Echeverias and Rosettes 101: Color, Care, and Form

Behold the enchanting Echeveria! Their lovely rosette forms are often among the first to catch the eye of those new to succulents. The attractive growth pattern is a great example of the golden ratio or sacred geometry, and the whimsical variety of colors and leaf shapes makes them oh so very collectible. 

But sometimes when you bring them home, within a short amount of time, they start looking less compact and lose their colors. 

This video will help you learn what you can do to keep your Echeverias, Sedeverias, Graptoverias, Graptopetalums, Sedums, and other rosette form succulents looking their best. 

Light needs: Echeverias and other rosettes are very dependent on bright light to keep their leaves growing compact. Even the brightest indoor window sills might not provide enough light, so grow lights are a great supplement. Outdoors, a wide open east facing sky should provide ample light, as well as south facing spots. West facing areas could be too intense in the summer time unless some shade is available. (Hemispheres) 

I do recommend reading my book The Succulent Manual to get a very detailed and comprehensive understanding of different types of natural light throughout the year along with how to find the best grow light for your indoor collections. You can read it online right after this video if you sign up at this link: SucsForYou.com/thesucculentmanual 

I don’t fertilize my rosettes as often as other succulents simply because we get a lot of overcast weather during the growing season and feeding too much can cause stretching/etiolation if there’s not enough light to keep them compact. 

Water and soil needs: As long as your Echies are potted in a nice fast draining soil, in unglazed terracotta pots with drainage holes, you can water every 10 days or so and not have to worry about roots rotting. The soil should be drying out within a week or sooner, preferably.   

In less than ideal soils and pots, it’s best to water every 2 weeks or even less often. 

Some rosettes will show how hydrated they are by how firm their leaves feel, but not all are so obvious. Echeveria agavoides and Sedum adolphii ‘Golden Sedum’ pretty much always have firm leaves. Echeveria setosa, diffractens, and subsessilis have thinner, more flexible leaves that will always feel somewhat pliant. 

Soil dryness will be the best indicator of when to water. Just stick your finger in the soil or lift the pot to see how light it feels compared to right after watering. I let my pots dry completely and stay dry for a couple of days before worrying about watering again. 

Color retention: A lot of the colorful rosettes we see will lose their colors without a very specific combination of light, water, and temperatures that induce ‘stress’ in the plants. 

Pretty much the whole state of California is a good example when looking at the factors required to keep succulents colorful. With little rain fall, mild temperatures, and copious arid and sunny days, Californians can enjoy brilliantly colored plants year round. 

The colors we see in plants are created by pigments like chlorophyll, which is green, anthocyanins which lends the blues, red, and purples, and carotenoids which are red and yellow, or orange, like a carrot. There are other pigments as well.

The various organic compounds of the pigments support the various needs of plants. The higher presence of a pigment indicates a response to an external influence, like heat, cold, drought, seasonal changes, and other environment changes, like moving from a professional west coast greenhouse to a window sill in someone’s home in Boston.   

Anthocyanins assist with UV protection and water regulation; carotenoids assist in photosynthesis and photoprotection. Both have antioxidant properties as well. 

But since chlorophyll is the primary pigment in plants, being central to photosynthesis, that’s the primary color we see. 

When a plant is entering dormancy, the production of chlorophyll reduces and the other pigments are revealed. That’s why leaves change colors on trees in the fall. Dormancy can be seasonal, or a stress response to temperature, intense light, or drought. 

I live in Houston where it’s always humid, gets tons of rain, and stays warm or hot most of the year. If I want to bring out color in my succulents when it’s hot, I have to stress them with a lot of light and minimal water. Essentially, I am inducing dormancy. But again, it gets really hot here, like 90-100F or higher during the hottest months, and too much heat stress will cause just about any plant to give up the ghost. 

And it’s hard to water-stress succulents in humid climates because everything dries slower. Soil dries slower. The water succulents release nightly through transpiration slows because evaporation is slower.

Think about your clothes when you sweat in a dry climate compared to a humid one. Does your shirt dry out quickly or do you need to change afte r an hour in the garden to still be presentable in public? 

So ‘drought’ induced stress in hot humid climates isn’t easily achieved unless you’re growing indoors, with air conditioning and grow lights. 

There are some really lovely rosettes that tend to remain colorful year round like E. Perle von Nurnberg, Neon Breakers, Echeveria Ruffles, Graptoveria Debbie, Golden Sedum, and others. 

I’ve come to appreciate just watching my rosettes transform throughout the year, but if I did want to enhance their color, I would have to find a cool bright spot indoors, and I would definitely need a good grow light. 

Form: A lot of Echeverias and rosettes will eventually trail rather than staying in neat little compact rosettes, and you have 2 options. You can either let them trail and spill over your pots, or chop their heads off and start a new plant.

When you top a succulent, babies will grow near the point of the stem where you took your cutting so be sure to keep the base potted somewhere. This is also the same treatment for repairing stretched rosettes. 

Problems: Mealybugs are the main pest to watch for in rosettes. They’re sneaky and small and can easily hide between the compact leaves, so be sure to inspect any new plant at the store before you bring them home. Check the other succulents that are near them on the shelves as well. And if you see ants showing an interest in your rosettes, have a closer look because they will often lead you straight to the enemy. 

I don’t often recommend systemic pesticides but in this case, with it being so hard to reach all the nooks and crannies in rosettes, I would use something like Bonide granules if I was really concerned about losing a plant or having the mealies infest more of my collection. 

Diagnosing issues like leaves dropping, stem rot, and other problems depend on your care routine. My book The Succulent Manual has a chapter called Succulent SOS that provides solutions to the majority of problems we come across. 

That’s about all for now. If you have any other questions you can leave them in the comments below. And if you need 1-on-1 advice to solve an urgent problem, use the Ask Andrea feature on my website. 

Please subscribe to my channel if you haven’t already – it helps me keep making videos that help you keep your succulents alive and thriving!

Thank you for watching. 

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