If you’re stuck trying to figure how to care for succulents indoors, you absolutely need to know these pointers. These aren’t just about getting your plants to look their best. The tips here spell out how to keep your plants alive. Figure that out and then you can focus on keeping them healthy.
Any aspiring grower researching how to get started growing any plant is, for sure, going to reach for the succulent plant to make a promising start. After all, these are supposed to be the one breed of plants needing little care and are well-equipped to survive a drought because they hog all the water they can. They’re greedy and do not know when to stop feeding. Give them tons of water and you can leave them for weeks on end without having to water them again.
Who wouldn’t want that? A real, living plant you can forget to feed and all it’ll do is start slouching. It won’t give up the ghost and die.
Growing succulents is an easy way to get familiar with plant growing. Especially indoors. Thing is though, they’re only as strong as the foundation you give them to feed from.
Succulents are billed as the easiest plant for keen indoor gardeners to get started with because it’s really hard to kill them. Repeat that last part – hard – to kill them. Not impossible. It’s difficult.
To get your succulents growing great indoors, or if you’re having some trouble to get yours looking its best, the rest of this how-to on succulent care will serve as a good mile marker for you on your journey to become a better parent to your budding and blooming succulents.
Then you can do all these crazy things…
- Build your own indoor mini-garden, center piece display or a terrarium with a variety of healthy succulents
- Decorate your dream catcher
- Make succulent jewelry
- Create wedding favors with succulents
- Make DIY succulent wreaths
- And many more creative pursuits
…Provided you know what you’re doing from the get-go with your very first succulent.
That’s what the rest of this content will focus on.
The How and What to Do to Grow Succulents Indoors
Three things are all you need to control to give your plant a running start to life.
- A well-draining soil
- The right type of container (holy ones)
- A good amount of sunlight (or the equivalent of)
Let’s start with…
The Ideal Environment to Keep Succulents in Tip-Top Shape
Indoors, the climate is close to constant, so it’s important the temperature is kept at a constant as well. Not too hot, and definitely not below freezing, so the wooden shed in the backyard is out.
The great news here is that you have massive leeway on the temperature. Anywhere between 45-85°F (7-29°C), and most succulents will do well.
There’s a but here though.
The but is because there’s two types of succulents. Summer succulents and winter succulents. Summer succulents will favor hotter temperatures, whereas cold hardy succulents favor cooler temperatures. In other words, depending on the type of plants, use the temperature variables of 7-29°C as a guideline. Closer to the cooler temperatures for winter growers and warmer for summer growers.
When you’re buying your plant, or propagating (more on this later) find out the type of succulent you’re getting. If you already have your plant and don’t know what type it is, a decent reference to help you figure out what you have is this page about Seasonal Succulents.
The only difference between summer and winter succulents is the dormancy period. Summer succulents are dormant from November through to February. Winter succulents are dormant from May through to August. During their dormancy period, they won’t go through as much water, nor will they flower. In fact, with a winter succulent, a good way to tell it’s about to go into hibernation mode is it fills out with color in October. That’s the final show before it rests up ‘til next season. During the dormant phase of a succulent’s life, they don’t need as much water but still give them the same amount of light and keep the temperature the same.
The Care Package a Succulent Plant Needs
- A container with drainage holes
- Good draining soil
- A place with indirect sunlight for 6 hours a day
Let’s tackle the container for succulents first because you don’t want to grab just any.
Best Containers for Indoor Succulents
The best container for succulents is a terracotta plant pot because it’s porous, so there’s better air flow. That’s great for plants. Not so much for growers because these pots can be heavy, shouldn’t be glazed and not all of them have pre-drilled drainage holes.
On the issue of drainage holes, you do need these because without them, the roots on your succulents will be in standing water. Sooner or later you’ll be dealing with root rot, so from the get go, use a container with drainage holes. If you see a gorgeous terracotta plant pot you’d really love to use but it doesn’t have holes, you can use a diamond drill bit, with some decorators tape to drill a hole through the base of the pot. The process of drilling into a terracotta pot base is the same as drilling into tile. Sticky tape to prevent the drill from sliding, winding up cracking the entire pot, and a diamond drill bit. Drill with a low speed to start and gradually increase the speed until the drill bit is through the base.
Of the other types of containers, the only ones worth considering are plastic plant pots and unglazed ceramic plant pots. The one to avoid at all costs is glass containers because you can’t exactly drill holes into glass. The only exception to growing in glass is with terrariums because a good glass terrarium design will have ventilation to allow for airflow.
Choosing (or Making) a Good Draining Soil for Succulents
The tricky part of growing succulents isn’t about the watering. It’s getting the potting soil mixture correct, so that it drains well; the roots get to breathe and the plant gets plenty of water to soak up, store and use as it’s needed.
