Home Plant guides How to care for a succulent (indoors)

Succulent in pot on windowsill

How to care for a succulent (indoors)

Whether you're a plant beginner or a plant veteran and you've already taken care of plants for many years, a succulent is a great type of plant to have around the house. There are many, very many, different varieties, but most of them require very similar plant care. In this guide, we're going to look at how to take care of succulents that love to sit in the sun, while keeping them indoors. We'll briefly go over if and how you can grow succulents outside, because that could be the case depending on where you live, but we'll focus on taking care of succulents indoors.

We'll go over these topics that are important when taking care of a succulent:

  1. Watering a succulent
  2. Sunlight exposure
  3. The ideal soil for your succulent
  4. Fertilizing a succulent
  5. Propagating a succulent (soil and water)
  6. Succulent care in the winter
  7. Growing succulents outside

This seems like a lot, but it's easier than it seems at first glance. Succulents are low-maintenance plants, but there are a few things you have to keep in mind in order to successfully grow these amazing plants in or around your house. We'll start with the most important parts of taking care of a succulent: watering and sunlight exposure.

Watering a succulent

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If there is one thing that is the most important part of taking care of a succulent, then it's watering them. Succulents naturally grow in warm and dry climates with a lot of sun. To successfully grow a succulent in your house, when you don't live in a warm and dry climate, you'll need to mimic its natural habitat the best you can. One way to do this is to make sure your succulent doesn't get watered very often. In fact, it thrives when you don't water it for weeks at a time. Watering succulents too often will cause the plant to be overwatered and this will kill it. If your succulent is in a spot where it doesn't get any direct sunlight, you might have to water it even less. Succulents store a lot of moisture in their stems and leaves, so they can easily last weeks without water. In the summer it will need water more often than in the winter, as it's warmer and moisture evaporates more quickly. It's best to water it only once every two weeks in the summer and once per month in the winter.

For example: If you have a succulent that grows in a darker place, that doesn't get any direct sunlight, you should water it less. The moisture in the soil won't evaporate as quickly when the sun doesn't warm up the soil and the plant as much. If you keep your succulent in a place like this, it's best to only water it once per month. Now, you'll be less likely to overwater your succulent.

Pots with drainage holes

Pot with drainage hole Pot with drainage holes

Another part in making sure you don't overwater your succulent, is keeping your plant in a pot with a drainage hole. However, if you don't have one of these pots, you'll need to make sure that you water just enough that the soil can absorb the moisture and not have any of it collect at the bottom of the pot. This may take some trial and error. Drainage holes are ideal in a situation like this, so if you have a pot with one laying around, be sure to use that. When you water your succulent that's planted in a pot with a drainage hole, you should water it until it starts to drip out of the bottom of the pot. Now you should let your pot drip for about 5 minutes to make sure that any excess water has been drained from the pot.

Wrinkles in a succulent's leaves

It can happen that your succulent will get wrinkles in their leaves. You can also see this in the image at the top of this guide for some of the lower leaves of the succulent. When you see wrinkles in your succulent's leaves, this could mean your plant is either thirsty or it has had too much water. To find out which one it is, just remember when the last time you watered it was. If this was within the past two weeks, your plant is overwatered. If this was longer than that, your succulent is probably thirsty and you should water it soon.

Sunlight exposure for a succulent

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Succulent sunlight exposure Sunlight exposure for a succulent, close to a window

Most succulents, like cacti, grow in warm regions with direct sunlight exposure. There are a few succulents that require less sunlight, but most of the succulents require all the sunlight you can give them. Make sure to check if your specific succulent needs a lot of light and if so, put it on a windowsill with full sun exposure. With the varying levels of sunlight exposure come varying temperatures. These temperatures are important to keep track of. If your succulent is in a warm and sunny spot all the time, it will need to be watered more often than when it doesn't get as much sunlight and the temperature that comes with it.

So most succulents love sunlight, but what happens if we don't give the succulent the sunlight exposure it wants? Your succulent will start to get taller and grow to one side. This behavior seems strange, because most succulents are quite flat and white plants. It's growing taller and lean toward one side because it's looking for the sunlight it wants. When you see your succulent grow taller like this, it's time to move it to a lighter spot. After you've moved it a to a lighter spot, you should notice that your succulent isn't growing any taller any more. However, it's also not shrinking any more. Once your succulent has become leggy and stretched out, it won't return to it's original size. So what can you do? One of the things you can do is propagate your succulent. We'll get into this further down in the guide. For now it's important to know that you're not doing anything wrong when your succulent doesn't return to it's old size, this is just what succulents do.

