Succulents are groups of plants that can store water. These plants are found in at least 60 plant families. Because they belong to different families, there is a wide variety in how succulents look and how you care for them.
A very diverse group, all succulents require well-draining soil, proper watering, and bright light to grow healthy and thrive. Depending on the type, these care guidelines can change depending on whether they are in dormancy or not, or where you live.
If that sounds rather complicated, don’t fret. Succulents are some of the easiest plants to care for and can withstand a bit of neglect on your part. What are the other things that you should know about growing succulents? Sit back as we tell you everything you need to know about growing these hardy and pretty plants.
Characteristics That Most Succulents Share
While belonging to different plant families, there are common characteristics that succulents share. The most common denominator is their ability to store water.
Some succulents like cacti can store water in their stems. These succulents typically have no leaves or have small leaves. Then there are others that store water only in their leaves.
Aside from water storage, succulents also:
- Open their stomata at night
- Have a different way of creating their food
- Have a special way of adapting to their environment
Plants typically open their stomata during the day. This allows them to get carbon dioxide from the air and secrete water and oxygen.
because succulents open their stomata at night, less water evaporates during the day when it’s hot.
Crassulacean Acid Metabolism
Plants make their own food and nutrients by a process called photosynthesis. They combine light, water, carbon dioxide, and nutrients from the soil to create their food.
Because succulents open their stomata at night, you will think that they won’t be able to make their own food because they won’t have light when they can get carbon dioxide from the air. Conversely, they can’t get carbon dioxide during the daytime when they have light.
Succulents can still make their own food by employing a different kind of photosynthesis that is called crassulacean acid metabolism.
In short, succulents store carbon dioxide at night and then convert it into malic acid. When the sun shines, the malic acid is then transported to the chloroplast, which is responsible for photosynthesis. Once it gets to the chloroplast, the malic acid is converted back to carbon dioxide.
Natives to Arid Areas
Succulents work differently because most of these plants come from arid or dry areas where they cannot get too much water. Being able to store water, they can go without rainfall or watering for a long period.
However, this also means that you care for succulents differently.
How to Grow Succulents
Now that you understand how succulents can survive dry and hot conditions, you will be able to easily grow and care for these plants.
Planting Succulents Outdoors
You can plant succulents outdoors if you live in an area where it’s always warm. These plants will love the heat as they are well-suited for it.
But there are benefits for you too. Because succulents don’t need to be watered often, you can cut back on wasted water trying to keep your garden or lawn green.
According to this page, watering grassy lawns can easily double your water usage. Grass likes moisture and to keep them green, you simply need to water them.
With succulents, you don’t have to water as much and it will still keep your gardens lush green. You can even add a dash of color if you like. For instance, you can add purple beauty, purple heart, and Opuntia Santa Rita for purple spots around your garden.
Or you can get Senecio Serpens and sedum reflexum to add something blue. Fancy red? Add Crassula capitella, desert cabbage, or Echeveria agavoides.
These are just some of the succulents that can give your garden a dash of color all year round, we’re not even talking about succulents that bloom yet.
Convinced? Here are the things that you should remember when you are planting succulents directly into the ground.
Use Well-Draining Soil
Well-draining soil allows water through it without pooling. But it doesn’t drain water too quickly leaving some areas of the soil dry. For most plants, being in saturated soil or standing water will choke it, not being able to get oxygen. With succulents, it can be a cause for root rot and death.
Soil that has too much clay will probably not drain well. On the other hand, sandy soil can drain too fast, which may result in your plants not having enough water or nutrients. If you want to make sure that the soil is well-draining, you can do a simple test as explained in this video:
Making Sure That Your Soil Drains Well
If you have clay soil that doesn’t drain well, you will want to add some materials to make it drain better. For example, the following can help you remedy poorly draining soil:
- Compost: Compacted soil usually equates to not having enough organic matter. Compost can help you remedy that. It introduces organic matter into clay soil and makes it more porous and less compact. It can also break up clumps while giving your plants its much-needed nutrients. Check out Charlie’s Compost.
