Growing Succulents Guide
Grow Guide for Succulents in the Home and Outdoors
The many succulent plants that exist today have a wide variety of adaptations for different climates, types of soils for succulents, 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 all types of succulents with ease! Use our Succulent Guide as an example for typical practices for many of these plants. Learn how to grow succulent plants.
Watering Succulent Plants
Succulent care starts with watering habits. Succulents are plants that have methods to actually store water internally (in their fleshy 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 are the most well known of these types of plants, but many plant families include at least some species that are fleshy.
Most fast growing succulent plants come from regions characterized by dry winters and wetter summers. The particular species of succulent (whether indoor or outdoor), the drainage of the potting mix, the humidity in the air, and the size and vigor of the plant all will affect water requirements. As well as the type of container it is planted in and if it has a good drainage hole (we highly recommend this!). How big do succulents grow? Succulents size and shape varies by variety. Choose succulents that will grow best in your region.
For most succulent growers, watering succulents 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 soil is dry down to an inch or two below the surface it is time to water.
Water deeply and soak the soil, 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. Excess water will cause root rot. Let the garden soil dry out completely before watering again. It is good to set up a watering schedule to keep track of how often and the amount of water you are giving your plants. The leaves and stems will shrivel a bit when it is time to water your plants.
Potting Soil for Succulent Plants
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 cacti mixes for the consumer typically contain 25-50% organic matter. The rest is made up of inorganic spacers with small particle size. The organic materials of a perfect 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 or crushed granite, part perlite, pine bark, gritty mix, 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 lush plants, 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. They are very drought tolerant and should be watered only very limitedly.
To provide the extra calcium that many plants need, crushed or powdered limestone should be added to the potting mix. We also recommend adding a slow release fertilizer, such as Perfect Plants Succulent Fertilizer when fertilizing your plants. 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 active growing season. Do not fertilize in the dormant season (winter for most succulents). Some growers use a weak dilution of fertilizer with each watering. The fertilizer will help your succulents with a slow growth rate grow faster. 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 succulent 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. Pick a container with special shapes, colors or textures and get creative!
Succulent Light Requirements
Outside, most succulents prefer and need around six hours of bright indirect light each day.
Can succulents grow inside? Yes! If you are indoor gardening, you should place your succulents near a window that gets full sun 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 an LED grow light for succulents. There are several types of fluorescent lights that are cost effective and energy efficient on the internet to use as indoor succulent grow lights, grow lamps or even blue light bulbs. If you are indoor growing in a colder area you may consider an LED light with a heat source for warmth for several hours a day. These types of lights can come in many shapes and sizes depending on your needs. You can also consider moving your succulent collection outside in spring and summer. They can tol
Growing succulents indoors can be tricky at times and most succulents thrive outside. Indoor conditions must be perfect to provide succulents with the best growing and lighting conditions. The amount of light for your plants needed as the plants grow may vary. If you live in an area that gets frigid winters, be sure to bring your house plants indoors for the cold weather period.
Some specimens may get too much light on a south-facing window sill. Their green 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 plant cultivation, stick with potted succulents that are naturally green in color.
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 the hot bright afternoon sun), minimal rainfall (less is more and you can always self-water), well-draining soil, and the proper temperatures you CAN grow succulents outside. There are more cold-hardy succulents such as the Sempervivum species. They are perfect as ground covers or in rock gardens.
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.
Two great, low maintenance choices for first-time growers are Christmas cactus, snake plants, aloe vera or jade plants. Succulents are easy to grow and so so fun!
Last but not least, they like it dry!
Stay tuned for our upcoming blog post on how to propagate succulents and more succulent plant care.