Aeonium is a genus including about 35 succulent plant species with unusually glossy, waxy leaves arranged in rosettes. 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 species are sometimes mistaken for artificial plants. These signature rosettes can be a solid 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 at any time. These are rather slow-growing plants, and it may take as much as five years before they produce the little bunches of flowers from the center of the rosettes. Most aeoniums are monocarpic, meaning that the mother plant dies after flowering, but the pups (shoots) will continue to produce more shoots, as well.
|Botanical Name||Aeonium spp.|
|Plant Type||Perennial succulent|
|Mature Size||2–60 in. (depending on species and variety)|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Sandy loam|
|Soil pH||5.6–6.0 (slightly acidic)|
|Bloom Time||Late winter or spring|
|Flower Color||Pink (flowering is rare, occurring only in mature plants)|
|Hardiness Zones||9–11 (USDA); often grown as potted plants|
|Native Area||Canary Islands, Africa|
In warmer climates, aeoniums can be grown as 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 frost. When grown in the garden, aeoniums command the most attention when grouped in masses. Tall varieties 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.
Aeoniums have shallow root systems since they store their water in their leaves and stems. Unlike other succulents, which prefer dry soil, aeoniums prefer soil that is moist but not wet. 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 do tend to fall over and snap off from the weight of the rosettes. If this happens, you can replant the broken stem.
As with most succulents, aeonium plants grow best in full sun to part shade. In hot summers and desert conditions, light shade may be necessary. Indoors, give them bright indirect light.
A sandy loam or regular potting mix amended with perlite is better than a mix specifically for succulents and cacti since aeoniums need some moisture. If grown in garden beds with dense soil, it may be necessary to amend with peat moss to improve soil porosity.
In the winter, water whenever the top inch of soil has dried out. Test by poking your finger down into the soil an inch or two and water if your fingertip is dry. These plants do like more moisture than many other succulents, but too much moisture or allowing them to sit in wet soil will cause root rot.
Temperature and Humidity
These plants prefer a Mediterranean climate—not too hot, not too cold, and not too dry. Most aeonium varieties are only hardy in USDA zones 9 to 11. Growing aeoniums in moist and shaded soil will keep them growing in high heat, but their true growth season is winter to spring, when temperatures are cool (65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit) and damp. They may go dormant in summer and do not require excessive watering, except in very dry conditions.
Feed during the growing season with a half-strength balanced fertilizer every month or so. Do not feed while 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 aeonium branches so it's a good way to multiply your collection. Like many succulents, aeoniums are very easy to propagate from cuttings when done in the spring. Even stem pieces that fall off the plant may readily take root in the surrounding soil. Here’s how to propagate aeonium from cuttings:
- With a very sharp, clean cutting tool, cut off a younger stem piece containing a leaf rosette. Place the cutting on its side and place it 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 drainage holes with a mixture of half regular potting soil and half cactus/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.
- 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. In high humidity or rainy areas, you may not need to water them at all. Choose a container with a drainage hole to avoid standing water and root rot. To help maintain the necessary moisture levels, use a regular potting mix rather than a fast-draining succulent/cactus mix.
If you are growing aeoniums in containers, repot every two to three years with fresh potting soil.
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. Dormancy takes place in the summer. Simply leave the plant alone to rest and do not try to help it. Dormancy is also not a good time to take stem cuttings from the plant.
However, the same behavior can happen in the summer if the plant feels too hot and underwatered. In extreme heat, their leaves will curl to prevent excessive water loss. You can tell the subtle difference if the plant is stressed or not 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. You can remove the scorched leaves or wait for them to naturally fall off. 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?
If you have the proper growing conditions, aeoniums require very little pampering and even thrive on neglect. Otherwise, your major task will be moving them from hot sun to 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.
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 keep the plant alive indefinitely.
Can aeoniums grow indoors?
Aeoniums are grown both indoors and outdoors. They make excellent houseplants as long as you refrain from overwatering.
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.