- Sand: Perhaps the most affordable addition to your soil, sand can break up your clay soil and make it drain better while also putting allowing air to enter. Try Hoffman 14302 Western Desert Sand, which you can also use as a decorative soil cover.
- Perlite: This volcanic rock is lightweight and can cover a lot of space. It will loosen the soil and keep it from clumping together. Perlite also prevents the soil from cracking or baking, while making the soil more fertile. You can buy Espoma Organic Perlite for this.
- Mulch: Out of all these ingredients, mulch is the only one that you don’t mix in with the soil. Layering it on top of your soil will protect it from baking and hardening. It will decompose over time and it makes the soil softer and looser. Use something like Wood Smith USA’s Natural Cedar Chips.
- Vermiculite: Small volcanic rocks like vermiculite absorb the water in your soil and can break down hard soil in no time. Get something like Professional Grade Vermiculite by Plantation Products.
You can improve poorly draining clay soil using different materials. Here’s one video that shows you how to do this with compost, cow manure, potting mix, and soil conditioner:
What You Should Remember to Care for Succulents You Plant Outdoors
When you plant succulents, you should first find out how your particular succulent grows. Some succulents are tall and you don’t need to put too much space between your plants. But others like to sprawl, or otherwise need wide spaces to grow healthily.
Aside from properly spacing your succulents, you should also watch out for mealybugs. Succulents don’t usually have problems with pests, but mealybugs can be a huge problem.
These insects love sucking on succulents. You should remove the infested leaf or the entire plant if there are a lot of mealybugs.
Growing Succulents Indoors
It would seem that growing succulents indoors is a better idea than having them outside. For one, you won’t have to worry about pests like mealybugs. And they are very easy to care for.
However, there are some things that you should remember when you’re growing succulents in pots or planters. First is that you should choose the right pot, and here’s how you decide.
Choose the Right Size
Select a pot that will allow the plant to grow with no problem. However, you should not put a succulent in an oversized pot. This site recommends a pot that is five to 10 percent bigger than the diameter of your succulent. Or perhaps you can get one that is one or two inches bigger to give your plant room to grow.
Using an oversized pot will make the roots spread far without letting the plant grow big. It’s also a good recipe for overwatering your succulent: the bigger the space, the more soil there is, and the more water it will hold.
If you get a pot that’s too small, the roots will not have room to spread. Once your succulents outgrow their pot, consider repotting them to a bigger container.
Choose a Terracotta or Ceramic Pot
There are a lot of pots that are available for succulents. These are made with different materials, but the most popular are resin, wood, metal, ceramics, and terracotta.
One of the pluses of putting your succulents indoors is that you have unending options when it comes to materials, colors, and designs. You can use the pots to accentuate your decor or give your home a pop of color.
But if you want the best for your succulents, choose a ceramic or terracotta pot as these are porous and can give you succulents better air circulation and water drainage.
But if you’re going to plant a larger succulent or one that you think you’d be transferring from one place to another, use a plastic pot because they are more lightweight.
How Much Light Should You Give Succulents
Whether you’re growing them indoors or outside in your garden, you need to make sure that your succulents are getting enough sunlight.
The most common misconception that people have about succulents is that all should be placed where there can get full sun. The thing is, there are varieties of succulents that are happier in partial or full shade.
For the most part, succulents need at least four to six hours of light daily. As such, your best bet is to plant them in a sunny and bright area of your garden or near window sills.
The Problem with Not Getting Enough Sun
Succulents are quite hardy, which means putting them in a darker area without getting enough light will not kill them. However, they do grow deformed.
The lack of light will lead to etiolation, where the plants become elongated as they stretch to get the sunlight that they crave. As such, they become deformed. For instance, a globular cactus will appear tube-like, while an etiolated haworthia will look like an aloe vera plant with thin and long leaves.
Etiolated succulents will not go back to their original or intended shape. The good news is that you can use etiolated leaves to propagate your plant.
Here’s how you do that:
How to Water Succulents and Avoid Killing Them
When you water succulents, you should wait until the soil is completely dried out and then soak it. If you’re watering indoor succulents, pour water until it goes out through the drainage hole.
