Succulents Care 15 Essential Tips For Beginners

Succulents are universally fascinating, even beautiful too. However, growing succulents requires patience, especially for those of you who are new to this world. There are many care tips for succulents and it can get a little overwhelming at first! Here, we have compiled the 15 essential tips for you all in one place.

Succulents are hardy houseplants that don’t require much water or fertilizer. As such, they are an excellent choice for gardeners of all skill levels. If you are a beginner on the succulent plant scene, you may not be aware of their care requirements and other ways to make the process simpler.

You are encouraged to continue below to learn more about how to plant succulents and how to ensure that they can stay happy and healthy.

1. Succulents Are Plants with Water-Storing Organs, Priming Them for Arid Climates

The term succulent refers to any plant that contains a thick water-storing organ that itself is called a succulent. These plants are capable of storing water in their leaves, stems, and roots. For this reason, they are primed for arid climates or for homes where they won’t have to receive constant watering.

Succulents can store enough water to grow perfectly healthy in arid climates.

They are capable of surviving in locations where other plants will croak. They won’t mind being grown in poor soil, on slopes, or in-between paving stones. Despite their reputation for being nearly indestructible, they do come with some care requirements, as outlined in sections below.

2. Succulents Need Plenty of Sunlight

Succulents need plenty of sunlight to stay healthy, as you would anticipate being a need for a plant typically grown in desert regions. Adequate sunlight is an absolute necessity, perhaps even more critical to health than water and fertilizer.

Succulents require plenty of sunlight but avoid placing them under direct sunlight.

While access to sunlight is critical, it is also possible to have too much of a good thing. Succulents should be placed in slightly shaded locations during the day so that the leaves do not wilt under intense sunlight.

3. Succulents Have a Wide Temperature Tolerance

Some Succulents do tolerate low temperatures. For example, Sempervivum is capable of tolerating temperatures as low as 30 degrees F. The wide temperature tolerance range does make sense since deserts do experience dramatic temperature swings.

Ideal Growing Temperature Range Is 70-80 Degrees

For maximum growth, you will want to ensure that succulents are where they experience daytime temperatures between 70-80 degrees F during the daytime and 50-55 degrees F during the nighttime. Occasional extreme temperature swings won’t generally kill them, but they will need to be taken indoors for wintering in locations that experience hard winters.

Allow Succulents a Chance to Be Acclimated To Temperature Swings

You can always transfer succulents from the interior of the house to an outdoor space and vice versa, but be sure to allow the plants a chance to acclimate to the new climate by slowly introducing them to their new home: 

  • Start your succulents in an area with a temperature similar to what they have experienced outside, such as a windowsill that gets cool at night.
  • When bringing indoor plants outdoors, place them in a location that receives at least partial shade.
  • Newly planted succulents need to be kept in the shade longer than plants that have established root systems.
  • Add an hour or two of sunlight to the plant’s routine every day, focusing on the less-intense morning sunlight.

4. Use Containers with Drainage Holes at the Bottom

It’s easy to overwhelm succulents with too much water. When you plant in pots, you need to ensure proper drainage to prevent root decay and rotting. Fungi and bacteria also thrive in these types of environments. To prevent these familiar sources of plant damage: look for pots and containers with drainage holes at the bottom.

To get rid of excess water, succulents should always be planted in containers with a drainage hole.

If your gardening pots have no drainage holes, place coarse gravel at the bottom of the pot. This will help drainage to some extent. An example of coarse gravel would be these Outy Rocks.

5. Avoid Planting Succulents in Pots That Are Too Large

You’ll want to avoid planting succulents in pots that are excessively large for the species. This is because the plant can quickly die in an oversized container due to the root structure that the plant will grow. Every time you water the plant, the roots won’t be able to draw out all the moisture. Lingering water in the soil leads to root rot.

It is better to plant succulents in relatively small containers instead of those that are too large for them.

Don’t worry too much about giving the roots of succulents enough room for growth. These plants can comfortably adjust to the confines of the container that you decide to plant them in.

What Container Size Should You Plant Succulents In?

Houseplant containers should be matched appropriately to the size and growth requirements of the specific plant. Succulents do not often need to be transferred to larger containers: 

  • Most succulents reach maturity at a small size.
  • Shallow pots are better than deep ones, as they will be able to drain faster.
  • Plastic and ceramic pots do not need to be watered as frequently as clay pots.
  • Succulents only need to be transferred to larger pots every 1-3 years.

