Succulents originally came from dry, arid areas such as steppes, semi-desert and desert, so they don’t need much water. In fact, they don’t like to sit in wet soil because their roots are sensitive to the bacteria that develop when there is moisture. There are basically 2 things to remember about taking care of the succulents in your terrarium: light and water.
The Right Amount of Light
You already know that succulents need a lot of light, but how will you know how much light is enough? Your plants will tell you when they need more or less light.
Too little light: Plants will grow tall or they’ll bend in one direction in search of light. That is called “stretching” or etiolation and it won’t hurt your plant, it just looks kind of funny. Too little light can also cause your plants to become pale and lose their color.
Move your plant to a brighter part of your space. If your succulents haven’t been in direct sunlight, avoid moving them into direct sun for long periods as they will burn. Direct sunlight takes a little “training” by giving the plants more and more light each day so they get used to it. Start with 1 hour or 2 each day, then leave them for an hour longer the next day. If you live in a part of the world that is dark often, try giving your plant artificial light with some Grow Lights, but remember to keep the light source no more than 12 inches (30 cm) from the plants.
Too much light: Yes, it’s possible to give your succulents too much light, especially when they’re babies. Most smaller succulents will burn if you leave them in hot, direct sunlight for a long time. The leaves get spotty burn marks or they will start to dry out from the outside inward. Sometimes the glass from your terrarium can also refract sunlight, magnifying it into an intensely hot beam. So avoid direct sun!
If some of the leaves on your succulents burn, don’t fret! They will grow more leaves and the old ones will die. Just move your terrarium away from the too-bright area. Don’t give it a bunch of water, that’s a common mistake. You can also try to put a piece of thin fabric, plastic grocery bag, or a paper towel over your terrarium during the really sunny part of the day, but make sure there’s plenty of air flow.
The Right Amount of Water
The “perfect” amount of water is a pretty flexible concept for succulents, but we like to say “more water, less often”. The general rule is to thoroughly water the soil, then wait for the soil to completely dry out before watering again. This is because the soil that succulents love drains very quickly. If you dump water into one concentrated spot, it just drains to the bottom without spreading to the rest of your terrarium. This is no good because terrariums, by definition, don’t have an opening for water to drain. For this reason, we recommend watering your succulent terrarium with a low flow of water over a large surface area. Remember, don’t overwater and don’t water too often! You have to keep in mind that changes don’t happen overnight like they do in some house plants. Here’s how to recognize when your plants are trying to tell you something.
Too little water: Plants look shriveled or the leaves wilt downwards.
Don’t give it a ton of water just yet. Dry succulents aren’t so bad as they were made to withstand long periods without water, being desert plants. If your succulents live in a terrarium without any drainage, please be careful about how much water you give your plants. Keep an eye on the plants over the next week and you’ll see them plump up again. Don’t dump a ton of water into your succulents at once, they’ll rot and die.
Too much water: This is the most common mistake that people make with their succulents. When your plants get too much water, the bottom leaves start to die or rot. When they rot, the leaves get all squishy and gross.
In most cases, just let your terrarium sit without a watering until you see the soil become completely dry. You can tell if the soil is dry when the color gets light and dusty. You can also stick a finger, toothpick, or moisture meter into the soil and test the moisture level, like baking cupcakes. If you’ve already put way too much water into your terrarium and the dirt is soggy or you see water fill up the bottom of the vessel, then you might want to try more desperate measures. Make a trip to the local pharmacy or computer store and buy a large syringe with a long needle, like the ones used to refill ink cartridges. Stick the syringe into the bottom of your vessel and suck out as much water as possible. Now leave your terrarium in a bright place with good air flow, but not in direct sun, and let it dry out. Then start watering your plants again once things have dried – it’s normal that some parts of the plants die, it doesn’t mean the entire plant is dead. They’ll come back with love and time.
- Succulentopedia: Browse succulents by Scientific Name, Common Name, Genus, Family, USDA Hardiness Zone, Origin, or cacti by Genus
Subscribe to Receive News and Updates from World of Succulents: