The word “succulent” originates from the Latin word “sucus” which means drink, juice and sap. Succulents live up to their name with leaves and stems that retain large amounts of water to make them drought-resistant. These durable desert dwellers make a great houseplant because of their versatility and ability to withstand neglect — but certain varieties do better indoors than others.
Some things to consider when selecting your succulents include their size, style, color, care needs and natural climate. They range in height from under an inch — like Blossfeldia liliputana — to 12 feet tall like blue yucca. They also come in a variety of colorations and shapes. Succulents come primarily from arid desert climates with a couple varieties originating from tropical regions, like “Macho mocha” mangave and octopus agave.
Succulents generally need a lot of light — some houses don’t have enough natural light to support certain varieties. Usually the green varieties do better indoors than colourful succulents, depending on the available light in your house. Their natural habitat has a direct correlation to their care needs, so try and replicate this to the best of your ability.
Contrary to their tough guy persona, succulents still need love and attention. Dead leaves at the bottom of the plant are common so simply remove them to keep your plant happy. To make sure that you don’t kill one of the most kill-resistant plants, follow these guidelines below to avoid a common plant care faux pas.
Ample sunlight is essential for a succulent’s development — most need at least 3–6 hours of direct sunlight per day. Plant or place in a space where it can receive plenty of sunlight, like a south- or east-facing window. Rarely, too much direct sunlight can “sunburn” a succulent — it’s very unlikely but keep an eye out for any unusual scorch marks. Succulents that don’t receive enough light may begin to “stretch” their leaves outward to absorb as much light as possible.
Succulents don’t need a lot of water due to their desert climate adaptations. The general rule of thumb is to let their soil dry completely before watering them again. If you don’t let their roots dry in between watering, their roots could rot and kill your plant. If the environment is very hot and they have an effective drainage system they may need to be watered more frequently — about every 2–3 weeks because their soil will dry up faster. As the weather gets colder, you will need to water them less.
Since succulents are used to extreme temperatures the majority can survive in temperatures ranging from about 40–95º F. However, some of the more delicate varieties should be kept in a more conservative temperature range. As mentioned above, the temperature that you keep the succulent in should be tied to the amount of water it receives.
Most succulents are not toxic. In fact, succulents like Opuntia ficus-indica (prickly pear) and Aloe vera are frequently used as ingredients in many delicious dishes. Some succulent varieties, mainly cacti, have spines that could puncture skin so keep an eye out for that. Even though most succulents are not toxic for humans or pets, there are some varieties you should avoid if you have little ones or fur babies running around your home.
Succulents toxic to humans:
Euphorbias — thier sap can irritate skin and cause stomach pain if ingested
Succulents toxic to pets:
Aloe vera — can cause lethargy and digestive issues if ingested
Crassula ovata (jade plant) — ingestion can cause stomach issues
Euphorbias — their sap can cause a rash and stomach pain if ingested
Kalanchoes — rarely fatal but ingestion can make animals sick
Echeveria varieties Graptopetalum paraguayense (ghost plant, mother of pearl)
Sedum morganianum (burro’s tail, donkey’s tail)
Sempervivum tectorum (hens-and-chicks)
Succulents are prone to mealybugs, scale bugs, fungus gnats and spider mites. Use a cotton swab with mild soap, alcohol or natural insecticide to remove the pests and quarantine any infected plants to keep pests from spreading to other plants.
Succulents are tough, resistant plants, but some issues that plague them include:
Overwatering is the biggest problem that can lead to loss of leaves, yellow leaves, root rot or misshapen leaves. Insufficient sun can lead to stunted growth or stretched stems and leaves. Lack of nutrients can cause stunted growth, misshapen or yellow leaves.
Some less common problems include:
Under-watering can lead to shriveled, yellow or misshapen leaves
Too much sun can cause “burns” and brown spots to appear
Succulents should be planted in soil and planters that have adequate drainage. Use a cacti soil as a base and add organic matter like peat moss and larger pebbles and rocks to help soil drain more efficiently. Repotting requirements depend on the growth of your plant and if you need to move it indoors for winter. If your plant has outgrown its pot or needs a warmer home check out our guide to properly repotting a plant.
Propagating your succulents is a great way to grow your collection and many varieties propagate very easily! A popular succulent, “hens-and-chicks” got its name from how easily it propagates: The small “chicks” split off from their mother plant, the “hen,” and grow into a new “hen” plant.
There are different methods to propagate succulents, including:
1/ Behead your plant — If your plant has grown lanky and frail, remove the heavy top plant growth (cut the stem an inch below the leaves) and plant it separately
2/ Separate its roots — Unearth the succulent, untangle the collections of roots and divide the plant from the roots up
3/Remove mini growths — Remove “plantlets” (fully-formed mini plant growths that can grow solo) and plant them separately
4/ Remove leaves — Use severed leaves and cuttings to sprout new plants
Follow these steps below to expand your succulent collection using cuttings:
1/ Twist off or cut a couple of leaves from your plant — don’t snap or break them off
2/ Lay the cuttings on soil with the severed end in the soil — use potted soil that drains well
3/Water them with a mister since they are laying on the soil close to the surface
4/Keep watering them about 2–3 times a week until roots and a new plant growth, also known as a “pup” or “chick,” have formed on the old leaf
5/Repot the new plant growth and remove the old leaf once it withers
Because there are so many different types of succulents, it is best to do some research about the specific plant that you choose to make sure you provide optimal care. Succulents are so versatile and work in a variety of garden features like vertical gardens, succulent walls and other fun fresh succulent decor. Succulents make a great gift for a friend because they symbolize endurance and loyalty! Pro tip: Pair the plant with care instructions and a punny succulent card for a fun addition to your gift.