I’m a relative newbie when it comes to plants. The truth is, whenever I buy a new plant, I spend a lot of time on gardening websites researching how to care for it, how often to water it, where to place it so it gets the ideal amount of sun, and, eventually, how to propagate it so that I can grow more. Lucky for me, succulents are basically foolproof. They’re low maintenance, drought-resistant plants that are a unique and gorgeous addition to any landscape, patio, home, or office!
This is my current home collection of plants, and how to care for each of them. I say “home collection” because I have an additional 5 plants in my office at work (I work in a garden, so it would just feel wrong to have a plant-less desk!) Please note that the care suggestions below are for a desert climate, but that doesn’t mean you can’t grow succulents if you live in high elevation or a colder climate. I would just recommend doing some additional research for your region to make sure you give your plant friends the proper care!
So first of all, let’s go over a few basics that generally cover most succulents. Succulents are a type of plant that retain water–often in fleshy leaves or stems–in order to thrive in arid climates and survive periods of drought. Nearly all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.
Succulents have a varying range of sunlight needs. Some thrive in full sun–we’re talking direct light, 8+ hours a day–while others will get scorched if they’re in direct sunlight, and prefer bright, filtered light, like a patio or by a window indoors.
If you’re potting a succulent, it’s important to use well-draining soil. You can purchase soil that’s specifically created for cacti and succulents at most nurseries, or you can make a mixture by using equal parts soil, sand, and pebbles.
When you’re picking out a pot, it’s important to find one with a drainage hole at the bottom so that the soil can drain easily. If it doesn’t drain quickly and evenly, the roots will sit in the soggy soil and get mushy and rotten, which can make your plant susceptible to pest infestations and, sadly, lead to an early demise. If you find a cute pot that you just can’t live without, and you discover that it doesn’t have a drainage hole (trust me, I’ve been there!) you can put a half-inch of pebbles or glass beads at the bottom of the pot before adding your soil to help with drainage.
Watering schedules change throughout the year. It is best to water your plant thoroughly, then allow the soil to dry out completely before watering again. Generally, this means watering once a week in the spring/fall, twice a week in the summer, and once a month in the winter.
This Compact Aloe (I haven’t identified the species, but it seems to be fairly similar to aloe brevifolia) is so easy to care for, and probably my favorite from my collection. It thrives in partial to full sun, so it’s best to keep this plant outdoors or close to a south-facing window that gets a lot of direct sunlight.
Aloes like to keep growing until they run out of space, so it’s a good idea to repot them in a slightly larger pot every spring. Depending on the species, it will bloom some time in the spring or summer. If I’ve identified this little guy correctly, I should be able to expect orange flowers in late fall!
This Easter Cactus is a newer addition to my collection. My boss has a similar cactus, called the Christmas Cactus, and even though hers wasn’t flowering when I saw it (that one flowers around–you guessed it–Christmas!) I just loved the way it looked. The Easter Cactus blooms in early spring, right around Easter.
Easter Cacti should not be put in direct sunlight. Instead, they prefer bright, indirect light. I keep mine on an outside windowsill under a covered patio, and it does just fine there. In order to bloom, they require cooler nighttime temperatures, around 55-60 degrees. It’s already way past that point here in Phoenix (this photo was taken a few weeks ago, and now it’s reaching 95+ in the daytime) so the flowers have since died and dropped off. This was my first year with this cactus, so I think next year I will try keeping it inside near a well-lit window to see if it blooms better in the cooler indoor temperatures.
Humidity also helps it flower. You can place the pot on a drip tray with a thin layer of pebbles, then add water until it nearly covers the pebbles. As the water evaporates, it will provide humidity for the plant that will stimulate blooming!
I love this Moon Grafted Cactus! It’s actually two separate cacti, grafted together. The gorgeous yellow-orange top part is the namesake moon cactus, which is unable to produce chlorophyl, meaning it would die in the seedling stage if it weren’t grafted to a chlorophyl-producing cactus. This is done by literally cutting off the bottom of the moon cactus and the top of the “host” cactus and sticking them together so that as they heal, they’ll graft to one another. This is some serious Human Centipede gardening stuff (and yes, I did just make a dated reference to a super gross movie. You’re welcome.)
