Succulents are both exotic and eye-catching. They have become popular in offices, rocky gardens, and homes for a good reason. You may have heard the myth that to grow them, one needs a green thumb. Perhaps that is true, but then it depends on how you interpret it. If you have been gifted a succulent and worry about caring for it or have seen neighbors nicely display theirs on the windowsill and want to own one, it may be time to learn how to grow and care for the same. With succulents, recreating their wild habitat in your garden or house is the first step. For one, they are drought-smart and thus almost super easy to look after as long as you get the basic requirements for each plant right.
So how do you care for succulent plants indoors and outdoors? Succulents are drought resistant and you may not need to do much to keep them alive. As long as they have been properly propagated, watered sparingly and given the right amounts of NPK fertilizer, you should be good to go. Succulents thrive in a good mix of well, draining soil and needs moderate lighting and fairly warm temperatures.
The article will look at the various factors that come in handy when caring for succulents indoors and outdoors. It will look at the importance of each of these factors and how best to achieve success while at it.
1. Light needs
You may wonder whether succulents do better indoors or outdoors. Since their natural habitat is out in the open, they will do well outdoors in full light. However, they can also thrive indoors as long as they can access sunlight for a couple of hours a day. That said, hardy succulents can thrive in just about any climate, as long as you repot them at the right time. Succulents have an antifreeze mechanism that makes them go dormant as soon as temperatures plunge. Some succulents known to tolerate the full sun include Cacti, Agave, Jade Plant, and Aeoniums.
When growing succulents indoors, go for those that tolerate low-light. The Snake plant, Ponytail, Mistletoe cactus, and Aloe vera are examples of such succulents. Nevertheless, indoor succulents can be placed outdoors whenever the weather permits, while outdoor ones can be shielded from the full sun to avoid direct contact with sunlight.
You may be tempted to assume that because succulents grow in the hot wild, all of them tolerate extreme heat during the summer. Nothing could be further from the truth. Admittedly, a succulent like the cactus grows in the desert, but that isn’t the case with all succulents. Most succulents prefer temperatures of between 60 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit; anything more and both leaves and roots get damaged permanently. Some of the succulents that tolerate extreme heat include Whale’s tongue agave, Black rose, Pachyphytum fittkaui, and Blue Senecio.
Sometimes, when the weather plummets to below zero, very few succulents will survive. Among the few hardy succulent that can survive such extremes include Thompson’s yucca, Parry’s agave, Hardy serum, and Hardy opuntia. As such, growing them in moveable pots is the wisest thing to do.
When it comes to succulents, propagation is an easier and inexpensive way of acquiring new plants from what you already have. The fact that you can grow a new plant from a parent plant is the greatest feeling for a gardener.
Depending on the species, succulents can be propagated by leaf, stem, offset cuttings and seeds. Propagating by leaf or offset cutting is the most popular as it takes only about two weeks to root. The longest method to propagate is using seeds as it can take between 3 weeks to 12 months for the plant to germinate, depending on the succulent species.
Rooting in soil vs rooting in water
Whereas propagating via a soil medium is the easiest way to encourage rooting, this method can sometimes lead to pathogens and fungus attacking the cuttings, which eventually causes the succulent to rot. To avoid this, you may consider using water as a rooting medium. Some gardeners find it problematic rooting their succulents using the soil and would rather opt to use water. However, not all succulents take to rooting in water. Some common succulents that easily root in water include Jades, Sempervivums, and Echeverias.
Water rooting steps
1. Cut a stem or a leaf and allow it to callus
2. Place the stem or leaf in distilled, purified or plain tap water
Let the end of the leaf or stem touch the water or be just above the water.
3. Place it outside in a bright area but out of direct sunlight.
4. Once rooted, remove the cuttings and let them dry before planting in the soil.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you must have heard the saying that too much of anything is poisonous. Unfortunately, this saying appears to be ignored by many beginner gardeners. For whatever reason, you may forget that these plants are native to dry areas and thus have a love-hate relationship with water. Too much or too little of the same can be detrimental to the growth and overall health of the plant. So, how frequently should you water my indoor and outdoor succulent plants?