Be Careful To Protect the Roots When Transferring Succulents to New Pots/Containers

Although they are tough, succulents are susceptible to damage during the replanting process. The roots are easy to break, requiring gentle handling when they are spread into the new dirt. Also, most succulents have shallow root systems that shouldn’t be planted too deep. 

Be careful when transferring your succulent to a new container to ensure that you do not damage the roots.

Allow repotted plants a chance to adjust to the new container by leaving them out of direct sunlight for the first week. Also, avoid watering the new plants for 1-2 weeks. Houseplants typically do fine with diluted fertilizer. Adding a strong fertilizer to a repotted houseplant can promote fast growth that may lead to the plant drooping over.

6. Be Careful About Grouping Cacti with Other Succulents 

Cacti and other succulent varieties do grow at different rates and come with varying watering and care requirements. You are encouraged to group plants that have similar growing characteristics as much as you can.

Otherwise, you may accidentally overwater or add too much fertilizer to any plants within the grouping. It will also help prevent faster-growing plants from overshadowing the slower and smaller plants in your garden.

7. You Can Get Succulents and Cacti to Bloom Indoors During Winter

Succulents also hold the advantage of being easy to care for in the indoor setting. All you need to do is replicate the native winter climate for these types of plants. The ideal wintering location for succulents is along the edge of the windowsill. 

Succulents and cacti can bloom in winter if placed on windowsills.

What makes the windowsill such a suitable candidate is the fact that the succulents will have access to both light and cool night temperatures. In their native desert climate, these plants are used to the temperature dropping quite low at night, so your windowsill should be an accurate replication of the native climate.

8. Succulents Grow Best In Sandy Soil

These plants are best grown in well-drained sandy soil. Suitable potting mixes fall apart if they are watered and then squeezed between the hands. 

You can find specialty mixes for succulents that have been found to hold up pretty well. Examples of succulent potting mixes include:

You are encouraged to further improve specialty potting mixes by adding a coarse material (but not fine sand) to the potting mix at a rate of 1 part soil to up to 4 parts of added material. Suitable coarse soils or sands include coarse building sand, agricultural pumice, perlite, and poultry grit. As you will see in the section below, there are scenarios in which you should use more potting soil than drainage material and vice versa.

9. Use a Higher Percentage of Potting Soil in Your Mix If You Water Your Plants Infrequently

A standard potting mix for succulents consists of potting soil and some added drainage material. The recommended ratio of potting soil to drainage material depends upon several factors.

Choose potting mix by considering your watering schedule, pot size and material, and the type of your succulents.

Use mostly potting soil in your growth medium if:

  • You do not water plants very often.
  • Shallow pots less than 2.25″ in diameter are being used.
  • Clay pots are being used.
  • You are planting tropical varieties of succulents.

Use mostly drainage material in your growth medium if:

  • You water your plants often.
  • Large pots are being used.
  • Plastic or ceramic pots are containers.
  • For growing sensitive plants native to arid climates

10. Succulents Only Need Fertilizer 3-4 Times During the Growing Months

Cacti only need fertilizer once or twice per year during the growing season, and other succulents require just 3-4 applications of fertilizer during the summer growing months. This is a big part of what makes succulents such great house plants: no green thumb required!

You should use a fertilizer only 3-4 times during your succulents’ growing months.

11. Use a Fertilizer That’s High in Phosphorus 

When you do apply a fertilizer, be sure to use one that is higher in phosphorus than Nitrogen. Phosphorous is responsible for promoting root, stem, and flower growth, while Nitrogen adds to leaf growth. 

Here’s How to Find out If Your Fertilizer Is High in Phosphorus 

There are always three numbers on the labels of fertilizer bags. These numbers correspond to the proportion of each macronutrient. The first number in the ratio is the proportion of Nitrogen in the mix, the second is phosphorous, and the third is potassium. 

For example, if you saw a label that read 0.5-1-1, it would be composed of:

  • 0.5 parts Nitrogen (N)
  • 1 part phosphorus (P)
  • 1 part potassium (K)

There are plant foods that are specifically marketed for succulents, such as Miracle-Gro Succulent Plant Flower Food. You will also find general-purpose fertilizers with high concentrations of phosphorus, such as EZ-grow Indoor Plant Food. You need not worry too much about fertilizer with succulents, just as long as you apply it during the growing season and make sure that phosphorus delivery is emphasized.

Water One Day, Add Fertilizer the Next Day

When you do add fertilizer, do so the day after you water the succulent. It is recommended that you apply the fertilizer at 1/4th its normal strength during the growing season. Avoid fertilizing the plant entirely during the winter months. If you add fertilizer to dry soil, you can burn the plant tissue.