There’s a variety of cacti and succulent potting soil mixes available, both in garden stores and you can even buy them on Amazon.com. They are pricey though and there’s no guarantee the pre-mixed soil is going to be effective.
The best way to make sure you have a good potting soil is to make it yourself. As the saying goes, “if you want something done right…” Yup – Do It Yourself.
Here’s a target to shoot for.
Get your soil to drain in 15 seconds. You’ll likely find it takes a few tweaks to get your mixture just right.
To prepare your own potting soil for succulents, there are three things you need:
- A regular potting soil that doesn’t contain vermiculite – because that’s an additive put into the soil to stop it draining as fast
- Turface – similar to a course sand
- Perlite or Pumice
The faster the soil the drains, the better it’ll be for your plants. If you have the budget, go ahead and use an already made succulent plant mix, but still test it to make sure it does actually drain fast. If not, you’ll still want to add Perlite or Turface to improve drainage.
Watering Guidelines for Succulents and Cacti
Most houseplants love regular feeding. Not the case with succulents. Instead of little and often, it’s drench the soil then leave it alone. The majority of succulents do fine with just a weekly watering, provided you give them the right amount.
Remember earlier about the pot needing drainage holes?
This is when you’re going to use these. When you water a potted succulent, keep adding water to the soil until it starts pouring out the drainage holes. That way, you know the soil’s taken in as much as it can, so now it’s just a case of letting the plant drink it up. What happens with succulents and cacti is they take in as much water as they can. Some cacti plants are 95% water content so it is difficult to over water these, although not impossible. When a succulent’s thirsty, you’ll see it’s leaves and stems are thin and leggy looking. When they take in loads of water, the leaves thicken up, look plump and the plant generally looks more compact and healthy looking. That’ll change when it gets thirsty again.
Always remember that succulents store water in the leaves. That’s how you can tell if they need watering.
When to repeat the watering cycle is when the soil has dried out “and” the leaves aren’t as perked as they usually are. This is often a week after thoroughly watering the soil. That said, you could still find the soil feels moist, in which case, don’t water it.
Addressing Watering Problems with Succulents
While it’s mentioned above to drench your plant’s soil, there is an all-important aspect you should know about. It’s better to underwater a succulent than it is to over water them. That’s because a sign of both is wrinkling on the leaves. If your plants leave’s wrinkle, there’s a watering issue, but that’s not enough to know if you’ve gave it too much or not enough water.
Over watering a succulent will cause numerous problems:
- Gnats – they love moist soil, which is an added benefit of using a fast draining soil (see my other tips about dealing with gnats)
- Root rot – this causes blackening on the leaves
- Leaves yellowing, browning, dying and falling off. All a tell-tale sign you’ve watered it too much
The roots on succulents need air and water. With a porous soil, the roots can soak up the water as fast as the soil can let them. The water’s then transported through the plant, then stored in the leaves. Thing is, they don’t know when to stop. If they keep on taking in water, the cell walls on the leaves can rupture, causing the leaves to die and fall off. That’s why it’s best to edge on the side of caution when working with succulents. If it’s under watered, the damage won’t be life-threatening to the plant. Over watering can and will kill it.
Giving Your Succulents the Right Amount of Sunlight
Succulents only need about three hours of sunlight daily. The simplest way to give them that is by placing the potted plant by a window. Don’t let the leaves touch the glass though because by the afternoon, the sun will heat the glass up, which can cause leaf burn on many a plant. The morning sun isn’t as harsh as the afternoon sun, so if you’re up early enough, open the blinds to let the morning sunlight beam on your plant.
The thing with sunlight and succulents is if they don’t get enough, they will stretch toward the light. This will cause them to become leggy and tall. If that happens, you can prune them and use the propagation information further down this page to start growing a new plant from the top of your overly tall one.
Until you fix the lighting conditions, your plant’s likely to continue stretching toward light.
If you can’t find a good spot that gets sufficient sunlight for your succulent to grow, you can supplement the little sunlight you do get with artificial lights.
See our Guide on Growing Under Artificial Grow Lights to find out what grow lights are best for what conditions.
Feeding Succulents with Fertilizers – To Do or Not to Do
All plants do better with a good fertilizer. But before you add any, you need to know what you’re adding and if it’s needed. Think about what you’re adding because depending on the general potting soil you used as your base soil for succulents, you could find there’s extra nutrition in there. The three things you’re adding with a fertilizer is Nitrogen, Potash and Phosphate. There will be others, depending on what you use, but those are the few key macro nutrients plants need.