If the container you’re using doesn’t have a drainage hole, then it takes more work to water your potted succulents. You should not just pour water into the container because there’s nowhere for it to go out. Your succulents will be waterlogged and this will eventually root rot.
For pots that do not have a drainage hole, you need to measure how much soil it can hold, and then put about half of that. If the container holds around 12 cubic inches (200 cubic centimeters) of soil, then pour in half or six cubic inches (100 cubic centimeters).
Don’t Mist Your Succulents
Some people think that because succulents need less water, then they should just use a spray bottle and mist their succulents. But this is not a good practice at all.
As noted above, your succulents need to be fully drenched with water. When you mist your succulents, you will only succeed in getting the topsoil and the leaves of the plant wet. None of the water will reach the roots.
Watering Your Succulents When It’s Placed Outdoors
If you have succulents planted in containers outdoors, you can use the soak and dry method you use for your indoor plants. But what if it’s planted directly in the ground?
Making sure they’re planted in well-draining soil will always make your job easier. You will need to see whether the soil is dry, or if your succulents are showing signs that it needs to be watered.
Succulents change their appearance when they need water. Their leaves appear wrinkled and they feel rubbery. It’s also very easy to bend the leaves. When you water it properly, leaves are firm and plump to the touch.
Fast Tips When Watering Succulents
Aside from using well-draining soil and using pots that have drainage holes, you should:
1. Try to keep a watering schedule. Over time, you will get to know just how often you need to water your succulents. Once you have established this, you can create a schedule that will tell you more reliably when you should water.
2. Older plants with more mature and extensive root systems can weather droughts better. As such, they need to be watered less than newly planted succulents.
3. When you’re not sure whether to water or not, err on the side of skipping the watering. Overwatering your plant can lead to root rot, which is more difficult to fix than underwatered succulents.
4. Always check your plants for signs that they need water. Shriveled and wrinkling leaves? Droopy stems? It might be time to water it!
5. If you don’t have well-draining soil, amend it to improve drainage. Or better yet, use raised beds or mounds to plant your succulents.
Fertilizing Your Succulents
Do succulents need fertilizing? Yes, these plants do need nutrients that will keep them healthy. But unlike other plants, succulents need something that’s not too strong because they can get burnt easily.
There are commercial succulents available such as the Miracle-Gro Succulent Plant Food that can keep your plants fed. You put it on the soil or mix it with water.
Succulents are low maintenance when it comes to fertilizers. You can get away with fertilizing them only once in spring. However, if you are keeping your succulents indoors, be sure that they are getting enough light. Being in a darker place than they’d like and getting fertilized will most likely result in etiolation.
Repotting or Transplanting
When growing succulents in containers, there are times when they need to be repotted. There are several reasons for this:
- The roots are getting overcrowded and they are starting to stick out of the drainage holes.
- You used soil that is not well-draining.
- The succulent looks like it’s unhealthy and unhappy with its pot.
- The plant has grown bigger than its pot.
When repotting, you need to have a good soil mix, a new and bigger pot, and some tools. Upon taking out the succulent from the old pot, you will need to clean the roots and take the old soil off.
Let the roots dry before putting the succulent in the new pot. Make sure not to water it for a few days to get the plant to get accustomed to its new environment.
Some Tips When Repotting Succulents
Do not repot a succulent if it’s in dormancy when it’s not actively growing. You should also avoid repotting when your plant is on the verge of blooming because repotting it might stop the flowering.
Succulents, Go Forth and Multiply!
There are several ways for your succulents to reproduce. You can plant seeds and wait for them to sprout and grow. Or you can propagate it using cuttings, root division, or planting the offsets.
If you want to start your succulents from seeds, you will need a clean propagation pan that you can wash with disinfectant. The pans are shallow and small, around four inches (10 centimeters) deep and six inches (15 centimeters) in diameter.
