying the best location for your succulent is important: as a general rule, purple and orange succulents are better suited for outdoor spaces. Green succulents do better indoors. Here are some of our favorite houseplants:
- Roseum (sedum spurium)
- Burro's Tail (sedum morganianum)
- Crown of Thorns (euphorbia milii)
- Jade Plants (crassula ovata)
- Aloe Vera (aloe vera)
- Panda Plant (kalanchoe tomentosa)
- Pincushion Cactus (mammillaria crinita)
- Snake Plants (sansevieria trifasciata)
- Zebra Plant (haworthia fasciata)
Having the right kind of soil is very important to succulent survival. Because they've adapted to store their own water, they hate sitting in water and require well-draining soil.
When planted outside, be sure to keep your succulents out of low-lying areas where water is likely to collect. When planting in containers, buy cactus soil or use a mixture that includes sand, gravel, or volcanic rock. You can also mix extra perlite, sand grit, or pumice into your soil. These will ensure good drainage.
What Kind of Container Should I Use?
Again, drainage is very important. Plastic or glass containers don't allow for good drainage or breathability. Opt instead for ceramic or terracotta pots with drainage holes, so that water seeps easily from the soil and no part of your succulent will be left in standing water.
How to Water Succulents
Death by over-watering is much more common than under-watering. Make sure the soil is dry before watering your succulents. Watering succulents in smaller pots once a week, and those in larger pots twice a week, is a good place to start, but again, make sure soil is dry. Indoor succulents don't need water during winter.
When you water, try not to get the succulents' leaves wet. Never mist your succulents.
How Much Sun Does a Succulent Need?
Succulents do need bright light, but don't mistake bright light for full, hot sun, which could scorch some succulents. A half day to a full day of sunlight is good, although afternoon shade is recommended in extremely hot climates. If your succulents are indoors, try to choose varieties that do well in lower light. In general, green succulents are best for lower light situations. You'll know if your succulent isn't getting enough light because it will get leggy and appear to stretch for the light.
Indoors, succulents do best in your sunniest window. South-facing windows will provide the most sunlight throughout the day.
What Temperature Do Succulents Like?
Succulents like warm temperatures, although different types may survive through winter cold. (See "types of succulents" above. Keep your indoor succulents away from vents and drafts, as they don't like sudden fluctuations in temperature.
Do I Need to Fertilize My Succulents?
Most succulents don't need much fertilizer, if any. Consider using a half-dose of well-balanced fertilizer once a year.
Why Are Leaves Falling Off My Succulents?
If the leaves on your succulents are dropping off, your plant is likely under some type of environmental stress:
- Moving them suddenly to a new location without giving them a chance to acclimate slowly;
- Overwatering before they have a chance to completely dry out;
- Lack of light (If the leaves turned green or yellow before they dropped, they most likely need more sun); and
- Extreme temperature fluctuations, especially when outdoors. Move to the shade if they look wilted or sunburned, or inside when it's freezing. Don't cut off dead leaves before new ones have a chance to grow.
How to Propagate Succulents
Easy propagation is one of the most rewarding parts of owning succulent plants. Some types of succulents have "pups," which are little baby plants that grow from short stems near the base of the plant. These can be cut or twisted off and replanted. They'll do best if you leave them out for a day before planting so they heal over.
Many succulents can be propagated from leaf cuttings or entire leaves. Just break the leaf off the plant, let the cut heal over for a few days, and plant them in soil. Cuttings from succulents that have grown leggy are also excellent candidates for propagation.
Succulent gardens are an eye-pleasing collection of colors and texture and they're easy to create and maintain. Keeping all your succulent-care tips in mind, try to to gather a selection of succulents that have requirements similar to one another so that each plant in your garden will thrive.
When planting your succulent garden (in well-draining soil and a breathable container with a drainage hole!), be careful not to over-crowd your plants. Give them a bit of room to spread and allow roots to heal for a day or two before watering.
As you're planting your garden, you may get dirt on the leaves of some of your plants. A great way to clean them off without harming the plant is to blow the dirt off with a drinking straw. If possible, keep the garden out of hot sun for a week or two, until the plants get used to their new home.