To answer that question, we need to take a keen interest in how succulents use water. For the stems, leaves, and roots to grow and to bloom, succulents will use water. However, their tissues, leaves, and stems have water storage capacities for their survival. So, whenever we talk of watering succulents, the rule of thumb has always been; ‘less is more’. Generally, it would help if you watered a succulent only when about one inch of the soil feels dry.
We can talk of sticking to a watering schedule, but considering the different factors, including species, light and temperature needs, it’s not practical to have a one-size-fits-all watering timetable.
Talking of watering, how will you determine whether you are overwatering or underwatering your indoor or outdoor succulents? Most succulent gardeners get overwhelmed when striking a balance between an underwatered and an overwatered succulent. Let’s take a look at the telltale signs:
An overwatered succulent will appear as follows:
a. The leaves will be soft, mushy, and squishy when touched.
b. The color of the leaves will appear lighter than normal, almost translucent.
c. Leaves fall off easily and may appear blackish from the center of the plant.
To rescue an overwatered succulent is easy. First, gently remove it from the container or soil. You can then take away excess soil from the roots and remove any dead or rotten roots and leaves. Air it outside to dry but away from direct sunlight for up to 3 days. Finally, you can either plant it in a new container or move it to a new location in the garden.
Succulents generally thrive on neglect, but some species cannot withstand an extreme water shortage in the roots. Underwatering may happen either because you are neglectful or have a busy schedule. An underwatered succulent plant will appear as follows:
1. The growth will be too slow for a succulent.
2. The leaves lose their firmness and become brownish with dry edges.
3. Dry leaves will be seen from the bottom of the plant, going up.
4. The leaves may wilt off and eventually dry up
An underwatered plant, however, is not a lost cause. To save it, you use water generously. Assuming it has been starved of water for a long time, pour water on the base of the plant until you notice some come out of the drainage holes. Otherwise, if the condition is not that dire, you may rejuvenate the underwatered succulent by misting or spraying the foliage with water. The plant should recover away from direct wind or sunshine.
Just because succulents are hardy plants growing out in the wild doesn’t mean that they don’t need fertilizing. Succulents need fertilizer for better, faster growth. Fertilizer also comes in handy to help the plant bloom and produce brighter, larger flowers at the right season.
Among the most favored fertilizers by succulent growers are manure tea, fish emulsion, and balanced fertilizers. You may use it depending on the succulent species for industrial fertilizers, but there is a word of caution. These need to have the right balance of NPK where phosphorous is higher than nitrogen. Usually, you will need to dilute the fertilizer in half before use. After all, you don’t want to burn your beautiful succulents while trying to boost them.
Here are some widely used fertilizers for your indoor and outdoor succulents.
Authentic Haven Brand Manure Tea
This is a cup of tea made specifically for your plants, so don’t be tempted to take a sip. It comes balanced from the factory. Insert the teabag in 1 to 5 gallons of water depending on your succulent species and let it stay for 24 hours. It will turn brownish. Once you are done steeping, pour the brownish water in a container and generously water your plant.
What if you don’t want to purchase a commercial teabag? Well, making your own is as simple as it can get.
How to make manure tea at home
For this purpose, use manure from a goat, cow or poultry but not a carnivore as their stool contains harmful pathogens.
1. Fill a bucket two-thirds way up
2. Add your manure so that it fills the bucket
3. Stir it twice in that day and let it sit there for forty-eight hours
4. Once the solid has settled, pour the, now brownish, liquid into a different bucket.
Make sure you dilute it to the color of weak tea before applying it to your succulents.
GrowBetter Organic Cactus and Succulent Fertilizer
The beauty of this fertilizer is that it’s odorless. What’s more, quite a number of succulents can benefit from its use. Notably, Yucca, Saguaros, Aloe, and Dragon fruit are just a few of such succulents. This slow-release fertilizer will leave your succulents well-nourished for up to two months per every application. It leaves the roots healthy and is ideal for both indoor and outdoor succulents. They have been hailed for making the leaves fuller and leading to large, bright blooms
Dr Earth Premium Gold Pure & Natural Fertilizer
If your succulents have ever had the problem with leaves turning pale or yellow, it means they lack nitrogen. This fertilizer has balanced amounts of potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen that will solve the problem. The potassium will help keep diseases at bay, while the phosphorus will give your plant healthy roots and help flowers bloom.
