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What Are Succulents?
Succulents are plants with fleshy, thickened leaves and/or swollen stems that store water. The word “succulent” comes from the Latin word sucus, meaning juice or sap. Succulents are able to survive on limited water resources, such as dew and mist, making them tolerant of drought and it easy to care for succulents indoors. There are many different species and cultivars of succulents spanning several plant families, and most people associate succulents with Cactaceae, the cactus family. (Keep in mind, however, that while all cacti are succulents, not all succulents are cacti.)
How to Plant Succulents Indoors
Planting succulents indoors is not done much different from other plants in pots. Make sure pots have drainage holes, or plan to lay them on their sides after watering to allow excess water to drain out.
When first planting succulents in pots, choose a well-drained potting soil such as a ready-made cactus mix, but for a really good succulent potting mix that won’t stay too wet, add extra pumice, sharp sand, grit, or perlite (available at garden centres) to help drainage without breaking down with time.
When first learning how to pot succulents, you will notice how shallow and brittle their roots are. Gently loosen other soil, and sift new soil around the roots, using your fingers or blunt end of a pencil to tamp it lightly as you go. Cover the surface with sand or gravel or grit, and allow the plants to dry a few days before watering.
How to Care for Succulents Indoors
Growing succulents indoors can be a bit tricky. However, with these simple tips, you’ll be able to better care for your indoor succulent collection.
Start with the right succulents
Not all succulents are suited for indoor growing. Choosing succulents that don’t like full sun, but prefer shade or low light will make a big difference in the success of your indoor succulent garden. In general, succulents that have bright colors (such as reds, purples, and oranges) don’t do well indoors. They require some direct sun and more light than is generally available indoors.
The best succulents to grow indoors include; Jade plant (Crassula ovata), Christmas kalanchoe (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana), Mother-in-law tongue or snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata), Crown of thorns (Eurphorbia milii), Medicine plant (Aloe vera), Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera buckleyi), Zebra cactus (Haworthia fasciata), Panda plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa), String of bananas (Senecio radicans), String of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus), Hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum tectorum or Echeveria elegans), Pencil cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli), Burro’s tail (Sedum morganianum), Pebble plant or living stone (Lithops), among others.
Provide a very well-draining potting medium.
Nurseries always plant their succulents in soil that’s too rich and retains too much moisture, so you’ll want to repot your succulent as soon as you bring it home. Start with a coarse potting mix with good drainage and aeration. You can find special cactus and succulent mixes at the nursery, or even use an African violet mix. To further improve drainage and prevent compaction, add perlite or pumice to the cactus or African violet mix (up to 50% of the total potting mix, depending on your particular succulent’s moisture needs). Always wet the mix before using to ensure it’s evenly moist.
Make Sure Your Succulents Get Enough Light
Succulents love light and need about six hours of sun per day, depending on the type of succulent. Newly planted succulents can scorch in direct sunlight, so you may need to gradually introduce them to full sun exposure or provide shade with a sheer curtain.
However, indoors, you’ll want to place your succulents near a window that gets light all day. If this isn’t an option, place your succulents near the brightest window or brightest area of your home or office. You’ll want to keep your plants as close to the window as you can.
If your succulents aren’t getting enough light you’ll notice they will start to stretch. They spread out their leaves and bend toward the light to get as much exposure as possible. Stretched out leaves is a common fate for most colorful succulents, such as Echeverias, that are grown indoors. If you find your succulents are beginning to stretch, move them to an area that gets more light. However, if they are in the brightest part of your home or office and still start to stretch, you’ll want to supplement with a grow light.
Rotate Succulents Frequently
Succulents love direct sun, but if yours is sitting in the same exact spot day after day, it’s likely that only one side is getting enough light. Langton and Ray suggest rotating the plant often. Succulents will lean towards the sun, so rotating them will help them stand up straight. (Leaning may also be a sign that they need to be in a sunnier spot.)
Water According to the Season
The biggest problem new succulent growers face with keeping their succulents alive indoors is watering. Just like us, succulents need more energy when they’re in a period of growth. Succulents have a dormant period when don’t need as much water then. Generally, this is in the cooler months of the year. Since they aren’t actively growing, they don’t use up as much water. During the spring and summer, the plants are thriving and drinking up much more water than when they’re resting in the fall and winter. Overwatering can kill your succulent, so make sure you let the soil dry between waterings.
