It is tough to keep all of your succies alive but with the right care tips you can increase your chances and success rate. Even the greenest thumbs cannot keep all of their plants alive so don't beat yourself up if one or two don't make it. The best that can happen from a plant loss is learning from the failure and ensuring it does not occur again. Use the tips below to better help you on your journey to having an awesome succie green thumb.
Handling Plant Mail
Opening plant mail is very exciting but sometimes you may not know what to do after admiring and photographing them. Do you plant them right away or do you lay them out for a few days? It is actually up to the succie collector themselves but I will suggest planting and watering them within the first day or two of arriving.
The in transit process can be tough on plants as they are in a dark box and maybe exposed to extreme temperatures either hot or cold. This is a shock to the plant and can drain a lot of its energy leaving it tired and thirsty. Planting the new items in soil and watering them within the first few days of arriving can help spark new life into the plant. It needs bright, indirect sunlight unless the plant lived in other conditions prior (ex: full sun).
Do be warned that the plant can also go into shock after being planted in their new home. It is going through many changes of environment in a short period of time and the final location can sometimes be the plant’s tipping point. The most common thing to happen during shock are the bottom leaves beginning to die off as they are the oldest on the plant. When this happens just leave the plant alone and make sure it has enough air flow and bright indirect sunlight. You could monitor the plant on a daily or every other day basis to gauge if it is improving or declining.
When it comes to taking care of succulents some fellow succie hobbyist may ask this question here: what's your zone? This is in reference to the USDA Plant Hardiness Level Map. This map is a main reference for the United States to know what plants will have the greatest chance of growing in specific locations. The map is categorized in 10° F zones based on the average annual minimum winter temperature. Each plant has a USDA zone and that correlates to a location in the United States. If a plant is zone 8 then that means the coldest temperature the plant can tolerate will be 10° to 20° F.
You can access their website through this link here. You can add your zip code and get the exact zone of your location.
Below is the exact map from the USDA.
Straight to the Point
These tips are short and sweet to get you going!
- ensure to add pumice to your soil
- the more pumice added, the better well draining
- water succulents when soil is dry
- if leaves wrinkle/shrivel they want water
- bright, indirect light works for many succulents
- if direct sun is desired, try sun before 12PM
- spring and summer, water more frequent and protect from burns
- fall and winter, water less and protect from frost
Detailed Care Tips
Soil and Pumice
What is soil?
Soil is the overall mixture of matter that will house a plant to grow in. It can come in different types based on the plant such as roses, orchids, vegetables and more.
The number one question asked for care tips revolves around what soil to use. There is a soil mix for cactus/succulents that is a great start to creating your own blend. The cactus/succulents mix already has pumice, lava rock, or perlite mixed throughout to create better airflow for roots to grow and for water to drain quicker. The soil is usually “gritty” and can clearly see the mix of pumice within. These soils can be purchased from your local Home Depot and Lowe’s based stores.
What is pumice?
Pumice is a light and porous volcanic rock. It can come in different sizes and colors like red, orange, black and white.
No matter what soil you start with you will need to add more pumice. The cactus/succulent mix is a great base with the already added pumice. When adding pumice and soil together it is best to measure with percentages/ratios based on your personal and plant preferences. Plants that need to drain quicker may need a 30% soil and 70% pumice mixture while plants that enjoy more wet soil may need an opposite 70/30 mix.
There is not one correct way to create soil mixes so if you are unsure how it will drain always add more pumice. You can water more frequent if needed but you can’t remove water from soil if it doesn’t drain well. The best gauge for well draining soil will be to wet a test sample, grab a fistful, and open your hand. If the soil falls apart then this indicates it won't clump up in the pot. But if it stays clumped together then it will not drain well.
How often to water succulents is the number two question asked for care tips. And the answer is as simple as this, as often as they need it. Okay, I know it isn’t that simple but watering a plant in the shade on your front porch is different than watering plants in your backyard in full sun. The biggest factor is how quick the soil is drying out. The best source of knowing if your soil is dry enough to water is poking your finger in the soil on the top of the pot and even the bottom. From the top just poke your finger down into the soil and if it is barely most to dry then it can be watered. As an extra check you can poke your finger in the drainage hole on the bottom if it is big enough. This soil will always be more moist than the top.