One teaspoon of this fertilizer mixed with a gallon of water is all that you need.
Miracle-Gro Succulent Plant Food
This succulent fertilizer comes in liquid form, so it’s easier to seep into the soil and get absorbed by the roots. It can be used with popular succulents, all cacti, Jade, and Aloe. You can either apply it to the soil directly or mix it with water every fortnight.
Worms eat dead leaves, roots, and grass and, thereafter, release castings. The castings are full of phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium, and calcium that help boost your succulents’ overall health. If that isn’t enough, they improve soil structure which helps in water infiltration. With that in mind, how do you attract worms into your garden?
Once you leave your garden undisturbed, with compost manure and enough mulch around your succulents, worms will find a haven. You may then pick a few worms and place them in your planters for them to naturally fertilize the soil.
6. Containers or Planters
When planting succulent at home, containers and planters come in handy. These decorative containers in different shapes, colors, and sizes add to the overall ambience of your garden and home. In gardening, containers are pots and planters, terms that are used interchangeably. When it comes to containers, they can go anywhere, whether it is a flight of stairs, window sills, or even walkways. That said, how do you choose the correct planter?
A good planter should be of good drainage, design, and material. Let’s consider each in detail.
A pot without proper drainage will cause water clogging and eventually lead to the rotting of succulent roots. As such, a container with holes at the bottom is highly recommended. So, no matter how beautiful a container looks, if it doesn’t have perforations, your succulent will be as good as dead on arrival.
The design matters a lot to you as much as it does to the succulent in your pot. For one, an attractive container adds to the decor of your home and garden. Notably, different designs are fit for different succulents based on their size and growth pattern. While spillers, for example, would do well on hanging planters, low-growing succulents won’t look good in tall pots but rather in short ones. On the same note, Aloe, which grows upright, fits perfectly in a tall container.
Go for pots with breathable material when growing succulents. These will allow for much-needed aeration of your plants. The much-praised ceramic and terracotta-made pots are a few examples. If you are neglectful, busy or travel a lot, using plastic materials is recommended because the water doesn’t easily evaporate from the container. Still, on the material, consider its weight. Will you be able to move them on a whim when need be? For example, when the weather has suddenly changed, and you want to protect your plants from the elements; you should be in a position to relocate your succulent much easily.
Soil is a vital component in the growth of a succulent and any plant for that matter. It is paramount as all succulents will eventually end up in the soil. So, how does it affect the growth of your succulent, and how can you ensure you get it right for your indoor and outdoor succulents to thrive?
As a gardener, you probably use conventional potting soil for your plants. This is readily available, and you might be tempted to use it when planting succulents. The problem here is that the conventional potting soil is made to hold water; a feat that can be detrimental to the survival of your succulent.
In this regard, you need good draining soil whether you are planting your succulent in a garden or container. So, what constitutes a good soil mix? Most gardeners prefer coarse sand placed on top of the potting soil. While this can help drain water, the soil is meant to do more than just draining water. They need to support the plant physically, hold moisture and nutrients.
To achieve that, you may consider making your succulent soil mix at home.
How to prepare the right succulent potting soil
You will need garden soil, coarse sand, and perlite. The perlite is meant to aerate the soil and also helps in drainage, just like the coarse sand.
To achieve the desired results, mix the sand, soil, and perlite in the ratio of 3:3:1, which translates to 3 cups of sand, 3 cups of soil, and 1 cup of perlite. With that mixture, you need not worry about your succulents rotting because of poorly drained soils.
From the above, it is clear that succulents need care even with the fact that in their natural habitat, they flourish on neglect. However, caring for succulent plants doesn’t mean spending lots of cash, you may consider using the simple, home-grown strategies to reduce the costs involved drastically. It may be a challenge the first time, but once you get the drift, it becomes a walk in the park henceforth. Give your succulents the right care, and you will reap strong, healthy and brighter plants, both in your outdoor garden and indoors.