How to Take Care of Succulents Like a BOSS (A Tutorial)

How to Take Care of Succulents Like a Boss

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!

Related: 9 Gorgeous Ways to Decorate With Plants


  • Chloe Renee

    Once, I killed a cactus. It dried up!
    I thought that was impossible. My family made fun of me…

    This post is genius!

    • xfallenmoon

      Oh noes!! When I started with plants, I did everything in the book (that you aren’t supposed to do); over water, under water, too much light, not enough light, direct sun exposure… anyway, yea, I killed a lot of plants. I’m getting better now, thank goodness!

      • DaisyBisley

        I followed all the directions and still managed to kill my plants. Hoping I’m more successful with succulents

  • xfallenmoon

    I was actually looking for some info on succulents. This is great. I think I’ll be moving one out of the sun, the leaves are starting to turn yellow. I’m also going to need to get some new soil… I um, used the same one as my others plants. Whoops!

    Love, Moon
    blog | twitter

    • The Nectar Collective

      So glad it could be helpful for you! I had similar problems with my succulents (as you probably read…oi!). Hopefully we can have some nice healthy plants this spring. :)

  • DaisyBisley

    I need to get my hands on some succulents. We need more plants in the house and so far I’ve killed 2 gerber daisies and a peace lilly! If succulents are easier to care for I’m on it!

    • Mel @ The Nectar Collective

      Yes! I do think they’re easier to care for, but I have to be honest, even after writing this tutorial, I’ve still managed to kill some! I blame this on my complete inability to care for plants. If it’s not complaining or barking at me for food, it’s basically going to die! lol

  • Courtney Valentine

    I ran into this after trying to figure out why my leaves were so droopy and shriveled up at the tips. Thanx for the advice!

    • Mel @ The Nectar Collective

      yay I hope it helps! :)

  • Itbritt

    This is actually very, very helpful. Thank you for this,
    if you excuse me, I have some plants to attend to.

    • Mel @ The Nectar Collective

      That’s great! I’m glad it’s helpful. :)

  • Amber

    VERY helpful! I bought a BUNCH of beaten up and abused succulents from a grocery store….because I felt bad. Now I’m a proud ‘mom’ of about 20 different types of succulents, all of which I googled, to learn to care for and they since have turned completely around and healed. I repotted with appropriate draining soil and room, gave them sunlight (Northern Canada isnt warm though, so they’re indoor plants). I have this ONE problem though that I can’t seem to find a solution to anywhere….if it is a problem anyway. Maybe you can help ? (I’m mailing a few succulent websites) I have my succulents on their own watering schedules (They’re mostly all different, some need more than others) All of which are working perfectly, my plants seem very healthy except for this one thing. They’re beginning to droop….and by droop I guess I don’t mean droop, I mean actually bend towards the dirt, as if they’re trying to touch it. They’re very firm, and not under watered or over watered, I take a lot of care in ensuring they’re not and on top of that, they have NO other signs of that being the case. It’s like they’re perfect but beginning to reach down around the pot. I’ve got healthy roots coming in, some new leaves on top growing beautifully, you name it, but they haven’t done this yet in the few months I’ve owned them. Summer is gone, and they aren’t getting all the heat and light they used to, (I water them accordingly) and sit in about 65-72 degrees throughout the day now. Maybe it’s the temperature? I read when they have little light they begin to stretch and grow, but not bend downwards….it’s odd! Any help would be appreciated!!

    • Mel @ The Nectar Collective

      Amber, your succulent story had me grinning! I’ve heard of people buying pets because they felt sorry for their poor conditions, but buying plants for the same reason? That is so AWESOME and I’m so glad they’ve found a happy home in your house! You rock! As for your question, I unfortunately don’t really know the answer. It sounds like you’re doing everything right! Like you mentioned, succulents DO bend towards the sunlight if they are not getting enough light. Maybe something similar is happening that makes them need to be closer to the soil? Not sure if that even makes sense. Sorry I couldn’t help you more! What if you try relocating them to a new part of your house to see if it’s the location?

