Awhile back I went to a farmer’s market near my university and found a cute little shop selling all sorts of succulents and cacti. I was instantly intrigued with their unique textures and odd shapes, and at their relatively inexpensive price, I ended up taking home three new friends that day. Being that they were basically cacti, I naively assumed I could forget about them on my windowsill, like the Mojave Desert of Orange County, and that they’d survive the long haul.
Well I did just that, until one day I sat next to that window and glanced at my little plants. Crikey! They were all crisp, dead, and sending me negative vibes from their little plant hell. How did this happen? I thought these cute little guys were accustomed to the Sahara? Y u no like sun?
Recently, in an attempt to make my dry, boring room more lively and livable, I came to the decision that I was in dire need of some plants. I still admire succulents and wanted to give them a second chance, but I wasn’t about to set up a wasteland in my apartment again. I did my research, bought proper supplies, and now I am here to share my tips with you in this tutorial, “How to Take Care of Succulents Like a Boss.”
But first of all, what the heck is a succulent? Technically, a succulent is any plant with thick, fleshy water storage organs. Succulents store water in their leaves, stems or roots. Also, “succulent” is an umbrella term for many types of plants, including cacti (being the genius that I am, I thought they were different!). Now, let’s take a look at the top five things you should know if you want to grow succulents instead of a cemetery.
It’s true that succulents generally need less water than most house plants. A good rule of thumb to begin with is to water them once a month in winter, and once a week in all other seasons. But like I said, this is a good starting point and shouldn’t be your final conclusion. Pay attention to your plants and if they are looking crusty around day five or still “moist” (I hate that word) after nine days, then adjust your schedule accordingly. You should water them just enough so that you see the water start to drain out the bottom (make sure your pot has a small hole on the bottom!). Succulents should almost completely dry out in between thorough waterings.
Overwatering is one of the biggest causes of death in succulents as it usually leads to plant rot. Crikey! If leaves become too soft and droopy, you’re watering too much. Also, succulents prefer rainwater or distilled water at room temperature. Cold water can shock their roots and kill them. Tap water is ok, but can eventually lead to minerals building up in the soil over time which will require you to repot your plant.
Succulents require bright, indirect sunlight. In nature, they are often sheltered by larger plants so that they only receive filtered sunlight through the cracks instead of full on rays. They are not looking for a Jersey Shore tan and it’s better to keep them out of direct light.
If the leaves look “bleached,” yellow, tan, red or your plant appears to be bending significantly towards the sun (called etiolation), then it needs a shadier spot. If new growth on your plant is light green and elongated, it needs more light.
Despite their desert dweller reputation, succulents are much more cold-tolerant than people assume. Similar to the desert, where there is a marked difference between night and day, succulents thrive all the way down to 40ºF (4ºC). However, they prefer daytime temperatures between 70-85ºF (21-29ºC) and nighttime lows of 50-55ºF (10-13ºC). These temperatures slightly decrease in winter when they are dormant.
Do not use regular potting soil, folks!! Succulent plants have a need for a well draining soil, whereas most house plant soil is the opposite. Succulent soil should be approximately 1/3 regular soil, 1/3 horticultural pumice (gravel works, too), and 1/3 horticultural, coarse sand (sandbox-type sand is not a good choice as it’s usually not washed and can contain salt). With the increasing popularity of succulents and cacti, you can likely find soil especially made for succulents – just look around!
Too much fertilizer can be worse than none at all. Use a low nitrogen fertilizer at about ½ to ¼ the recommended rate. You may also be able to find fertilizer made for succulents. This component is not completely necessary as too much fertilizer can kill your plant. Jeepers!
If you want to learn more about how to take care of succulents, I recommend researching the particular species of succulent you have in order to find out its exact preferences. If you have any tips or tricks from your own succulent care, share the wealth in the comments!