Growing a succulent container garden is easy and immensely satisfying. Having evolved in some of the world's harshest conditions, succulents are vigorous plants with low moisture needs. The biggest challenge for most succulent gardeners is avoiding excessive nurturing. These plants don't do well if they are overwatered and overfed. This makes them perfect for the gardener who doesn't have a lot of time to spend on tending plants.
Equipment / Tools
- Soft-bristled brush (optional)
- Container with drainage holes
- Plastic window screening or landscape fabric
- Succulent plants
- Cactus or succulent potting soil
- Stones, gravel, sea glass, or marbles (optional)
Gather Your Supplies
Planting and maintaining a succulent container garden is easy. The key is to select the right container, soil, and plants.
- Choosing containers: Succulent roots can thrive in a shallow, wide container. Just make sure your pot has good drainage, which might mean drilling holes in the bottom. Standing water in a container can kill a succulent.
- Choosing soil: You can buy any potting mix designed for succulents. Look for words, such as "cactus mix" or "succulent mix," on the packaging. You can also make your own succulent potting soil. Blend equal parts regular potting soil, coarse sand, and perlite or pumice for an ideal mix.
- Selecting plants: When choosing your plants, be aware they might have varying light and care requirements. Check the plant tags for specifics, so you group succulents with similar needs in a container.
Cover the Drainage Holes
Cut a piece of plastic window screening big enough to cover your pot's drainage holes. This will keep your soil in the pot while letting excess water drain. Alternatively, you can use a piece of landscape fabric or a commercial pot screen to block the holes.
Add the Potting Soil
Cover the bottom of the container with enough potting soil so that when the plants are in place, the soil line will remain about a half inch below the rim of the container. This will make it easier to water the plants without overflowing the sides of the container.
Test Fit the Plants
Place your plants, still in their nursery pots, into the container to get a general idea of spacing. Move the plants until you are satisfied with the arrangement.
Plant the Container
Take the succulents out of their nursery pots, and place them back into your container one by one. Then, gently pack additional potting soil around each plant. Make sure to keep the soil at the same level as where the plants were growing in their nursery pots. Confirm that you have filled in all the spaces between the plants. If you leave air gaps, the roots might dry out and kill the plants.
The soil in the nursery pots might be coarse and loose, so be careful when removing the plants. Hold the succulent gently at the top with the stem between two fingers. Turn the pot on its side, and gently tap the bottom to ease out the plant.
Add the Finishing Touches
Gently remove any soil that is covering the leaves and stems of the plants. You can do this with a soft-bristled brush or even by gently blowing on the plants. To give your container a finished look, one option is to cover the surface of the potting soil with a topdressing of coarse material, such as gravel, pebbles, sea glass, or marbles. The topdressing material can be brightly colored or neutral, depending on the look you want to achieve.
Working With Succulents in Containers
Although most succulents are not typically grown for their blooms, they come in an amazing array of colors and leaf textures. And combining them in creative ways is part of the fun. The plants you choose and how you arrange them is a personal choice. However, it is important to choose plants that are in scale to one another and to the container in which you plant them. For instance, small containers call for miniature varieties while huge pots can take very tall specimens.
Furthermore, because succulents store nutrients and water in their leaves, the root systems are quite compact. This means you can position plants close together in containers. Most garden centers have entire sections devoted to succulents, and the plants are often organized by size. Sample planters might be available for you to find arrangement ideas.
Tips for Caring for a Succulent Container Garden
To grow healthy succulents, mimic the conditions they would experience naturally. During spring and summer, the growing season for most succulents, keep the soil moist but not wet. It's better to let the soil get a little dry between watering than it is to overwater. During winter, when succulent plants are normally dormant, water less frequently. Keep the soil on the dry side, but don't let it dry out completely.
Fertilization should be fairly minimal with succulent plants, and it might not be needed at all. This depends largely on the type of succulent you are growing. If feeding is called for, do so only during the active growing season using a diluted liquid fertilizer designed for succulents.
Although virtually all succulents do well in hot, dry conditions, that doesn't mean they thrive in direct sun all day. Many succulents do best when they are in direct sun for only a few hours a day, and they might need protection from getting scorched in the hot mid-day sun. If your succulents came from a nursery where they didn't get much sun, it's best to gradually expose them to increasingly longer periods of direct sunlight.
Growing Succulents. University of Illinois Extension Website