Whether you are a beginner or a green-thumbed hobbyist, knowing how to take care of a succulent is important if you want to grow healthy plants and wow your friends. As much as succulents are easy to care for, they are not immune to complete neglect.
Succulents are beautiful additions to any outdoor garden or indoor space because of their beauty and health benefits like air purification. We compiled this guide on how to take care of a succulent to help you take care of yours like a pro.
How Should you Water a Succulent
The natural habitat of most succulents is in dry, though not always hot, areas. Despite these regions being dry, when it rains, it rains heavily. When watering succulents, you should try to replicate their natural habitats as much as possible.
For this reason, you should use the soak and dry method of watering. Completely soak the pot with water until water has flooded the pot. Ensure that water flows out of the drainage holes at the bottom before you stop. If water flows out, it means the soil is well soaked. Before putting the pot back into a drainage saucer or another pot, make sure as much of the free water has flowed out as possible.
Before the next watering, ensure that the soil is very dry. You can confirm this by poking the soil using your finger up to the first knuckle or a stick. If it comes out dry, then it’s time to water again. If you are still unsure whether your plant needs water, check it for signs of dehydration such as shriveled leaves or aerial roots.
As you water your succulents, ensure that you water directly to the soil and not on the leaves. You can do this by using a squeeze water bottle specifically designed for succulents. Or you can water from below by sitting your succulent in a pool of water in your sink.
If you do get water on the leaves, they are prone to rotting. You can try gently wiping the leaves off with a paper towel but keep an eye on them for any signs of overwatering. Whenever you see signs of overwatering, move immediately into succulent saving mode. They may also attract mold, mildew, and pests such as mealybugs.
The more sunlight a succulent gets each day and the closer it is to drafts, the more water the succulent will need. Of course, you should always err on the side of caution and water less. However, if you notice that your plant needs more water, don’t hesitate to give it. Also, if you succulent is in a sunny window, it will dry out faster.
Make sure Succulents get Enough Light
Succulents enjoy sunshine and require 6 to 10 hours of sunlight daily depending on the variety of succulent. Of course, the sun can be too much for a succulent and you will need to introduce a succulent to sunlight gradually, especially if it is direct sunlight.
If you put a succulent in too much direct sunlight too fast, it could develop a sunburn. When placing succulents near a window, you should have a sheer curtain because the glass of the window could focus the sunlight and make it far stronger.
Like all plants, succulents tend to reach toward the sunlight. Because of this, it is recommended that you rotate your indoor succulent regularly to prevent them from leaning or becoming etiolated, yellow, on one side. You certainly don’t have to rotate your succulents daily but if you notice them starting to lean too much, turn the pot slightly.
Over time, dust will also settle on the leaves of your succulent. When the dust accumulates, the leaves will not absorb sunlight as they should, thus affecting photosynthesis. You should wipe the dust off your succulent leaves using a damp cloth. Use a soft paintbrush to wipe the hard to reach points.
Choose the Right Soil for Succulents
When you are wondering how to take care of a succulent, one of the most important factors is the soil you plant it in. There are two main types of environments for a succulent: jungle and desert. However, even jungle succulents are used to living in very well drained soil. Jungle succulents typically prefer rocky soil and desert succulents tend to prefer sandy soil.
To get the right mix of soil, you could mix your own or you can purchase pre-mixed soil such as Bonsai Jack. If you use regular soil, the soil will not only compact but it will also hold water too well and keep your succulents roots “wet.” This will quickly cause root rot. Standard potting soil will also dry out and prevent water from reaching the succulents roots effectively.
How Should You Fertilize Succulents?
Most succulents will do just fine without fertilizer. But if you feel compelled to fertilize them, feeding your succulent plants using the correct fertilizer at the right time is crucial for proper growth. The best times to fertilize succulents is during the growing season. For most succulents, this is the Spring. Make sure to fertilize when temperatures are above 60 degrees Fahrenheit and just before the rains for best results.
Choose a fertilizer that is well-balanced (15-15-15), such as a fish emulsion or light manure tea. All concentrated fertilizers should be diluted to prevent root destruction. You can always add more fertilizer if necessary but you can’t remove it easily so start at a very low concentration.
The best way to apply fertilizer starts by watering your plants with plain water. This makes sure that when you apply the fertilizer, it spreads evenly.
Then, pour your diluted fertilizer directly into the soil and soak it until excess liquid flows out of the drainage holes. Make sure not to get any fertilizer on the leaves of the plant because it will get stuck in the cracks and burn the leaves.
If you have planted the succulents in an outdoor garden, you can use granular fertilizer and then water immediately so that they dissolve and soak into the soil. Of course, you can still use liquid fertilizer just like you do with your indoor plants.
