How Do You Care for Succulents? The Key to Thriving Succulents

by | Jul 24, 2020 | Growing Guides

Was I the only one who was fed this lie, “Succulents are easy! There is no way you could kill them!” My mother, the expert gardener, told me this when I was choosing my first house plants. I then proceeded to kill each one. The truth is, it is easy to care for succulents, but there are rules because, like all plants, succulents have specific needs. If you are armed with these tried and true care tips, succulents can make the perfect cheery, low maintenance house plants.  

The Right Soil and Potting Mix

Above all, your succulents crave proper drainage. A wise decision on potting soil will save you so much grief later on. Any ol’ potting mix or soil from your yard won’t cut the mustard. Instead, go for a cactus or succulent mix. You can also add material like pumice or perlite to this mix to increase drainage and aeration. The hope is to create a mix that is course enough to dry quickly and allow water to flow through. Plant succulents in a soil mix they will love, and they will be happy as can be in your garden. 

Container Types: Avoid Glass and Pots Without Drainage

Please, please choose a container which allows for proper drainage and avoid glass pots and bowls with no drainage holes in the bottom. Succulents will rot if waterlogged, so give the moisture an escape route. Terra Cotta pots are a great choice because not only do they provide drainage at the bottom, but the porous material will assist in aeration.  

We have all seen the glamorous succulents in terrariums made in glass containers. They make beautiful gifts and centerpieces. But, the truth is, because of a lack of drainage and aeration, these containers are not great long-term planting solutions for succulents. If you are creating a terrarium, there are soil choices and watering habits that will help. Adding pine bark shreds and crushed rock to your succulent mix, and spraying the soil lightly to water are a few helpful ways to prevent rot.  

Watering Succulents: Soak Soil and Dry

Overwatering is the number one killer of succulents, so watch out. Because succulents are native to climates which experience drought, they have thick fleshy leaves that store water. However, this does not necessarily mean that they require less water, rather they should be watered very thoroughly and less often. The “soak and dry” method is most effective. In short, water thoroughly and allow soil to dry fully between watering. Here are some details and tips for watering:

  • Water directly into soil, avoiding leaves to prevent mold growth. Misting leaves or pouring water directly onto the plant is a common mistake. 
  • Water succulents deeply, until water is draining from the bottom, or water from the root up by setting a well-draining pot in water. Allow water to be pulled up to the surface through the base of the pot, until the top of the soil is moist. 
  • Allow soil to dry completely before watering again. Depending on your plant and climate, this could mean several days or weeks. As long as the soil is allowed to dry fully, you are most likely in the clear. 
  • Slow watering outside of the growing season. This is usually in the winter months (low light months) while your succulent is not actively growing. Keep an eye on your plant. Water frequently enough to prevent withering.

Getting Enough Sunlight

Most succulents require at least six hours of sunlight a day. When growing indoors, this becomes particularly tricky and important. The best rule of thumb is to place them in the sunniest place you possibly can. You may also want to rotate your succulent to make sure each side is receiving the sunshine it needs. If your plant is not getting enough light, they simply won’t grow at a healthy pace and may not flower. They can become stretched and thin as it searches for sunshine.

When shopping for your succulents, keep your growing space in mind. If growing indoors with little direct sunlight, you may want to go for more green-colored plants. Those with more color, like purples and pinks, tend to require more sunlight. Some succulents would love eight hours of full sun a day! So, when growing in shade and indoors, go for the green. 

All of that said, there are some succulents that can tolerate shade better than others. Some succulents will even scorch or fade in too much direct sun exposure and heat. So if you don’t have a sunny south-facing window, don’t worry.  You can still grow these juicy little friends! Here are a few of my favorite low light succulents:

  • burn plant (Aloe vera)
  • devil’s backbone (Pedilanthus)
  • string of pearls (Senecio)
  • string of hearts and rosary vine (Ceropegia)
  • Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera)

Pests and Houseplant Bugs

If your succulent has ample proper drainage and is not being watered properly, your indoor succulents shouldn’t have too much issue with pests. This is because the majority of pests are attracted to the moisture in your plant’s soil. However, it does occasionally happen. 

Gnats love the moisture in your houseplants and can be pretty frustrating as they zoom around your home. The best course of action is to allow your plant to dry out fully. Your succulent plants will benefit from this anyway since they aren’t fans of excess water. You can also try using sticky gnat traps. These have been a lifesaver for my indoor garden. 

Mealybugs are another common pest. They are small white fuzzy guys and large numbers of them together can look similar to mold growing on your plant. However, they can sometimes be harder to spot, especially on succulents whose leaves are very layered and close together. So look closely. If you do have a plant with mealybugs, it’s best to separate it from your other plants right away! Those things can spread like wildfire. 

Possibly one of the most effective ways to rid your succulents of these little guys, while not harming the plant is with rubbing alcohol. Spray with 70% alcohol. If the mealy bugs die, they will turn red. Then rinse with water to wash them off. Give it some time to make sure you got them all. You may need another round of spray. If that doesn’t work for you, there are some more suggestions for getting rid of mealy bugs.

By Devri Chism

By Devri Chism

Devri loves making the most of her in-home garden. While she was raised on a farm in the Ozarks, she traded the rolling hills for big city livin’ - and an itty bitty living space. She loves growing herbs, as well as, accent plants that can be used decoratively around her home.

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My husband and I are attempting to turn our tiny city condo into an urban gardening oasis. Join us on our journey toward sustainable living and making the most of our space.

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