You should also pasteurize the growing medium that you are going to use. Bake the growing mixture at 300 degrees Fahrenheit (148.9 degrees Celsius) for half an hour. After pasteurizing, allow the growing medium to cool and then soak it in water. Let the water drain and put the medium in the propagation pan. Sow the seeds around the last week of April.
With the seeds sown deep into the pan, cover the propagation pan with plastic and put it in an area that receives enough light. However, keep it away from direct sunlight. Most succulent seeds germinate in around three weeks, while some varieties may need a year to sprout out of the soil.
Growing succulents from seeds can give you a wide assortment of how it looks, but it usually takes a lot of time for it to grow. Propagating succulents from cuttings can certainly reduce the time needed for a new plant.
There are several ways to propagate succulents. The easiest to watch out for offsets or plantlets. Offsets are smaller versions of the mature plant but they are fully formed and they already have roots. Detaching them from the mother plant, you can grow them independently.
A good example of these plants is echeveria. The rosettes have hens and the offsets are called chicks. Meanwhile, barrel cacti have pups. For succulents that clump together, you can dig up the whole plant and separate the roots. You can replant each section and watch it grow into mature plants.
Further, you can propagate plants from cuttings. For some succulents, you can cut the leaves and let them dry out. Once they form roots, you can plant them in well-draining soil.
For etiolated plants, you can behead them. Cutting off the head of the plant will allow you to plant the head and then letting the stem grow new leaves.
Dormancy is a period when succulents living outdoors shut down or stop growing to help them cope with extreme temperatures or climates. Dormancy is also necessary for some types of succulents to store food and nutrients that they are going to use for growing and blooming during the next season.
Succulents lookout for colder temperatures or fewer hours of sunlight to know when to go into dormancy. Succulents that sleepover winter is:
Meanwhile, other types of succulents stop actively growing when the summer months kick in. These are:
The most important thing about succulents in dormancy is that they need less water during this time. Fertilizing them is also a no-no. Dormancy is an excellent way to ensure that your plants stay healthy. Some types of succulents tend to have more flowers and better growth if they go into dormancy.
Different Strokes: Growing Specific Types of Succulents
Succulents are a very diverse group of plants that can differ a lot from each other. Now that you know that when it comes to succulent care, you will need well-draining soil no matter what type of succulent you have.
All the rest such as temperature, light requirements, level of care difficulty, and watering requirements are going to have some deviations from the general care guide that we have above.
To learn how to care for specific types of succulents, here are some of the most popular succulents you can grow.
Crassula ovata are known for how easy it is to care for them. This plant is perfect to grow indoors because they can easily burn when they get full sun.
The jade plant can grow tall, sometimes reaching five feet (1.5 meters).
- Recommended hardiness zones: Up to 10 or 11
- Needs full sun but be careful not to burn the leaves
- Dilute fertilizers and apply once every four months.
- Use potting mix as a growing medium
Dwarf Jade Plant
Portulacaria afra is a small bush and softwood tree. It looks like a jade plant, but it’s not really part of that family.
This edible plant can grow up to 15 feet (4.6 meters) in height. You can grow it indoors as a bonsai plant, or use it to landscape your garden.
- Recommended hardiness zones: Up to 10
- Needs full sun or partial shade and well-draining soil
- Water only when soil is dried out and the lower leaves start to shrivel
- Fertilize monthly when growing
Sedum rubrotinctum looks like a cluster of jelly beans, hence the name. It’s easy to grow and can add an interesting focal point inside the house.
The fat fleshy leaves are mostly green but with the right conditions and enough sun, the leaves can turn red or bronze in the summer.
- Recommended hardiness zones: Up to 10
- Mostly an indoor plant, but if you live in warm climates, you can put it outdoors
- Full sun is needed
- Dry fast-draining soil and diluted fertilizer is needed for healthy plants
- Drought-tolerant so water only when soil is completely dry
Also called burrito, the Sedum morganianum is very easy to grow. It’s fleshy and soft leaves can trail for up to four feet (1.2 meters) long, making it an eyecatching hanging plant.
Burrito is not toxic to animals, and can easily be propagated using leaves. It can grow in both indoor and outdoor settings.