Watch for Evidence of Pests and Diseases
Succulents are hardy plants that rarely get attacked by pests and diseases. However, if not well taken care of, they can get affected by mealybugs, aphids, and root rot. Keep an eye out for these issues so that you can solve them quickly to make sure your plant doesn’t die of them.
Mealybugs are small, white, flat bugs that LOVE succulents. If your plant is attached by them, you will notice masses of white in the cracks of the plant as well as on the tips of the leaves. It will resemble wool at first but when you look closer, it will look more like individual bugs. To get rid of mealybugs, swab the affected area with 5% alcohol solution or insecticidal soap.
Aphids suck juices out of the tender leaves and stems of succulents, leaving your plant to dry. Eventually, the leaf will have so much damage from aphids that it will fall off. Infested plants may also have distorted growth as the plant tries to compensate for the aphid damage.
One of the best ways to get rid of aphids is to remove them by hand or use a strong spray of water. If the problem persists, spray the plant using diluted isopropyl alcohol. One thing to note is that ants and aphids have a symbiotic relationship. If you have ants on your succulents, aphids are sure to follow.
Root rot is one of the most common causes of succulent death. The main indication of root rot is discolored leaves. The base of the leaves and the roots will become mushy and brown. Usually, the rotting spreads to the core of the succulent and quickly up the leaves.
Once you notice the leaves turning yellow or getting mushy, you should immediately remove the plant from its pot and get as much of the wet soil off as possible. Then, prune the affected roots to prevent the root rot from continuing. Finally, repot the succulent in a well drained soil. Do not water again for a while to allow the roots time to dry.
Root rot happens when the roots sit in water for a long time and is a major side effect of using incorrect soil for your succulents. Ensure to water your plant using the soak and dry method described above. Do not water your succulent before the soil is dry and the plant is showing signs of dehydration.
How to Care for a Succulent Outdoors
Most succulents will do well indoors or outdoors as long as you live in a warm climate. If your region gets cold, you will have to choose either a cold-hardy type of succulent or plan on moving your succulent indoors to protect it.
Even if you plan on leaving your succulent outdoors year round, you can grow your succulent in a pot outdoors. Though hardy succulents are frequently planted in the ground to grow. Of course, if you move your succulent indoors in winter, it must be grown in a pot.
If you plant your succulent in the ground, ensure you mound it slightly in a well-mixed succulent mix to facilitate proper growth and drainage. While warm weather is not a problem for succulents, make sure that the plant doesn’t receive too much sunlight to prevent sunburn from occurring. If you have a potted plant, you could always move it to a shadier spot if the sun becomes an issue for it.
Outdoor succulents get watered just like indoor succulents with the soak and dry method to prevent root rot. You should still pour water directly to the soil to prevent rot, mold, and mildew. Of course, outdoor succulents will be watered by the weather. Depending on how wet your weather has been, you may not need to provide your succulents with additional water at all.
If you choose to grow your succulents outdoors in the garden, some varieties can get very tall or very large. Make sure to allow your succulent enough space to grow to their full potential.
Choosing the Right Succulent for You
Succulents are all so beautiful that it can get confusing to choose the right one for you. Not all succulents are the same and you should choose one that works with your space, needs, and caretaking style. Before your order or buy succulents, you need to consider several factors.
How Difficult is the Succulent to Grow
Different succulents have different requirements for proper growth. While most succulents will survive with a certain level of neglect, some do require more attention or are more prone to pests and diseases.
When you first start out, you should choose succulents that are simple to grow and easy to understand. As you continue learning about them, you can progress to succulents that are a little more complex.
Some easy to grow succulents include Blue Chalksticks, Echeveria, Graptoveria Opalina, and snake plants. Other succulents such as Silver Prince and Compton Carousels are gorgeous to look at but can be a bit complex to care for in the beginning.
What are Your Tendencies as a Grower
You also need to evaluate your tendencies as a grower when choosing a succulent. Believe it or not, very few succulents require a lot of attention. If you travel a lot or if you tend to neglect your plants, most succulents will do fine for you. However, if you are going to get the itch to “over-tend” and fertilize and repot your succulents, choose a variety of succulent that will tolerate that.
For those growers that prefer something only half a step away from being fake (that’s how easy they are to care for) choose something like a cactus or one of the different types of sansevieria. For the grower that is going to want something to tend and care for, a kalanchoe or euphorbia is probably going to work better.
Many people when they first start out wonder how to take care of a succulent but fortunately, it really isn’t that hard. Succulents are not only beautiful but also easy to grow. They add a great pop of color and texture to any home, office, or outdoor garden.
The easiest way to learn how to take care of a succulent is to start with a simple plant such as a cactus or a snake plant and grow more difficult things as you learn. You will make mistakes but succulents are forgiving plants. Don’t be too afraid to add a beautiful succulent to your home collection.