Succulents are all the rage and with good reason. They are beautiful, interesting, and easy to care for in most cases. They are often used as decor both indoors and out. However, succulents are living plants that require some care to survive and thrive, and while caring for them is not complex, knowing the basics will help you have the healthiest plants around.
Succulent is a general name for any plant with a swollen part that can hold excess water, occurring in the leaves, stem, or even roots. People commonly refer to succulents as plants with fleshy leaves, typically identified as Sedum, Sempervivum, Echeveria, Aeonium, and Crassula. Understanding that the word "succulent" does not refer to a type of plant but instead describes its characteristics will help understand how to care for them.
As most plants commonly referred to as succulents are different families, the care instructions will differ for them. The best way to learn what they need to thrive is to read the tag that comes in the plant. Unfortunately, succulents sold at shops that do not specialize in plants will often not have proper labeling, so you may not even know the name or care instructions for that plant. In general, though, look for:
- Healthy-looking leaves with no odd discoloration, spots, or tears;
- Plants that look "full" with leaves that start at the base of the plant and are closely spaced, particularly in Sempervivum and Echeveria that have a rosette-shaped pattern to the leaves.
- No pests on the leaves…
- …or soil. Yes, pull the plant gently out of the pot and inspect the soil. Look for signs of pests, disease, or tightly-wound roots that indicate that the plant is root-bound.
Just because these plants are drought-tolerant does not mean that they do not need water. It simply means that they will tolerate longer periods of drought. With regular watering and proper conditions, succulents can be low maintenance and last for years.
When you first plant succulents, water them until the soil is damp. Then, allow the soil to dry out before watering again. There is a big difference between soil drying out and drying up. Allowing the soil to feel dry to the touch is good practice, but if it has shrunk from the sides and becomes hard, you have waited too long. Rehydrate soil that has dried up by soaking the pot in a sink or tray with an inch of water for a few hours until the soil rehydrates.
Set succulents out in the sun for the best results. Again, keep in mind that all succulents do not come from the same family, and some may require more or less sun than others. Plants that are not getting enough sun will get leggy. Plants that are getting too much sun will get scorched leaves.
If you are lucky enough to live somewhere where winters are mild and succulents thrive all year, then lucky you! You will likely have plenty of huge succulents around to enjoy. However, there is an important distinction for the rest of us to learn about succulents in colder climates. Hardy succulents need a cold period at some point in the year to thrive, and tender succulents will die if left in the cold.
Hardy succulents like Sedum and Sempervivum are wonderful in cold-climate gardens, particularly in a container. In the fall, move the containers undercover (but not indoors) and leave them alone for the winter. Then, next spring, pull the pots out and set them in the sun. They will be back to their former glory in no time!
Tender succulents are best brought indoors for the winter. Try to find the sunniest location you can, water a bit more sparingly, and remove any dead leaves as they dry up.
Tidying Up Succulents
Whether they braved it outside or inside, these pretty plants can look like they have taken a beating over the winter. Hardy succulents will need the brown outer leaves removed and the soil refreshed. Tender succulents can probably use replanting as they likely got leggy searching for light indoors.
- Succupedia: Browse succulents by Scientific Name, Common Name, Genus, Family, USDA Hardiness Zone, Origin, or cacti by Genus