12. How Often Do Succulents Need To Be Watered?

Although succulents are indeed plants that thrive in arid conditions, they still need to be watered on a routine schedule. They will need to be accounted for most often during the growing season. 

You should water your succulents once a week during growing months and once every 2-3 weeks during winter.

During Growing Season: Water Succulents Once Per Week 

During the growing season, which occurs over the spring and summer months, you will need to water these plants at least once per week. A good rule-of-thumb is to water the plants only when you notice that the soil is dry. It is far too easy to drown succulents due to their low water demands.

This is where pots with drainage holes come in handy: you will be able to tell that it is time to stop pouring water as soon as you notice water flowing from the holes at the bottom of the container.

During Winter: Water Succulents Once Every 2-3 Weeks

You only have to water succulents once every 2-3 weeks during the winter months. The main reason for doing this is to prevent the leaves from wilting due to thirst. Since the plant is not using many resources during this time of the year, it will not be nearly as parched as it would be during the spring and summer.

Signs of Underwatering & Overwatering In Succulents: When to Take Action

There are some telltale signs of overwatering and underwatering that should be responded to with some kind of action. These events will often occur due to the container or growth medium that you are using.

Signs of Overwatering:

  • Unusually soft texture 
  • Discoloration, yellowing of leaves
  • Browning and rotting

If the plant has reached a point where it is becoming rotted due to the soil’s over-saturation, then it is time to transfer the plant to a new growth medium. Make a new container of a dryer medium.

Signs of Underwatering:

  • The plant has stopped growing
  • Shedding of leaves
  • Brown spots on the leaves

If the plant appears to be under-watered, then this is a sign that you need to water the plant more frequently. If the plant is in a clay pot, you might consider transferring the plant to a ceramic or plastic pot, which will do a better job of holding water.

13. Aphids and Mealybugs Are the Most Common Pests for Succulents

Mealybugs or woolly aphids are the most prominent pests of succulents. These insects, unfortunately, have a strong appetite and are capable of wiping out even a large amount in a relatively short time. They can reproduce rapidly and develop resistance to pesticides quickly. 

Populations of mealybugs have developed resistance to many of the traditional pesticides used against them. This includes insecticides based on an organophosphorus compound. There are less-invasive alternatives listed in the section below that you may find successful.

Pests Can Be Controlled Using Chemicals That Won’t Damage the Leaves

You can control pests like mealybugs and aphids using chemical solutions that won’t damage the leaves. Harsh herbicides or insecticides can do more harm than good if used in excess, so you are encouraged to use less-harmful solutions when practical.

Minimally-harmful pest control solutions that work include:

  • Rinsing affected areas with water
  • Neem oil
  • insecticidal soaps
  • Squirt bottles of rubbing alcohol, which won’t damage leaves if sprayed lightly

Mealybugs are typically introduced to a garden as hitchhikers on new plants, and on pots and tools. They are challenging to get rid of once their population takes hold, but the good news is that adult females cannot fly, and they crawl slowly. The best practice to avoid mealybugs is to regularly inspect new plants for signs of the pest on new pots and tools. If you find any live specimens, you can apply a 10-25% isopropyl alcohol spray.

14. If You Want New Plants: Consider Propagation

There are two ways that succulents reproduce new plants: either through seeds or through the process of propagation. This refers to the method of creating a clone of the parent plant via stem cuttings, leaf cuttings, and offsets.

Wait Until Offsets Grow Roots for Propagation 

Offsets are tissues that are generated by some varieties of succulents. They form as leaf buds along with the root tissue of the plant. 

Here’s how to tell that offsets are ready for propagation:

  • Gently tug on the offset. If you feel any resistance at all, this is a sign that the offset is ready to be propagated into its container.

Let Stem and Leaf Cuttings Callus before Planting

Most succulents can be propagated through stem or leaf cuttings, which will need to be given ample opportunity to heal and callus before being planted. After cutting, leave the stems and leaves on the counter to air dry for at least 4-7 days.

  • Find a growing stem on the mother plant and cut a section 3-4 inches long.
  • Remove the lowest leaves before replanting the removed stems, but leave the upper foliage intact.
  • For propagating leaves: remove an actively-growing leaf from the mother plant.

Use Potting Mix, Perlite, or Coarse Sand as a Growing Medium

Always be sure to use a sharp knife for propagation to ensure a clean cut.  Appropriate growing mediums for the propagated materials include recommended combinations of potting mix, perlite, or coarse sand as listed before.

