The term "succulent plant" can refer to many different plants. Basically a succulent, is a plant that stores water in either its roots, stems, or leaves. This deffiniton can apply to common garden plants such as daylilies. For purposes of this article we will be focusing on succulent plants that mostly originate from dry, arid environments. Many of my favorite succulent plants are caudiciforms. These are succulent plants that form extra large swollen roots or stems. They are extremely popular with collectors and make excellent container plants especially when presented in "bonsai-like" form. In any case succulents are fun and a challenge to grow. At Botanic Wonders we have many types of succulents for sale. Growing succulents with proper care will reward you with beautiful and healthy specimens.
As you will find in all the "care pages" of this web site, I always start off with soils. I can not stress enough the importance of finding the "right" soil for your plants. Since most succulents come from arid environments, a well drained soil is paramount. Soil mixes can vary based on species of plants, container types, soil materials available, and environmental conditions. I usually work on creating a good all around mix for the majority of my plants, and than modify this mix for the special needs of certain species. This practice has worked very well for me.
Since succulents prefer well drained soil I start off with a mix of at least 50% inorganic material. Inorganic materials that work well are perilite, and pumice. I will than add an organic material like composted wood shavings , or a good commercial potting mix. The brand "Miracle Gro Potting Mix" is a good widely available mix. Depending on the species I am potting up I now can modify this mix, in most cases adding more inorganic material. The last ingredient is a slow release fertilizer like Osmocote. You will be amazed how well your plants will do with this little last ingredient!
The question I am asked the most about growing succulents is "how often do I water?" This is a very difficult question to answer. There are so many factors that determine watering routines. Factors like, plant species, container type, soil type, exposure to light, is it planted in the ground, geographical location, is it dormant or actively growing, are all impotant in establishing a watering routine. If you follow my advise on having a well drained soil, this will help you to develop a routine that will include the majority of your plants. There will always be a few plants that will need special attention, but that's OK! Where I live in California there is a lot of wind in my outside growing area. As a result my plants dry out quicker than plants in a protected area. In the summer months I water some of my plants every 3 days! In the winter I may not water for a month depending on the weather.
One thing that succulents don't like is wet and cold! In California our winters are wet and cold. I will temporarily cover my plants to keep them dry. Another factor that should be considered is if your plant is dormant. If your plants are coming out of dormancy be careful not to water to much or to soon. Many plants like Pachypodiums will start showing leaf growth before their roots are growing. If you water to soon you will turn your plant to mush! Better to wait a week or two before you start your summer watering routine. Careful observation of your plants will get you to the "expert" level of growing. Do not be afraid to inspect roots, move to new location, change watering, etc. As always, we are here to answer your questions!
Watering and Other Factors
Many succulents for sale make great landscape specimens.
Try growing succulents from seed!
I grow the majority of my succulents in containers. This gives me more control over there care. After growing succulents for over 35 years I personally have found plastic and glazed pottery to be the best for me. I have not had much success with growing in clay containers. However for bonsai plants I will use porous bonsai containers in addition to glazed. Putting a layer of gravel at the bottom of your container does not improve drainage! I never do this! This will only work if the soil mix gradually transitions from the upper mix to the gravel. Make sure your container has adequate holes for fast drainage. Also do not "overpot" your plants. Move to larger container sizes by one-two inch increases. Many succulents actually benifit from "underpotting". This causes them grow like they would in their natural environment. Stems and trunks will grow fatter and thicker! I call this growing them "hard". At first everyone tries to grow their plants "fast", don't fall into this bad habit. Slow and steady is a much better pattern to follow. You will be rewarded with "happy" striking plants!
This is another area that beginners have problems with. They see photos of plants growing deserts and put their plants in full hot sun. this usually will burn the plant and either disfigure, or kill it. Most of these plants grow in the shade of some other plant in their natural environment for many years if not their whole life. Some plants will eventually be exposed to full sun when they are many years old and mature. Also remember they are not growing in pots in the wild! Many of the succulents I grow benefit from 30-50% shade. Many do fine with some direct sun, however best if it is morning or late afternoon. When buying new plants make sure you transition them slowly to their new environment. They should be acclimated slowly increasing light exposure over a two to four week period, depending on what exposure they were originally grown. Have a area where you can add temporary shade to cover your plants as you acclimate them. This is also a good place to put recently potted plants to aid in recovering from "shock" after transplanting. Don"t be afraid to try out different exposures. This will help you to determine what works best for that species!