Succulents do not need much fertilizer. If you are going to use any, use a water-soluble solution of 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 and dilute it by a quarter. That’s to say that if the instructions say to use one tablespoon per gallon of water, only use a quarter tablespoon.
Potting Your Succulents the Right Way
You’ve got the pot with drainage holes, right? That’s good. Now, cover the holes so the soil doesn’t fill out. You can use mesh for this, but better is to add a layer of gravel or stones to the base of your pot because those will hold water and they’ll leave enough space between the gravel to allow for some air flow. Rocks, stones and gravel, unlike soil, won’t compact so they’re ideal for increasing aeration in your plant pot, so layer your base with some type of gravel.
Then add your potting soil mixture. This is the soil mixture you would have made yourself using general potting soil, Turface and Perlite. Hopefully you tested it too to make sure it drains fast.
Fill your pot to about two thirds with the potting soil, add your plant and then top up the soil until it’s nearly full. Not right to the top because you don’t want the compost falling off the end.
Once you have your succulent potted, then take a thin stick like a chopping stick or a skewer and poke the soil to get rid of any air pockets. If you don’t get rid of the air pockets, what will happen is when you add water to the soil, the weight’s likely to burst the pockets, then the soil will sink.
To finish off, you can decorate the gap between the soil and the top of your plant with decorative pebbles, stones, or rocks.
Succulent Propagation: The Long and Short of it
A quick video overview of propagating succulents:
More details on how-to and alternative methods to grow new from old…
Eventually you’ll either need to prune your plant, or you’ll love it so much you’ll want another one. When that time comes (and you’ll know when the time’s right by how tall your plant has become), that’s when to trim it down.
All propagating means it to take a piece of a mature succulent and grow a new one from part of the mature plant.
What You’ll Need and How to Propagate Your Succulent
- The same succulent potting mix you’ve been using for your mature plants
- A pair of sharp pruners
- A shallow bowl to place a few leaves/cuttings
Depending on the type of succulent you’re propagating, you may be able to use a leaf to grow a new plant. If you’re worried that snipping the top off your plant will ruin it for you, try propagating from the leaves first. Don’t cut these though. To take a leaf from a succulent, gently pull it from the stem and give it a gentle twist to break it off. The leaf needs a clean break. Take a few leaves, place them in a small container in sunlight and let them completely dry out for a few days.
You know how if you break your skin, it’ll scab over? The same happens with the leaves you pull from succulents. The part where the leaf was attached to the stem will scab over a few days. You need to give the leaf time to heal before you put it into soil.
Once your leaves have scabbed over, meaning the base where it was attached to the stem is now sealed, then put them into a shallow bowl with some moist succulent potting soil. Just place them on top of the soil on their sides, making sure the root is pushed down and some of the leaf is exposed above the soil. Leave the leaves in the soil for about a week before watering. When you do water these, use a mister to moisten the leaves and the soil. Not a watering can that douses the soil.
The process can take a couple of months before the leaves grow enough of a root system to develop in size and be ready for potting.
An alternative Way to Propagate Succulents
Not all succulents can be propagated from leaves, but they can be propagated from cuttings. To do this, you’ll need a sharp pair of pruners so you can get a clean cut. Take the cut from the top of the plant, snipping the stem just above a leaf. Think of this method as the fast-track approach because you don’t have to wait for the leaves to develop a root system and form into plants. The stem will already be intact, so you can go right ahead and put your cutting into a pot, then let the cutting sprout roots and continue to grow.
The only difference to propagating from cuttings instead of leaves is you can put the cuttings into the plant pot you’ll be using, instead of nursing the leaves through a healing stage, waiting for the end to scab over, then waiting for roots to sprout and some growth before you put it into a container.
It’s easier and faster to propagate from a cutting than it is from succulent leaves.
That said, there is sometimes one other option that involves nothing but a tug, twist and another pot…
Propagating from an Offset
Some types of succulents have pups. These are little babies of the mature plant. Just as you’d take a leaf by tugging it from the stem, you can take a pup from the parent plant, put it into its own container then nurture the baby pup until it’s a mature adult, sprouting its own little pups.
There are only a handful of components you need to control to grow healthy succulent plants. One that’ll produce pups, have plump leaves and need infrequent watering.
- A well-draining soil – general potting soil mixed with Perlite and Turface
- A container with drainage holes – terracotta plant pots work best due to having better air flow
- Roughly six hours of sunlight daily – or supplement sunlight with artificial grow lights
- Temperatures kept constant anywhere between 45-85°F (7-29°C)
- A low balance water soluble fertilizer once every few months
Take care of those factors and your succulent will be as easy to care for as the claims say. These are hardy plants but they do need the foundations taken care of and the right environment for them to grow.