  • 1 part potting mix, 1 part perlite
  • 3 parts potting mix, 2 parts coarse sand, 1 part perlite
  • You can speed up the rooting process by dipping the stem or leaf in rooting hormone.

You can anticipate it taking at least 1 month for the propagated portion to grow roots. Avoid overwatering the young plants during the growing process.

15. Choosing The Right Variety: What Are The Best Succulents For Your Garden?

If you have tried growing succulents in the past and failed, there is a chance you were planting the wrong variety for your garden’s climate. There are many different varieties of succulents, so it’ll be worthwhile to learn which ones are most compatible with your growing space.

Haworthias Are the Best Succulents For Indoors & Small Spaces

Haworthias are the best succulents for your indoor garden and for crowded spaces where the supply of sunlight may be choked out by larger plants. There are many different varieties of Haworthias, from star-shaped plants to zebra plants.

Haworthia is a small succulent that grows healthy and gorgeous under subtle lighting conditions.
  • They tolerate subtle lighting better than most other succulents.
  • These plants are small and conveniently-sized.
  • Colors vary with shades of green, red, and brown, depending upon the species.
  • Leaves also vary in structure from thin to thick.

Another nice feature of Haworthias is that they offset readily, making them excellent candidates for propagation. Once you buy a batch of Haworthias for your home, you will be able to continually generate new young plants without having to visit the store for more unless, of course, you want to add more variety to your garden later on.

Echeverias and Sedums Need a Healthy Supply of Sunlight

Echeverias and Sedums are two varieties of succulents that are tailor-made for outdoor gardens and window sills. These varieties do need more sunlight than Haworthias. Many sedums and echeverias do require at least 3-4 hours per day out in the sunlight.

Jade Plants Are Easy To Grow

Jade plants are houseplants that are simple to grow. They hold the great benefit of being able to live for a long time and can even grow into 5-foot tall shrubs when grown indoors. Leaf coloring varies by species and cultivar, as you’ll see round or oval jade leaves that are dark green, blue-gray, or edged in red.

  • They look like miniature trees with a bonsai quality, so be sure that you have enough room for them. 
  • Plant diseases are rarely a problem, primarily if grown indoors.
  • They look the best if they can get at least 3-4 hours of sunlight per day.
  • Well-drained soil will be necessary.

Suppose these plants become too large for the interior of your home. In that case, they are not necessarily easy to transfer to a year-round outdoor setting because you will have to bring them indoors during the winter months in temperate climates. If you live in an area with a relatively mild climate year-round, you will be able to plant Jade plants outdoors.

Ponytail Palms Don’t Require Much Watering

If you don’t have much of a green thumb, then the Ponytail Palm is the plant for you. The Palm is not a true palm tree, although it certainly does an excellent job of imitating one. This plant is gaped much like a fountain and is a perfect candidate as a houseplant in temperate regions.

  • Ponytail Palms do not require much watering since they have a swollen trunk at their base that stores water.
  • When planted in the ground, it can grow to 30 feet tall.
  • Its size will be limited if it is grown in a container.
  • The evergreen leaves are long and resemble palm leaves in appearance. 

Ponytail palms grow the best when they can be placed near a window, where they will receive as much light as possible. You can transfer these plants outside during the summer, but be sure to acclimate them to the full sun by moving them to a shaded area during the most intense times of sunlight. Otherwise, sunburn can occur on the leaves.

Best Succulent for Hanging Baskets: Burro’s Tail

The Burro’s Tail is a succulent that is great for hanging baskets. This plant produces trailing stems that are up to 24″ inches in length. The downside is that the leaves are delicate and can break off easily if they happen to brush against a surface or passerby. Still, these plants do hold many beneficial characteristics for the gardener searching for a unique hanging basket.

  • They can tolerate temperatures as low as 40 degrees F.
  • Prefers locations with plenty of sunlight
  • Pest and disease problems are limited, usually only occurring when these plants are overwatered.
  • It can also be grown indoors, on a windowsill with partial sun.

Burro’s Tail plants do grow small pink to red blossoms during the summer. However, this typically only occurs when they are grown outdoors in a hanging basket, where they receive full sunlight. They also produce abundant nectar, making them an excellent addition for gardeners looking to provide nectar for native bees.

Conclusion

Succulents are plants that are native to arid climates. They are equipped with particular organs that are capable of holding water. Still, you will need to water succulents at least once per week during the growing season. Change your watering routine if the plant’s condition deteriorates. This may also be a sign that you need to add the plant to dryer soil. You might even consider adding gravel to the bottom of the container to improve drainage.

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