      • Amber

        Haha! Yes I definitely felt bad! People were in awe of their texture, touching and squeezing them, subsequently bruising and killing them. They’re too pretty for that! haha! I have since fallen in love of course and am growing new plants from cuttings and such! Loveee it.

        It is definitely strange to me though, and just like you, no one else can seem to give me an explanation! Odd to say the least. I’m just worried they may be sick despite looking and feeling perfectly healthy. I’d feel terrible for ‘saving’ them and then actually just letting them live longer just to kill them lol! Oh my! Thank you for the help! I’ll continue my search. I think for now I’ll go with blaming the light, they only began doing this once it became too cold for them to be placed outside during the day! Time will tell! Again, thank you!

    • Winwin7

      Amber, If you have not find out the reasons yet. This is what I think….I live in Vancouver and keep my succulents growing indoors all year round. In the winter, with 19-20C during the day and around 16C at night, ( I left the windows open day and night). So, I noticed most of my succulents do not seemed to hibernate. As there is less sun in the winter, I still keep watering, I see they keep growing and stretch quite a bit. Up to a point where the stem does not have the strength to hold them upward, so they droop. As you could see in my first photo .. all the way down. In the second photo, as it is standing against the window, it got supported and stay up.

      • Rebecca

        You can decapitate and replant some of those super tall/stretched ones. Or you can strip the leaves off, let the cut dry for a few days, and then propagate from those. It keeps them looking nice, plus free plants. :) It looks like some of the bigger ones are just way out of space, and they need to be cut or repotted with more room.

        • Calabang

          I agree with Rebecca.. The plant is going to die because it si going to work so hard to give nutrients to the big one.. Take a clean sharp knife, cut on an angle. Let is naturally callous for a few days. Re pot and BAM, new plant. If you cut it correctly, the original plant will re grow, so cut it wayy down. I would also take a few of the really healthy leaves and let them callous and propogate. I like how it looks, but it is not healthy for the plant.

    • Calabang

      I agree with Rebecca.. The plant is going to die because it is going to work so hard to give nutrients to the big one.. Take a clean sharp knife, cut on an angle. Let is naturally callous for a few days. Re pot and BAM, new plant. If you cut it correctly, the original plant will re grow, so cut it wayy down. I would also take a few of the really healthy leaves and let them callous and propogate. I like how it looks, but it is not healthy for the plant.

  • Allie

    Haha I came to this post because I did the exact same thing – impulse bought a few succulents and promptly killed them off in a couple months. I just got some more and figured this time around I should have some idea of what I’m doing! Hopefully these will survive my black thumb.

  • Bridget

    I bought 3 succulents for my friend as a Christmas present but she forgot them at my house so I have been taking care of them. They are all different shapes,heights and color so I’m not sure if they need the same care or if they are okay??? I’m worried most about the tallest one sense it has brown spots covering it:( also I live in Maryland where the climate is moderate but sense we have snow, I’m not sure if it’s okay to put my plants by the window? (Will they get too cold and if so where can I move them?) I have a little Buddha watching over them !

    • Void

      Over watering

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  • Void

    This is a really poor article.

    Etiolation is caused by a lack of sunlight, not an excess. If it’s etiolating (stretching out, smaller leaves, getting “leggy”, eventually turning white and mushy at the tip) you need to get it more light. Be careful with large changes though, as taking a succulent from a shady spot to a super sunny one will stress it out big time. Plants will always grow towards the light. Moving it to a shadier spot would probably make it worse, as then it’ll be trying even harder to grow towards the light source and get more UV. If something starts bending in one direction, turn it around. I turn my plants every 2-3 days.

    Most succulents want as much sun as you can throw at them. They definitely don’t want indirect light.

    Most of the plants in this guide are cacti. Whilst they are botanically considered a succulent, most horticulturalists class them differently because of their vastly different requirements. Cacti need far less water, less nutrients and a bit more sun.

