This guide will show you everything from how to care for succulents through to containers for their display, some DIY projects, and how to propagate them to get plants for free.
If you have always considered that a green thumb is something that other gardeners have, but not you, it’s quite likely you have never tried your hand at growing succulents.
These delightful little plants with a feminine look are drought friendly and can even tolerate a bit of neglect so they are perfect for those new to gardening.
It is common to find succulents in areas of the country which have high temperatures but very little rainfall.
What is a succulent?
A succulent is a plant that has leaves which are more plump than a normal plant. It can store water in its leaves for long times, making it ideal for dry and arid locations. The word succulent comes from the Latin word sucus, which means juice or sap.
There are many different types, species, and cultivars of succulents, and they have a delightful assortment of sizes and shapes, as well as varying colors and unusual features such as frills.
Succulents also tend to have really beautiful flowers. It can take quite a while for most succulents to flower but the wait is so worth it!
Growing succulents is a hobby with many gardeners, particularly those who enjoy easy to care for indoor plants.
The difference between succulents and cacti
A cactus is a fleshy plant that stores water and is a part of the succulent group. But in order for a succulent to be considered a cactus, it must have areoles.
Aeroles are small and round mounds of flesh that are cushion like. These mounds have spines, hair leaves and flowers growing on them.
Succulents do not have these mounds, but have very fleshy and normally plump leaves where the water is stored. Both types of plants are common to desert-like regions.
Succulents and cacti are often grouped together but they are not the same type of plant. Even though all cacti are succulents (since they store water), not all succulents are cacti.
For the purpose of this guide, we will be discussing tips for succulent plant care in relation to those plants without aeroles.
Uses for succulents
Succulents can be grown as stand alone plants in pretty containers. Many common household items, such as glass containers, teacups and silver sugar and cream dispensers make pretty succulent containers for individual plants.
It is also quite common to plant several succulents together in a dish or bowl to make a succulent garden.
Outdoor succulents, in warmer zones, look great planted around rocks in rock gardens. Large plants such as a hardy agave makes a great focal plant in a garden bed.
How to care for succulents
Succulent plant care is relatively easy. Basically you buy a succulent, water it a little when it is dry, and slowly watch it grow.
This sounds quite simplistic and it is. Each plant has similar growing conditions and care but there are also minor differences too. Knowing all that you can about succulents will make your task of caring for them much more pleasurable.
Here are a few questions that I often get about growing succulents. They will answer many of the questions you may have about how to care for succulents.
What are the different genus of succulents?
There are approximately 60 different plant families that contain succulents and each succulent family has many varieties.
This makes for a very large plant type with thousands of varieties of succulents available. Succulent plant identification can be difficult because many of them look quite similar.
Some families of succulents are more readily found at garden centers locally so, if you are just starting out, look for names such as:
Note that these are the scientific or botanic name, and many succulents have more easily remembered common names, like burro’s tail succulent, or bear’s paw.
For a mobile app that does a pretty good job at identifying succulents and other plants, be sure to check out the PlantSnap app.
What you need to grow succulents?
In actual fact, some well draining potting soil, a bit of water, sunlight and your succulent are all you need to grow this popular houseplant. But to get the most out of the hobby, consider investing in these supplies:
- A few succulents of your choice. There are dozens of varieties that are available at most garden centers and the big box stores, so choose a few that appeal to you.
- A suitable container that has a drainage hole.
- If the container that you like has no drainage holes, a layer of gravel in the bottom of it will allow the water to drain.
- Some mesh tape or a drainage screen if your container has a drainage hole, to keep the soil in the pot.
- Succulent soil
- Garden tools
- Rocks for the top of the container
All of these things will make potting the succulent easier and will give the succulent a better presentation.
How often should you water succulents?
Even though succulents are considered drought tolerant, they do need water. Each variety has their own care needs, but basically most are pretty drought tolerant.
As a general rule of thumb, I water when the soil is dry down about 1-2 inches. This means that I get out my watering can once a week during the growing season.
Be careful about over-watering succulents, if you water too frequently, it makes the plant likely to develop root rot, which can kill succulents.
And also be careful about watering in the dormant period (often the winter months). At this time, the succulent will only need enough water to stay alive and not shrivel up.
How to water succulents
If your pot has a drainage hole, watering is easy. Take it to the sink, give it a good soaking and allow the water to run out of the drainage hole into the sink.
Don’t let a succulent sit in a saucer that is full of water. The soil will wick it back up and can become too moist.
What succulents grow well indoors?
Not surprisingly, the best indoor succulents that are very popular with home gardeners are those that tolerate lower light conditions outdoors.
As long as you have a bright sunny window, most tender succulents will grow well indoors. Some that don’t mind even less light are:
- Aloe Vera
- Echeveria varieties
- Crown of Thorns
- Jade Plant
- Haworthia Fasciata
- Panda Plant (Kalanchoe Tomentosa)
- Burro’s Tail Sedum
- Living Stones
- Christmas Cactus
- String of Pearls
Learning what soil to grow succulents in
The best soil for succulents is a well draining potting mix. A porous soil mixture is very important to avoid the pitfall of over-watering, which is common in beginning gardeners.
