How to Plant Succulents

Succulents are amongst the most popular houseplants. Attractive and hardy, they are a colorful addition to most indoor plant collections. In ideal conditions you can also grow succulent specimens outside. As well as being visually attractive, one of the main attractions of the succulent is that it is both low in maintenance needs and easy to care for.

Knowing how to plant succulents is a vital part of correctly caring for these specimens. Positioning the succulent too deeply in the soil or using the wrong type of potting medium can cause serious problems that are difficult to correct.

This guide to how to plant succulents is designed to take you through the process, step by step. We will explain everything that you need to know, from the importance of selecting the right pot to after care tips.

Pleasingly easy to master, knowing how to plant succulents helps you to ensure that they are settled in a favorable position which, in turn, helps to promote lots of healthy growth and flowering.

1 How to plant succulents

The succulent is a popular container garden choice.

What is a Succulent?

Before you can learn how to plant succulents, we must first understand exactly what they are.

One of the most distinctive types of plant, the succulent typically has thick fleshy leaves that are capable of storing water. Many types of succulent are also able to store water in their stems and roots. This enables the plants to survive for an extended period of time without water. This unique feature developed because of the need for the succulent to adapt to survive in the arid conditions of the African and North American deserts.

As well as being tolerant of arid conditions, these specimens are pleasingly robust and floral.

Whie the Aloe and the Agave are the most well known, there are many different types of succulent. The adaptive mechanism of the succulent means that there is a great deal of variety amongst the succulent family.

Many have different leaf forms or grow in particular shapes such as the tight rosettes of Echeveria or Hens and Chicks. You can also find types that produce distinctive, paddle leaves or bushy or trailing types such as the String of Pearls plant. Additionally, Cacti are a succulent subset.

2 Different sized succulents
Succulent specimens come in a wide range of shapes and sizes.

Where to Place Your Succulent

Before you can start to learn how to plant succulents you must decide on the growing location. Many people chose to grow these attractive specimens as houseplants, keeping them undercover for most of the year. During the warmest part of the year the plants can be placed outside, but you must remember to return them to their usual, indoor position before the winter temperatures arrive.

Growers in warm climates, where freezing temperatures are unlikely, can grow succulent specimens outside either in the soil or in a pot. Best grown outside in warm, arid climates, these specimens do tolerate cool temperatures. However, they will struggle, and likely fail, if exposed to freezing temperatures.

Whether you are learning how to plant succulents for indoor or outside cultivation, it is important to know that these specimens thrive when planted in pots. This makes them ideal for inclusion in an indoor garden.

Grow your succulent specimens in a warm, dry location. Lots of light is also important, but not too much direct sunlight. This can cause the foliage to burn or discolor. When considering your planting position or pot location try to replicate the plants natural dessert-like habitat as much as possible.

If you are growing indoors, place the pots in or close to a light windowsill.

3 Plant suculents in favorable position
Knowing how to plant succulents in a favorable position promotes healthy growth.  

While all succulent specimens dislike dark positions, soggy soil and cold temperatures some are more tolerant of these conditions than others. Take the time to do a little research on your chosen succulent before positioning it in your home. Like other houseplants they can be fussy and you may need to move it around a few times before you find the ideal spot.

Now that you know where to place your plant, it is time to learn how to plant succulents.

What You Need to Plant Succulents

Before you start learning how to plant succulents, it is important to make sure that you have everything that you will need to hand. To successfully learn how to plant succulents you will need:

  • A terracotta or clay pot with drainage holes,
  • Drainage screen or mesh tape.
  • Potting medium,
  • Top dressing,
  • Watering can.

You will also need a succulent.

A terracotta or clay pot is preferred to a plastic container because these materials are porous. This means that excess moisture is able to escape through the pot.

Almost all succulents dislike sitting in wet soil. This can cause rot to form and cause the succulent to fail. Using a porous pot helps to prevent this. Your pot should also be as shallow as possible. For more information on selecting the correct pot for your succulent, why not consult our guide to choosing a succulent pot?

