Plant Parenting 101, The Plant Corner

How to Keep Your Succulents Alive and Thriving

September 28, 2020
Succulents and Cacti
Succulents and Cacti

With advice from expert gardeners, greenhouse workers, and our plant dad, Alfred Palomares, we’ve gathered the best tips for plant-parenting newbies. Our series Plant Parenting 101 will help turn you into the perfect plant parent! 

Succulents are having a moment — and for good reason! From being able to grow just about anywhere to requiring little maintenance, there’s so much to love about these plants! 

“Even the most novice green thumb can keep them alive.” 

  • They can grow almost anywhere. Unlike most common houseplants, they’re not as finicky about water and temperature. 
  • They’re the perfect size for small spaceYou can tuck a little greenery into the corner, up on a shelf, or even on your desk. 
  • Theyre low maintenance. In fact, the biggest problem with succulents occurs when you try to “kill them with kindness.” These plants like to be pretty much left alone. 
  • They’re unique. Succulents’ wide, smooth leaves and crisp shapes give them a decidedly modern appearance, making for a very chic presentation when lined up on a long table or clustered on a shelf. They’re even making waves as unusual wedding bouquets (just look up “succulent bouquet” on Instagram). 
  • They can be therapeuticFrom soothing a burn (aloe vera), to cleaning the air (Snake Plants), many succulents perform functions beyond just looking pretty on a shelf. 
  • They make a great gift. Because of their attractive looks and low maintenance, succulents are ideal plants to gift. Even the most novice green thumb can keep them alive, and they do double duty as an accessory to any home décor! 

But wait, what are succulents? 

There are more plants in the succulent family than one would think! Succulents are any one of a family of drought-resistant plants that store water in their leaves, stems, or roots. They typically have leaves that are smooth and fleshy in appearance. 

The most popular succulents include the aforementioned aloe vera and snake plant; other varieties include the jade plant, zebra plant, moonstones, and “hens and chicks.” 

Prickly pear and purslane are examples of edible succulents, and air plants (“tillandsia”), cacti, and sedum are all in the succulent family too. 

If we’ve piqued your interest and you’re ready to dive in, you’ll want to take a moment to familiarize yourself with the three basic areas of care that succulents need, namely: soil, light, and water.  

How to help your succulents thrive 

Soil: plant your succulents in soil that drains 

Succulents are meant to tolerate drought, and regular potting soil is designed to hold water and drain slowly. This can make succulents prone to root rot if they sit for a prolonged period of time in that wet soil.  

You can avoid root rot in one of two ways: 

  • Purchase a soil mix designed specifically for cacti or succulents. These mixes are looser and more porous. They keep the plant stable in its container and hold in a little moisture while still draining thoroughly. 
  • Amend a standard potting soil mix. The goal is to adjust the soil so that moisture exits the container quickly. You can make a better soil mix for succulents by adding coarse sand, perlite, pumice, coconut coir, and mineral grit, all of which help aerate the soil and increase drainage. 
Succulents by Lula's Garden
Succulents by Lula’s Garden

Light: give your succulents plenty of light 

Succulents need light, and plenty of it! Ideally, they need six hours a day. If grown in too little light the plants become leggy, and the leaves tend to fade in color. You will also want to rotate your plants frequently, as they tend to “reach for” the light if left sitting in one spot without rotation. 

Water: don’t overwater your succulents 

We can’t emphasize this enough: do not overwater your succulents! Remember, these are drought tolerant plants, and are designed to withstand long dry spells in their native habitat.

A big part of successful watering has to do with the pot you plant your succulent in. Terra cotta pots are ideal (especially if you’re just starting out on your succulent journey) because they dry out quickly and pull water away from the soil. Terra cotta is also a naturally “breathable” material, due to its porous properties.

While planter material like terra cotta helps, the most essential element is a drainage hole. Whether the planter comes with a pre-drilled hole or you drill one yourself, you want your succulent container to be able to drain out any excess water swiftly and completely.

How to water? Simply add water to the soil until you see it come out of the drainage hole. Then leave it be. You won’t want to water again until the soil is dried out, which you can check by testing the top inch of soil. If it’s dry, it’s time to water. With succulents, less is more!

You can use any tool you like for watering, except for a spray bottle. Spray bottles only mist the surface, so water doesn’t get deep enough into the soil. This can result in plants with thin, shallow roots. Nice strong roots come from a deep and thorough watering. Spray bottles also tend to leave moisture on the leaves, which can result in mold growth. Stick to a pretty pitcher or watering can.

Enjoying your succulents

“Wildly popular and easy to care for, these adorable plants require less of your time to nurture.”

Alfred Palomares, our in-house plant expert

They don’t require a lot of time but can still make the difference in brightening up a room! These little plants are a wonderful, easy, beautiful addition to any home, and with their minimal care needs and striking good looks, you’ll want to add a bunch to yours!