How to Take Care of Succulents – 4 Easy Steps

I’m so excited…if you are reading this, you either have a succulent and need some tips or are getting ready to buy one! Either way, I’m happy because they are a great plant that adds so much to a home’s beauty and health.

We are going to break down “How to Take Care of Succulents” into 4 easy steps with some additional troubleshooting at the end.

Don’t worry, succulents (and cacti) are hardy and forgiving!

Some things to consider as you are reading below…where are you going to put your succulent? Do you have a spot picked out? It may be helpful to read this article first, Types of Succulents and How to Choose.

The Right Planter/Pot

Classic Clay Pot
Classic clay pot

Which came first the chicken or the egg? Which comes first, the pot or the soil? Actually, they need to work together to provide the right environment for your succulent (cacti are included in this term).

Some general “rules” about choosing the right planter/pot. Drainage, drainage, drainage! There must be drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. Succulents that sit in water will die.

If you plan to leave your succulent in the same pot until it outgrows it, purchase a pot that is at least 3-4 inches deep. If you are planting your succulent in a seasonal pot, just make sure it has drainage. Succulents don’t need a huge pot, just about 1/2 inch between the leaves and the edge of the pot. If you buy a 4-inch succulent, a 4.5-inch pot is fine.

Let’s look at the options along with the pros and cons of each.

  • Clay – A clay planter/pot is classic, heavier than plastic so it doesn’t tip over as easily, and is breathable. Being breathable helps keep the roots from sitting in water which is a huge plus.
    • On the flip side, clay pots can get hot if they are left in the direct sun and while succulents like light, heat can burn them (this isn’t a deal-breaker for clay pots). If you have large succulents, clay pots are heavy and harder to move, they are breakable and come in limited sizes and shapes.
  • Plastic – Lots of colors to choose from, light and easy to move, not fragile, comes in a variety of sizes and shapes.
    • Plastic pots are not breathable so water does not evaporate as well (this is not a deal-breaker for plastic pots).
  • Ceramic – Ceramic pots act a lot like clay pots with more colors and styles to choose from.
  • Metal (like old buckets) – This could look very nice but, unfortunately, the cons list is a lot longer for metal. Metal rusts, isn’t breathable, might not have drainage holes, and the temperature fluctuations are fast. If you find a metal planter, specifically designed for planting, it could work.
  • Glass – I haven’t seen many glass planters in stores but have seen re-purposed ones done by crafty people. They look great but have many cons. They are breakable, most likely no drainage holes, not breathable.
  • Wood (who doesn’t love to look at succulents in pieces of driftwood?!) – Unusual and looks great. If your succulents are going to be in direct sunlight, the wood helps them stay cool and retains enough water to refresh them but is also breathable enough not to rot their roots.
    • If the wood succulent garden is in a shady spot, it may not breathe and will stay damp. Also, the wood will break down over time so while it looks great, it is not a long term planter (not a deal-breaker).

Which pot is best? Most containers will work if they have proper drainage and aren’t in direct hot sunlight. Experiment and have fun with it. Classic black and white pots are always great and look very clean. Clay is also a classic. If you are putting a succulent in a child’s room, go crazy!! Let the pot fit the space.

The Right Soil

Person holding soil

Hallelujah! They now make cacti potting soil (which makes it a great succulent soil)! I have found Miracle Grow at Walmart, it is great and you don’t need to do anything additional to it! I have used it for years with great success! Is it the perfect soil? Probably not perfect, but it is the easiest and least expensive to start with.

The key with the Cacti soil – make sure your pot drains well. If the soil is falling out of the drainage holes, place either mesh tape or mesh inside the pot over the holes.

There are recipes to make your own soil and you can also buy higher end pre-made soil for your succulents. I will go over that in later posts, for now, I say start easy.

Sunlight

Succulents must have at least several hours of bright light each day but bright light doesn’t mean full direct sun. Some succulents can burn so indirect light is best. The more light, generally, the better, aim for 4-6 hours of light per day. Morning sun is great because it is bright but not hot.

Additional tips about sunlight…

  • Rotate your plants – the leaves will start to grow towards the sun so give them a little turn when you water them, that will even out the plant and help them look better (not leaning).
  • Once you find THE spot, don’t move them! All of my succulents love being in east-facing windows, they do great there! We have a lot of trees on the western side of the house so there isn’t much light, I tried moving a few, whew, they did not like it!

