Everything You Need to Know About Succulents

Learn how to care for succulents, plus get decorating ideas for making wreaths, centerpieces and even wedding bouquets.

Succulents are one of the easiest plants to grow. They require little care, can propagate with minimal effort, and they make great decorating accessories that to go with any style. 

Succulent plants

Succulent plants

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Photo by: Eric Perry

Eric Perry

The Basics

A succulent is a plant that stores water in its leaves, stems or both. (Yeah, the name makes sense.) They come in many different types, species and cultivars. But what makes them so popular is their wide assortment of colors, sizes and unusual shapes ranging from twisty spikes to soft, fuzzy leaves.

Many people think succulents are desert plants. However, they don’t come from any one particular climate or zone. They’re native to a variety of ecosystems from deserts to freezing mountains to steamy jungles. Some are tropical and will freeze easily, while others can tolerate sub-zero temperatures. So you can’t treat all succulents the same way. Some will work great in a terrarium on your windowsill while others will thrive next to your driveway for years to come. 


Most succulents enjoy a generous amount of filtered sunlight. A few varieties like sansevieria (a.k.a. - mother-in-law's tongue) and hoya (a.k.a. - wax plant) can tolerate low light. Plant your succulent in a pot with ample drainage holes, they don’t like staying wet. Also, use a potting mix that won’t hold moisture. Try a cactus mix or add sand, pumice or pearlite to a standard mix. 

Succulent Houseplants

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Sassy Succulents

Much like these hardy greens, the succulent trend isn’t withering anytime soon. But leave it to a new crop of creative containers to add personality to these simple, easy beauties.

Photo By: Nancy Fire

Wax Plant

Known botanically as Hoya, wax plant is one of those houseplants that always makes you look good. It’s next to impossible to kill—unless you water it too much. This plant is a succulent, able to store water in its thick leaves and stems. It grows in low light, but you’ll get to see its waxy blooms in a high light setting. Feel free to leave this one for a week or more without water.

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Costa Farms


In the Garden

If you’re growing succulents outdoors, make sure to place them in a spot that won’t stay wet for long, otherwise they will rot. Also, many succulents will not survive a hard freeze, so double check before you plant. Two of the most popular kinds of succulents, Sedum and sempervivum (a.k.a. - hens and chicks) are winter-proof and will last and spread for years to come.

Growing Succulents Outdoors

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Growing Succulents Outdoors

It’s tough to beat rugged succulents for drought tolerant good looks. Echeveria blends beauty with strong textural appeal. Rosettes of leaves sparkle in silvery-gray and contrast artfully with the bead-like leaves of pork and beans sedum (Sedum x rubrotinctum). Plant both of these water wise plants in a spot that’s well-drained.

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Sunset

‘Lime Twister’ SunSparkler Sedum

Variegated leaves splashed with cream and green make this sedum a winner, even if it never bloomed. Flowers open in bright pink shades from late summer to fall. Use this as a pretty ground cover in a small space, or tuck it into containers with a dark leafed plant for eye-catching contrast. Hardy in Zones 4 to 9.

Photo By: Photo courtesy of SunSparkler Sedums

Growing Succulents Outdoors

Sunburn can be a problem with hens and chicks (Sempervivum tectorum), so grow these plants in a cool, shaded spot if you're in the desert Southwest. Hardy to -30 degrees F., hens and chicks open cup-shaped blooms from June to August. The "hen" dies after flowering, but lots of "chicks" will soon take its place in your meadow garden.

Photo By: Photo by Judith Phillips / Courtesy Timber Press

Caring for a Succulent

Succulents store water in their leaves, so the larger the leaves, the more water the succulent is holding. They like water in their leaves but not on their roots. They’ll rot away if their base sits in water. Thus, it’s best to underwater a succulent than it is to overwater it.

When it comes to sunlight succulents can vary. Some will thrive in direct sunlight where others might need some afternoon shade. Research your particular kind and if you need to experiment, try moving it to a different location in your house. 

Different Types of Succulents

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Potted Sempervivum Hen and Chick

Sempervivum, or Hen and Chicks, are a popular succulent for both indoor and outdoor gardens.

Photo By: Courtesy of Blackberry Farm

Stunning Potted Succulents

Succulents in espresso-hued square metal pots offer a sculptural dose of color to a TV stand.

Photo By: Eric Perry ©2013, Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Cactus and Succulents

This arrangement is part of the Cactus Road Rally Garden. Cactus and succulents combine here to create a gorgeous arrangement. This garden features hens and chick, agave, echeveria, and Opuntia monacantha variegata 'Joseph's Coat'.

Photo By: Photo by Melissa Caughey


Succulents are the perfect plant to share. If your friend compliments you on your succulent collection, be generous and offer them a piece to grow their own. Most succulents have a shallow root system so they can often propagate from a small cutting or even just a single leaf. Check the feature below to see the best method for your particular type of plant. 

Grow Succulents From Cuttings

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Make Your Own Travel Souvenir

Bring home a conch shell from your travels and plant a succulent to have a lovely reminder of your trip.

Vibrant Succulent Foliage

The pink-tinged edge of the purple-leafed echeveria makes a bold statement in any garden.

Photo By: Living Green Design

Kalanchoe Blossfeldiana Goes Vertical

Take your garden vertical by suspending your containers with simple metal cable. This wall of Kalanchoe blossfeldiana seems to hover in space in the lobby of the Atlanta Botanical Garden's Dorothy Chapman Fuqua Conservatory.

What About Cactus?

A cactus is a succulent, but not all succulents are cactuses, and not all cactuses have spikes and thorns. Technically, what makes a cactus a cactus is that they have small lumps called aeroles, from which their spines and leaf buds sprout. Succulents don’t have these aeroles. That may not necessarily matter to you if you see a plant you like at the store, just make sure to follow that plant’s particular care instructions. 

Cactus Care

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Thanksgiving Cactus In Bloom

Bright cerise pink is a common flower color for a Thanksgiving cactus.

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney


New cactus sitting by our living room window #picoftheweek

Hedgehog Cactus

Bred by cactus expert Jeff Thompson, of Pueblo, Colorado, this hybrid hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus canus x russanthus) opens its green and caramel-brown flowers in spring. Grow it in western and hot desert regions for its highly attractive, ornamental spines.

Photo By: Courtesy of High Country Gardens

Decorating With Succulents

Because succulents are compact and very hardy, they are ideal for all types of arrangements like wreaths, wall hangings and even wedding bouquets. Vary the shapes, colors and sizes to create an eye-catching display. Here are some good choices for arrangements: dwarf jade (Portulacaria), tiger jaws (faucaria), stone crop (sedum), desert pinwheel (aeonium), hen and chicks (sempervivum), Mexican hen and chicks (echeveria), and ghost plant (graptopetalum).

Arrangement Ideas

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DIY: Succulent Wreath

Learn how to create a lush succulent wreath with clippings.

Photo By: Photo by Melissa Caughey

Live Succulent Pumpkin Centerpiece

With succulents trending in home decor and gardening, it's the perfect time to incorporate them in your holiday tablescape. Live succulents are clipped and used to top off seasonal pumpkins and squash to make a dramatic centerpiece.

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