Houseplant gardening is one of the most common hobbies in the USA. Over 33 million people participated in houseplant gardening in 2019. Succulents are one of the most popular houseplants as they are drought-tolerant and love the sun, but how do you properly care for them and make them thrive?
To care for succulents, you must mimic their natural desert habitat, where they grow in dry and hot conditions. These plants must have well-draining soil to prevent rot. Bright window sills or patios will provide them with the light that they need. Established succulents should be watered sparingly.
One of the most important elements of caring for succulents is imitating their natural habitat. In this article, we will explore in length what that entails, and go over some crucial tips for caring for succulents. We will also list some examples of what not to do when caring for these hardy, but fussy plants.
Introduction to Succulents
Succulents are a beautiful addition to your home garden. They can live indoors or outdoors, as long as their sunlight level and type of soil meet their needs.
In nature, succulents are found in hot, dry locations, like deserts. Succulents evolved to have the ability to store water to survive in these intense places. This stored water allows them to survive extended periods of drought, as they can use this water storage to grow instead of relying on the rare rainfall.
Like aloe, some succulents keep this excess water in their leaves, which is why succulents often have thick, fleshy leaves. Other succulents, like cacti, store water in their stems and have little to no leaves.
The word succulent comes from the Latin word suculentus, which comes from sucus, meaning juice or sap. Succulents are famous for their ability to absorb and store water, and many types of succulents are loved for their health benefits. Some are thought to soothe burns, and some are thought to purify the air.
Different Types of Succulents
There’s a wide variety of succulents, from draping Burro’s Tails to the perfectly round Ball Cactus. There are many styles and types of succulents to choose from, and they all require similar care. While there are hundreds of types of succulents, here we will explore five of the most popular succulents for the home so we can better understand the plants we are trying to grow.
The Jade Plant is a plant that seems to echo the bonsai tree. It grows with a thick trunk and small stems that look like branches. However, the leaves of the jade plant are very thick in the trademark manner of succulents. The jade plant also can flower when it is very well-established and healthy.
Aloe Vera Plant
One of the most common succulents found in the home, the aloe vera plant is a great choice for a first time succulent owner. Aloe vera leaves are very thick and can grow up to 40 inches long. Inside the aloe vera plant’s thick leaves is a juice that has been touted for centuries for its healing properties.
The pincushion cactus is a small, adorable miniature cactus that won’t grow larger than 6 inches tall. While it does have needles like a common cactus, the pincushion’s needles are very small and usually curved. This is one of the most popular decorative cacti, and its ability to flower brings color to your home.
A snake plant is one of the succulents most beloved by home plant enthusiasts. It has solid green leaves that grow almost perfectly vertical. This gives the snake plant a unique aesthetic and makes it the perfect plant for a statement piece indoors. It is extremely drought-resistant, making it low maintenance.
Snake plants are slow to grow, though, so you should purchase the size of the plant you want when you buy it, instead of counting on it to grow bigger. Large snake plants are loved for their style and their air-purifying qualities. NASA even released a list of the top air-purifying indoor plants, and the snake plant is one of the best.
These succulents are extremely recognizable. Their small green leaves are often trimmed with pale pink, making them a stylish addition to an outdoor or indoor rock garden. Dudleyas leaves grow in circles that form rosettes, one of the more common shapes of succulents.
These plants evolved to grow on hills where their leaves wouldn’t get soaked with water, so it’s important to water these succulents by pouring water around the plant, directly onto the soil.
Determine Where Your Succulents Like to Grow
When picking out plants for your home, it’s important to know where these plants will go. Whether you’re planting your succulents indoors or out, location is important.
Succulents prefer a lot of sunlight to grow. While they can adapt to and survive in shaded areas, it’s still important for them to get as much light as possible during the day. Place your succulents near a bright window or under a skylight.
Alternatively, you can purchase a plant light to provide your succulents with the necessary light to grow. The Relassy LED Plant Light provides a flexible lighting solution for plants in dark rooms.
