Succulent Plant Care & Growing Tips

Last update: April 21, 2020

Succulent plants love dry conditions, bright sunlight and sandy soil. Figuring out how to strike the right balance between too much and not enough water when you’re growing succulents can be tough, as can figuring out how much sunlight they need. The exact requirements of a succulent plant depend on the type you decide to grow. Although most naturally live in desert areas, there are a few that normally live in the woods or forest. 

We’re going to dig into all the succulent details (pun intended) below, but here’s a quick visual reference to get you started.

How to Grow Succulents

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What Succulent Plants Need

One of the big misconceptions about succulent plants is that they are rather easy to care for. Since the plants don’t need regular waterings, many people assume they are easy to grow and difficult to kill.

The reality is the opposite. Although succulents don’t need a lot of water, they do tend to be fairly picky plants. Under the right conditions, they’ll thrive and add some greenery to your home. Under the wrong conditions, they’ll turn yellow, dry up or rot completely. Keep the plant’s needs in mind when choosing which ones to bring home and where you put them in your home.

Soil Requirements

Many succulents are natives to desert areas, meaning they are used to and tend to prefer sandy, light soil. A soil that retains moisture is a no-go, as it will lead to root rot and a diseased or dead plant.

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You can find container soil that is specially formulated for growing succulents, or you can use standard container soil, mixed with a fair amount of sand, when planting your succulents. If you’re planting indoors, in containers, don’t use standard garden soil for your plants.

How will you know if the soil is sandy or loose enough to keep your plants happy? The University of Minnesota recommends mixing one part container soil with one part sand. Moisten a handful of soil, then squeeze it together. When you release your hand, the soil should break apart easily. If not, add a bit more sand.

Food and Water for Succulents

How much food or fertilizer a succulent needs depends on the type of plant you’re growing. Some plants might need more food than others. Generally speaking, though, you want to fertilize only when the plant is actively growing. In the winter or during the cooler months of the year, you can hold off on adding fertilizer.

It can be difficult to figure out how much water your succulents need. Some gardeners get so worried that they are going to give their plants too much water, that they end up going to the opposite extreme and don’t give their succulents enough.

Although the plants do store water in their leaves, they do need a drink from time to time. A good rule of thumb to follow is to only water when the soil is completely dry.

If you’ve planted in a smaller container, that can mean watering once a week when the weather is dry. If you’ve planted in a larger container, you can try watering every other week, when conditions are dry. If it’s pretty humid in your home, you might want to allow even more time between waterings.

You’ll be able to tell if your plants are thirsty or over-hydrated by looking at the leaves. Succulents that are getting too much water are going to develop soft, yellowish leaves. The leaves of a plant that needs a bit of water are going to look crispy and might start to turn or fold in.

Light Needs

If there’s one thing the desert has plenty of, it’s sunlight. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that your succulent plants are going to want plenty of sunlight. But how much light the plant needs depends on the type and on its coloring. According to Sunset, succulents that have red, blue or grey leaves have the highest light requirements.

Green leaved succulents can actually get burned or scalded if you put them in a spot that gets hours and hours of direct, hot sunlight every day. Interestingly enough, the spines that you see on cacti varieties, which are types of succulents, are specifically designed to help protect the plant from too much light.

What if you live in a very dim or dark house and don’t have a window that gets an adequate amount of sunlight? You can always try to grow your succulents under artificial lights.

Putting your succulents under fluorescent tube lighting for up to 14 hours a day can provide sufficient light to the plants. According to Needles and Leaves, 14 hours of artificial light is about the same as the amount of light the plants would get outdoors in a sunny location in the middle of summer.

If you’re looking for a concise round-up of tips for growing succulents, the video above from Garden Answer is very helpful. In the video, she lists 10 tips to help you provide your plants with the food, water, light and soil they need.

Containers for Succulents

The type of container you choose for your succulents is very important. Choosing the wrong style of container can cause the plant’s roots to rot and can lead to its demise.

There are three things to consider when picking a container for your succulent plants. One is its size.

As mentioned in the video above from Grow Organic Peaceful Valley, succulents tend to have shallow roots, which spread out laterally in the soil. That means that choosing a shallow planter is often ideal.

You can pick a deeper, larger pot, but should keep in mind that it will be slow to dry out, which can lead to overwatering. Deeper pots also tend to have more uneven soil. The dirt at the top of the pot will be dry while the soil near the bottom of the pot will be wet.

One of the most important things to look for in your succulent container is a drainage hole. If there’s nowhere for the water to go, the plant is going to rot, even if you don’t water that much.

Finally, the material the container is made out of matters. A porous material, such as terra cotta, is often ideal for succulents. Excess water is absorbed by the unglazed ceramic, reducing the risk for root rot.

Types of Succulent Plants

There are a lot of different types of succulent plant out there. Although many types of succulent normally live in desert areas, there are a few that live in forests or woodland areas, according to Garden Know How.

Forest succulents look different from desert succulents and have different needs. Usually, a forest type of succulent has a long, trailing growth habit and produces large flower blooms. The Christmas Cactus is a common example of a forest-grown succulent.

Speaking of cacti, they have a number of features that set them apart from other types of succulent. One notable feature is the spines you’ll find on most cacti. The spines can be very long and sharp or short and fuzzy.

Tips on Growing Succulents

We’ve just begun to scratch the surface when it comes to growing and caring for succulent plants. We’ve got a lot more articles on the topic, which you can find over on the right sidebar. Succulents can be tricky to grow, but they’re beautiful enough that it’s worthing learn as much as you can about them and giving them a go.

Photo by MiliVanily licensed under CC0

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