WateringWatering can beside of a potted cactus

Succulents store water in their leaves and get most of their water from the surrounding air, not the ground. That, however, does not mean they don’t need to be watered.

What I have found to be the easiest for me is to take my succulents to a sink, turn the water on a very small trickle and then water the plant until it “pees”. My husband isn’t a fan of this saying but it works. I want the soil to be evenly wet and I want to make sure the water has gotten all the way through. I let it “do its business” for about 10-15 seconds, making sure I have watered the whole plant and not just one spot.

The key to watering succulents is to soak them and then give them time to dry out, wait, and then repeat. This promotes healthy root growth.

If you live in a humid area, start by watering your plants every 7-10 days. If you live in a dry climate, start with every 5-7 days. In the colder months of the year, go to 10-12 days and 7-9 days.

Just like finding the perfect spot for light, watering will be an experiment. Less water is better, to begin with, not more.

Trouble Shooting

In general, poor health in succulents is caused by over or under-watering. Here are some tips on finding out why your succulent isn’t looking its best.

  • If the leaves fall off easily, look mushy, and yellow – overwatering is to blame. Make sure your pot drains well and cut back on watering. Remember, soak with water and then let them dry out completely. Not all overwatered plants can be saved, to increase your chances, get the soil dried out as fast as possible by placing a fan, on low, towards the pot.
  • If the leaves are looking like your grandma – wrinkled – that is a sign of under-watering. Increase the frequency of watering, making sure you are watering the whole plant evenly. Some succulents do require more water than others but always err on the side of under watering, to begin with. Under watered plants are easiest to save but if the leaves are beyond the “grandma” stage and on to the prune (shriveled) stage, it may be too late.

Succulents, like other plants, shed their bottom leaves as they grow, this is a natural part of the succulents life (and other plants) and nothing to be concerned with. If you see a problem with just the bottom leaves, do nothing at first. If the middle to top of the plant looks mushy or wrinkled, then it is a watering problem.

Let’s Review

Variety of succulents in white pots, top viewYou have learned how to choose a good planter/pot (drainage), what soil is best (for now, anyway), sunlight (bright, indirect light), watering (water, let dry), and some common reasons your succulent may not be looking its best (usually too much or too little water).

Environments change as the season’s change, the house gets dryer, colder, more humid, less humid, etc. By really looking at your succulents on a regular basis, you can see if you need to make changes to their environment (move them to a new room) or their watering schedule. Catching any problems early is the key to keeping them healthy.

Want an infographic to show you the steps, click here.

Looking for a pop of color? Check this post – Red Succulents

Questions or Comments?  Leave them below!

6 Responses

  1. I love your site. I have succulents and now understand why one flourishes and another croaked.  Your sight is so clear and fresh not overwhelming.  That is refreshing alone.  You have so much information and can’t wait to send to my mother.  She doesn’t listen to my suggestions. LOL    Thank you for the insight and detailed information.

  2. Thank you so much for covering the basics of taking care the succulents! I’ve been planning to buy some succulent plants for my home, but I am sucks at planting and gardening knowledge. This basic tips are so useful. Will there be a problem if I place them in my room, near the window? They will be exposed to the sunlight in the morning. However, there will be no one in the afternoon until evening, so I’m a bit afraid if they will be burned by the noon sunlight. Thank you for the answer.

    • Hi!

      I’m so glad you found the article helpful! 

      If your succulent gets morning and evening sun it should be fine.  By seeing at it every day, you will be able to tell if it changes and starts to look unhappy. If it is warm by the window, it may need watering (best to underwater than overwater though) more often and don’t forget to turn it so it doesn’t start growing towards the window.

      Let me know if you have any other questions! 

  3. you ended to soon.  I was reading right along and then you ended.  I know I must have missed something.  LOL

    I have a pink thumb.  I have one Christmas plant that blooms only at Christmas.  I have babied it for 3 years now and finally got it to bloom last year.  I don’t dare move it, cuse every time I do it decides to loose a lot of leaves.  The succulent, the regular plant, it doesn’t matter they die on me so I really do baby my Christmas plant. 

    You offered a lot of information that is really important to me because I can’t keep anything alive.  

    I totally enjoyed your post.  Hope you write more so I can look forward to reading them. 

    • LOL, I love it, a pink thumb! Yep, once you find “their” spot, best not to move! 

      So glad you enjoy the posts, I’m writing more now!

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