10 Secrets for Super Succulents

Succulents are having a moment because they’re beautiful and they have a rep for being easy to grow. You can kill these hardy little plants, though, if you don’t play by their rules. Here are some tips for keeping them happy.

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Plant Them in Well Drained Soil

Succulents are native to arid regions, so they hate moist soil. Pot them in a potting mix that drains quickly, because wet dirt will rot their roots. You can buy special potting mixes for succulents, or alter regular potting soil by adding vermiculite or perlite to it to improve aeration and drainage. Remember, good dirt makes good plants.

Plant Them in Containers With Drainage Holes

Yes, we know you want to put a collection of succulents in that perfectly rusted metal trough you nabbed at an estate sale. The one with no drainage holes because it wasn’t meant for plants. But you’ll have to water that collection of plants lightly, and with precision, or you’ll end up with a bunch of drowned succulents. Make it easy on yourself and use containers with holes in the bottom.

Go Easy on the Water

Succulents store water in their foliage and stems so they don’t need as much water as other plants do. Water them only when the top two inches of the soil is dry. Too much water will rot their roots and turn them into a squishy mess. Overwatering kills more succulents than underwatering, so be stingy with the watering can. TIP: Place your pot of succulents in a shallow pan of water, leave it till the water wicks up through the drain hole in the pot, then remove the pot. This saturates all the soil, not just the edges or top few centimeters.

Don't Ignore Them

Succulents are tough, but they still need a little love from you. During the spring and summer, they’ll need water about once a week. Check them regularly for aphids, spider mites and mealy bugs that will make a meal of your precious plants. If they’re in containers, repot them annually with new soil because salts from tap water build up in the dirt and harm the plants.

Keep Them Comfortably Warm

Unlike their cactus kin, succulents can’t take extreme heat. Succulents do best with moderate temperatures between 70 and 90 degrees, so put them by a window indoors, or on outdoors on a covered patio or beneath trees in the summer. Freezing temperatures will kill them, which is why for most of us they’re houseplants.

Get the Light Right

Succulents need a 50-50 mix of sunlight and shade. Full sun burns their leaves, but too little sun makes them rangy and frail. A quick rule of thumb is that green, yellow or variegated succulents like more shade, while red, gray, and blue ones, or the ones covered in spikes, like more sun. If they’re outdoors, put them in a spot that gets morning sun and afternoon shade. If you’re growing succulents indoors, put them by a south-facing window to get the bright light they need to be Instagram bait.

Keep Their Colors Vibrant by Giving Them Sun

Colorful succulents, like aeoniums, paddle kalanchoes and some varieties of sempervitum and echeveria, need at least six hours a day to maintain their rich hues. Less sun causes them to revert to boring green and elongate. Heat and extreme cold (but not freezing cold) bring out the deepest hues, so most varieties will be their most colorful in the spring when they’ll get warm, sunny days and chilly nights.

Let Them Sleep During Winter

Most succulents go dormant during the winter and stop growing. They’re resting, waiting for spring and summer when they’ll grow like crazy. Don’t fertilize them and water just enough to keep the pot from drying out completely, because they’re extremely susceptible to root rot when they’re dormant. Don’t worry, they’ll be fine. The water and nutrients stored in their leaves will keep them alive till they wake up in the spring.

Take Them Outside

Even houseplants need a summer vacation. Give your succulents some time outdoors in the spring and summer. Let them get rained on because rainwater contains oxygen and trace minerals a plant can’t get from chlorine-laden tap water. They’ll benefit from air circulation they can’t get inside, too. Do not put your indoor succulents in full sun, though, because sudden light change can burn their leaves.

Feed Them

Fertilize them once a week from spring to early fall, their growing season, with a 10-10-10 organic fertilizer diluted to half strength. Don’t fertilize them in the winter when they’re dormant. Sleeping people don’t need food till they wake up. Sleeping plants don’t either.

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