Though succulents can live in dry areas of the world, they can survive in many different places. Whether or not succulents could survive outside of your home depends on where you live and what type of succulents you want to purchase.
Hardy succulents are frost-resistant and can survive outside in the winter. Soft succulents are more delicate and prefer to be brought inside in the winter, or grown indoors altogether.
Another way to find out if your succulents are better suited for inside or outside your home is their hardiness rating. Each plant that you buy should have a posted rating, which serves as a guideline for where in the world it can grow outdoors.
The USDA created a Plant Hardiness Zone Map, which breaks the USA down into different zones depending on the average temperature of the location. Plants that have correlating ratings will thrive best in their matching zones. Find out your home’s zone, and make sure your outdoor plants will survive in that place.
Now that you’ve determined the best location for your succulents, you can begin to plant them.
Use the Right Type of Soil
The most important thing to remember when planting succulents is to use the right type of soil. Since succulents store so much water in their leaves or stems, they need well-draining soil, so their roots don’t become quickly overwhelmed.
The Next Gardener Professional Grower Fast Draining Soil is the perfect product to use for planting your succulents. It provides a mixture of an organic compound, perlite, and fertilizer to provide just enough water retention for the succulents and allow the proper amount of drainage.
If you’re planting your succulents outdoors, you’ll have to make sure that your garden’s soil is well-draining. You can add sand or rocks to the soil to create a mixture that will allow more water to pass through.
Know How Often to Water Them
Succulents, like all indoor plants, are susceptible to root rot. Root rot is a disease that often affects indoor plants, though it can be found in outdoor plants. It is caused by waterlogged roots that cannot keep up with water being poured on them. The excess water causes the soil to grow deadly bacteria, and the roots begin to rot.
The number one cause of root rot in houseplants is overwatering by humans. Succulents are accustomed to having dry periods between showers, and that’s why it’s especially important not to overwater succulents.
The best way to check if your succulents need water is to touch the soil with your finger. When the top two inches of soil are dry, you can water the succulents with room temperature water.
Use a small spout watering can and pour the water directly onto the soil, not onto the succulent itself. The water needs to reach the plants’ roots, and water on the leaves can cause discolored or moldy leaves. Keep watering until water drips out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.
While watering your succulents less often with more water is the easiest way to care for them properly, you can water them more often with less water. The latter way does require more experience and knowledge of your plants, though, so it may not be suitable for gardening newbies.
In the growing season, and when young, succulents need more water. Your succulents will be growing during the spring and summer months and will need access to more water. In the growing season, you should check your plants’ soil daily so you can keep track of how they are doing and water them when needed.
Know When to Fertilize Them
You may be tempted to fertilize your plants every time you water them, but this is a quick way to kill a succulent. Newly planted succulents won’t need fertilizer for a long time, usually at least one year. The soil you plant your succulents in will have fertilizer in it that will provide them with plenty of nutrients for their first growing season.
During the second year that you have your succulents, you may want to fertilize them. This will replenish some of the nutrients that they have retracted from the soil. Only fertilize your succulents in the spring or summer, as this is when your plants will be growing and will use the nutrients.
There are many dangers of over-fertilizing your plants. The unused nutrients in fertilizer can increase the soil’s alkalinity or acidity, which makes it hard for your plants to absorb what they need. Plants prefer neutral soil between 5.5 and 7.5 pH. This leaves most of the nutrients available to them.
Top Succulent Diseases and Issues
Plants can fall ill just like humans do. Unfortunately for plants, most of their diseases are deadly. It’s important to check your plants often for signs of disease or infestations so you can try and treat them right away.
Let’s explore some of the most common succulent diseases and issues and how to cure them.
Root rot, which we discussed earlier, is the most common killer of indoor plants. People who are new to gardening are passionate about caring for their plants, and that’s good, but that passion often manifests in overwatering.
Overwatering means that you are supplying the plant with more water than it can use. The water then sits in the soil, creating a perfect environment for bacteria. The bacteria attack the roots of the plant and cause it to wilt and die.