You can choose a premade retail potting mix designed for cacti and succulents, such as this one by Hoffman.
Dump the ingredients in a pail or bucket and mix well.
What temperatures can succulents tolerate?
The answer to this question depends on the type of succulent that you plan to grow. There are some succulents that can endure temperatures well below freezing if the are kept dry.
Others, and this would apply to many succulents that you see for sale in nurseries and garden centers in the summer months, are tender succulents and like a minimum temperature of about 50-60 degrees.
How to care for succulents outdoors?
I grow succulents as indoor plants during the winter months. I love that I don’t have to water them as often as normal houseplants and this is great for my busy schedule.
During the summer months, I give them a few months outside in the elements. But this takes some care and timing. Follow these tips for best results:
- Ease them into the sunny conditions. The sun outside is much brighter than indoor plants normally get!
- Give them a bit of a break from the hottest sunlight. A shadier spot is a good location if you are having them outdoors for a long period. (Morning sunlight is great!)
- Fertilize. The summer months are often a time for succulent growth. They’ll need more water AND fertilizer.
- Place the pot on a saucer or slab instead of directly on the ground, so they don’t take root through the drainage hole.
- Check for bugs before you bring them back inside.
- Take cuttings and propagate. You’ll get plants for free and will have an extra is the outdoors is too much for them.
What succulents grow in the shade?
Even though succulents are very good at conserving water, most of them do like quite a bit of sunlight. Even the succulents that can do well in less light do prefer some sun. Try these varieties for growing succulents indoors.
There are a few varieties of succulents that will do well in filtered light to shady conditions. Some are:
- Aloe varieties
- Sansiviera (snake plant or mother in laws tongue)
- Some agave varieties
- Crassula ovata (Jade Plant)
- Woodland Sedum
- Burro’s Tail Sedum
- Aeonium Kiwi
Will succulents grow back after winter?
Tender succulents will die if left outside in freezing temperatures. Since their leaves store water, freezing temps will freeze the water and the plant can not withstand this.
If you live in warmer zones (10 and 11), pretty much all succulent varieties will over winter. They usually will go dormant in the winter months and will start growing again in spring.
Do note that you’ll need to tidy up the plant in the spring. The winter is hard even on cold hardy succulents.
In colder temperatures, these varieties are quite cold hardy:
- Cold Hard sedum varieties (Such as Sedum Autumn Joy)
- Rosularia varieties
- Cold hardy Opuntia cactus
Guide to Succulents
This guide to growing succulents gets larger month by month here on my blog, so be sure to check back in a few months to see more articles about new and interesting succulent varieties.
Succulents are one of my favorite plants and I am always looking for new varieties to grow as house plants or to display outside in the summer months.
Types of Succulents
There are many types of succulents that can be grown in your home. Some need lots of light and others can thrive in quite low light conditions.
Use these articles to get started on your succulent hobby.
- Aeonium Haworthii – Kiwi Verde succulent has spoon shaped leaves with showy tips and colored edges.
- Aloe Vera – If you ever need a sunburn relief, you’ll be pleased you have this succulent growing at home. The gel in the leaves is a natural cooling agent for sunburn!
- Christmas Cactus – This plant is often seen around the holidays in full bloom. It stores water in its leaves and has no spines, so it’s hard to decide whether it is a cactus or succulent. Find out how to get it to flower each year.
- Cotyledon Tomentosa – Bear’s Paw Succulent has teeth on the ends of the leaves that look like tiny claws. Get some growing tips for this tender succulent.
- Echeveria Neon Breaker – Highly colored leaf margins and frilly edges make this succulent plant a real show stopper.
- Kalanchoe Blossfeldiana – Tips for growing Florist Kalanchoe, a wonderfully showy plant for the holidays with flowers that last for months.
- Kalanchoe Millotii – This fuzzy leaf kalanchoe is native to Madagascar. The foliage is silver green with scalloped leaf margins.
- Kalanchoe Tomentosa – Another fuzzy leaf plant with long leaves that look like ears. It’s called panda plant, pussy ears and chocolate soldier.
- Lithops Care – This plump smooth textured plants look like little rocks, giving them the common name “living stones.”
- Sedum Morganianum – Also called burro’s tail and donkey’s tail, this succulent is wonderful in a hanging basket.
- Thanksgiving Cactus – Cousin to the Christmas cactus and flowers before it.
- Tillandsia – Air Plants are spiky little plants (and some not so little) that can grow with no soil. They are super trendy and popular plants right now.
What is the best place to buy succulents?
Choosing the right succulent plant is only the first step towards caring for your new drought happy plants.