Water the Soil Directly
Succulents like to have their roots soaked with water but then dry out quickly. When you water your succulents, soak the soil until water runs out of the drainage holes. (If your container doesn’t have drainage holes, use less water.) Don’t use a spray bottle to water your succulents—misting can cause brittle roots and mouldy leaves. You can also place pots in a pan of water and allow the water to absorb through the drainage hole. Once the top of the soil is moist, remove from the pan. Then, water again after the soil has been dry for a few days.
Lightly spraying succulents with water can help them survive for a period of time, but if you really want to thrive, they need to follow the “soak and dry” method. Don’t water indoor succulents daily. That’s the quickest way to kill them but water often enough to keep plants from shriveling, and avoid a buildup of harmful dissolved minerals and fertilizer residue by using distilled or rainwater, and at least once a year, flush out the soil with a good soaking.
Keep Succulents Clean
“Inevitably, your indoor plants will gradually pick up dust on their surface, which can inhibit their growth” write Langton and Ray. Wipe off the leaves and spines gently with a damp cloth (use a soft paintbrush to get at hard-to-reach spots).
Choose a Container with Drainage
Succulents don’t like to sit in waterlogged soil, so drainage is important to prevent rot. Your container should have a drainage hole to allow excess water to escape. Terra-cotta pots are ideal for beginners.
Plant Succulents in the Right Soil
Succulents need soil that drains, so regular potting soil—or dirt from your yard—won’t do. Choose cactus soil or mix potting soil with sand, pumice, or perlite. Succulent roots are very fragile so be gentle when repotting.
Get Rid of Bugs
If you are following healthy practices for your succulents as indoor house plants (proper watering, well-draining soil, light, airflow, etc.), bugs are generally not a problem, but occasionally you may have to deal with bugs. Gnats are attracted to succulents that are planted in soil that is too wet and doesn’t have proper drainage. To get rid of eggs and larvae, spray the soil with 70 percent isopropyl alcohol. Mealybugs are another pest succulent owners have to deal with. Overwatering and overfertilizing are common causes of mealybugs. If you do get mealy bugs, you’ll want to spray them with rubbing alcohol and pour alcohol over the soil to kill any eggs they may have laid.
Fertilize Succulents in the Summer
Succulents don’t need much fertilizer, but you can give them light feedings during the spring and summer growing season. Be careful not to overfertilize—this can cause your succulent to grow too quickly and become weak. Because many grow slowly indoors, especially in the cooler, darker winter months, they don’t need much if any fertilizer other than a light feeding in the spring or summer.
You can combine several succulents in the same container to create a dish garden. The secret to success lies in plant selection. Be sure you’re mixing and matching plants with similar growth rates and care requirements. Give succulent plants room to breathe indoors. In outdoor settings, they can do well in crowded compositions, but in lower indoor light, it’s best to space them apart so that a maximum amount of sunlight can reach them.
Additional Succulent Care Tips
Can you use sand to plant succulents?
Though it may seem like succulents thrive in the sand out in the wild, they actually prefer loose, rocky soil and need nutrients to grow well. When used on its own, sand has a tendency to compact over time, causing too much water retention in a container. The best potting medium for a succulent is one specially formulated for cacti and succulents, or a well-draining mix of potting soil, coarse sand, and perlite/pumice.
Succulents need good draining soil. When planting in the garden, make sure the area drains well and is not in a low spot that would stay wet. For container planting, you can purchase cactus soil or incorporate sand, gravel or volcanic rock for better drainage. The container you are planting in should have a drainage hole or put some crushed rock on the bottom before your planting medium.
Can you start succulents from seeds?
Yes. Succulent seeds can be started indoors in light, moist soil (much like other plant seeds), but grow more slowly and generally don’t reach transplant size until six months to a year after germinating.
Why are my succulent’s leaves falling off?
Like many plants, the lowest leaves on the stem (closest to the potting mix) will eventually shrivel up and drop. This is normal and nothing to worry about. If the topmost leaves are dying, it could indicate overwatering, pests, or disease.
Remove plants from their pots and plant making sure the soil level remains the same depth on the plant. Once established, your succulents will benefit from a layer of pebbles or pea gravel spread on the soil around the plant. This is also very decorative.
After planting, water in well and allow the soil to dry slightly between waterings. Succulents don’t like to have wet feet. When you do water, water thoroughly.
Beware of frost
While some succulents, including certain types of Sedum and Sempervivum, can withstand freezing temps, most cannot. When in doubt, assume that any drop below freezing will call damage or death to your plant. The easiest solution for frost protection is to keep plants in containers that are light enough to move indoors or under awnings when a cold snap is predicted. Also, unlike the rest of your garden, succulents actually have a greater chance of survival if they’re dry before a cold snap, not wet.