The plant itself can tell you when it is time to be watered. When leaves start to droop, thin out, or shrivel up with wrinkles then it might be time to water. Succulents hold water in their leaves and stems so when the leaf is becoming dry that is a key indicator the soil needs more water. Sun exposure and air flow will fluctuate how often you need to water. The only person that will ultimately know how often to water your plants will be yourself. You will need to touch them, observe them closely, and take mental notes or pictures for growth progress.
Succulents originate from all over the world and the sun does fluctuate from region to region. Whether you grow your succies indoors or out it is best to shoot for bright, indirect sunlight. The reason you want to aim for indirect sunlight is to reduce the risk of burning the plant. Sunlight can be intense from 12PM - 3PM and not all succies have good sunscreen systems to protect themselves.
If a plant is not receiving adequate light it will begin to etiolate which is also known as stretching out. If you are observant enough you can see when your plant is growing less compact to its center or growing towards one direction (towards sunlight). If you see etiolation go ahead and reassess where the plant is growing and try to give it a better lit home.
It is tough to treat all succies the same as many plant families have dormant periods during different times of the year. The following tips can be applied as general care tips for the seasons.
Spring and Summer
These months bring on more sunlight, higher temperatures, and less rain. During these months you will want to ensure plants have enough shade to be protected from intense summer sun and make sure to water them as often as they need to with the increased evaporation rates. The higher heats can literally melt some of your succies so it is best to learn the USDA zone you live in and the USDA zone of your plants to compare the two.
Fall and Winter
These months can be harsh on your plants as it is colder, rainier, and far less sunlight. All of these factors work against you but the biggest is the rain. Ensure your plants are in well draining soil prior to these months and that will lower chances of rot. Refrain from watering succulents yourself if it has been raining. Also be careful of frost so look into the USDA zone of your area and of your plants. If they are at risk of frost you may want to cover them with cloth, put under an overhang or bring them inside.
What does it mean to stress succulents?
To withhold water and/or increase direct sunlight to fluctuate the coloring to more reds, pinks and oranges.
Succulents are already beautifully colored but stressing them can enhance them even more. The vibrancy of color is eye catching and can sometimes look like a different plant. The process requires patience as you do not want to burn the plant in the process. I have been stressing different plants over the course of two years and not all have been successful. You will definitely have casualties as you learn to push the envelope.
Stressing succulents is a transitional process as you are slowly preparing the plant to endure harsh conditions. The ideal season to prepare and stress a succulent is in the spring. It will allow a better transition to hotter temperatures and more intense sunlight. I personally stress succulents year round but in the plant's prime it will be during summer.
Below is my basic breakdown of how I stress succulents which can be succeeded over 12 weeks.
Week 1-3: bright, indirect sunlight, water one time
Week 4-6: morning sun, water one time
Week 7-9: morning sun + afternoon sun with shade cover, no water
Week 10-12: full sun, all day with no cover, water if needed
What is a cutting?
A cutting is a piece of plant that was removed (plucked or cut) from a mother plant. Cuttings are usually leaves or heads of plants and can be used for different arrangements or planted and grown as their own plant.
No matter how a cutting is removed there is going to be an open wound on the plant that will need to heal. This healing process is referred to as callusing over and is basically a scab forming to "stop the bleeding." This is going to create a barrier so excess water cannot absorb into the plant as this leads to rot. The process to callus takes about 3-7 days (maybe longer) depending on how large the cutting is and how dry its environment is. Make sure the cutting is in bright indirect sunlight with no contact to water or heavy moisture. It is good to create a secluded area for your cuttings to lay out soil and place the cuttings directly on top of the soil.
Once cuttings callus over they can start to be watered. The larger the cutting the more water it is going to need. If you are handling leaf cuttings then you can mist the plants once a week as long as they have good airflow to dry between waterings. Do not give leaf cuttings direct sun as they don't have enough energy to protect themselves from such sun exposure. They enjoy bright indirect light. If you have larger cuttings like the head of a plant you can "plant" the bottom of the plant in soil and water lightly once every 1-2 weeks depending how the soil is drying.
The rooting time frame is not definitive and varies with every single cutting. If you have leaves sitting on top of the soil you will be able to see new roots poke out for the bottom of the leaf where it is callused over. For head cuttings that are planted you can lightly tug up on the plant to see how much resistance occurs. The larger the resistance the more likely roots have formed and taking ahold in the soil. Once roots have been established the watering schedule can be increased to more amounts each watering. Always pay attention to the wetness of soil before each watering as it can change with airflow and evaporation.