Succulents are the perfect plant for forgetful and sometimes neglectful gardeners. They don’t require much care and are easy to grow inside as well as out. They come in a variety of colors and textures and look lovely potted or landscaped.
Succulents are a diverse group of plants that come in many colors and shapes. There are over 20,000 varieties with kinds suited for all growing conditions. They store water in their leaves which tend to be thick and plump, although some have thinner leaves. They often grow in dry climates without much humidity. They do need to be watered, but can stand periods of drought instead pulling water that is stored in the leaves. They do not do well in wet conditions as their roots will start to rot if sitting in water for too long. Succulents often prefer warm weather can will not survive freezing temperatures. The stored water in the leaves will freeze and destroy the plant. Some species, however, can survive a freezing winter.
As with all plants the four things to consider when caring for succulents are light, water, soil, and temperature.
Both indoor and outdoor succulents generally need at least 3 hours of direct sun daily. Morning sunlight would be preferable as the afternoon sun can be too harsh. Some succulents that receive too much sun may be damaged and look sunburned with scars on their leaves or a washed out color. Especially in hot climates where the sun is the most direct be sure to keep your succulents in areas with filtered sunlight.
Alternatively, succulents that don’t receive enough sun may begin to grow or reach toward the sun. The plants may begin to grow tall with the leaves more spaced out. Succulents that are colored may also turn green if not receiving enough light.
Succulents are made to grow in arid climates and as a result do not need much water. They instead store their water in their leaves or stems. When watering your succulents be sure the soil is dry before you water. Soak the soil around the plant and don’t water again until the soil is completely dry. If the roots stay wet for long periods of time they may begin to rot causing the plant to rot. You will be able to tell this is occurring because the leaves will turn black and mushy and may start to grow mold. Generally, most succulents need to be watered only once a week. This will vary depending on your climate and soil conditions. If you are unsure how often to water your succulents it is better to underwater rather than overwater.
Well-draining soil is vital for succulents. This is important as too much moisture will cause the plant to rot. Unlike typical plants, succulent roots don’t absorb water through direct contact, but instead they get their water from the air. That is why well-draining soil is important. If you grow your succulents in pots, but sure the pot has drainage holes.
When planting succulents look for cactus mix potting soil. This mix is designed to drain better than regular potting soil. If you are unable to find cactus mix you can make your own by mixing 1 part stone pebbles, 1 part wood mulch, and 1 part clay pebbles. The stone pebbles don’t absorb water and create pockets in the mix for the water to drain. The mulch and clay absorb moisture and slowly releases it allowing the roots to receive water.
Most succulents are able to tolerate a large range of temperatures if they get the right amount of sun and water. However, the more delicate succulents should not be kept in temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) or below freezing. These are the types with really thick leaves. The extreme heat will cause them to droop when the soil gets too hot and dry and below freezing will freeze the water in their leaves.
One of the excellent qualities of succulents is their ability to propagate easily. You can often start a new plant from leaf or a plant cutting. Some types of succulents propagate better from a cutting rather than a leaf. The succulents with the thick, fleshy leaves are best suited to leaf propagation.
The best way to remove a leaf for propagation is to gently twist the leaf from the stem. You’ll want the entire leaf so nothing should be left on the stem. For succulents that propagate best from cuttings use sharp scissors or pruning shears and cut off a stem right above a leaf. This can be either the top of the succulent, or a new shoot.
After removing the leaf or cutting you’ll want the end to dry out and scab over a bit before planting. If you plant it freshly cut it may absorb too much moisture. Depending on your climate and humidity this may take 1 to 3 days. The leaf or cutting may shrivel slightly. You’ll want to plant it before it dries out too much.
When the end of the cutting is dry it is time to plant it. The leaf does not need to be planted and instead should be laid on top of soil. Mist the cutting or leaf with water whenever the soil is dry. You do not need to soak the soil. The leaves will begin to grow tiny roots within 4 to 6 weeks. When you begin to see roots cover them with soil so they don’t dry out. Propagating new plants from leaves and cuttings is not a quick process as it may take up to a year for the new plant to be fully grown.