It can be a challenge to find the specimen that you have just decided that you NEED TO HAVE! There are lots of places to find succulents for sale.
Your local Farmer’s Market, Big Box Stores and Garden centers are a good place to start, but there are many other places that sell succulents as well.
Check out my tips for Buying Succulents – It gives lots of information about finding the perfect succulent plant, both locally and online.
More Succulent Maintenance and How to Propagate Succulents.
Growing succulents is pretty easy but there are some things that will help to make sure your plant collection thrives.
Knowing how to propagate succulents (to get new plants) is a useful thing to check out, too. Be sure to have a look at these articles for some helpful tips.
- Caring for Echeveria – This pretty rosette forming plant is easy to grow and a popular choice for those just starting out. This article gives general care tips for the genus echeveria.
- Propagating Succulents – These little plants are so easy to propagate to get more for yourself or for friends. You can use either leaves of the plant, or make cuttings of the stem. This article shows all about how to do this.
How to Display Succulents
The little plastic pots that the succulent comes in at the garden center are useful to hold the plant until it is sold, but there are so many more creative ways to display your collection.
The main consideration to keep in mind when displaying succulents is that the soil will drain well. Since many of these household items have no drainage hole, be sure to use a layer of gravel in the bottom of the container for the water to drain from the soil.
Check out these ideas for creative succulent containers.
- 25 Succulent Plant Containers – Don’t throw those tea cups out! They are the perfect size for succulents. Find out how to use these and many other useful household items to display your succulent collection.
- Air Plant Holders – Get creative with your air plant with these unusual ways to display these spiky plants.
- Cement Blocks Succulent Display – Salvaged cement blocks grouped together in a corner of my garden are the perfect way to display my succulents for the summer months.
- Coffee Pot Terrarium – An ordinary coffee pot carafe does double duty as a mini terrarium for succulents. It’s a super easy and charming DIY display.
- Cowboy Boot Succulent Planter – A red metal cowboy boot gets stuffed to overflowing with some drought tolerant succulents.
- Creative Succulent Planters – Get some inspiration for your succulent garden with these creative ideas. From cowboy boots to hypertufa hands, we’ve got you covered.
- DIY Succulent Arrangement – This tutorial uses lots of succulents in a dish garden that makes a great centerpiece.
- Pumpkin Succulent Display – Turn Halloween pumpkins into a wonderful fall table centerpiece with this amazing tutorial.
- Re-potting Succulents – Whatever you do, don’t purchase those succulent pots with rocks glued to the surface so commonly seen now. You’ll want to tear out your hair if you ever decide to re-pot them!
- Rustic Succulent Planters that can take the heat. If you like to give your succulents a place in the garden in the summer months, check out these rustic succulent garden ideas.
- Strawberry Planter Succulent Display – The little pockets of a strawberry pot are the perfect size for your baby succulents.
- Succulent Bird Cage Planter – Turn an old white bird cage into a charming hanging planter that is overflowing with succulents with this easy project.
- Wooden Drawer Succulent Display – This DIY succulent arrangement started out as slim wooden file drawer. Each compartment houses a different variety of succulent!
Useful products to taking care of Succulents
You can grow succulents in the pots that they come in at the garden center, but to get the most out of your succulent collection, some of these products will come in handy.
Recommended Books to help with Growing Succulents.
If you are really interested in learning how to care for succulents, these books cover the topic in lots detail.
Garden Centers with a Great Display of Succulents
My husband and I often travel the country in the summer, visiting garden centers across the US. These are some garden centers that have fabulous succulent displays worth visiting.
Some centers even have workshops that show the visitor how to care for succulents.
- Biltmore Estate and Gardens – Many of the outside balconies and patios have a lovely display in this well known estate and Gardens spot that is located in Asheville, North Carolina.
- Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory – This enclosed conservatory in downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana has a Sonoran Desert display with lots of cacti and succulent varieties.
Get more info on Growing Succulents
If you are looking for more information on growing succulents, be sure to visit my Cacti and Succulents Pinterest Board.
Pin this post for How to Care for Succulents for Later
Would you like a reminder of these tips for succulent care? Just pin this image to one of your gardening boards on Pinterest.
- Succulent Plants
- Small planters with drainage hole
- Porous soil that drains well
- Print out these care tips and keep them handy in your gardening journal.
- Sunlight needs: Most succulents need bright light. Direct sun can bleach out the plant and dry it too quickly. A few can tolerate lower light conditions.
- Watering needs: Water when the soil is dry down about 1-2 inches.
- Soil requirements: Use a soil that drains well to prevent root rot.
- Cold hardiness: Check your label. Most succulents are tender and will only grow out doors all year round in zones 10 and 11.
- Pests: Check for aphids and scale.
- Fertilize: Use a succulent fertilizer during the growing season. Hold off in the winter months.
- Propagate: Get new plants by rooting leaves and stem cuttings.
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission from the sale, but the price is the same for you. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."