SUCCULENT GROW GUIDE
Grow Guide for Succulents in the Home
The many succulent plants that exist today have a wide variety of adaptations for different climates, soils, sunlight regimes, and water needs. Knowing the name of your succulent and doing some research to see if it has specific requirements will help you grow succulents of all types with ease!
Succulents are plants that have methods to actually store water internally (in their leaves and petals) during times of drought.
This is beneficial in warmer climates as these small but mighty plants can thrive without rainfall for weeks. There are thousands of taxonomically unrelated plant species that have developed the succulent lifestyle. Cacti, of course, are the most well known succulents, but many plant families include at least some species that are succulent.
Most succulent plants come from regions characterized by dry winters and wetter summers. The particular species of succulent, the drainage of the potting mix, the humidity in the air, and the size and vigor of the plant all will affect water requirements.
For most succulent growers, watering is the biggest challenge. Start with this simple rule of thumb, and modify as you gain knowledge and experience:
Water once a week in the Summer, and once a month in the Winter
When the potting mix becomes dry down to an inch or two below the surface it is time to water.
Water deeply, filling the container to its rim until water runs out the bottom. Just be sure it drains right on through within a day or two, and don’t leave water standing in a saucer beneath the pot.
The potting medium for succulents must be fast draining. It should be loose and crumbly, to prevent water-logging, which causes roots to rot. Succulent potting mixes drain faster and hold less water than typical houseplant mixes. Commercial succulent and cactus mixes for the consumer typically contain 25-50% organic matter. The rest is made up of inorganic spacers. The organic components of a succulent potting mix can be coconut coir, peat moss, or composted mulch (humus) from leaves, grass, or vegetable waste.
If you are looking to make your own mix, for most succulents we like a potting mix that is 50% standard houseplant potting mix (Perfect Plants Organic Potting mix is a good choice), and 50% pumice, perlite, grit, coarse sand, or gravel.
Perlite is our favorite inorganic filler, but grit and gravel are acceptable.
Pumice is OK, but it tends to float up during watering and eventually breaks down. Do not use vermiculite or fine sand as these tend to retain water and sometimes become cement-like over time.
One rule of thumb to keep in mind: Some succulents, such as those from extremely arid environments, including stone imitators like Lithops, Conophytum, and Dinteranthus, do best in a potting mix that is 100% inorganic, with no humus at all.
To provide the extra calcium that many succulents need, crushed or powdered limestone should be added to the potting mix. We also recommend adding a slow release complete fertilizer, such as Perfect Plants Succulent Fertilizer. Most successful succulent growers supply a low nitrogen complete fertilizer diluted to half or even less of recommended strength every couple of months during the plant’s growing season. Do not fertilize in the dormant season (winter for most succulents). Some growers use a weak dilution of fertilizer with each watering. Remember, indoor succulents do not need very much fertilizer!
Porous clay pots (otherwise known as terra cotta), although heavier and more expensive than plastic containers, are preferred because they “breathe” and allow the soil mix to dry out faster. If you use glass, plastic, stoneware, or glazed pots, you should use a faster draining potting soil (i.e., a higher percentage of inorganic spacer).
Succulents tend to have shallow root systems, making shallow clay pots or “pans” ideal containers. To avoid soil loss, place a piece of fine mesh screen over the large bottom hole. Window screening works well.
The shallow root systems also allow succulents to be versatile when planting. This means several succulents can share one container so long as the correct soil and watering techniques are used.
Outside, most succulents need around six hours of bright indirect sunlight each day. Indoors, you should place your succulents near a window that gets light all day. South, west, and east facing windows, in that order, are best. If this isn’t possible, place them near the brightest window available. If your succulents are not getting enough light, they will start to “stretch out”, producing smaller leaves and longer stems. If this happens and you can’t move them to a brighter window, you should consider using a grow light. You can also consider moving your succulent collection outside in spring and summer. Some specimens may get too much light on a south facing window sill. Their leaves may begin to scorch. Move them back or hang a sheer curtain.
Plants that have bright colors (red, orange, purple) need more light, even direct sun, than those that are just green (to maintain the color anyway). For indoor cultivation, stick with succulents that are naturally green.
You can grow succulents outside either in a container or in the ground if conditions permit. There are 3 major considerations: temperatures both winter and summer, amount of rainfall, and intensity of light. The temperature affects different kinds of succulents in different ways. Some can tolerate mild freezes while others cannot. Do your research… plant choices are everything. If you are in an area with at least six hours of sunlight (not completely direct, may need protection in hot bright sun), minimal rainfall (less is more and you can always self-water), well-draining soil, and the proper temperatures you CAN grow succulents outside. Get creative! There are so many fun ways to display your succulent gardens.
Remember, every species has its own set of unique growing conditions under which it thrives best. Generalizations can be helpful, but nothing beats knowing as much as you can about a particular plant’s niche in its natural habitat. You want to simulate those conditions as much as possible.
Last but not least, they like it dry!