- Spotting Root Rot: Root rot shows up in a general wilting of the succulent. The leaves will appear smaller and may begin to hang limply. They may also look faded or discolored. The roots of the plant will turn from firm and white to black and soft. The leaves and stems of the succulent may fall off when you touch them or turn into mush.
- Curing Root Rot: While root rot can’t be cured, some plants may be salvageable if caught early enough. Most succulents are easily propagated, which involves removing healthy leaves of the succulent and growing new roots. In this way, you can save your plant from root rot, even though the original plant may die.
Low Light Conditions
One of the most common issues seen with home-grown succulents is a lack of light. Succulents that are starved from sunshine will become leggy. That means that they will grow long and tall, with leaves spread out and searching for the sun.
Low light conditions are dangerous for succulents as they can quickly die if not provided with the right amount of light.
- Spotting Low Light Symptoms: Look for succulents that are growing oddly long, tall, or skinny. These struggling succulents may also lean to one side in their search for light. Some leaves may be dropped to preserve their energy.
- Curing Struggling Plants: Succulents that aren’t getting enough light won’t survive long. If you live in a place that doesn’t have a lot of natural light, you may be better off choosing a different plant. If your heart is set on succulents, you’ll either have to move them closer to a window or invest in a plant light.
Fungus loves to grow in warm, moist environments. Fungal infections are rapidly spreading infections that can kill plants when not treated. The fungus can attack the plant’s leaves, stem, or roots, depending on the infection’s location.
- Spotting a Fungal Infection: Fungal infections usually manifest in visible spots and discoloration. Some fungal infections appear as black spots on the leaves of succulents, while others look like yellow or brown rings. Fungal infections will spread onto nearby leaves first, and then throughout the rest of the plant.
- Curing a Fungal Infection: If you catch a fungal infection early, you can treat it with a plant-friendly fungicide. The Garden Safe Fungicide is a product that will help to control the fungal infection. Spray it onto the plant once a week to stop the spread of the fungus.
Cut and remove infected leaves from the succulent, and dispose of them in your garbage. Don’t put infected organic matter into your garden compost, as the fungus can grow and spread to the rest of the plants in your yard.
Expert Tips for Growing Succulents
As succulents have become a staple in the home-planting community, tips for their successful growth have grown plentiful. Below are some of the best tips for growing succulents, indoors and outdoors.
Outdoors, plant-soil gets aerated by a variety of things. Earthworms churn through dirt and create a healthy shift of soil. The sun beats down on the earth, drying it out and creating cracks. Wind and rain move and reseal the dirt’s cracks, allowing new nutrients to reach the plants’ roots.
The aeration of the soil allows water and fresh nutrients to reach the plants’ roots. This is extremely important for all plants, including succulents. The issue with indoor plants is that there is no natural aeration. It is up to you to provide the proper aeration in the soil of your plants.
Each time you water your plants, you should aerate the soil. To do this, take a clean chopstick or wooden skewer and poke into the soil around the plant’s base. Move the chopstick back and forth to loosen the soil a little bit. Repeat this around the plant’s entire base until there are holes in the dirt all around it.
When you water your plant, keep the spout close to the dirt’s surface and pour slowly and steadily. The holes in the soil will allow water to run into it and reach the roots, instead of just running off on top of the dirt.
You can also promote aeration of your plants by putting a rotating fan in the room with them. This will ensure that their leaves are drying off, especially if you tend to spritz your plants.
Touch Your Plants Every Day
Even though succulents are less high maintenance than many other plants, they still require care and attention. It is good practice to check the moisture level of the soil of your plants every day, especially as your collection grows.
Most of your plants will end up needing water at different times, and checking your plants daily, ensures that you are providing each plant with the attention that it needs. You should also regularly check your plants’ leaves and roots to make sure that no dangerous fungi or diseases are starting to grow.
