Aeonium is a genus of about 35 succulent plants characterized by their unusually glossy, waxy leaves arranged in rosettes. Also called tree houseleeks, the species range from the low-growing A. tabuliforme and A. smithii that grow just a few inches across, to larger species that grow several feet across, such as A. arboreum, A. valverdense, and A. holochrysum.
The rounded leaves of the rosette structures are so perfect that these succulents are sometimes mistaken for artificial plants. These signature rosettes can be solid in color or variegated in white, yellow, red, and green. Small, star-like flowers grow in clusters from the center of the rosettes, but they are not particularly showy.
Aeoniums can be planted in the garden or indoors at any time. These are rather slow-growing plants and may take as many as five years before they produce the little bunches of flowers from the center of the rosettes. Most aeoniums are monocarpic, which means that the mother plant dies after flowering, but the pups (shoots) will continue to produce more shoots, as well.
|Common Name||Aeonium, tree houseleek|
|Botanical Name||Aeonium spp.|
|Mature Size||2–60 in. (depending on species and variety)|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Sandy loam|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Bloom Time||Winter, spring|
|Hardiness Zones||9–11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Canary Islands, Africa|
In warmer climates, aeoniums can be grown in the ground as perennials, but it is also common to grow them as potted plants on decks or patios. In colder regions, they should be grown in containers and taken inside before the first frost of the season. When grown in the garden, aeoniums command the most attention when grouped en mass. Taller varieties, like Aeonium undulatum and Aeonium smithii can look like bonsai when they get shrubby; you can trim them if they get too leggy. The cuttings will readily root and make new plants, helping you fill out your planting area even further.
Since they store their water in their leaves and stems, aeoniums have shallow root systems and prefer soil that is moist but not wet or waterlogged. They can produce roots along their stems, which you may notice if the plant gets pot-bound or the stems fall and touch the soil. Make sure these roots do not dry out—the stem roots will quickly turn the fallen pieces into new plants. Leggy branches tend to fall over and snap off from the weight of the rosettes. If this happens, simply replant the broken stem and wait for it to re-root.
As with most succulents, aeonium plants will grow best in full or partial sunlight. In hot summers and desert conditions, light shade may be necessary, especially during the hotter afternoon hours. If you're growing the plant indoors, place them in a window that gets bright, indirect light for at least six to eight hours a day. If you begin to notice white or brown marks on the tips of their leaves, that's a good sign that your aeonium plants are getting too much direct light and should be relocated.
Whether you're growing your succulents indoors or outdoors, you should look to plant them in sandy loam or a regular potting mix that has been amended with perlite. Avoid placing them in a mixture that's designated for succulents and cacti, since aeoniums need more moisture than this combination typically provides. If you're looking to grow your aeonium plants in a traditional garden bed that has dense soil, you should amend the mixture with peat moss to improve its porosity.
When planted outdoors, aeonium plants should get all the water they need from rainfall. Indoors, you should allow the soil to dry out to at least an inch or two before soaking at the base of the plant. When grown outdoors, the plant will typically go dormant in the peak of summer and winter, during which time you can restrict watering significantly, only providing moisture when you notice the leaves beginning to shrivel. Though these plants do like more moisture than many other succulents, too much moisture or allowing them to sit in wet soil will cause root rot.
Temperature and Humidity
These plants prefer a Mediterranean-like climate—not too hot, not too cold, and not too dry. Most aeonium varieties are only hardy in USDA zones 9 to 11 which means, in many places, they will primarily be grown indoors. Growing aeoniums in moist and shaded soil will keep them growing in high heat, but their true growth season is late winter through spring, when temperatures are cool (65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit) and damp.
For the best results, you can feed your aeonium plants during their growing season with a half-strength balanced fertilizer. The frequency with which you fertilize your aeoniums will depend on their maturity and the nutritional density of your soil—young plants may benefit from monthly applications, while older plants can thrive off of a single feeding in the spring. Always fertilize the plants at soil level and avoid getting too much on their leaves. Do not feed while they're dormant.
Types of Aeonium
- Aeonium arboreum: This widely available plant has bright green rosettes on a branching stem. It has a shrubby form and can grow as tall as 6 feet in the garden, or 3 feet in containers.
- Aeonium arboreum 'Atropurpureum': This 3- to 5-foot tall cultivar has maroon leaves if grown in bright light.
- Aeonium arboreum 'Zwartkop' or 'Black Rose': This cultivar has very dark, deep burgundy or almost black leaves. It, too, is a fairly large plant.
- Aeonium 'Garnet': A hybrid cross of A. 'Zwarkop' and A. tabuliforme, this variety's leaves are green toward the middle and tipped with dark red.
- Aeonium davidbramwelli 'Sunburst': This variety is a shorter, 1- to 2-foot tall plant but has rosettes up to 1 foot across with pale yellow, white and green stripes, and pink tips.
