6 Things That Can Go Wrong With Succulents
Too much water and not enough sun are big-time problems for these desert natives.
Succulents have a rep for being indestructible and easy to grow. Those walls of succulents you see in design magazines look effortless, as do those to-die-for succulent wreaths you see in catalogs. But somehow, no matter what you do, your jade plant is dropping leaves, your sedum has shriveled and your echeveria has morphed into an elongated, misshapen mess. Here are six of the most common things that can go wrong with succulents.
Not Enough Light
Succulents are native to deserts where the sun shines all day, so they need at least eight hours of bright light a day. If your succulent isn’t getting enough sun, its stem will elongate as it reaches for the sun, losing its shape, color and health. The technical term is etiolation, but you’ll just call it ugly. Your lovely hens and chicks will turn into leggy, anemic things that look nothing like the perfect round plant you bought.
Pro Tip: Put indoor succulents by a south-facing window, where they’ll get washed in sun. Make sure outdoor succulents are in spot where they get at least eight hours of bright light.
Too Much Water
Like their cactus kin, succulents like it dry. Their fleshy leaves hold water, so they don’t need a lot of help from you to stay hydrated. If your succulents are unhealthy, you may need to back away from the watering can. Remember, these are not plants you need to water every day. Or even every week. They’re tough.
Pro Tip: Let the soil get bone dry between waterings.
Succulents need well-drained soil. Skip standard potting soil because it holds too much water, and use a well-draining soil mix made for desert natives. You can buy succulent soil mixes pre-made, or mix up your own by combining one part standard potting soil to either one part perlite or pumice.
Pro Tip: Growstones, made from recycled glass, are an earth-friendly alternative to perlite, which is strip-mined.
Wrong Plant Pairings
That container of mixed succulents looked so good a few months ago. Now some of the plants are healthy while others are dying. You may have combined varieties of plants that have different light and water needs that cannot thrive together. In other words, you’ve given your plants bad roomies.
Pro Tip: Check the light and water needs for succulents before putting them in the same container. Never put succulents and cacti in the same container. They’re relatives, and they look a lot alike, but they cannot be roommates.
No Drainage Hole
A whole lot of cute containers are a death sentence for your plants. The reason? They don’t have a drainage hole in the bottom. Any excess water you put on your succulents will pool in the container and drown the plants’ roots, keeping them from getting the air they need to thrive. Standing water rots the roots. And when the roots rot, the plant dies.
Pro Tip: Only use containers meant for living plants, the ones with drainage holes. Drill a hole in that cute container that doesn’t already have one.
Wrong Water Technique
Giving the right amount of water to your succulents isn’t enough. You also have to water them the right way. Deserts don’t get much rainfall, but when it rains, it pours. We’re talking monsoon. Mimic a desert gully washer by watering succulent slowly and deeply, until water runs out the drainage hole in the bottom.
Pro Tip: Take your indoor succulents outside when it rains and give them a long, deep drink just like they would have gotten back home.
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