4 Plant succulents in porous pots

Porous terracotta pots are perfect for succulent specimens. 

When it comes to the potting medium you will need to use something that is well draining. A succulent or cactus specific potting mix is ideal. You can also make your own potting medium by combining potting soil with coarse sand. A blend that is 3 parts potting soil mixed with 2 parts coarse sand and 1 part pumice or perlite is ideal.

A drainage screen, such as the Flower Pot Hole Mesh Pad is necessary to cover the drainage hole. This prevents the soil from either escaping or clogging up the drainage hole during watering. Soil escaping through the drainage hole not only makes a mess but can also harm the succulent. You can also use Home Intuition Mesh Guard to cover the drainage hole.

Finally, while not strictly necessary, a top dressing is aesthetically pleasing. It also helps to prevent the potting medium from moving about too much during the watering process, ensuring that the succulent is able to receive ample amounts of the necessary nutrients. You can use whatever material you choose for the top dressing. Popular choices include:

5 Plant succulents with top dressing
When learning how to plant succulents, covering the soil with a top dressing is both practical and aesthetically pleasing.

When you have everything that you need, you can start to plant your succulents.

How to Plant Succulents

Learning how to plant succulents is not a complicated process. However, it can’t be rushed. Taking your time means that you are less likely to accidentally damage the succulent.

If you are learning how to plant succulents indoors and don’t have a potting bench, put some old newspaper down to avoid making too much of a mess.

Now that you are ready to learn how to plant succulents, begin by preparing the new container. Cover the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot with the drainage screen or mesh tape.

Next, fill the pot with your chosen potting medium. Remember to leave a gap between the top of the soil and the lip of the pot. After filling the pot, water the soil with a watering can.

Carefully remove your succulent from its old pot. Be careful not to cause the succulent too much disturbance or damage whilst handling. If the succulent is difficult to remove and is sitting in a plastic pot, you can use scissors to cut away the old pot.

Brush away any remaining soil from the root system. Carefully expose the roots. This helps them to more quickly embed into the new potting medium.

Make a hole in the fresh potting medium. This should be large enough to comfortably hold the entire root system. While the hole should be wide enough to hold the entire root system it should not be too deep. The majority of succulent cultivars dislike being buried too deeply.

Center the succulent in the hole. Aim to plant so that the top of the root system sits just below soil level.

Once you are happy with the position of the succulent, gently backfill the hole. Finally, arrange the top dressing around the succulent and place in your chosen position.

One of the best things about learning how to plant succulents is that, unlike other specimens, there is little aftercare needed.

There is no need to water your succulent straight after planting. Moistening the potting medium before planting is enough to help the succulent settle in its new position.

After a few weeks the succulent will start to show signs of requiring more moisture such as shriveling leaves. When you water the succulent, adopt the soak and dry method as explained in our guide to watering succulents.

How to Plant Succulents Outside

Learning how to plant succulents outside is largely the same as learning how to plant succulents in a container.

Before planting work sand into your substrate. This helps to improve drainage.

Use a shovel or hand trowel to dig a shallow hole into the soil. Mix in any necessary amendments such as sand and water well with a garden hose.

Carefully remove your succulent from its old container. Brush away any remaining soil from the root system.

Place the succulent in the hole, enabling the roots to evenly spread out around the succulent in the process. The top of the root system should sit level or slightly below soil level.

If your soil is particularly poor to drain, plant so that the roots sit just above the soil level, this encourages excess moisture to drain away from the roots, helping to prevent rot from developing.

Once you are happy with the position of the succulent, cover the base and roots with more soil. Do not pack the soil too tightly. This smothers the roots, preventing them from harvesting moisture and establishing themselves.

Finally apply the top dressing. As well as being decoratively pleasing the top dressing also helps to deter weed growth. This is particularly useful when growing shallow rooted specimens such as succulents. Weeding can easily damage root systems causing your succulent to fail. A top dressing or layer of mulch discourages weed growth, reducing the amount of maintenance that you need to do.