- Aeonium haworthii 'Tricolor' or 'Kiwi': An easy growing 2- to 3-foot plant, it has 4-inch flowers that have pale yellow centers when young, maturing to red and green.
Propagating aeonium results in a number of plants from just one cutting because of the way the plant branches, so it's a good way to multiply your collection. Like many succulents, aeoniums are very easy to propagate from cuttings—even stem pieces that fall off the plant may readily take root in the surrounding soil. Propagating aeoniums should be done in the spring when the plant is in the thick of its growing season. Here’s how to propagate aeonium from cuttings:
- Using a very sharp, clean cutting tool, cut off a younger stem piece containing a leaf rosette. Place the cutting on its side in a dry, warm, and shady spot for about three days to allow the cut end to heal. (The callous is important because it will prevent root rot once the cutting is planted.)
- Fill a small pot with a mixture of half potting soil and half cactus or succulent potting mix. Place the severed, calloused end of the cutting into the potting mix, just deep enough to hold it upright. Place the pot in bright indirect light and water it lightly once each week. Make sure to choose a pot with ample drainage at the base to avoid rot.
- Once the plant has developed strong roots, allow the top 2 inches of soil to dry out before watering. Repot into a larger container as needed.
Potting and Repotting Aeonium
Aeoniums are great for growing in containers because they need so little soil. Containers also give you an up-close look at their unique features so you can have better control over their growing conditions. When potting your aeonium, look for a container that boasts ample drainage holes at its base, which will help you avoid soggy soil, standing water, and root rot. A container made of a moisture-wicking material, like terracotta or clay, can also be an effective way to maintain the right soil moisture.
Look to pot (or repot) your aeonium during the spring months, when the plants are in their active growing period. You should refresh the soil annually, either by topping off your existing container or potting up the plant if it has outgrown its current vessel. Signs your aeonium has gotten too large for its container include slowed growth, the soil is drying out too quickly, or the roots are coming out of the base. Generally, most varietals will be ready for a new pot every two to three years.
Aeoniums attract the typical aphids, mealybugs, mites, and scale. However, there's another insect you should be on the lookout for—ants. Aphids and mealybugs secrete sugary substances that attract the ants to succulents. It's not easy getting rid of ants from succulents with tight buds or rosette leaves. Your best chance is to put ant bait next to the plants to draw them out. After the ants are gone, then you concentrate on eliminating the other pests. Treat the plant with a spray of water or mild insecticidal soap to remove these insects.
Common Problems With Aeoniums
This succulent is simultaneously easy and tricky to care for because some of its normal behavior can make you think the plant is dying. Here are a few tips when caring for aeoniums.
Plant Leaves Falling Off
It's completely normal for the bottom leaves of the rosette to shed. The rosette may close up a bit, too. Even if the plant looks like it's dying, it's likely going through its dormant stage, which takes place during winter and summer (especially if grown outdoors). There is nothing required of you to "treat" this issue—simply leave the plant alone to rest and do not try to help it.
However, if you are noticing leaves falling from your plant during an unexpected time, it could be a sign that the succulent is stressed. You can tell the subtle difference if the plant is stressed or not by noticing if the rosette is closing up or curling along with leaf shedding. If you think that's the case, give the plant a drink of water and see if the rosettes open up a bit and uncurl, though the leaves may continue to shed.
If the plant is getting too much sunlight, the leaves will become sunburned and may appear white or brown at the edges. Unfortunately, there is no reversing this damage. You can simply remove the scorched leaves or wait for them to naturally fall off, and should move the plant to a spot with slightly less direct sunlight.
Dying Mother Branch
If you have a branching aeonium with the main mother plant that has flowered, the branch will appear to be dying. It is dying, but you can save the plant by using a sharp, clean cutting tool to cut off the head where the rosette and flowers already bloomed. It may not look very pretty at first, but the branch should have babies (shoots) on it that will continue to grow and eventually flower.
Are aeoniums easy to grow?
Aeoniums require very little pampering and will thrive with the proper growing conditions. Your major tasks will be moving them from the hot sun to the shade and back again, watering, and moving them indoors when the temperature drops too low.
How fast do aeoniums grow?
These succulents are slow-growers and may not even produce yellow or white flower clusters for up to five years. If you're looking for a lush display right away, look for a mature mother plant that will put out baby plants that you can then reroot.
How long can aeoniums live?
Most (but not all) aeoniums are monocarpic, meaning that the mother plant dies after flowering from the center of its rosette, However, if the mother plant has produced side shoots, those side shoots will live on and also produce more shoots which can technically keep the plant alive indefinitely.
What's the difference between aeoniums and hens and chicks?
The fleshy leaves of aeoniums make these plants quite similar to several other succulent plants, most noticeably Sempervivum—the popular hens and chicks. Both are monocarpic, but aeoniums have flat, spoon-shaped leaves and Sempervivum plants have more rounded leaves with pointy tips.
Aeonium undulatum. Missouri Botanical Garden.
Aeonium undulatum. Missouri Botanical Garden.