Every plant parent can rattle off a list of plants that they just don’t like. And one that comes up really, really frequently is the succulent. They’ve got a reputation for being easy to take care of so a lot of beginners start with them. But, they’re actually not that simple. They’re extremely particular in how they want to be cared for (like a lot of other plants that would be considered harder to take care of by an experienced plant collector).
Succulents and Cacti
First of all, a common misconception is that cacti and succulents are very different. Technically, cacti fall under the category of succulents. All cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti.
A succulent is a plant with "thick fleshy leaves or stems adapted to storing water," according to Google. They store water in their stems or leaves making them very easy to overwater. Along with cacti, other succulents include burro’s tail, jade plants, aloe vera, snake plants, zebra plants, sempervivum (the ones that look like green flowers), agave, and zz plants, among others.
We spoke with @theplantrescuer Sarah Gerrard-Jones to dispel myths about succulents and get tips for caring for them successfully.
Tip 1: They Don't Thrive in the Dark. They Need Bright Light (or They Can Get Really Stretched Out)
“Even the brightest room in our home can be 50% darker than outside so giving succulents the right amount of light can be challenging,” said Gerrard-Jones. “If you live in an area that has darker days during winter, you may find your succulents start to grow weak, elongated stems and no longer look cute and compact. This etiolation happens when the succulent is not receiving enough light.
"Don’t get too down about it, Gerrard-Jones advised. "You can cut and propagate the top part of the succulent or just enjoy its new quirky look—etiolated succulents can look really interesting. Embrace their individuality or invest in grow lights.”
When succulents don’t get adequate light, they start to get leggy as they reach towards the sun. As Sarah said, it can look pretty cool and actually add some character to your plant. But if you’re not into it propagating succulents is actually super easy. You just place the leaves on top of soil and they’ll start to put out roots!
Tip 2: You Can't Water Them Only When You Remember. They Need Just Enough Water (and Not a Drop More)
“Sometimes it feels like even if the succulent sees you filling a watering can with water it will decide to die. The issue with watering succulents is that unless they are receiving bright light, they won’t be photosynthesizing, and they won’t be using much water, if any,” said Gerrard-Jones.
“Succulents are opportunists, they have adapted to grab water quickly, when it becomes available, they are not used to it sitting around their roots. Soil that stays moist for a prolonged period will create the ideal environment for root rot. The key to watering a succulent is growing it in soil which allows the water to pass through quickly, and making sure it is receiving bright light so it can process the moisture in the soil quickly.”
Tip 3: You Can't Use Just Any Soil. They Need Well-Draining Soil
The best soil mix for succulents is a mix of soil with grit and fine and coarse pumice to create aeration. It lets the soil drain so your roots aren’t living in soaking soil which is key to making sure your plant survives.
Tip 4: They Need a Consistent Location Where They Can Thrive
I find that my succulents start to get sad during the winter months. The temperature goes up and down because our heating isn’t great and our windows are drafty. I try to move them away from windows and radiators during winter, but then they don’t get enough light. It causes them to start to yellow and the leaves die, which is natural. The best thing to do for your succulents is keep things consistent. If you notice them thriving in a particular spot in your home, don’t move them.