- Recommended hardiness zone: up to 10
- Needs bright light, anywhere from partial shade to full sun
- Let soil completely dry out before watering
- Fertilize only once when spring comes
Agave has large leaves that taper off to form sharp tips. Agaves can form rosettes that can grow as big as 10 feet (304.8 centimeters) wide.
- Can easily be grown outdoors or indoors
- Recommended hardiness zone: 8 and above
- Sandy and well-draining soil
- Needs bright to full sun
- When newly planted, water frequently until it is established
- Fertilizers can encourage blooms, but agaves die once they flower
You may know Pilea peperomioides as pancake plant or Chinese money plant, but you will definitely identify it because of its leaves that are shaped like a coin. This succulent can grow indoors and it’s very easy to care for.
You can use this in a terrarium as it enjoys indirect light.
- Needs to be fertilized monthly
- Don’t let the soil dry out completely before watering
- Well-draining soil in a container with drainage holes is ideal
It would seem that aloe vera plants are everywhere. It does really well in tropical areas and has certain medicinal benefits such as burn relief and having antioxidant properties.
Aloe vera is not a cactus but a lily. It’s best grown indoors, but it can also be grown in the garden. The good news is that it’s very easy to grow.
- Recommended hardiness zones: 10 and 11
- Do not put in direct sun as it will burn and die
- Gritty soil is perfect for aloe vera
- Let the topsoil dry before watering
- No fertilizer necessary
Ball cacti are so named for their round shape and bright yellow flowers. Ball cacti are more challenging to grow than most other succulents.
This cactus is best suited for areas that have a cool winter, but it’s not hardy to frost and will need to spend its dormant months indoors.
- Recommended hardiness zones: Up to 9b
- Needs full sun and well-draining soil
- Water frequently during the growing season but avoid waterlogging the soil
- Fertilize every two months when it’s actively growing
Hens and Chicks
Sempervivum tactorums are rosette-forming succulents that can grow up to four inches (10 centimeters) in diameter. It creates chicks during the summer, which you can propagate.
This plant dies once it flowers, but with so many offsets, you will hardly miss the mother plant. You can grow this outdoors, but a sunny window sill will do.
- Recommended hardiness zones: 3 to 8
- Needs full sun
- You can plant this succulent in poor soil
- Water when the soil has completely dried out
- Fertilize only when the plant is mature
Also called living stones, lithops are so drought tolerant that you only have to water them every once. While you rarely water it, these succulents need full sun as well.
They are dormant in the summer when you don’t need to water them at all. But then in autumn, they begin to actively grow. Mature plants can bloom during this period.
- Best grown indoors so you can limit watering
- Needs gritty soil
- No fertilizers needed
Opuntia microdasys have pods that are wide and thick. The oval pods look like rabbit ears, which gives it its names. It thrives near sunny windows where it can enjoy the warmth of your home and a few hours of sunlight.
You can also keep it outdoors if you live in warmer areas. These small and fluffy cacti can grow up to six feet (1.8 meters) tall.
- Recommended hardiness zones: Up to 9
- Needs bright light during the summer and partial sun during the winter
- Sandy and well-draining soil recommended
- Water sparsely during the warmer months and don’t water over the winter
- Needs to be fertilized monthly, but stop fertilizing a month before winter comes
Mother of Thousands
Bryophyllum Sp. or Kalanchoe daigremontiana might have two classifications and dozens of nicknames, but it has one distinct trait: it produces a lot of plantlets along the edges of leaves.
You should keep this succulent in containers and it thrives better indoors
- Recommended hardiness zones: 9 to 11
- Indirect but bright sunlight is needed
- Use a cactus mix or well-draining soil
- Let the topsoil dry out before watering
- Use cactus fertilizer
These are just a few of the succulents that you can grow and already you can see how each plant differs when it comes to care. Some like full sun, while others burn easily. Others like dry conditions while others can tolerate getting watered more often.
To be sure, check out care and growth guides for the succulents you want to grow.
Diseases and Pests
According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, the most prevalent pests that affect your succulents are mealybugs, root mealybugs, fungus gnats, and scale. These small pests can infest your plants and they will be difficult to fight because you can hardly see them.