A good routine is to check your plants in the morning, when you have a cup of coffee or before you leave for work. You can then care for the plants as needed, watering those that might need it or moving plants around that need more sunlight. The plants can then enjoy the adjustments throughout the rest of the day.
Small Succulents Need Small Pots
Many succulents can grow very large, like aloe vera and snake plants, but you may prefer to keep your succulents small. Miniature succulent gardens can quickly become overcrowded as the succulents grow.
To prevent succulents from becoming too large, you can plant them in shallow pots. This will prevent their roots from growing deeper and will effectively restrict their size. If you ever want your succulents to grow larger in the future, you can always replant them into a larger, deeper pot.
Watch the Weather
Whether you’re caring for indoor or outdoor plants, you should pay attention to the weather reports.
Succulents are drought resistant, but extended periods of severe heat can still damage them, especially if they are young or newly planted. If you see a hot and dry spell that will last for more than three days, you should plan to water your outdoor succulents at the beginning of this period. That way, they will have enough moisture to last happily through the drought.
An extended hot spell can also affect indoor succulents, especially when sitting right next to a window. You should test the soil of the succulents often during this period to make sure the soil isn’t reaching dangerously dry levels.
You should also keep an eye out for large rainfall or frost. Any succulents in pots outside may benefit from being put under a cover if the rainfall is extreme. Any soft succulents will need to be brought inside as soon as frost starts appearing outside.
Rotate Your Succulents
If you have indoor succulents, you should rotate them regularly to prevent them from growing too heavily in one direction. Rotating your plants can also prevent them from fading too much in the sun.
The easiest way to rotate your plants regularly is to turn them 90 degrees to the right every time you water them. Doing this puts your plants’ rotation on autopilot, and you’ll be sure they are getting even sunlight.
Wipe Your Succulents’ Leaves
Indoor plants collect dust, just like your furniture and picture frames. Succulents draw in sunlight through their leaves, and the settled dust can potentially block and restrict the process of photosynthesis. It’s important to regularly remove this dust so that your plants don’t become starved for energy.
To clean your succulents’ leaves, all you need is a damp cloth. Once a week, wipe down your succulents with a cloth. You don’t need to use any soap for this, just lukewarm water. Snake plants and aloe vera tend to collect a lot of dust due to their large size.
After you have wiped down your succulents, put them near an open window or fan, so that the water can evaporate. As we’ll learn below, it’s dangerous to let water sit on a plant’s leaves.
Don’t Mist Succulents
You may be tempted to mist your plants, but this is not necessary when it comes to succulents. Misting plants do not increase humidity like it is thought to. Instead, it simply makes your plants wet and introduces still water to their leaves.
Water that sits on the surface of your succulents does not get absorbed by the plant. Your outdoor succulents will dry off, thanks to airflow and sunshine. Indoor succulents, however, are cursed with still air and a lack of sunshine. Misting your indoor plants puts them at a higher risk of developing a fungal infection.
Avoid Repotting in the Winter
Repotting plants is very stressful for them. When you repot a plant, you disturb its root system and pull it out of its home. Succulents are generally hardy, but a tough repotting can kill them, just like any other plant.
To give your succulent the best chance of surviving a repotting, you should repot them at the beginning of the growing season. This will allow them to grow new, stable roots, as they begin to grow again for the year.
When you repot a succulent, be sure to use fresh, well-draining soil. You should also gently break apart the root system, especially if it is bound into a tight ball. The new soil will provide the succulent with fresh nutrients for the year again, and the loosening of the roots will encourage the plant to establish new reaches into the new pot.
Succulents are an easy way to add color and greenery to your home. Depending on where you live, you can add succulents to the interior and exterior of your house. If you live in a location with severe winters, you can either choose hardy succulents for the exterior or choose soft succulents that you move indoors in the winter.
Succulents need bright light to thrive, and you should place them next to bright windows or under plant lights when indoors. Water your succulents sparingly but regularly, don’t over-fertilize them, and you’ll end up with a beautiful, flowering succulent that will bring beauty to your home.