Succulents are plants with thick, fleshy water storage organs that have adapted to survive arid, desert-like climates throughout the world. But you can't ignore them for too long or stick them in a dark corner and let them wither away. Succulents need love just like you and me.
Succulents thrive on sunlight and heat, but too much of anything can have undesired outcomes. They're the ideal plant if you're looking for something inexpensive and pretty that doesn't require lots of plant know-how. The best part is succulents can easily be propagated or cloned, either by sticking a clipping directly into soil, or by setting it in a glass of water and allowing roots to pop.
From watering to the perfect potting soil, whether to plant in pairs or to simply leave them alone, I've compiled some of the best practices for growing succulents indoors. Because when you don't have a back or front yard, and are stuck in urban apartment dwellings, plants can serve as a reminder that it's not so bad. And taking care of something other than yourself just feels good and provides a sense of purpose.
Popular Types of Succulents
When growing indoors, the greener the better. So when choosing a plant, make life easy on yourself and your plant and go green. Gravitate toward crassulas, agaves and aloe plants, while keeping the purple and orange-colored varieties for the outdoors. Some popular indoor succulents include the funky burro's tail, the beautiful jade, the resilient snake, the ponytail palm, the fuzzy panda plant, the cheerful Christmas cactus, the medicinal aloe plant and the adorable hen-and-chicks.
Best Environmental Conditions for Growing Succulents
Succulents thrive in hot, dry environments where sunshine is abundant. Avoid placing them in a dimly-lit corner—go for the windowsill that receives the most natural light in your apartment or home (test out a south-facing window). Ventilate to prevent rotting of the foliage, and to take some moisture away from the soil. High humidity and poor ventilation are not ideal conditions, so open the windows, throw on a fan and use a dehumidifier if necessary.
Find the right light
It's all about balance, right? Succulents don't like dimly-lit corners, but they also can be hurt if exposed to direct sunlight for too long. While they prefer bright light, you don't want to scorch them, which can happen to some species if exposed to direct sunlight. A south-facing windowsill will hopefully be a good home, as will an east-facing windowsill. Signs of too much direct light include leaves turning brown, black or white as the soft tissues die off. If this happens, move it somewhere that doesn't receive as much direct light.
While too much light can kill, so can not enough. Under-lit succulents will start to stretch (known as etiolation) and become really tall with lots of space between leaves as the plant stretches out in search of more light. The best remedy for this is to provide better light and prune the plant back to its original shape. Another tip for optimal health when it comes to lighting is to rotate the taller varieties, as they will often lean toward the sun. Keep them standing upright by periodically rotating the container.
In outdoor settings, succulents can thrive when planted beside one another, but when indoors and fighting for all the light possible, it's best to space them apart, preferably in separate pots. This allows the maximum amount of sunlight to reach them. If you decide to combine succulents in the same container to create a dish garden, the secret lies in plant selection. Basically, be sure you find plants with similar growth and care requirements, so as to not disrupt their patterns.
Go easy on the watering
This may be the key to your plants' livelihood—water sparingly and allow the soil to dry completely between cycles. To prevent them from becoming water-logged, plant succulents in unglazed planters, which will help them drain completely between waterings. The thicker the leaves on the succulent are, the less water it needs. This is because water is stored there. If leaves become droopy and skinny, it's time to give your plant a drink.
Overwatered plants become soft and discolored, with leaves that turn yellow or white, or simply lose their color. Once in this condition, the plant may be beyond repair, but you should make sure. Remove the plant from its pot and inspect the roots; if they're brown and rotted, cut away the dead roots and repot into drier potting soil, or take a cutting and clone the plant. Just as overwatering can be a death sentence, so can under-watering. During the growing season (spring and summer), succulents prefer to be watered well. Signs of an under-watered plant include stunted growth, shedding of the leaves and brown spots on the leaves.
Watering is dependent upon the season—in the winter, water less frequently, and if the air is cool and dry, cut back watering to every two or three weeks, or even once a month. Don't water too much at once; just give the plants enough to pacify their thirst. The general rule is to overwater during the summer and under-water in the winter. Shove a finger into the soil two knuckles deep to make sure it's dry before watering, water enough so that the water runs through the drainage holes and empty the drainage saucer so plants don't sit in the water.
Find the right container
While it's OK and encouraged to pot some plants in containers that are larger than necessary, that's not the case with succulents. They prefer a snug fit and holes on the bottom. Ideally, the pot should be at least 4-in. deep and 0.5- to 1-in. wider than the plant's base. A terracotta clay pot is perfect for the needs of these plants.
Just because succulents are desert plants, doesn't mean they can't weather drastic drops in temperature. These beauties are more cold-tolerant than people may think, and in the desert survive dramatic temperature changes between day and night. Ideally, succulents like daytime temperatures between 70 and 85°F, and nighttime temperatures between 50 and 55°F, but can even thrive when the thermometer drops down to 40°F.
Succulents generally have shallow roots that form densely just below the soil surface. Therefore, succulents prefer a fast-draining mixture specialized for cacti and succulents. If you can't use such a soil, you can always modify regular potting soil with inorganic matter such as perlite to increase aeration and drainage. What you're looking for is well-draining soil that allows your succulent's roots to dry out between waterings.
Follow these tips and your reward will be healthy, vibrant plants that provide a welcome touch of green to your home!