Often times when you buy a succulent at the store it may not be labeled. Or it will be labeled simply as “succulent” or “succulent variety”. This can be frustrating as different succulent have different growth requirements. There are many avenues you can take to help you identify your plant. The first may be to simply ask the seller. If they are unsure you may be able to identify your succulent with a photo using an online forum.
The more difficult way to identify your succulent is to look at the characteristics of the plant such as leaf shape and growing habits.
Succulents come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. The leaf shapes of succulent can vary greatly among the different kinds. Leaves are generally long and spikey or small and circular. Succulents that have long spikey leaves include Aloe vera, Agave, and Gasteria. Within the spikey-leaved category the leaves may be grass-like or fleshy. The succulents with circular leaves are rose-shaped, called rosette forming succulents. Rosette-forming, circular leaved succulents include Aeonium, Echeveria, and Graptopeltum.
Succulents that grow in the rosette-form feature close clusters of leaves that radiate from the center as a flower would. These leaves may be pointed or round, fleshy or grass-like. Jobivarva succulents feature rounded leaves and hen-and-chick feature pointed leaves.
Some succulents grow in long stalks and others grow close to the ground and spread out. Succulents may change in configuration as they mature so waiting until they have aged may help in making an identification.
The size of the plant may help you identify the plant as well as determine where it should be grown. Smaller plants, those that are just a couple inches tall and wide, may be best suited indoors. Larger plants may be best to grow outside.
Flower shape and color
Flowers are one of the easiest ways to identify a plant. If your succulent blooms pay attention to the shape, size, color, and even the time of year that it blooms. The Christmas Cactus, for example, blooms only once a year, in midwinter.
Succulents are a popular choice for houseplants because they don’t require a lot of maintenance. A Jade Plant is a classic choice and is easy to grow. Aloe vera is also popular and can be used to treat sunburns or wounds. Burro’s Tail is a pretty plant that can add some interest to your interior. It has overlapping leaves which can reach up to 3 feet (90 cm) in length and hang over the flower pot.
Christmas Cactus and Thanksgiving Cactus are succulents that bloom during the holidays and offer some color during the time of year when it can be hard to find. Keep this succulent outside in a sheltered area in the summer and fall. Bring it indoors when the overnight temperatures begin to drop into the 40s. Fertilize the plant three times during the summer and keep it drier in the winter than in the spring and summer.
One of the easiest houseplants to keep is the Snake Plant. It gets its name from the shape of its leaves. This is an indestructible houseplant that strives on neglect. It grows upright and can fit into many locations in the home. There are also many varieties, some that are variegated in color, to offer many options.
The most common succulents you’ll find to grow outside are Yucca, Prickly Pear Cactus, and Agave. These plants are great for landscaping and can be used alone or for all of the landscape. Yucca and Agave are hardy for most of the United States.
Hen-and-chick are a type of Sempervivum and get their name from the mother plant, or the hen, that produces cluster of offsets, the chicks. They are an easy plant to grow in the sunny part of the yard. They are low-growing and are also a good choice for a houseplant. When keeping it as a houseplant be sure to let the soil dry out completely between watering.
Sedum, sometimes called Stonecrop, are a great succulent to use as groundcover as most types are low-growing. Some varieties are taller and look best in the middle of the garden. They grow well in a normal garden, but do best in drier conditions. They also grow well in full-sun or partial sun.
When planting succulents in your garden one thing you should pay attention to is the soil. If your soil is not naturally well draining you will need to mix in some sand or gravel to help the drainage. No succulents can tolerate standing water so well-drained soil is key.
To help landscape the succulents consider adding a rock garden. This is a great way to achieve a natural looking succulent garden. Rock gardens feature various sizes of rocks and help mimic many of succulents native habits helping the landscaped succulents look more natural. You can also plant the succulents in groups to help them look purposeful and avoid planting in rows which can create the effect of soldiers in a row.
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