Succulents (plants like cacti and aloe) grow in warm, arid regions and so are commonly thought to be low-maintenance plants. While their water-storing properties allow them to survive in harsh conditions, they still require periodic care and attention, especially if not growing in their natural habitat. Here are some tips on how to properly care for your succulent plants, whether they live inside or out.
Outdoor Succulent Care
Like most plants, succulents require sun, water and ideal temperature conditions to grow and thrive. They are hardy; however, and many varieties can survive outdoors no matter the season or temperature. They can make hardy groundcovers, pretty patio accents and focal points, as well as natural barriers, such as a living fence or hedge.
Give Them Sunlight
Succulents are at their best in sustained, direct sunlight. They should be planted in a spot where they will receive six to eight hours of sun with slight shade in the afternoon, if possible. Because succulents thrive in warm, sunny areas, always err on the side of “more sun.”
When watering succulents, usually less is more. While they can go with little water for a long time, they still need occasional, deep watering during their regular growing season. Give natural rainfall a chance to work before you resort to watering with irrigation. During winter, less water is better for them because it reduces rot and helps them survive frigid temperatures. If you live in a place with rainy winters, you may need to keep the plants in pots or planters and move them under cover during the cold, wet months.
Many popular succulent plants can handle freezing temperatures, including varieties of cactus, aloe, agave and yucca. Ask someone at your local True Value store or an employee at the nursery where you bought the plants for advice on which succulents are best suited for your garden and region. Plants that cannot withstand very cold temperatures should be grown in planters that can be moved indoors when the cold season begins.
How to Plant Succulents Outdoors
Succulents often thrive best when planted in native soil. However, you can mix your region’s soil with soil amendments, such as compost, as well as sand or fine gravel to foster growth and help recreate succulents’ preferred habitat.
Before planting, prepare the garden with a tiller or rake to break up the soil and loosen it. Stir in enough sand so that the top six inches of soil is about 50/50 soil and sand. This combination also helps with drainage. Add a bit of compost as well to this layer of soil. After you’ve planted, cover the soil around the plants with fine gravel. Let the plants settle for a day or so before watering.
Plant early in the growing season so the plants are well established before winter.
Indoor Succulent Care
Succulents may prefer the outdoors, but they can do quite well indoors if most of their needs are met. While cold temperatures are not a threat to them indoors, succulents need plenty of light and occasional watering if they are going to remain a part of your indoor landscape.
Pot Them Properly
Plant indoor succulents in containers with proper drainage and ideally in potting soil formulated for succulents and cacti. Add fertilizer formulated for indoor plants in the correct amount. Check the fertilizer package for the appropriate amount of fertilizer to use. Many people incorrectly believe that if a little fertilizer is good then a lot is better. Indoor plants often grow slower and so need fewer nutrients; too many nutrients can build up to toxic levels. A good choice is a slow-release indoor fertilizer, specially formulated for houseplants.
If you’ve planted a variety of succulents in the same planter, be sure to give each of the plants some breathing room so that plenty of sunlight reaches each of them.
Light Them Up
Succulents need lots of bright light more than anything else. Keep indoor plants in a space with a substantial amount of natural sunlight, such as a south-facing window. They need at least six hours of sustained, bright sunlight per day for optimal health. During a spell of consecutive cloudy days, employing artificial grow lights can help them get the amount of light they need.
Keep Them as Comfortable as Possible
Succulents, because of their natural habitats, prefer hot sunny days and cool or cold nights (generally a temperature range between at least 70 degrees to 50 degrees Fahrenheit). Many varieties are well suited for the generally stable temperature and humidity environment inside a house as long as they get adequate sun. Indoor succulents generally prefer a controlled, constant temperature and usually can adapt well to the indoor environment.
Give Them Water…Occasionally
Knowing when and how much water to give succulents is essential. Generally, they need more water during summer, but when they are indoor plants, living in a homogenous environment almost year round, it’s best just to pay attention and water as needed. Indoor succulents’ soil should become completely dry before you water them again. During winter, many succulents can go a month or more between waterings. Push your finger into the soil to check the soil’s dampness. When it feels completely dry, you can add a little bit of water..
Giving indoor succulents too much water is a sure way to make their roots susceptible to rot. Look for warning signs of both over- and under-watering. If a succulent is getting too much water, it will appear bloated or its leaves will appear distended and possibly discolored. An under-watered plant will show the telltale signs of most plants that are not getting enough water—stunted growth and brown, withered spots.
Distilled water is much better for your plants than tap water, which contains chemicals like salt and chlorine. If you must use tap water, put it in a container and let it stand for a couple of days before adding it to your plants. You can also use rainwater. To gather rainwater, set a container outdoors during the next downpour.
Remember to pot your indoor plants in planters with drainage holes.
That’s it! Give your succulents just the right amount of TLC and they can thrive almost anywhere.
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