Dolores has landscaped for private clients, maintained one client's small orchid collection, and keeps 30 houseplants.
How to Grow and Care for Succulents
The great thing about the increased popularity of succulents is the ease of availability. Suddenly, succulents are everywhere. Their distinctive sculptural quality and the varied shapes allow them to function as attractive organic décor in the home.
Succulents come in many forms, from tiny spheres like strings of green pearls to tall, slender leaves that resemble kelp. Some look like fat cartoon trees, while others resemble chunky flowers.
Succulents are generally easy-to-grow, low-maintenance plants. The fact that they can go for long periods of time without water makes them convenient for busy people, for those who travel, or the merely forgetful.
What Is a Succulent?
A succulent is a plant that stores moisture in its stems or leaves. Native to deserts and arid areas, succulents evolved in this way in order to survive with infrequent rain.
Most succulents have a compact growth habit and are often spherical, columnar, or chunky. Of course, there are exceptions.
Most succulents have shallow, somewhat flimsy root systems.
Most have a rib like structure that allow the plant to expand quickly as it soaks up moisture.
The Cactus Question
In botanical terms, a cactus is a kind of succulent. Though non-cacti can have spines, true cacti have spines that emerge from areoles or tiny cushion like features of the plants. So, botanically, all cacti are succulents. The word succulent refers to a wide range of plants.
In horticultural terms, however, cacti and succulents generally refer to different types of plants.
Buying a Succulent
Though succulents are easy to care for, that does not necessarily mean that all succulents have been cared for properly. Look for sighs of good health when you shop for a plant. The plant should look perky and be in good color.
Avoid plants that may have problems. Nursing a weak plant back to health may seem like fun, but you may be introducing illness or insects to your healthy plants.
Signs Your Plants Have an Illness or Insects:
- Pale color
- Soft, gushy plant base
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- Shriveled leaves
- Spindly or lanky looking
- White crust on pots
- Leaf spots
- Signs of insects (odd dots, small bits of cottony stuff, webbing)
Caring for Succulents
Here are some helpful tips:
Planting Your Succulent
- Choose the Right Container: Plant a succulent in pottery, terra cotta, or in a cement container. Plastic pots retain too much moisture.
- Choose the Right Soil: Plant in a commercial soilless medium or blend your own mix of potting soil, sand, and peat moss.
- Choose the Right Light: Place the container in a bright room with southern exposure. Some succulents will not do well in the direct sun of a south facing window. The glass can magnify the heat and scorch the plant. It may be best to keep the plant 2 feet or so away from a south facing window.
How to Take Care of Your Succulent
- Water Sparingly: Overwatering is the primary cause of death for succulents (and all houseplants). Allow soil to dry out completely between watering. Water once a month in winter.
- Fertilize: Fertilize once a month at most. Do not fertilize in winter.
- Check the Temperature: Most succulents are relatively tolerant of cool (not frigid) temperatures. Remember that deserts can become quite chilly at night. Most succulents prefer warm, dry air and day time temperatures of 70 - 85 degrees Fahrenheit. They like it a bit cooler at night.
There are hundreds of different kinds of Aloe. Aloe vera, or "true aloe" is the plant grown for medical purposes.
Aloes generally grow a rosette of thick, fleshy, pointed leaves in gray-green or light green, often with tiny dots. Some Aloe grow branches in a tree-like form. Aloe may send up a shoot with small, tubular flowers.
Treat Aloe like any succulent and keep in bright light. Do not allow water to collect in center of the rosette.
The rosette pattern of Aeonium leaves can resemble thick petaled flowers. The many colors of different forms only adds to its chunky, flower-like charm. Aeoniums come in light green, gray green, a creamy pinkish white, maroon, red, bluish purple, and variegated.
Unlike many succulents, Aenoniums prefer standard potting soil and do not like to dry out between watering. Aeoniums are winter growers and many are monocarpic, that is, they die after flowering. Fertilize once or twice a year.
There are many types of Agave, but all are statuesque, very elegant looking plants. Often called Century Plant, it was believed by some, to flower once every 100 years. Actually, Agave are more likely to bloom every ten years or so in their natural habitat.
The stemless plant grows in a rosette pattern of thick, gray green leaves, some outlined in yellow.
Agave generally make nice houseplants when they are young. Mature plants can become quite large. Handle with care as sharp thorns grown along the edges of the thick leaves. For this reason, keep out of house traffic flow and away from children. Be careful when repotting.
Agave enjoy normal room temperatures and bright light.
Copper Spoons or Copper Kalanchoe
Copper Spoons slightly resemble Jade. But they are different as Copper Spoons are a Kalanchoe. It is branched like a shrub with thick, fleshy leaves. New leaves are a handsome copper color that mature to a silvery green.
Copper Spoons are easy to grow when treated the way most succulents prefer. This plant appreciates air circulation so do not crowd. It does not like cold temperatures.
Copper Spoons seem to like spending summers outdoors on the patio. Just make sure that it does not become soggy with too much rain.
Creasted Euphorbia is a cactus like succulent with a weird growth habit that give it an other-worldly appearance. This crazy looking plant is actually 2 plants grafted together.
Crested Euphorbia prefers warm temperatures and bright light. Allow soil to dry out between watering. Water every other week at most and cut back drastically in winter.
Crested Euphorbia is a member of the spurge family of plants that exude a toxic sap is cut. Wash skin immediately or the nasty sap can cause a painful reaction. Do not let sap get in eyes. Wear gloves when handling. It's probably not a good idea to keep Crested Euphorbia (or any spurge plants) around children.
