Succulents are beautiful plants that can add some pizzazz to your garden or home. They have a reputation for being a fairly hardy plant, but they do require some specific conditions when growing. For instance, they need well-draining soil because they don’t tolerate wet roots well. You can plant succulents in containers or in the garden, but either way, take care to make sure your plants are happy and healthy.
Placing Succulents in Containers
Pick a shallow terracotta container with drainage holes. Terracotta works well for succulents because it’s porous, allowing water to seep out through the pot.A shallow pot is fine because succulents don’t have deep roots, but if you get a taller pot, it’s not a huge issue.In fact, a tall pot can be good if you get a lot of rain, as it provides more space to draw the water from the succulents’ roots.
- Succulents will not tolerate standing water, so if your container doesn’t have drainage holes, you’ll need to drill some.
- Keep in mind that the succulent will be contained by the size of the pot. That is, if you choose a big pot, it will get much bigger, but if you keep it in a smaller pot, it will generally stick to that size.
Fill the container two-thirds full with a potting mix made for succulents and cacti. Succulents do best with well-drained soil. Find a pre-mixed potting soil labeled for succulents and cacti, which should serve your plants’ needs well. Typically, it will have a higher percentage of inorganic material like perlite, pumice, or crushed lava than a regular potting mix. Put a paper towel or mesh in the bottom so the soil doesn’t spill out of the drainage holes, and then fill the container up about two-thirds of the way.
- If you can’t find one specifically for succulents and cacti, pick one that’s labeled “fast” or “quick” draining.
- To make your own mix, combine 50% regular potting soil and add 50% crushed lava, perlite, or pumice.
Plant your largest succulent in the center and smaller ones near the edges of the pot. Take the largest plant out of the small pot it came in and nestle it in the center of the container. Arrange the smaller plants around the bigger one, grouping similar plants together. Don’t dig holes; just set the plants on top of the soil.
- However, don’t overcrowd the pot. Give the succulents some breathing room so they can get the nutrients they need to thrive. Allow at least 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5.1 cm) between plants.
- Group succulents together that have similar growth requirements. For instance, put ones together that require the same amount of sun or that are from the same region, meaning they grow in similar conditions.
Add soil around the plants and pebbles on top. Once you have an arrangement you like, use a small shovel to spoon more soil in the spaces around the plants to keep them stable. Fill in the area around the base of each plant.
- To help keep the soil in place, pour crushed rocks or small pebbles on top. This also helps keep the base of your plants drier.
Putting Succulents in Your Garden
Pick succulents that can handle the winter if you live in an area with cold spells. Unless you live in a year-round warm climate, you’ll need to choose plants that tolerate the cold. Agave and yucca are good choices for outdoor gardens and will do well in many climates.
- Check your hardiness zone to see what grows well in your area.
- If your area gets very cold, opt for sedums and sempervivums, which come from the Alpines and can handle the cold.
Choose an area that provides 2-3 hours a day of dappled sunlight. While succulents like some sun, full sun is too much to keep them happy. Pick an area that gets partial shade, either because it’s filtered through leaves above or because it only gets sun part of the day.
- However, always check what your specific succulent needs by researching it or reading the label that comes with it!
Add inorganic matter to the soil to ensure it will drain well. Succulents need extra drainage whether they are in pots or in the ground. Amend your garden soil so it’s at least 60% inorganic material. Spread it out over the area you’ve tilled up in an even layer, and then work it in with a shovel or till, going down 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm).
- You can use perlite, pumice, or crushed lava, just to name a few.
Space the succulents 2 to 3 inches (5.1 to 7.6 cm) apart. Allow at least a few inches between each plant to give them room to grow. Measure the space from the outer edges of the plant, not the root. Many types of succulents will spread quickly, filling in the gaps and creating ground cover.
Dig a hole big enough for your plant’s roots and drop the plant in. Use a trowel or a small shovel to make a hole in the soil. It should be just big enough for the plant’s root ball. Lower the plant in the ground and then leave it alone. You don’t need to fill in around it when it’s in the ground. The soil will settle into place lightly around it.
- This process allows the plant’s roots to expand and breathe.
Caring for Succulents
Wait until the soil is completely dry before you water. Succulents don’t need much water, so you can wait until the soil dries out. Check the soil once a day until you get an idea of how often your succulents will need watering. When it’s dry, water the soil until its damp and water runs out the drainage holes.
- The time between waterings will depend on your humidity levels, the size of the pot or garden bed, how well the soil drains, and how big the plant is, so you really just need to check it often at first.
- Some plants may be able to go as long as 2 weeks between waterings, while others might need it as often as every 4 days or so. During succulents’ growing season from late spring to early fall, try watering at least 1 a week.
Keep your potted succulents outside when it’s warm. Succulents like circulating air, and they’ll get more of that outside. Place them in an area where there’s partial shade and about 2-3 hours of sunlight a day.
- If it’s cold year-round, you can grow succulents indoors. However, you’ll need to be more attentive to their needs.
Move frost-intolerant potted succulents inside during the winter. Some of these plants come from desert-like climates and won’t tolerate frost and cold as well. Bring these plants in during the winter months if they won’t handle the cold.
- If your plants are in the ground, cover them when temperatures dip below freezing.
- When you bring your plants outside again, acclimate them gradually. For instance, take them out for about 4 hours each day, slowly lengthening the time they are outside over the course of a week.
Protect your succulents from temperatures above 90 °F (32 °C). If the temperatures are going to be above 90 °F (32 °C), most succulents will appreciate more shade, as the hot sun can burn their leaves. Move potted plants to a cooler location or use an awning or larger plants to provide shade for plants in the ground.
Apply a well-balanced fertilizer in the spring. Succulents don’t need a lot of fertilizer. Try giving half the amount the directions suggest to your succulents. You can apply it in early spring once the chance of frost has passed.
- Pick a well-balanced fertilizer with equal parts of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (labeled as “NPK”). For instance, look for one labeled 5-5-5 NPK.
- You can get liquid fertilizers you dilute in water, fertilizer spikes, or fertilizer crumbles.
Prune succulents only to remove damaged or dead leaves. Most succulents don’t need pruning. However, if you notice parts have been damaged, you can trim those off at the base of the leaf. Damaged leaves will change color and wilt or rot.
- You can also trim succulents if they get too leggy (e.g., if they have very long stems). Leave 1 inch (2.5 cm) of stem behind on the head. Then, you can dry it out for a day and replant it with the shorter stem.
- Roots will also grow from single leaves of succulents if you let them dry out for a day or two.