Succulents are super rewarding to work with and there’s an endless variety to add to your collection. They come in a kaleidoscope of colors and textures—from the soft and fuzzy ‘Panda Ears’ Kalanchoe to the rough, ribbed Haworthia ‘Fairy’s Washboard’—and many have highly entertaining names too.
You just need to know a few things about your new succulent plant to keep it happy and healthy. You can also learn how to propagate your plant and make new plants! Succulents are truly the gift that keeps on giving if you take a little time to get to know their needs.
For a more detailed and customized QA based on your own climate and plants, check this page out and learn how you can ‘hire’ me as your personal succulent advisor 😉
*Some supplies are linked to where to purchase them online- all are listed under the Supplies page.
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(Watch my ‘Wetting Your Plants’ demo here.)
Note the word ‘care’ doesn’t mean ‘kill with too much love.’ Every succulent owner is guilty of it, especially me. We show our overbearing love with over-watering and too much water is the kryptonite of succulents. Why, you ask? They are so juicy looking, don’t they need a lot of water? Nope! Most succulents are extremely drought-tolerant and their roots don’t actually suck up the water, but absorb it through water particles in the air around their roots. This is why you must use well-draining soil and pots with holes in the bottom to help release excess water.
Sometimes you want to temporarily pot a plant in a really nifty container that doesn’t have drainage holes and you’re not able or wanting to drill them yourself. Go for it! But you need to be ready to repot so the roots don’t get smothered. Be very, very careful not to overwater. If you need to, you can hold the plants in place and tip the container on its side to assist in drainage or remove the plant entirely and let it dry out to avoid root rot.
I make my own succulent soil by mixing cheap top soil with various drainage amendments like perlite, pumice, and Turface/porous ceramic soil conditioner.
You can also buy premixed cactus/succulent soil if you only need to fill a few pots but if you’re in a humid climate, even this mix needs additional drainage materials added. Refrain from adding a thick layer of pebbles or rocks as a top dressing since it will trap moisture in the dirt. Use pumice, Turface, a scattering of pebbles, larger rocks placed in an attractive way, or nothing at all. You can watch a video demo of how I make my dirt here.
Sucs For You’s Succulent/Cactus Soil Recipe
Since I need a lot of dirt, way too much to have shipped, I pick up the soil, Turface, and perlite at local hardware stores. I can’t find pumice locally so I order it online.
I use topsoil instead of potting soil as the latter tends to come amended with fertilizer and moisture retaining ingredients, and that’s exactly what we don’t want. Succulents and cacti prefer less nitrogen than most plant foods and making our own mix gives us control over the drainage and nutritional contents.
Pumice is preferable to perlite, but perlite is abundant locally and while it doesn’t double as a pretty top dressing like pumice, it works well for what we need.
Turface is often seen on baseball diamonds- you know, that red dirt looking stuff. Well, up close it’s rather pretty and is also very affordable. Turface is a brand name so you might need to seek it out under the name ‘soil conditioner’ or ‘porous ceramic soil conditioner.’ I get mine at a local store called Southwest Fertilizer and it’s sold as soil conditioner by a brand called Profile.
In a large bin, combine equal parts topsoil with perlite and stir until well mixed. Then add more perlite and Turface until you’re seeing equal parts dirt to the other materials. You may come across bark pieces in the mix if you’re using topsoil- toss them into your compost pile if they bother you. I buy 40 lb bags for $2.15 and the cost is worth the few seconds of extra sorting to remove pieces that are too large for the pot I’m working with.
I add more pumice to a smaller bin of the dirt I’m working with, then I add another handful or two to the pot I’m filling. Finally, I dress the tops of my pots with pumice to keep the soil in place and the bottom layer of leaves dry when I water. This isn’t necessary but looks nice and adds a layer of prevention against water-related problems.
Click here to find links to the ingredients I use in the recipe. Definitely buy locally when possible, but if you purchase online, using the links on my Supplies page will help me keep helping you and others with your succulent and cacti care needs. So thank you!
Full Sun, Part Sun, Shade. That’s really all you need to know. You’ll see all kinds of lingo describing the various light requirements, but those three are the main players in the game. Meeting each plant’s needs will ensure compact leaf growth and good health.
Full sun means a plant wants 8-10 hours of full sun – bright as possible without scorching the leaves. Yes, they can get a sunburn too so you might need to provide a way to filter the light if it’s too intense.
Part sun (and part shade) means a plant wants 3-6 hours of good, filtered sun, and often they can hang with more. If they don’t get enough sun, they’ll start getting tall and spindly as they stretch their leaves out to catch more rays. The morning sun is gentler and more ideal for these plants.
Shade means a plant should get less than 3 hours of light a day. There aren’t a lot of succulents that fall into this category but they do exist.
Most succulents are cold hardy, but it’s important to look up each plant’s high and low temperature preferences. Protect from extreme heat and freezes.
Fertilize during spring and summer months with a low nitrogen fertilizer diluted a bit more than the directions suggest. Google your plant’s species to see their general guidelines for the right food for their type.
(Watch ‘Succulent Leaf Propagation from Start to Finish’ here)
Most succulents are super easy to propagate by cuttings and leaves. and of course offsets, aka babies!
Via cuttings: Trim a cutting and remove the lower leaves so 2-3″ inches of stem is freed to plant. Let the cutting callous over for anywhere from 1 day to a week before potting in well-draining soil, then water as needed. This helps prevent water from getting inside the cut which will cause them to rot before they root.
Via leaves: Simply twist a leaf from the bottom row from left to right like you’re turning a key. Be sure not to snap the tip off that attaches to the stem as this is where the roots will sprout. Allow the cut-end to callous over and lay on some soil in a fairly shady location. They usually fall off mother-plant and nestle beneath her shade so keep that in mind.
When roots begin to show, then you can start watering a little bit while helping to guide the roots into the dirt. The leaf will continue to nourish the new plant so leave it attached until it starts to look like it’s not really helping being there anymore. Remove the new plant from the leaf in the same manner as you took the leaf from the mother-stem then pot ‘er up!
Via Offsets: Succulents such as sempervivum and graptopetalum are notorious baby-makers. To remove the baby, grab as close to the mother-stem as possible and twist off the offshoot in the same way you twist off a leaf for propagation. You can look at the break and judge if it’s too big or wet from the separation. Let it callous over for a day or two if necessary. Otherwise, pot it and love it! I guess you could give it to someone really cool too. But only if they’ll love it as much as you.
You’ve got this! Keep an eye on how much sun your plants like and get up in their business every now and then to check for pests and root health, etc. Before you know it, you’ll be surrounded with a collection of happy, beautiful succulents.
Just remember, too much water is like too much junk food for sucs, so stick with kisses between waterings!
You can submit a question through this form on Ask SFY.