Jade, often referred to as the Money Plant is a popular and long lived succulent. Many forms are available including Crassula Arborenscens (tree jade) and C ovata, the most popular jade.
Jade plants are shrubby with thick tree like stems and fat, oval leaves with a deep gray green shine. Those grown in brightest light show a reddish edging on the leaves. While Jade prefers bright light, I have seen many people grow them in medium light.
As the Jade plant soaks up water in its leaves and stems it can become top heavy and fall over. Keep Jade in a heavy container. Also, top heavy plants can break.
Propagate easily by placing leaf or stem end with a couple of leaves into soil.
This Jade on the top right is over 40 years old! It could use a little pruning.
The Spoon Jade below is in flower. The climate controlled environment of the conservatory where it resides encourages flowering. Do not expect flowers to appear in the average home. Fertilize plant after flowering as blooming uses up a lot of the plant's energy.
Paddle Plant—Kalanchoe thyrsiflora
A mature Paddle Plant can create a dramatic look as it resembles a huge flower. A rosette of flat, oval leaves grow thick and fleshy maturing to 2 feet tall. Gray green leaves can be 6 inches long and red rimmed in direct sun.
Do not allow temperatures to drop below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Paddle Plant prefers day time temperatures between 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit.
To propagate, push leaf cutting into moist soil.
Snake Plant—Sansevieria trifasciata
After recent DNA studies, the scientific community has changed the name of this plant to Dracaena trifasciata. Many snake plant lovers, however, continue to call this old fashioned favorite by its former name.
Unlike most succulents, Snake Plant is very tolerant of low light conditions and can become washed out and pale in bright light. These tough, easy to maintain plants grow up to 4 feet tall with thick, variegated leaves, some edged in yellow. Some grow ribbon-like with a slight ruffling along the edges that make them seem to resemble kelp.
Snake plants will also do well in medium light. Keep temperatures between 60 - 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow soil to dry out between watering.
Also called Mother-in-law's Tongue, Snake Plant also comes in a dwarf form.
Snake Plant is a great one for filtering impurities out of the air and is one of NASA's top 15 plants for improving air quality.
String of Beads—Senecio Rowleyanus
String of Beads is a charming little plant that features small, spherical leaves that grow along a thin vine like a string of bright green beads.
This plant prefers bright light but I kept one for years, hanging in a north facing window. The tiny white flowers that bloom in Spring are shaped like tiny shaving brushes and smell like carnations. The lovely aroma from those tiny blooms is impressive and delightful.
Here are some tips for planting succulents in containers
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: Why do the leaves on a snake plant turn yellow?
Answer: Most plants that show yellow leaves mean that they are getting too much water. Overwatering is the main cause of death for container plants. Now some snake plants feature a yellow edge to the leaves so do not confuse this pretty highlight for damage. If the whole leaf has turned yellow, remove it. Once a leaf has gone yellow it will not return to health.
When you water your snake plant, check to see if the soil has dried. If the soil is moist, wait a few days. The plant should be grown in a type of soil that does not retain moisture. Use a succulent mix or add coarse sand to regular potting soil.
Occasionally, old leaves will fail. This is natural. The older leaves on the outside of the plant will eventually die.
Question: I have a small Copper Spoons plant; it leaves are curled downward. Does it mean it doesn't get enough water or gets to much sun?
Answer: Generally, if a succulent like Copper Spoons is getting too much water, the leaves will feel mushy. If the curled leaves are dry, the plant is probably not getting enough water.
Succulents need a lot of sun to thrive but too much hot afternoon sun, especially through a south facing window can scorch the plant or dry it too quickly. Make sure your plant gets a little shade in hot summer afternoons.
Copper spoons, as well as most succulents, should be planted in a mixture of potting soil and either perlite, pumice, or coconut coir. Water the plant over a sink. Allow water to saturate the pot and run out the bottom. Then let the plant dry out before you water it again.
Remove shriveled or ruined leaves. If it's just a little curl, it may plump back up with enough water.
Question: What is the spiky, grey-leaved plant in the container of succulents in the first photo of your article?
Answer: If you mean the long-leaved, slightly blue-green-gray plant on the left, I believe it is a Senecio ficoides. There are so many succulents that it can be difficult to identify. Senecio ficoides should be grown in well-drained, sandy soil. Allow it to dry out between watering. Place it in full sun but not in direct sun in a south-facing window. Glass can intensify the heat.
Question: Do firebricks like full sun?
Answer: I have found no succulents that are called firebricks. There is an azalea called Firebrick Fame, a shrub that prefers partial sun and best kept in shade in the afternoons.
© 2013 Dolores Monet
Dolores Monet (author) from East Coast, United States on July 04, 2020:
Hi Trista - if you mean the central plant in the container in the first image, it is Aeonium. This succulent occurs in many variations. Red varieties include A. garnet, A. Voodoo, and A. Jack Catlin. Aeonium also comes in green, green edged in red (A. Kiwi, and green edged in white, as well as all green,
Trista is on July 03, 2020:
Could you please tell me what would the middle plant be??
Dolores Monet (author) from East Coast, United States on July 23, 2018:
Hi Faythe - that is not my euphorbia. I am not a fan of euphorbia because I am afraid of the irritants. If you want to take cuttings, wear gloves and do not touch any part of your face or skin.
There are many types of euphorbia so several ways of taking cuttings. I don't want to instruct about something that I don't know what it is. Lots of online sites feature suggestions on how to take cuttings from the various euphorbias. I suggest you look for one that features the type that you have.
Faythe Payne from USA on July 18, 2018:
My goodness..I love that crested Euphorbia...Did you grow that from a cutting?