After planting, allow the succulent to settle in its new position for several days. During this time watch the leaves for signs of distress. When the foliage starts to shrivel, water using the soak and dry method.

6 Plant succulents outside

In warmer climates you can learn how to plant succulents outside.  

When and How to Repot a Succulent

Knowing when to repot is an important part of knowing how to plant succulents.

You should always repot your succulent as soon after purchase as possible. Often plants purchased from garden stores and nurseries are often allowed to sit in soil for too long meaning that it is poor in nutrients or inappropriate organic soil that doesn’t drain well.

After this, you need to repot your succulent on a regular basis. A succulent that is allowed to sit in a pot for too long can become root bound. This means that it has become too big for its pot and the roots have no room to spread out.

One of the most obvious signs of a succulent becoming root bound is growth slowing or ceasing. Ideally a succulent should sit in the center of the pot with half an inch or 2.5 cm between the leaves and edge of the pot. Generally most specimens will be happy in a 3 to 4 inch sized pot. Larger or more mature specimens may require planting in a larger pot.

One you know how to plant succulents, the repotting process is the same, regardless of how old the succulent is.

7 Replant succulents

Repot when the succulent becomes too big for its container.  

Basic Succulent Care

After learning how to plant succulents you will need to continue to care for them. Providing the right care enables them to thrive. For more detailed information check out our detailed care guide, but these are the basic rules.

The most important part of succulent care is getting the light levels right. Most types of succulent like at least 6 hours of sunlight each day. If it is placed in too dark a position the succulent may become leggy. This means that the stems and leaves are reaching out towards the light spoiling the shape of the plant. If you do not have enough natural light in your home, grow lights can be used.

Some types of succulent prefer low light levels, these are ideal for naturally shady or indirect light positions.

While most types of succulent like a lot of light, be careful not to expose them to too much direct light. Some cultivars are particularly sensitive and the foliage may scorch or bleach out if exposed to too much light.

Water your specimens regularly during the summer months. Allow the potting medium to dry out between waterings. In the fall and winter months, most types of succulents become dormant. During this period they require less water. Reduce the frequency with which you water down to once a month or once every 6 weeks.

Be careful not to overwater your succulent collection. Too much water, leading to root rot, is the most common cause of succulent failure. While at first overwatered specimens can look plump and healthy, below the soil line root rot can already be developing. Visible signs of rot include leaves turning yellow or white or softening. If you notice any of these signs, remove the succulent from its pot and check the root system.

Brown, rotted roots should be cut away before replanting the succulent into a fresh, dry potting medium. In more serious cases you may not be able to save the succulent. Instead take cuttings from the healthy stems and sections and propagate a new succulent specimen.

Watering your succulent too little can also cause problems. The foliage can brown or develop spots. In the worst case scenario the leaves may also fall from the succulent.

If you struggle to know how often to water your houseplants, a soil moisture sensor is a useful tool which accurately measures the moisture content of your soil.

8 Plant succulents together

Colorful and easy to care for, a succulent collection is a popular way to add interest to the home.  

Fertilize your succulent collection regularly during the growing season. Dormant succulents do not require any fertilization during the dormant, winter period.

Succulents are more cold tolerant than you may think. Native to desert conditions, many cultivars thrive when exposed to cooler nighttime temperatures. In the desert temperatures can fall to around 40 ℉.

Ideally most types of succulent like a daytime temperature range of 70 to 85 ℉. At night this can fall to 50 to 55 ℉.

Some types of succulent like more humidity than others. Humidity levels of around 80% is ideal for most types, but do your research before purchasing your succulent.

Easy to grow and attractive, the succulent is a popular houseplant. In ideal temperatures it can also be grown outside. Wherever you are able to grow your succulent collection, knowing how to plant succulents is a useful skill to master.

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