How to Keep a Succulent Alive, Because It’s Trickier Than You Think

How to Keep a Succulent Alive, Because It’s Trickier Than You Think
Photo: Dan Kitwood, Getty Images

First time growers are often told to buy plants like bamboo, cacti, or succulents. We’re told these are resilient plants that don’t need a lot of attention. And sure, while they are “hardy” as plants go, the notion that a succulent can survive anything you do to it is sadly mistaken.

Growing site Altman Plants debunks some of the myths around these varied plants: No, you don’t need to plant them in sand. No, they don’t need direct sunlight. Yes, succulents are durable. But they take a little more attention than their reputation lets on. While a succulent makes great plant for a beginner, but it’s not a set it and forget it plant. Here are a few plant care tips to keep these “beginner” plants alive.

Give your succulent room to grow — but not too much

Chances are good that when you buy a succulent, it will come in one of those teeny tiny planters, as befits a teeny-tiny little plant. But while little guys are cute, looks can be deceiving: According to Succulents and Sunshine, succulents will only get bigger if they are given room to grow — and, if you’re creating an arrangement, planting them farther apart lets them grow bigger faster, as they’re more likely to sprout new leaves given some extra room.

However, with too much room, the roots will continue to grow, but you won’t see much new greenery on top (think of an iceberg). Succulents and Sunshine suggests, “a good amount of space for your succulents is generally about 1/2 inch to an inch” of growing space between plants. If you’re keeping them in a pot, planting them half an inch from the edge is recommended to promote optimal growth.

Succulents need a mix of sun and shade

Given succulents are often discussed alongside cacti, it’s a common mistake to think that both will thrive in a desert environment, offering lots of sun and lots of sand. However, succulents need a reprieve from the sun. In particular, smaller succulents that are paler in colour can suffer from sunburn when hit with extended amounts of direct sunlight.

On average, succulents need a minimum six hours of sun a day. You can put them in a sunny window, or if outdoors, in an area that gets a good amount of sun mixed with shade. Nature site Josh’s Frogs tells planters to look out for signs of underexposure to sunlight, advising, “ [if] they aren’t getting the light they need, the leaves may start flattening out, and the plant will start growing tall and looking sparse.” If these signs appear, move the succulents to a sunnier area.

Water and drainage

Watering is the most delicate part of a succulent’s growth. The fact that they need less watering is why many new plant owners are told to get succulents, which are more likely to survive the occasional forgotten watering. But just because they don’t require watering every day doesn’t mean they can live without water altogether — succulents need water once their soil has become completely dry. HGTV contributor Leanne Potts advises waiting to water again until “the soil in the succulents’ growing container is bone dry. We repeat, let the soil dry out completely between waterings.” Over-moistened soil causes root rot in succulents, which will kill the plant.

Drainage is also important, but it takes more than just throwing some rocks into the soil — you should look for fast draining soil specifically intended for cacti and succulents. Layer the bottom of the pot with small pebbles about the size of a nickel, then spread a few more through the soil. Also, make sure the pot has a drainage hole for water to escape. This helps the water filter through the soil and out of the pot, hydrating the roots without causing root rot.

 

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