Updated/Fact-Chacked on February 25, 2022 by John
Succulents are a favourite plant for those wanting low-maintenance indoor plants. They have the ability to retain water in their fleshy leaves, stems and roots which makes them great for people with little time or experience of growing houseplants. However, they do need some care if you want your succulents to thrive indoors.
Here are a few tips on succulent care from my last 12 months of growing ten different succulent varieties.
Provide ideal light conditions
Succulents need a good amount of sun, so don’t hide them away in a dark corner. In their native habitats, most succulents will get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight – this is what you need to try and mimic. If you have a west or south-facing window, place your succulent there to take advantage of the full daylight it provides.
Note, all succulent varieties will have slightly different light requirements, though most do like direct sunlight. Some Haworthia succulent varieties prefer partial shade, while many are regarded as ‘shade tolerant’ – they won’t die, but just not grow as fast. Some other succulents that are shade tolerant include: Zamioculcas zamiifolia, Sanseveria trifasciata, Kalanchoe tomentosa, Schlumbergera, Rhipsalis baccifera, Echeveria lindsayana, Hoya Bella, Haworthia fasciata, Rebutia.
Just remember that too much direct sunlight can burn some types of succulent leaves (like aloe), especially when young, so if you notice your leaves are bleaching, move them away from the window.
If you live in a particularly dark home and want to grow succulents seriously, consider buying some grow lights. You can buy low cost small grow lights that are perfect for a few succulent pots in a shaded location.
Water sparingly, but often
Succulents in their natural habitat can survive well in dry conditions, but they still need small amounts of water regularly.
The trick is to water your succulents, then let them dry out before watering them again – this is called the soak and dry method. I tend to give them 5 good blasts with my misting spray, but succulents experts recommend using a small watering can. The speed at which the soil drys out will depend on the location of your pot. After a few days, put a finger into the drainage hole underneath the pot and feel how moist the soil is. Generally, watering once every 1-2 weeks will be sufficient, but double-check the succulent variety you have and its requirements. Lithops, for example, require very little water.
Make sure your succulent pot has drainage holes at the bottom, this will let excess water run away if you over water. Don’t place a wet pot on wood surfaces as that can lead to water damage if the tray overflows (this has happened to me).
If you want your succulents to thrive indoors, then don’t overwater them, as that will cause the roots of your plant to rot and die.
If you notice a lot of yellow leaves on your succulent, which falls off quickly when touched, then this is a sign that it’s not getting enough water – increase watering frequency by about 20%.
Use a succulent potting soil or cactus mix
There are many types of soil available for succulent plants, but it’s best to opt for a cactus mix or succulent potting soil. Regular household plant and compost will be too nutrient-rich and retain water which can cause your plant roots to rot, so use something lighter instead with grit or perlite. You should also consider using rocks at the bottom of your succulent pot to help with drainage.
Plant in a pot with drainage holes
If you’re planting your succulents straight into a pot, make sure the base has drainage holes so excess water can drain away. Most succulent terracotta pots come with a tray for them to sit on and catch excess water.
If you are planting succulents into an open terrarium, make sure you have created a false bottom so the roots do not sit in excess water.
Don’t repot too often
If you have repotted your succulent into a larger pot, then be careful about doing this too often – this can shock the roots which can cause withering or death. Succulent repotting is only advised on a yearly basis.
The best time to repot your succulent is when it’s actively growing, which you can identify by checking for new growth at the stem tips and healthy green colouration on leaves.
Protect from temperature extremes
Succulents are great at tolerating temperature fluctuations, but they do best in ambient room temperatures (16°C – 22°C), so don’t place them above any radiators.
If you don’t have a spot with the right temperature, then try using an indoor plant heating mat to increase temperatures. If your house is especially cold, then you can also use a heat lamp to provide additional warmth.
If succulents are exposed to temperatures below freezing for too long, they may die, so make sure not to let them sit outside in winter if the ground or air around it is frozen. Also, avoid placing them near drafty windows as that may cause them to wither. A warm south-facing porch can be ideal on a sunny winter’s day, but a night frost could kill your succulent.
Keep succulents clean
Succulents can get dusty and lose their colour if not kept clean. Fortunately, they’re easy to care for – just use a damp cloth or gentle water spray to wipe the dust away every few weeks.
If your succulent has dirt on it that isn’t coming off easily, then you should soak it in lukewarm water for a few minutes and wipe away any remaining dirt.
Small pests such as spider mites or mealybugs can also affect succulents, although they’re easy to get rid of. Just mix a few drops of dish soap into the water and use it on your plant with a spray bottle before leaving the soapy mixture on for about an hour. Afterwards, just rinse away any remaining residue using clean water.
Be sure not to use any chemicals or pesticides as this will kill the succulent immediately! If you suspect your plant is infested with pests, then mist it daily for about two weeks and keep an eye out for dead bugs.
As soon as you notice them, turn off the mister and remove all corpses right away before they start decomposing and attracting other pests.
Keep succulents indoors for best results
Succulents are great houseplants that can survive indoors for years if you care for them properly. They’re an excellent choice to brighten up homes, offices or dorms with their vibrant colours and exciting forms.
If you keep succulents indoors, you can put them outside for some sunlight to get the energy needed for photosynthesis. Some succulent varieties can sit outside all summer, but do some research first.
With these succulent care tips, you’ll be able to grow healthy succulents indoors for a long time while enjoying their unique appearance and carefree nature.
John Green is a 46-year-old graphic designer living in Durham. John is RHS level 3 certified and owns an allotment in Durham.