The ideal soil for your succulent

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We've discovered that succulents love dry environments. One way to achieve this dry environment is watering your succulent very little, but a more effective way is to use a well-draining soil mix. The ideal soil for you succulent drains water quickly, so your succulent isn't sitting in water for too long. The best pre-packaged soil mix is a succulent or cactus soil mix. Of course, you can also make this yourself by adding sand, large grains not fine sand, or perlite to your soil. This ensure that the water gets drained quickly and not too much sticks around in the soil. Your succulent thrives in a dry environment and soil plays a vital role in this.

Fertilizing a succulent

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When you want to help your plants grow a little more quickly, you can use fertilizer for this. Does this also work for succulents? In a way: you could fertilize a succulent once per month, but this is not needed. You can fertilize it once per year, at the beginning of the growing season (spring). This way it can use the nutrients to grow right away. Succulents are very slow growing plants, so adding fertilizer can help a little, but it won't make your plant grow quickly compared to other houseplants.

Propagating a succulent

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Succulent cuttings Photo by Corinne Kutz

When we went over light exposure for succulents, we discovered that you can propagate leggy and stretched succulents to make them look normal again. But how does this work? That's what we're going to find out in this section. Most succulents are very easy to propagate.

Example: when you have a succulent cutting, there are only 3 things you have to do:

  1. Wait until your succulent has grown a Callus on the section that was cut away from the parent plant
  2. Plant your succulent in the soil
  3. Water your succulent

When you have a leggy succulent, it's the same process. To get a good succulent cutting, you can cut the top off your succulent, remove some of the bottom leaves on the stem, and let the stem dry for two days. When you remove the bottom leaves from the stem, keep those around and let them dry for two days as well. Succulent leaves are fully of moisture and can often also grow their own roots as you can see in the image below. These succulents are growing from individual leaves, but also cuttings.

Succulent propagation in soil Succulents growing in soil, from leaves and cuttings

After two days, you can plant the top of the succulent and the leaves in soil and water your plants. After a few weeks, your cuttings and leaves should grow their own roots and after even more time, small succulents will start to grow from your cuttings. This does take a while, as succulents are slow-growing plants.

Propagating succulents in Leca or water

If you don't want to propagate your succulents in soil, but rather water or Leca, you are in luck. You can do that with succulents. The process is very similar to growing succulent cuttings in soil:

  1. Let the cutting callus off
  2. Place the callused off part of the cutting in the water
  3. Wait for it to grow roots

Again, it will take a while before the roots grow, as succulents are still slow-growing plants, even in water or Leca.

Succulent care in the winter

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Taking care of a succulent in the winter is quite similar to caring for it in the summer. You still have to make sure they get enough sunlight and they don't get too much water. The only difference is that you'll need to hold off on the number of times you water your succulent. In the winter, the moisture doesn't evaporate as quickly as it does in the summer, so you should water it once per month instead of once per two weeks. Having great drainage is now even more important than in the summer, since your plant will absorb less moisture and it won't be evaporated as quickly.

The lack of sunlight in the winter could mean that you have to move your succulents to a windowsill in order for them to still get enough sunlight. If your succulents are already in a windowsill, you don't have to move them, as they already get the maximum amount of light possible for that time of year. You can read more about taking care of plants in the winter by reading "How to care for houseplants in the winter".

Growing succulents outside

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This is a guide about taking care of succulents indoors, but plant owners will always wonder if they can grow their succulents outdoors. Whether or not you can grow your succulents outdoors depends on where you live. If you live in a warm climate with a lot of sunlight and no frost in the winter, you can most likely grow succulents outside. If you live in a colder climate, you can only grow a select few "cold weather" succulents outside.

Winter hardy succulents Winter hardy succulents by Gwen Weustink

These cold weather succulents are a different kind of succulents and they don't look a lot like the succulents you generally keep indoors. They're very tough succulents that don't have the fleshy leaves you expect succulents to have. These winter hardy succulents can survive even in freezing temperatures. If you try to grow normal, non winter hardy, succulents outdoors in a colder climate, they will freeze during the winter and this will kill them.

Conclusion

Succulents are amazing plants for beginners, but also plant veterans. They're low-maintenance plants that will thrive when you forget about them for weeks at a time. There are a few things to keep in mind when taking care of succulents. One of the most important things to keep in mind is that succulents are very sensitive to overwatering and cold temperatures. To keep succulents happy, you should water it very little and give it all the sunlight you can give it. You can grow some succulents outdoors depending on where you live. If you live in a warm place with no frost in the winter, where it doesn't rain too much, you can grow you succulents outdoors, but otherwise you can only grow winter hardy succulents outdoors.

Succulents are a great addition to any plant collection, no matter how large your collection is at this moment. Succulents will grow slowly for many years and will be consistently beautiful plants for years when you keep them happy.

Thank you for reading this post! I hope it helps you to keep your plants healthy and beautiful! If you're looking for more guides on specific plants, you can always request a plant guide or donate a plant in order to get a guide for the plant you have trouble with.

Tags: succulent, beginner-friendly

Posted on: November 7th, 2020

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