This cactus likes bright, indirect sunlight. I keep mine in a corner of my back patio where it gets a few hours of direct sun in the morning, then indirect sun the rest of the day, and it seems to do just fine there. It would also be a great indoor plant if kept near a window that gets a decent amount of sunlight.
You might notice that this String of Pearls isn’t looking so hot. Hey, I did mention that I’m still a new gardener, didn’t I? I got this succulent at a Cactus and Succulent Society of America sale a few weeks back, and made the mistake of hanging it on the edge of my south-facing patio, where it was in full sun. Apparently I didn’t do my research, because this plant should be kept in indirect sunlight or it will burn and shrivel up, as you can see here. But I’m learning from my mistake! I’ve moved it to a north-facing patio where it is in shade all day long, but still benefiting from some great filtered light.
When it returns to its normal state (fingers crossed!) it will be a lush, evergreen plant with “beads” that look like peas cascading down the sides of the pot. If you’re a pet owner or you have young children, it’s very important to keep the String of Pearls in a hanging pot where it’s out of their reach, as it is mildly toxic.
This little pot has quite a few varieties in it, so I’ll go clockwise from the top: That’s an aloe pup that I propagated from my boyfriend’s yard. It’s outer leaves are fairly shriveled from the transplant, but as you can see, the inner leaves are healthy new growth.
Lying on top of the soil below that is a piece of Opuntia rufida minima monstrose–and good luck pronouncing that one, you’re on your own. It’s much easier to pronounce its common name: Mini Cinnamon Prickly Pear. This little guy is lying on its side on top of the soil because I am in the middle of propagating it–more on that in an upcoming post–but once it roots, I’ll be planting it in its own pot because it will grow hundreds of little pads in a bunch over time. Here’s a picture of my parents’ plant, which I propagated this from:
Isn’t that insane? And that’s not even half of the plant–i just took a closeup so you could see how many pads there are.
But back to the little pot: next on the “clock” is Jet Beads, a type of Sedeveria. Cold weather turns the edges of the leaves nearly black, hence the name, while the inside stays a vibrant green.
After that is Echeveria Colorata. When I first bought this plant, its leaves had bright red tips. It had “stretched,” meaning that it wasn’t getting enough light so the new growth wasn’t compact, so I propagated the top and replanted it here. It lost the red color in the process, but it should come back. I just love the gorgeous rosette shape.
Finally, one of the easiest succulents to care for: Elephant Food. This is so named because it is literally food for elephants in Africa, where this plant grows natively. This stuff grows in abundance, too. It’ll fill all the space you give it, and then grow over the side of the pot! Eventually I will move it to its own pot so that it has more room to grow.
All of the plants in this pot can handle full or partial sunlight. When planting multiple succulents in the same pot, it’s so important to make sure you’re picking plants with similar care needs. If you put a full sun plant with an indirect light plant, one of them will thrive and one will not, so keep it consistent!
Finally, this is my favorite strange succulent: Lithops, also known as Living Stone or Split Rock. As you can see, it’s super funky looking. Its weird appearance is actually a defense mechanism: it blends in with other rocks to avoid being eaten! And, as the name suggests, it “splits” down the middle to let new growth through.
These succulents actually don’t follow the same watering schedule as most succulents. They have a dormant period–fall to early spring–in which they do not need to be watered at all. When you do begin watering again in the spring, it’s very important not to overwater them. Let the soil dry out completely (sticking your finger in the top inch of soil should tell you if it’s ready) before watering again. I currently water mine about once every ten days, and it’ll be once a week or so in the summer. Keep them in bright light, but out of direct sunlight, especially in the summer.
The “leaves” should stay relatively low, not much higher than the soil or rocks surrounding it, as you can see here:
As you can see, there are so many different succulents that you can grow, and you definitely won’t get bored! Succulents are a great way to get your feet wet when it comes to gardening, as they’re a lot more low-risk than many other plants. But don’t worry–they’re a gateway plant, and soon you’ll want to branch out!
Yep, I ended it on a pun.