In this succulent care guide we walk you through everything you need to know on how to grow, care for and propagate succulents.
Everyone who enjoys houseplants, or gardening in general, is familiar with succulents. Even if you didn’t know what they were, you’ve seen them. Everything from giant ones in desert landscaping to mini succulents in those tiny teacups are just flying off the pages of every design magazine and website. And rightly so! They’re fantastically versatile. What may not be so familiar to you is how to practice proper succulent care.
If this is what you seek, then you’ve come to the right place!
The Personal Benefits of Succulent Care
No matter how you came to be in possession of your succulents, see it as receiving the luckiest of breaks! Those of us who engage in caring for nature benefit from it far more than those who simply observe it from afar.
Woman holding an unpotted sempurvivum.
According to a recent study, completed in 2016 and published on Science Direct, the positive effects of gardening on human health were clearly observed and documented. Levels of depression and anxiety were reduced as levels of cognitive function and physical activity increased. When this patently beneficial activity is shared with others, it can lead to a strengthened sense of community and thus an elevated quality of life.
Succulent Care at Different Levels of Gardening Expertise
If you’re new to caring for plants in general or an avid gardener looking to add succulents to your repertoire, read on for answers to the most commonly asked questions in regards to succulent care, so you too can reap all those wonderful gardening benefits. Just bear in mind that while being relatively resilient life forms, like all others, they can fail if not given proper attention.
Succulents are rather unique in terms of how they store and use their water supply and yet there are plants in 60 different categories that would be considered one. Which means, once you’ve gotten the hang of succulent care in general, just think of all the different kinds you could add to your collection!
Most Commonly Grown Succulents
Whether one of these small yet beautifully architectural houseplants came to live with you through gifting or self-gifting, it’s possible you have at least one of the following:
Hen and Chicks (Sempervivum) – A rosette-like succulent that self-propagates with the formation of small, identical offshoots that hang from short tendrils, known as “chicks”.
Hens and chicks (sempurvivum)
Zebra Cactus (Haworthia) – an ornamental succulent that also self-propagates, easily identified by its long, pointed leaves and zebra-like white stripes.
Zebra cactus (haworthia)
Echeveria – Another rosette-shaped ornamental that comes in a colors ranging from sea-foam green to deep purple.
Seafoam green and burgundy echeveria
When to Water Succulents
The goal of good succulent care is to try to mimic the natural, environmental conditions in which these plants grow in the wild. But, because conditions in each of our homes vary, it’s a good idea to let your plants tell you when they need watering rather than wait for a specific day on the calendar.
Let soil COMPLETELY dry out in between watering. To test: squeeze a bit of soil between your fingers. If it crumbles, it needs water. If the soil sticks together, this is due to the presence of water. Wait a day or two more before adding more.
During warmer months, your succulents will most likely tell you they’re thirsty more often as they tend to drink up the provided water more quickly. During cooler months, the speed of water absorption slows down together with the growth rate of the plant itself. Cliff notes: More water in summer, less in winter.
How Much to Water Succulents
This will depend on a couple of factors which include the size of your plant and how much soil its sitting in. You’ll most likely have your Sempervivum, Haworthia or Echeveria in a small pot to match the size of the plant, so they won’t need a ton of moisture. Water your succulents well until you start to see a decent amount draining from the bottom. Then you know your plant is nice and soaked and will need to fully dry out before its ready for more. This same method can be applied to larger, indoor succulents like snake plants, aloes and burro’s tails as well.
The more majestic species in your outdoor landscaping such as large aloes, agave and dudleyas typically work in tandem with nature for their water supply. However during periods of drought or excessive heat, you may see the leaves of your succulents start to shrivel a bit. In which case, you’ll want to help them out by watering well, every other week or so, depending on their size.
Can Succulents Survive Cold Temperatures?
Succulents will be just fine with indoor temperatures regardless of season. Higher humidity in warmer months will only add to their moisture requirements where the dryness of winter (due to home heaters running more) will closer mimic the arid conditions in which they would grow in the wild.
Succulents have adapted to thrive in the warmest of climates. So, if you live in a region where it snows, you’ll want to plant your larger, outdoor succulents and cacti in pots that provide for good drainage and can accommodate their larger root system. Then, move them indoors (like in an insulated garage) around mid-autumn.
It’s true, some succulents that grow in the wild have adapted to survive in sub-freezing temperatures but the ones you buy at your local garden center may not have been bred for that. You’ll want to bring them inside.
Cacti in an outdoor garden space.
If you live in a consistently warmer climate, it would then be safe to incorporate larger succulents and cacti into your home’s landscaping.
If growing them in outdoor pots, you would simply follow the same watering and soil content rules as the smaller indoor plants. Naturally, the larger the plant, the more water it will need.
What Should I Pot Them In?
A hallmark of good succulent care is well-drained potting soil. There are several options currently on the market specifically made for succulents and cacti. If you only have standard potting mix and happen to have some extra pumice, sand or perlite around, mixing some of this with your standard soil will increase the drainage factor enough to keep your plants happy.
Whether planting these extraordinary survival experts indoors or out, its important to remember that like all of us, from time to time, they need their space. If you choose to put several in one pot, they DO NOT like to be crowded in too closely with other plants. This actually hinders their ability to store water properly resulting in them all dehydrating and possibly failing. Just about half an inch to give each one some breathing space.
When placing each one in its own pot, one just big enough to accommodate the plant’s root system will suffice. Just as with watering, the larger the plant the more elbow room it needs.
Do They Need Full Sun All The Time?
Being warmer climate plants, succulents naturally love sunlight. Indoor plants will thrive on a minimum of 6 hours of natural sunlight per day. Some will not survive in a windowless room or in a region that gets less than 6 hours of sunlight per day, in the winter. But, I’ve seen grow lights do some amazing things! If you prefer to do without grow lights, there is also quite a list of low-light succulents that may suit you.
Light is not much of a concern with outdoor succulents. They simply enjoy all the natural sunlight they get at any time of year, come cloudy day or sun.
Succulent Care in Summer vs Winter
Your diligence in caring for these plants over the changing seasons doesn’t have to be complicated. One easy rule-of-thumb to follow is: The longer the days, the more water and light they will need to accommodate their warm-weather growth spurts. The shorter the days, the less water and light they’ll need as they all but go dormant, in terms of growth, for the winter.
If you’d like to see these tips in action, this is a great video demonstrating what we’ve talked about.
Some Additional Fun with Design Styles!
Now that you have the tools for success in your succulent care efforts, you can start thinking about how to incorporate them into your living spaces! Here are a few fun examples:
Succulents of varying shapes and sizes grouped together to compliment a contemporary design aesthetic.
Plants of different textures, sizes and color shades can be grouped together in containers that echo other design elements in your room, as in this contemporary design example.
Small succulents potted in unique containers that share the popular farmhouse style.
The popular farmhouse decor style is an easy match for succulents. Pots can be placed in a variety of containers that have that cozy farmhouse feel and smaller choices can become a stunning feature when added to a front door succulent wreath during the warmer months.
Haworthia in a pink pot painted with red and white flowers surrounded by string lights.
Of course, there’s no limit to your imagination! Let your own unique style and personality shine through when adding all these fun, architectural plants into your decor. Have fun!
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.