Oh Sweet Succulent!
Praised for being notoriously hard to kill, these drought resistant desert plants make a wonderful addition to any home.
With a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, it may seem difficult to keep these little ones happy. But fear not! Even if you've been unlucky keeping indoor plants alive, after following the guidelines below you'll be a succulent superstar!
Originating in some of the hottest climates on earth, succulents have adapted to thrive even when water is in short supply. In the controlled environment of your home, it's important to understand that your plant will act as if it is still in a desert. The best rule of thumb is to only water your succulent when the soil is completely dry.
If your plant gets too much water, the roots may mold. This is why it is important to have a well-draining soil and container so extra moisture doesn’t accumulate. With a new plant, it is generally best to check the soil every few weeks and adjust your watering accordingly. Add just enough water to wet the roots. If there is standing water or it drains out of the pot, you have added too much. Also, never spray your plant since that can cause fungal infections. Instead, add your water directly to the soil closest to the roots.
This is the second most important ingredient to keeping your succulents healthy. Some prefer direct light while others prefer indirect light. If your succulent develops brown spots in sunlight, it may be getting burnt and should be moved to a less intense area. If your succulent is "stretching", it may not be receiving enough light, so it is growing rapidly to search for more. To prevent uneven growth if light is limited, rotate your plant regularly so that all parts are evenly exposed.
If all goes well, your succulent will continue to thrive and grow to a point that it may need some maintenance. Your plant will naturally lose some of its older leaves that don’t get as much light as it gets larger. By removing the dead or ailing leaves, you also help prevent mold, fungus, and disease that could harm your succulent.
When your plant is outgrowing its container, you have two options to keep it happy:
🌱 You can transfer your plant to a larger pot.
Simply remove your succulent, check for debris, then plant in a well-draining pot. Cactus & succulent soil mixes provide a good amount of drainage to keep your plant happy. You can also DIY-mix regular potting soil with sand in a 1:1 ratio for the same effect. While some large particles such as pebbles may help drainage, do not add a layer of gravel. This old garden myth doesn’t improve the overall soil drainage. It limits the nutrients and space your succulent needs to grow.
🌱 If you want your succulents to stay small, regularly prune.
Many succulents either grow new stalks or create offshoots, both of which can be cut off, dried for a few days, and replanted to grow more succulents. When removing parts of your succulent, be sure to use a sharp instrument to prevent tearing your plant which could cause further damage. If your succulent stretched and you want to return it to the more compact shape, simply cut the plant back, dry the stem (or prune shorter if desired), and replant. If you plant the cutting immediately, you run the risk of the plant wound molding.
Enjoy your new succulents. With care, in time your plant may even flower!
Mikaela Trexell is an aspiring entomologist who plans to study at UW-Madison this fall. When not sifting through the Dollar Store for hidden treasures, enjoying the Waukesha Farmer's Market or planting succulents, she works as an intern at Be Green Pro.
Bibliography (also a great site for succulent identification)
Daniels, E. (2019, June 28). Succulent Care Guide: Growing Information + Tips. Retrieved July 30, 2020, from https://www.proflowers.com/blog/succulent-care-guide