SUCCULENT CARE: TIPS FOR HEALTHY PLANTS
Succulents come in a huge range of colors, shapes, and sizes,
and require little in the way of care - just a lot of sun and a bit of water.
The four main elements to consider when caring for succulents are water, light, temperature, and soil. But first, it's important to understand what defines a succulent and where these plants are found in nature. Both of these pieces of information will lead to some logical conclusions about how to care for the plants.
Succulents generally come from arid regions of the world: deserts, rocky cliff-sides, and other areas that either don't get much year-round rain, or have rocky, dry soil that leaves plants without easy access to water on a regular basis. Succulents have adapted to these harsh, dry climates by storing water in the tissues of their leaves or stems to keep themselves alive through the dry season. Most commonly found in gardens and nurseries are succulents that store water in their leaves, so that they have fatter-than-average leaves that appear juicy inside if you cut into them. Less common in gardens and nurseries are succulents that store water in their trunks or stems; these tend to look like gnarled, fat tree roots or ginger roots, and often have few or no leaves at all. I'll discuss care for the more common succulents that store water in their leaves, as these are the plants that you are more likely to encounter.
Succulents are adapted to arid climates, and therefore require minimal water. The first rule to watering your succulent is to make sure its soil is dry before you water. If the roots of a succulent are kept wet for too long, they can rot and cause the plant itself to rot. On average, watering once a week is ideal.
However, if you're in a very hot climate and your succulents have excellent drainage, you may need to water 2-3 times per week. Conversely, if your succulents are in cooler or more humid temperatures, you'll want to water more lightly and less frequently. And if your succulents are in containers without good drainage, you should be careful to water only enough to wet the area of the soil around the base of the plant, where its roots are concentrated; there is no need to water all of the soil in the container, as it will take longer for that water to evaporate or get used by the plant, and the roots may rot from being too wet for too long (an important tip for TERRARIUMS).
Troubleshooting: Plants that are being watered too much will often start to rot around the base of the plant, and the leaves will turn black and/or mushy and will often become covered with mold. If you notice any rot on your succulent, remove the rotted parts of the plant, and if the soil is still wet, remove the plant from its soil and allow its roots to dry out before re-potting it in fresh, dry soil. Sometimes this will keep the rot from spreading and will save your plant.
Most succulents need at least 3 hours of direct sun every day, either outdoors or in a window. Placing succulents in a position to receive sunlight in the morning is ideal, as afternoon sun is harsher and more likely to damage plants.
Sometimes succulents can be damaged by too much direct sun and will become "sunburned," with scars on their leaves. In the summer in hot climates when the sun is harshest, providing filtered sunlight is best for succulents. Keep in mind that, when moving a succulent to an area where it gets significantly more direct sun, the succulent needs to be transitioned over a couple of weeks into the brighter area; they are likely to get sunburned if transitioned very quickly.
Troubleshooting: Succulents that aren't getting enough sunlight will often start to stretch out to reach towards light sources. If you notice your plant is appearing to grow very tall, but its leaves are becoming spaced farther apart, or the center of a normally rosette-shaped plant is starting to grow taller and away from the center of the plant, these are signs not of growth but of stretching. Succulents that are not green in color (purple, pink, red, and black) will also often lose their color and turn green if they don't get enough sunlight.
Along with sunburn scars, succulents getting too much sun will have their colors start to look "washed out" rather than vibrant.
There are a few succulents- Sedum burrito "donkey tail", aloes, and Senecio rowleyanus "string of pearls," to name a few- that prefer lower light conditions (bright but indirect light).
Succulents can handle a wide range of temperatures, as long as they are getting an appropriate amount of sunlight and water. Generally, it's not a good idea to keep the more delicate succulents in temperatures above 95 degrees or below freezing. Extremely hot weather can lead to succulents drooping if their soil is left too dry in high heat. And in temperatures below freezing, the water stored in the plant can freeze, causing permanent damage to the plant tissue.
Always use "cactus mix" soil for planting succulents; it allows for much better drainage than standard potting soil. It is available at most nurseries. If you can't find cactus mix, you can make your own by adding perlite, vermiculite, pumice, and other gritty, pebble-like materials to potting soil. Having larger bits mixed into the soil helps water drain through the soil quicker so that it doesn't retain too much water.