10 Secrets for Growing Healthy Succulents Outdoors

Caring for Succulents in the Garden: Keep Them Alive!

crassula succulent
Beautiful flame-red succulent, Crassula. Chris Hellier/Getty Images

Succulents are a popular gardening trend that won't be dying anytime soon. Enthusiasts love their geometric forms and exquisite, often intricate patterns and details. No longer viewed as just a desert or house plant, succulents can grow and actually thrive in various climates, depending on the type of succulent. In regions affected by drought, they are a smart, drought-tolerant alternative to thirsty lawns and other water-guzzling plants.

With very little effort, succulents can look so good....MORE But they still require attention. Discover how to not only keep them alive, but get them to thrive.

  • 01 of 10

    Don't Overwater Them

    succs.jpg
    Succulents grouped together. Lisa Hallett Taylor

    You love your succulents so much, you want to water them every other day to make them grow plump and lush. But what you'll get is a soft, shriveled, squishy mess. Overwatering is a bigger problem for succulents than underwatering. Roots can rot. If it's too late, look for healthy tissue, take some cuttings, and allow the cut end to callus (seal itself) and then replant it. Get rid of the soil in which the oversaturated succulent was in.

  • 02 of 10

    Don't Neglect Them

    barrel cactus
    Barrel cactus are strung with lights. Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Succulents and cacti: those are the desert-like plants that don't need to be watered, like, ever—right?

    Wrong.

    Their watering needs are minimal, but they still need it to survive. If you live in a region that doesn't get much rain, water succulents regularly during their periods of active growth. This would be spring through fall. 

    Container plants can be watered about once a week. Occasionally, let the hose drench the pot until water flows out, to remove built-up salts from the soil.

  • 03 of 10

    Group Plants With Similar Water Needs

    succulents grouped together
    Different types of succulents planted together. Lisa Hallett Taylor

    In other words, don't plant succulents next to super-fussy perennials that require rich soil and frequent watering. Ideally, you want to have a drought-tolerant, low-water area in your garden, a moderate water area, and so on. It just makes things easier for you and your plants will be happier.

    The Best Companion Plants for Succulents

  • 04 of 10

    The Right Soil

    Succulent garden
    Elizabeth Fernandez/ Getty Images

    Cactus and succulent-mix soil is available by the bag at nurseries and home centers. While it's useful for container plants, especially those that will be used as houseplants, it's not always practical or necessary for succulents planted in the garden. Learn more about the type of soil that's in your yard, and add amendments to make it fast-draining and on the dryer side. 

    While some succulents are so forgiving and will grow almost anywhere, even in clay, it's best to give them...MORE optimal growing conditions for healthy roots and beautiful plants. Amendments vary according to your type of soil; consult a local nursery or garden professional.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Shed Some Light

    agave
    Variegated agave plant. Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Most succulents need a mix of sunlight and shade to grow healthy. One extreme or the other is not going to result in a beautiful, happy plant. Learn about your particular succulent's light requirements, and find the best place in your yard or space in which it plant it.

    A hint: the color of the plant is a tip-off to its light needs. For example, shade-loving succulents are usually in hues of yellow and green. Sun lovers are more reddish and orange.

  • 06 of 10

    Protect from Frost

    frost bitten succulent
    Frost damaged succulent. Lisa H. Taylor

    Succulents go dormant during the winter months, when they don't need to be watered. In fact, watering them during dormant season can make their roots more susceptible to rot, and kill them. What they really like is a cool and dry climate.

    If your area is experiencing lots of rain, and your succulents are in pots, move them under eaves to avoid over-saturation, or bring them inside. 

    Frost is another matter. Pay attention to freeze warnings. Cover with a cloth or plant under a tree, which...MORE protects succulents during the winter and summer. 

    Can Succulents Freeze?

  • 07 of 10

    Put Them in the Ground

    mixed succulents
    Mixed succulents planted in ground. Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Some people think that succulents are houseplants, and when they are grown outdoors, must be relegated to containers and pots. While they look great in a well-designed container arrangement, succulents, just like any other plant, love to be planted in garden beds where they can be fruitful and multiply. In warmer regions that don't experience freezing temperatures during the winter, succulents will do just fine growing in the ground or raised beds. 

    Some are so forgiving of soil conditions...MORE that they can grow almost anywhere that has at least some soil to which they can attach their roots.

  • 08 of 10

    Allow to Callus Before Transplanting

    succulent propagation
    Succulent cutting and propagation. Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Succulents are one of the easiest plants to propagate: just take a snippet, some leaves, a stem, offset, or "baby" and plop into the soil or another pot. But before you do, allow the stem to callus-over for a few days to prevent rot. This can be done by either placing cuttings or a paper towel and leaving them for up to five days, or putting them in a container or other place where you will remember to replant them.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Get Rid of Harmful Insects

    One thing is certain: your succulent or cacti is not looking good. Symptoms include:

    • Buds that won't open
    • Distorted growth 
    • Cotton-like attachments to roots
    • Tiny insects on new growth
    • Paprika-like dots on leaves
    • Brown bumps on stems
    • Collapsed outer leaves
    • Holes in leaves

    The culprit? Insects. Some gardeners believe that hardy succulents and cacti are resistant to insects--not so. 

    Consult a master gardener site online or get one of the books about succulents and cacti (No. 11 on this list) to help you...MORE identify the symptom, insect, and solution. Many have pictures for accurate ID.

  • 10 of 10

    Protect From Disease

    One sign of disease in succulents is an orangeish, cancerous-like growth near or on the stem. It has probably become infected by a microscopic mite. To treat: remove the infected tissue and put the aloe in a separate container until new, healthy growth appears. To prevent spreading to other plants, remember to clean your tools after using them on infected succulents.

    Another disease that affects aloes and gasterias causes pockmarks on leaves, along with bruised-looking tissue. The remedy: mix 2...MORE tablespoons of ground cinnamon per pint of isopropyl alcohol, shake well, leave overnight, strain through a coffee filter, then spray on the plants the next day. If this doesn't work, you may have to use a systemic disease control, available at nurseries and online.

    Source: Succulents Simplified: Growing, Designing and Crafting with 100 Easy-Care Varieties, by Debra Lee Baldwin, Timber Press, 2013. Buy it on Amazon.