While succulents and cacti have a reputation for being some of the most foolproof houseplants, the truth is that they do require more tailored care if they are to really flourish. While it is always crucial to read the care instructions unique to each specific succulent variety, following these general rules will have you well on your way toward succulent success.
Choose your Location
As a general rule, succulents and cacti require at least six hours of bright light each day to thrive. Depending on the orientation of the windows in your home, this could be accomplished by placing your plants as close to a sunny window as possible – preferably one with a southern or western exposure. If your home is more dimly lit, the situation could be remedied through the use of grow lights, which come in numerous shapes, sizes, and styles to suit your succulent collection.
You will know if your succulent is not receiving enough light if it begins to stretch out, with the leaves becoming farther and farther apart – a process known as etiolating. Furthermore, it is worth noting that certain color variations also require higher light in order to thrive and maintain their desirable color. For instance, variegated plants inherently require more light, due to their reduced levels of chlorophyll, and pink, purple, red, and orange succulent varieties will begin to lose their unique coloring and revert to green if they don’t have access to enough sunlight to maintain it.
Placing your succulent near a window also has another added benefit, during the warmer months – good airflow, which is crucial to avoiding issues with rot from soil or leaves that remain damp too long, as well as certain pests, such as gnats and mealy bugs. During the winter months, however, be sure to protect your succulents from drafts of cold air, which can damage the leaves of these tender plants, most of which aren’t hardy below a Zone 9.
Choose your Pot
Porous pot materials, like clay or concrete, will help ensure that there is good oxygen exchange to the plants’ roots, which prevents the soil from remaining soggy for an extended period of time and predisposing the roots to rot. While plastic, glass, and glazed ceramic pots are readily available, they hold moisture in the soil far more readily, and thus require very careful attention to how frequently the plant inside is watered.
Regardless of what pot material you choose, it is critical to make sure that it comes equipped with adequate drainage. While it is possible to care for succulents in a non-draining container, a drainage hole ensures that the roots will never be left sitting in standing water, which can prove fatal to plants designed to thrive in dry native habitats.
Choose your Soil
A fast-draining succulent potting mix, available at any local garden center, is a absolute must for these plants, as it contains enough porous elements such as course sand and perlite to allow the water to drain rapidly from the pot, rather than remaining around the roots and stem for an extended period of time. Regular potting mix or garden soil dug up from outside are simply too dense and too slow draining to suit most succulents, and should never be used for these plants.
Water with Care
To mimic their arid native environments, most succulents thrive when watered using the “soak and dry” method, meaning that the plant is watered thoroughly until the excess runs from the bottom of the pot, and then is allowed to dry completely before being watered again. To determine when the soil is dry enough to water again, you can either use your finger to test the top 1-2 inches of the soil around the succulent’s base, or you can use a moisture meter to test dryness even further down into the soil. Regardless of which method you use, it is almost always better to err on the side of less watering, rather than more, especially for those plants with the thickest and fleshiest leaves.
While this approach will work for most succulents, some require more attention to detail as pertains to their watering schedule. Thus, it is also crucial to read the descriptions for each specific succulent, bearing in mind the dormancy periods for each unique variety – some don’t want to be watered at all during their periods of dormancy, which can last months at a time.