Mealybugs suck on your succulents’ juices and leave them dry and shriveled. It also weakens the plant, and eventually, they die. Scale are insects that also suck on your plants’ juices and are usually found on the leaves and stems.
Mealybugs usually stay along the spines or veins of the leaves, while root mealybugs are harder to spot because as their name suggests they hide in the roots under the surface. Meanwhile, fungus gnats are small black flies that look like mosquitos. What you should look out for are the larvae that can eat the organic matter in the soil or eat the roots of your succulents.
Further, you have to be on the lookout for spider mites that also feed on the succulents’ juices.
How to Fight These Pests
One of the best defenses against insects like these is to make sure that your plants are healthy. This way, they can fight insect damage on their own.
Be sure not to put new plants where your succulents are to avoid introducing these pests to them. Further, you can blast spider mites, mealybugs, and scale off your succulents with a strong stream of water.
If they’re still there after a thorough and intense wash down, try diluting alcohol in water and spraying the plant. Be careful when doing this as it can damage the succulents’ skin.
You can also put up sticky flypaper to trap adult fungus gnats. And lastly, uses insecticidal soap, insecticides, or systemic insecticides to kill these pests.
When it comes to diseases, there is nothing more damaging than root rot on your succulents. Root rot is most likely caused by overwatering, and it can kill your plants if left untreated.
Be sure to trim the blackened or rotted roots to stop it from spreading. Cutting a few centimeters above the rotted roots will help stop the damage.
Also, check on the most bottom part of the stems to make sure that it is not rotting. If the stem is rotting, cut out the affected part and let the cutting callous over by letting the plant sit in a dry place.
According to this page, you can also dust some sulfur to cure root rot caused by microbes and bacteria. As a last resort, you can behead succulents that are severely affected by root rot. You can just plant the healthy cutting and discard the rotten stems.
Here’s a video that explains what you need to do to fight root rot:
Frequently Asked Questions
We know that you still have questions, so here are the most often asked queries we encounter.
Question: Do indoor succulents also go into dormancy?
Answer: Succulents usually sleep or go into dormancy if it senses that the seasons have changed and it cannot get the nutrients and other stuff it needs to survive and thrive.
Succulents go into dormancy either in summer or winter. But if they are indoors and you keep the temperatures just right, then they will not go into dormancy.
For instance, echeverias are winter-dormant. When the plant notices that days are getting shorter and colder, it will go into dormancy.
But the same plant will actively grow during this period if you keep the temperatures warm and make sure that it gets enough light, your echeveria will never know that it was supposed to go into dormancy.
Question: Are dish gardens advisable?
Answer: Some people are introduced to succulents because of dish gardens. While you can use other plants for a dish garden, succulents are sometimes favored because there are types that remain small and they are a breeze to care for.
It’s rather easy to fall in love with a dish garden full of succulents, with their varied shapes and colors. However, because dish gardens have no drainage holes, there is a good chance that you could overwater them.
A drainage hole is recommended for pots that you use to plant succulents in. If you want a dish garden full of succulents, be sure to give your plants just enough water to moisten the root ball but not leave it waterlogged.
Question: Should you put rocks at the bottom of the pot to help improve drainage?
Answer: If the goal is to use well-draining soil for your succulents, then you should put gravel at the bottom of the pot to help the water escape. However, this makes little sense.
There is no replacement for using well-draining soil and putting it in a pot that has a drainage hole. You can, of course, use a container without draining holes, but that’s just added work on your part trying to figure out when to water or when to stop.
What’s more, if you already have well-draining soil, the gravel at the bottom of the pot will do nothing except make your pot smaller. It’s already draining water out, so take out all that gravel and put in more soil to make your succulents healthier
Let Your Succulents Thrive
Succulents are known for their beauty and how easy it is to care for them. Some experts will tell you that planting them in well-draining soil and knowing when to water them or not will help these plants grow healthy. All you need to know is whether they like full sun or partial shade, as well as when to fertilize them, if at all.