How to Plant Succulents

Succulents are easy to grow, but should be planted properly to get the most out of their versatility.

Popular succulent plants come in a wide range of sizes, leaf shapes and colors, flowers, and unique features. Native to seasonally-arid climates such as deserts, mountainsides, or high limbs of tropical jungle trees, they developed fleshy leaves or stems capable of storing moisture.

In mild-winter climates, these tough plants are used as landscape specimen, foundation plantings, groundcovers, and lawn substitutes. But in nearly any part of the country they can be planted in all sorts of containers, indoors or out, including wreaths and wall hangings.

How to Grow Succulents

These tough plants are easy to grow, with minimum care. Though they need occasional watering, they will quickly rot if not planted in a well-drained garden or potting soil. Heavy garden soils need to be fluffed up with organic matter such as compost or bark; however, these usually break down as they decompose.

Whether planting in garden soil or containers, seasoned growers also add coarse sand, crushed granite, pumice, chicken grit, or the heat-expanded clay used to improve aeration and compaction in turf fields. Any of these will dramatically increase drainage and won’t break down as the organic material slowly decomposes.

Some need protection from hot mid-day sun, but all thrive with at least a few hours of sun either in the garden or near an east, west, or south-facing window or with very bright artificial light. Many are frost-tender, while others can tolerate light freezes or even very deep freezes.

Grow Your Own

Growing succulents from seed requires patience, and can take six months or a year or longer just to sprout. Press lightly into well-drained potting soil and cover barely with sand; cover with clear food wrap to conserve moisture and humidity (remove temporarily if the wrap gets too steamy), and place the container in bright but indirect light. Avoid displacing seeds by placing the container in a tray of water to soak; water from the bottom as needed until seedlings sprout.

Most gardeners start with mature plants, but you can easily grow some such as Aeoniums and Crassulas from stem cuttings that are allowed to dry a few days before planting, or by cutting or twisting off leaves of Graptopetalum and many Crassulas and placing them stem-side down in potting mix. Sempervivum, Agave, Aloe, Yucca, and others can be propagated from offsets called “pups” growing from their base.

How to Plant Succulents

Most succulents have fragile, shallow roots that are easy to damage, so be very careful when digging or removing from containers. Gently shake off excess soil, or use your fingers to loosen potting soil.

When planting succulents, set them into prepared soil (using gloves for spiny types), and sift soil around their bases, gently tamping down as you go. Cover the soil surface with coarse sand, gravel, or other inorganic mulch, and water very gently to settle soil around roots and plant bases.

Allow plants to dry between soakings. Fertilize lightly with an all-purpose slow-release plant food once a year, allowing plants to rest in the winter.  

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