    If you’re using a mix with general potting soil you shouldn’t fertilise at ALL for the first couple of years, and never for cacti (unless you’re using a specially hand made, well researched blooming formula for certain cacti in summer).

    The reason you don’t use beach sand is less to do with chemical content and more to do with the grain of the sand. A fine sand (like beach sand) will settle along the top and set kinda like cement and not allow very much of the water to flow through at all. The trapped water then causes root rot. The best sand to use is river sand that’s at least 1km upstream from the ocean.

    also, looking at the cover photo, you should never group succulents with cacti. Cacti and succulents have far different requirements.

  • Taryn Nicole

    As a new plant mom I hope this truly preps me to take care of my little succulents like a boss! Love the tips and thanks for all the info. Enjoyed reading. Just planted some in our home and hoping I can keep them alive and well!

    • Mel @ The Nectar Collective

      Glad you enjoyed this, Taryn! I hope it helps. :)

  • Amy (

    I just bought my first 2 succulents last weekend and am terrified of killing them LOL. Enjoyed these 5 tips! Thank you! :)

    • Mel @ The Nectar Collective

      haha, I hope they help Amy! :)

  • Morganjanielle

    Just became a new cacti mommy tonight! Thanks for the tips!

    • Mel @ The Nectar Collective

      Woohoo! Good luck! :)

  • Sarah Barksdale

    Can you help me figure out what is wrong with my succulent? Some of the leaves are turning almost clear and look mushy.

    • rollthebarrel

      It sounds like they’ve been overwatered. :-(

  • Pipincabacobalopsokiss

    I hate to say this but I don’t think I’m following any of these rules yet my succulents are growing alarmingly fast.

  • misschievous

    Just bought 3! Yay!

    • Jeremy

      Same here

  • Gema

    Just bought my first succulent & this was very helpful :)

    • Mel @ The Nectar Collective

      Glad to hear that, Gema! Best of luck! :)

    • Jeremy

      Same here!! First day taking care of the 3 of them, I hope they live long…

  • Sarah Lillian

    I’ve always been into houseplants and have recently started venturing into the world of succulents. Thanks for the tips!

    • Mel @ The Nectar Collective

      Woo! Hope they help. :)

  • Cindy M

    Succulents require bright indirect sunlight. Got it. i always thought they like full sun. a lot of them have burned tips and leaves!! :'( I put them on my rooftop.. this makes me very sad.

  • ceo123

    FYI, etiolation means the plant needs more sun, not shade….

    • Emoneny

      Yes! I thought I was going nuts there for a second. “It’s on a blog…it MUST be true, right?”

  • miz

    Hi, this is one of my succulents that I’ve had for a month now. It’s leaves are turning soft as you can see in the image. (I often water them once every week or 1.5 week because the weather is quite cold now). Please help me if you have any advices!!!

  • rollthebarrel

    I have killed a fair few succulents by overwatering! And they are not the same as cacti. Before we got a cat, we had very happy cacti which required almost no attention. Succulents on the other hand, seem to have different needs. Argh.

    Also, many of them do need full sun:

    Part of the trick of this for me seems to be planting succulents which like similar amounts of water and sun / shade together. I am still figuring this out.

    The second comment on this forum seems like good advice (copied below):


    keep in mind that sun tolerance in a pot is much less than in the ground

    most young succulents like some shade before adulthood

    usually, lighter colored leaves means more sun tolerant, as does sometimes reddish/ pinkish tinges; more green means more shade

    a waxy epidermis is also indicative of the need for sun

    most aloes, haworthias, sedums, euphorbias like shade from hot afternoon sun

    many S. American cactus burn in hot sun

    I can keep going but I would never stop!’

  • LeighAnn Chavez

    Such good tips! Thank you! I just got a collection of new friends and really wasn’t sure what I was getting into! Some “leaves” died on one though. Looks like it was overwatered but I only watered it once! I pulled them off and moved it into more indirect light. Wish me luck!