As a beginner, the first thing that probably attracted you to succulents is their unique beauty.
To successfully grow these plants and truly enjoy this hobby, you need to know a few important things as a beginner that will surely help you grow them easily.
Who wouldn’t want to own those pastel-colored Echeverias that look like flowers? Or the stacked-leaved Crassulas that resemble the tiny temples? Or those Senecios that look like jumping dolphins?
You’ve probably heard about their resilience from some hobbyists saying they are so easy to grow.
So, to make it easy for you, I compiled a few things you need to be aware of about succulents that can prepare you for what to expect next.
Here are the 12 succulent care tips you need to know as you start.
1. Not all succulents are the same
What these plants share in common is their ability to store water.
That is the characteristic that makes them different from other plants.
However, they are not all the same in the manner they handle water.
Some succulents can store a lot of water; therefore, they can go longer without a refill. On the other hand, others can only keep a small amount and need to be watered a bit more often.
Some are really good at conserving water that they won’t allow it to escape. But some are not so good at keeping them and will show signs of need sooner.
So, it is important to know your plants and their needs and so you can provide them with the right amount of water to keep them healthy and happy.
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2. Succulents love water!
Yes, they do!
Succulents, just like other plants, need water to survive.
They love to sip a lot of water and won’t let go of the excess.
Compared to other plants, succulents value water more. This is because they not only store it, but they also keep it for as long as they can, and they even protect it.
The unique feature you see that might have intrigued you is their special way of safeguarding their supply.
The spikes of cacti are not only to deter insects and animals from coming close, but they also provide them shade and help minimize the amount of water escaping.
Meanwhile, their thin, powdery coatings make their leaves impermeable, act as sunscreen, and make their surface slippery for insects to climb.
Many beginners fail to successfully grow them because they treat them as common plants and water them regularly. However, knowing how much and how often to water based on your species and the location you are growing them will help you achieve success.
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3. They need a fast-draining soil mixture
Many succulents prefer their roots dry most of the time, and planting them in an organic-rich soil mixture can cause them to sit longer on wet soil, which in turn causes a lot of problems, including overwatering and root rot.
When you create your soil mixture, think of their native habitat and imitate it.
At first, you can start with a balanced blend of organic and inorganic materials. You can then adjust it based on the species you have.
Succulents that are native to arid locations need a more porous mixture.
Similarly, succulents from milder habitats like Echeveria, Sedum, and Crassula would do well in a balanced combination of organic and inorganic components.
For example, you can create your soil mixture by mixing 1 part organic and 1 part inorganic materials.
If you live in humid locations or have plants that are more sensitive to water, you can make your mixture more crumbly by changing your proportion to 1 part organic and 2 parts inorganic components.
Mix and match until you find the right proportion your plants will love in the location you are growing them.
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4. Not all of them are cacti
You might have heard this already; all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.
Succulents are plants that store water. Because all cacti store water, they are all considered succulents, but to belong to a cacti family; a plant needs to possess a unique structure called areoles.
They are the small bumps found in cacti where their spines, flowers, or hairs grow.
So, Echeverias and Aeoniums are succulents, but they are not cacti.
On the other hand, Opuntia, commonly called ‘Prickly Pear,’ is both a cactus and a succulent plant.
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5. They all belong to a Family
Each succulent plant belongs to a family.
You’ll know the word refers to a family because it often ends with ceae, like Crassulaceae, Cactaceae, Euphorbiaceae.
Plants that have something in common are grouped as a family.
They either have the same-looking flowers, reproductive systems, or adaptations.
For example, in Senecio rowleyanus ‘String of Pearls’ and Senecio radicans’ String of Bananas.’ They both belong to the Asteraceae family, and their flowers look like daisies.
But not all plants belonging to the Asteraceae family are succulents.
Although, there are plant families with mostly succulent members, like in the Cactaceae and Aizoaceae family, that are mostly native to arid locations.
Those belonging to the Crassulaceae family are good at conserving water, too, because of the way they photosynthesize.
They operate through CAM photosynthesis. They close their stomata when it is hot during the day and open them at night when it is cooler to minimize the amount of moisture escaping during photosynthesis.
Some succulent plants belonging to the Crassulaceae family are the Echeverias, Aeoniums, Crassula, Kalanchoes, Sedums and Sempervivums, Adromischus, Graptopetalum, Pachyphytum, and Dudleya.
6. Not all of them would love to be indoors
Some succulents will thrive in specific locations in your home or garden, but not all of them will.
Most of them will require a lot of light to maintain their compactness.
When you have a succulent plant indoors that doesn’t look very happy, it could be because the amount of light they receive is not enough, and they are looking for more.
Succulents can elongate when they are not receiving enough sunlight. If you encounter the same issue in the future, learn how to fix your elongated succulents.
Simply transferring them to a location where they can get more light can make a lot of difference.
