Types of Succulent Plants and How to Choose

Variety of succulents, top viewThere are so many succulent plants! Just walk into a home and garden center and you are likely to see lots of colors, textures, sizes, and shapes. It can be tempting to just buy one of each (not that I am admitting to this) and then get home and be overwhelmed.

If you go to another store, you may see totally different succulents.

How do you distinguish the best types of succulent plants that can be used in home containers or in individual pots and how do you choose the best for you?

First, what is a succulent?

This answer is pretty straight forward. Succulents are a type of plant that stores water in the leaves, which makes the leaves look thick. This is what makes them drought resistant (by mother nature or vacations). Most succulents prefer warm, low humid conditions, sunlight (usually indirect) and most importantly…consistency. Once you find “that” spot in your home that your succulent thrives…don’t move it!

Are all cacti succulents?

CactusSucculents are defined as plants that store water, cacti stores water so yes, they are succulents. However, to be a cactus, the plant must have thorns (not leaves that look like spikes but actually something prickly). So, all cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti. Botanists tend to categorize cacti as succulents but horticulturists do not. So, even the professionals tend to disagree. For our purposes, we are calling both cacti and succulents, succulents.

So, how many types of succulents are there?

Well, at this time there seem to be about 60 plant families and some of these families are like the Walton’s (the TV show with John Boy)! Counting all members of all families we are looking at almost 400 different succulents (and cacti) to choose from. That is a lot of choices!

I have pets and/or children, anything I should know?

Yes, there is. While most succulents aren’t poisonous and a few can be eaten (Aloe and Prickly Pear), there are two that are potentially dangerous to humans and pets.

  1. Euphorbias – these have a sap that can cause irritation to some. Not everyone has a reaction but as a precaution, use gloves when handling,
  2. Kalanchoes – This one is more dangerous to pets and can cause pets to become sick if they eat the leaves.

As always, use caution by putting prickly plants out of curious toddlers and pets reach.

Seven types of succulents perfect for your homeSucculent

  1. Echeveria – Beautiful colors and shapes. Their leaves form rose-shaped plants, and most flower. They are easy to care for, grow quickly, love containers and can be neglected.
  2. Graptopetalum – Similar looking to the Echeveria, thick leaves, and star-shaped flowers. Easy to care for, grow quickly, and can be neglected but they do need lots of sun. They also like containers but they can grow tall and thin, pruning keeps them full.
  3. Crassula – This particular succulent family has about 350 members including the jade plant. The jade plant is one of the easiest to care for and requires little watering.
  4. Sedum – Easy to care for and they love containers. These tend to “spillover” the container so it can add variety. Also, depending on your climate, these make a beautiful ground cover.
  5. Senecio – Low growing (short) that do okay in containers but they need well-draining soil. These can add interest to the container but will die quickly if over watered.
  6. Aloe – Easy to grow, look great, and not a bad thing to have on hand when cooking gets out of hand (they are great for burns, sunburns included)!
  7. Cacti – These are slow-growing, can be very interesting, some flower and they are interesting. Cacti are prickly so use caution.

When Purchasing – How to Choose a Healthy Plant

I prefer to buy from a farmer’s market, local nursery, produce stand, or online nursery (they usually have a guarantee). I have found that they have the healthiest plants and tend to really care for them instead of just getting in shipments and setting them out (like in big box stores)

Things to look for in a healthy plant:

  • No bugs
  • No scars on the leaves
  • The leaves are not easily falling off the plant (if you bump the pot, are the leaves staying on?) If the plant has been overwatered, the leaves will fall off and feel sorta mushy
  • The color – the plant should be brightly colored – dull plant equals dull health
  • Healthy roots – if you can see the roots, they should be white or a yellow/tan color

One key to you having a healthy plant is starting with a healthy plant.

A few other things to consider

Succulents in a green potAll succulents need light but not hot, direct sun (they can get sunburned). They prefer bright indirect light. Morning sun is best because the afternoon sun can be very harsh. Three hours of bright, indirect sun would be a great starting point but you may find you need to move the succulent to get more (rarely less) light.

Usually, when you purchase a succulent, you will need to re-pot it. When searching for a pot, make sure it is at least 4 inches deep (with drainage holes) and an inch bigger than the original pot. If you are doing a container garden, you want a pot a bit bigger than all the plants put together.

With this information, consider the following:

  • Where will you put your new succulent to give it the best light?
  • What size pot will fit in the space? I have bought many a pot that is too big for the space.
  • Are you going to make a container garden or pot the succulents individually? This may change where it will fit.

You are ready!

You know the types of succulents, how cacti fit into the equation, how to choose a healthy plant, which ones aren’t safe for humans/pets, you have seven suggestions for purchasing a succulent, recommendations for placing your succulent, and suggestions on what pot size to choose.

That is all you need to purchase your first (or one hundredth) succulent.

You can do this! Go to the farmer’s market or nursery or local box store and choose one! I’m betting, this won’t be your last!

Questions or Comments?  Leave them below!

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