Succulents are a wonderful addition to any garden, adding a unique aesthetic and a low-maintenance option for even the busiest of gardeners. Succulents come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors— from the tiny Textured Lithops to the classic Echeveria. With minimal care and attention, they can add a touch of greenery to any space. In this beginner’s guide, we’ll cover all the basics of growing succulents, so you can start building your own beautiful and low-maintenance garden.
Types of Succulents
There are many types of succulent plants to choose from, each with a unique appearance and growing requirements. Here are some popular varieties to consider:
- Cacti: Shaped like columns or balls, often armed with spines, and require bright light and infrequent watering.
- Echeveria: Rosette-shaped plants with fleshy leaves in a range of colors. Best grown in bright, filtered light and watered every few weeks.
- Aloe: Spiky or fleshy plants that are often used for medicinal purposes. Aloe is very easy to care for and prefers bright, indirect light.
- Haworthia: Dwarfed plants with similarly spiky or fleshy leaves. Haworthia prefers bright, indirect light and watering every two to three weeks.
- Sedum: often considered a ground cover or a short, bright green plant that bears little flowers. Sedum prefers well-draining soil and full sun and can be watered once a week.
- Crassula: These plants range from tiny to tree-like and feature plump, fleshy leaves. Crassula prefers full and partial sunlight and is relatively drought-tolerant.
Soil and Potting
When growing succulents, it is important to choose the right soil and pot. Succulents need well-draining soil to avoid root rot. A good option is a Commercial Cactus Mix, which includes sand, perlite, and peat. Clay pots are the best containers for succulents as they provide aeration and insulation, and are less prone to over-watering. Terracotta pots are also excellent as they wick away moisture from the soil.
When re-potting, place a layer of gravel on the bottom of the pot, add a layer of activated carbon to prevent root rot, and mix soil to plant. Additionally, it is important to avoid using any container that does not have drainage holes.
Lighting and Watering
One of the best things about growing succulents is how low-maintenance they are. To keep them healthy, they only require a little bit of care. Succulents prefer bright, indirect light, which means placing them near East facing windows where light is cooler than in other directions. Depending on your plants, they can thrive in full sun, filtered light, or bright, indirect light. You can easily find out what’s best for your plants by observing the leaves. If they burn, the light may be too strong, and if they stretch, it may be too weak.
Over-watering is the leading cause of death for these plants. Over-watering suffocates the roots and can lead to root rot, ultimately killing the plant. Make sure the soil is dry before watering; a general rule of thumb is to water only when the top layer of soil is bone dry. When watering, use a watering bottle to ensure the soil is picked up, and avoid wetting the leaves, as this can often lead to rot. Most succulents can thrive on a bi-weekly watering schedule, but make sure to adapt it based on how frequently the soil dries.
One of the best things about growing succulents is that they are very easy to propagate! There are three common ways to propagate succulents, leaf propagation, stem propagation, and division propagation.
- Leaf Propagation: This type of propagating involves cutting off a leaf and letting it sit, dry, and grow roots. Before doing this, make sure to use a sharpened knife to cut the leaf off the base of the plant. Allow the cut end to callus over (this helps the leaf to avoid rot), and then simply set the leaf on top of the soil. Within a few weeks, roots should appear, followed by small replicas of the mother plant.
- Stem Propagation: This type of propagation is done by taking cutting from the stem of the plant. Allow it to dry and callus, and then plant it in well-draining soil. Over time, this clipping will grow roots and develop another plant.
- Division Propagation: This type of propagation is simply the act of breaking up a larger plant into smaller sections, and replanting those sections. This method works well for plants that have already become too large or overgrown in their current pot. Once you’ve separated the portions of the plant, allow them to dry and heal before repotting them.
- Propagation is an easy way to grow your collection of succulents at no cost. Not only is it easy, but it’s also fun to watch each new plant grow.
Common Problems and Solutions
Overwatering is the most common issue with growing succulents. Signs of overwatering include wilting and yellowing leaves, soft stems and an unpleasant smell. If you suspect you have overwatered your succulent, give it a break from the watering can and let the soil completely dry out before resuming your regular watering schedule.
Underwatering is also a prevalent problem, especially if your succulents are not receiving enough light. Signs of underwatering include shriveled and crunchy leaves, and a lack of new growth. To remedy underwatering, cut back on the time between watering and make sure to give your succulents a brighter light source.
If succulents are left in the shade for a long time, a common issue is called etiolation. This happens when succulents stretch and grow taller as they search for a light source. To help remedy this, move your succulent to a spot with better lighting.
Pests and diseases are relatively rare for succulents, but they can still happen. Some common pests include mealybugs and spider mites, which you can remove with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.