Caring for Succulents

Succulents are pretty low maintenance compared with other garden plants, but they do have certain requirements for light, water and fertilizer.

Aloe Vera Plant

Aloe Vera Plant

Photo by: Shutterstock/Thanakorn Hongphan

Shutterstock/Thanakorn Hongphan

Caring for succulents in your home or garden is very easy if you can simply make them feel at home. Keep in mind that most are naturally adapted to harsh conditions, from hot tropical deserts and cool high deserts to nearly-barren sea cliffs or bold mountainsides, and even high limbs of tropical jungle trees.

Do Succulents Need Sun?

Most succulents and cacti love lots of sunlight, and will get leggy and weak if not given enough. Agave, Crassula, Kalanchoe, Opuntia, Sedum, and Yucca usually develop better foliage color and flowers with direct sun at least part of the day. However, some such as Sansevieria, Aloe (pictured), Euphorbia, Aeonium, and Haworthia will scorch when exposed to hot sun all day or when set outside suddenly in the spring from a dark winter indoors. Cold-hardy stonecrop Sedum can wither away in mid-day sun in humid climates.

Select a garden spot or window that gets a few hours of direct sun, but provide mid-day shade for outdoor succulents that tend to sunburn in your area. For indoor plants, use a sheer curtain if they are grown in a south- or west-facing window.

Shallow-rooted succulents can grow perfectly well for many years in small well-drained areas, terraced hillsides, or shallow containers. Next, add coarse sand or grit to your native soil, at least six or eight inches deep to provide drainage during heavy rains. For container gardens, choose or make a well-drained soil of organic matter such as peat moss or compost plus coarse sand, crunchy perlite, or garden grit.

Watering Succulents

Most succulents are native to areas that get only a few inches of rainfall or just snowmelt, or can thrive with very light showers. Their roots are very efficient at absorbing water quickly. Yet their main enemy is too much water at a time, and they will shut down and begin to rot if kept waterlogged. Well drained soils are crucial for preventing this.

Water often enough for roots to stay moist like a squeezed sponge, or at least don’t let them stay dry for very long. If they start to shrivel, give them some relief.

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Our expert shares her secrets for growing and selecting succulents.

Fertilizing Succulents

All plants need nutrients, but succulents, being native to poor, gritty soils, are adapted to getting by on less – especially when grown in containers. You don’t need a special succulent fertilizer, just an all-purpose potted plant fertilizer, used sparingly. Half strength or less, once or twice a year in the early spring and late summer, is usually perfectly fine. Compost sifted around them also makes a great succulent food.

Keep in mind when caring for succulents indoors that they don’t grow as quickly, and need a little more light but less fertilizer.

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