How to Care for Your Succulents
By Tawni Daigle
DIY Succulents (Adams Media, 2015) by Tawni Daigle, is a great read for new succulent owners. Find the practical information you need to care for your succulent plant, and all of the fun ideas for arranging different succulent plants. You can even find ideas for wearing succulents on a necklace or headband.
Just as with any other plant, there are three main factors to consider when growing succulents: soil, water, and sunlight. Using the correct type and amount of each of these factors will help your plants look their best.
Succulents thrive in well-draining soil. You can buy bags of soil mixed especially for succulents and cacti at your local garden center. Kellogg Garden Organics Palm, Cactus & Citrus mix is one great option. Sometimes these store-bought mixes can contain undesirable sticks and such that can be sifted out if necessary. (For example, if you are making a tiny terrarium, big sticks might take up too much space.)
If you can’t find specialized soil or if you have regular potting soil on hand that you’d rather use, you can customize it to best suit your succulent. To increase drainage, mix in equal parts:
- Regular potting soil
- Perlite (an expanded volcanic glass used to improve aeration and drainage) and/or
- Coarse-grained horticultural-grade sand
You can find both perlite and horticultural sand at garden centers. Succulents will suffer if their roots sit in excessive water, so it’s worth the time up front to create a very well-draining soil.
Repot your succulents in fresh soil once a year to keep them healthy and looking their best.
There is a common misconception that succulents don’t need much water. While it’s true that they can go longer periods of time without it, they will not thrive in a drought-like situation. My general rule of thumb is to water your plants when the soil is completely dry—typically once a week during hotter months and a little less often when the weather cools. You can kill succulents by overwatering, so make sure the soil is totally dry between waterings.
To actually water the plants, give the soil a good soak so that the water runs out of the bottom of the pot. Try to water the soil, not the plant, if possible. Letting water settle on the leaves can cause rot, in addition to leaving unsightly markings.
If the pot you’re using doesn’t have drainage holes, don’t soak the soil. Instead, give it more of a “sip.” In this book, we will be creating arrangements in containers without drainage holes, such as teacups, Mason jars, and glass terrariums. Because succulents do better in containers that drain well, we will always layer the bottom of the container with pebbles to create an alternative drainage system. Although this isn’t the ideal situation for growing succulents, they can certainly survive. Repot your plants if they begin to look as if they are struggling in a container without proper drainage.
If you water your indoor plants outdoors, be sure to keep them protected from direct sunlight, as the sudden change in sun exposure could shock them and cause the leaves to be scorched and scarred. On very slow-growing succulents, a sunburn can scar a plant for the remainder of its lifetime.
In general, succulents do best in bright but indirect sunlight. A few hours of morning sun and indirect sunlight throughout the day is best. Different species can tolerate different amounts of light, but most tend to suffer in extended periods of direct sunlight. To avoid burning and scorching your plants, keep them in a place where they get shade but still receive adequate light. My healthiest plants are outside on windowsills, where they are protected from direct sunlight for most of the day by small overhangs. A few hours of direct sunlight is okay; just be sure your plants are sheltered from the harsh afternoon sun.
Experiment with your plants to see what works best where you live. The amount of sunlight succulents receive can affect the look of the plant. Succulents grown in full sun can become washed out and turn pinkish orange or even white, while the same plants grown in the shade will be more of a bluish green. If your plants are not getting enough light, they may become leggy and stretch toward the light. If your plants are stretching out or bending toward the light, you can slowly move them to a brighter spot or rotate their pots from time to time to keep them growing straight up. If your plant has grown too long, it may be time for you to propagate it (see the next chapter).
How to Overcome Common Problems with Succulents
Caring for your succulents’ soil, water, and light exposure will help you avoid the majority of issues with succulents. Despite your best efforts, however, you might run into a problem once in a while, like you would with any other plant. Luckily, most trouble spots with succulents are easily identified and solved. Here are some potential trouble spots and how to fix them.
To avoid bug infestations and diseases in the first place, it’s a good idea to remove any dead leaves from your plants, as they provide a perfect hiding place for pests and a breeding ground for fungi. Mealybugs, aphids, and spider mites are three common pests you may run into when growing succulents. If you have bugs in small numbers, they can be removed with a sharp pin or a strong stream of water. If you have a large infestation, you may need to use insecticidal sprays.
Succulents are designed to survive extended periods of drought, therefore they store water in their leaves. When they receive too much water, however, their leaves become very plump and swollen and may even rip open. If you have an overwatered succulent, cease watering it until the soil is completely dry.
Rot is a very common problem and goes hand in hand with overwatering. Fungi and bacteria tend to thrive in the fleshy tissue of succulents, so take special care to keep your plants in well-draining soil. If kept in moist, soggy soil, your plant will undoubtedly begin to rot.
“Sunburns” happen when harsh sunlight causes a dark spot on a succulent’s leaf. Succulents can become sunburnt very easily, especially when moved from shade to direct sunlight without being slowly acclimated. Sunburn can permanently scar a slow-growing succulent, so be very cautious of placing your plants in harsh sunlight.
More from DIY Succulents:
Excerpted from DIY Succulents: From Placecards to Wreaths, 35+ Ideas for Creative Projects with Succulents Copyright © 2015 by Tawni Daigle andpublished by Adams Media, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved. Photography by Tawni Daigle.
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