Therefore, if you intend to grow succulents indoors, look for those that require low light like the Haworthia fasciata ‘Zebra Plant’ and most Sansevierias or provide them with grow lights.
Because those colorful varieties like Sedums and Echeverias are beautiful but will soon lose their beauty when placed indoors as they start to stretch out to look for more light.
7. They love the sun but can get sunburned when not ready
It can be very confusing that they get sunburned because we know that succulents grow in places exposed to the sun’s heat all day.
But they do get damaged by the heat of the sun, especially when they are exposed to strong sunlight abruptly without being allowed to adjust.
Therefore, when getting them from an indoor nursery or sheltered location, do not expose them to the sun’s strong heat right away.
Give them time to adjust, get used to their new location, and gradually increase their light exposure.
8. They might be tough when it comes to prolonged drought, but they can get damaged with frost
Some succulents that are considered soft or tender are sensitive to frost. These succulents cannot tolerate prolonged exposure to temperatures below freezing.
The stored water inside their leaves and stems freezes, therefore causing damage to their cells.
You may want to bring them indoors or protect them with a frost cloth whenever you have an occasional drop in temperatures when winter comes.
On the other hand, some succulents are hardy—meaning they can tolerate temperatures below freezing and can be left outdoors all year round.
They are those that can tolerate prolonged periods of drought but can also tolerate temperatures below freezing.
Examples of cold-hardy succulents are Sempervivums and some thin-leaved Sedums.
9. Some of them are edible but some are toxic
Portulacaria afra, also known as ‘Speckboom’ or ‘Pork Bush’, is not only food for elephants; they can also be mixed in soups or salads for human consumption.
Opuntia ‘Prickly Pear’ can be eaten on its own or added in omelets or salads.
Though some succulents are edible, unfortunately, some are toxic.
When you have pets and small children at home, their safety is of the utmost importance.
However, those succulents with spikes are not the only ones harmful around kids, but also those that leak out toxic latex when cut.
Remember, most of these succulents grow in the wild. But, because they store water, they possess that precious commodity that insects and animals desperately need.
Therefore, to protect their precious supply, they produce those toxic chemicals that deter insects from feasting on them.
Here are some toxic succulents you may want to avoid growing in your garden:
*Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Stick On Fire.’ When cut, the plant leaks out milky-white sap and can either irritate your skin or cause temporary blindness when it gets in your eyes.
Many succulents from the Euphorbiaceae family leaks out toxic fluid when cut. So, keep that in mind.
*Kalanchoe tubiflora ‘Mother of Millions’ is also toxic and can cause gastrointestinal upset like nausea and vomiting, leading to weakness and even cardiac arrest when ingested in large amounts.
Several plants from the genus Kalanchoe are toxic to cats and dogs. Kalanchoe daigremontiana ‘Mother of thousands,’ and Kalanchoe ‘Pink Butterflies’ are among them.
10. They produce gorgeous flowers, but may die after blooming
Succulents are flowering plants.
Some of them flower yearly, but some would take several years to bloom.
When they do, they utilize all their resources to maintain the seeds and flowers, and after that, they die.
Plants that die after blooming are considered monocarpic plants.
Examples of some monocarpic succulents are Sempervivums, Agaves, and some Aeoniums.
It may be heartbreaking to know that you will lose your plant after blooming.
Do not despair because before it happens, it will have already produced many offsets to ensure its survival.
There is a trick to extend the life of the plant a bit longer, though.
That is by cutting the flowers when they bloom. That way, the plant will divert its energy to producing more offsets instead.
Yet, sometimes flowering indicates that the plant is simply aging, and although we can save them from dying, their vigor is no longer the same after flowering.
11.They can become more colorful in full sun
When in a shaded location and given a lot of water, succulents often would revert to green.
But given enough sunlight and less water, they become more colorful.
That’s one exciting part of growing succulents. Once they’ve adapted to their location, they can tolerate a prolonged period of drought and a more challenging environment.
The more stressed they are, the more beautiful they can become.
Beautifully Stressed Workshop—the art of growing colorful succulents
Check out this video on how to grow colorful Crassula capitella ‘Campfire.’
12. Prepare to be hooked
Most importantly, these plants can bring so much joy to your life.
A relaxing feeling you’ll experience after an hour of working with them is priceless!
They are the best therapy one can ever have.
There is a reason why many those starting with a few species of succulents get addicted to them.
The most obvious reason is, as we take care of succulents, they reciprocate and take care of us in return.
They make us happy and allow us to temporarily forget our worries. Thus, they have a positive impact on our mental and emotional well-being.
Studies have shown that those who spend time taking care of plants dramatically reduce stress in their lives.
The feeling of joy these plants bring is so addicting, and succulent hobbyists could attest to that.
What’s even better with succulents is that they are low-maintenance plants. So they won’t die if you forget to water them for a while.
They can wait for you when you have the time to take care of them.
Indeed, succulents are ideal for busy people or forgetful gardeners who often call themselves having a brown thumb.
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