So you want to start out with Succulents? They look cool….. are very trendy and you have heard that they are indestructible. So I have decided to put a few posts together to help you. I know I would have found such a post handy when I first started.
There are 100’s of different succulents with different requirements for each species with regard to: how much water they need, how tall/large they grow, full sun/shade requirements, indoors/outdoors, pots/garden and flowers etc etc. Don’t let this put you off! Part 1 is a generalisation on succulents.
You probably fall under one of two categories. You have already bought a Succulent or been gifted one. You are about to buy one. I’m going to assume most people would research something after the purchase but if you fall into the second category this post will help you as well.
Before I go any further, and in case you do not read any further! The number ONE rule for any succulent is: DO NOT WATER YOUR SUCCULENT EVERY DAY. I have seen many posts from people saying they had watered every day so why did their succulent die!?!?!?!?
I did exactly this when I started out. See my post: Do Succulents need water? The photo below is the result of too much water. Although I did not water every day I did water far more than required. Over watering causes the root and stem to rot. The photo below shows classic stem rot.
Over watering killed my first succulent.
Which Type of Succulent do I have?
Chances are your plant does not have an identification tag telling you which species of succulent you have. If this is the case see my post Where can I identify my Succulents? There are 100’s of different species of succulent. Once you have identified which species you have you’re ready to decide where the best growing position for your succulent is.
Here are just a few different types of succulents.
Does my succulent prefer indoor or outdoor/sun or shade?
As a novice I assumed I could put my plant anywhere, unfortunately this is not the case. When you have identified which type of succulent you have you can find out if it will survive inside or outside in full sun or part shade or prefers just shade! Be aware that most of the websites you find on succulents are based on conditions in the parts of the Northern Hemisphere that experience very cold winters – so if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, like me, do not take this information as gospel.
So how much water ‘does’ my succulent need?
A rule of thumb for Succulents is: the thicker the leaves the less water they need. So an echeveria succulent (below) that has thick leaves does not need as much water as a thinner leaved plant. Remember though this is just a rule of thumb and not a hard and fast rule. The succulents below would be considered to be thick leaved, succulents store water in their leaves and stems.
Echeveria Black Prince
In Summer I (generally) water my succulents in pots once per week. If I forget it doesn’t matter I just do it when I remember. The succulents planted in my garden I only water once per month if there is no Summer rain. If it rains I do not water them at all. The beauty of a succulent plant is that if you forget to water it will not curl up and die like other plants. In the Winter I would only water the pots once per month if they were under the eaves out of the rain. I do not water my succulents in the garden at all during Winter.
Should I keep my succulent in a pot or plant in the garden?
I think the majority of people who avidly grow succulents do so in pots. They look beautiful in pots but also look spectacular in gardens. The benefit of growing them in pots: you can move them around from sun to shade or under the eaves in the Winter to avoid over watering. Pots also have excellent drainage which succulents need. The succulents in the garden need less watering in the Winter, as long as they are in a well draining soil/position. I have found that some of my succulents have lived successfully in pots but have thrived once I planted them in my garden. Also, vice versa, I have grown a succulent successfully in a pot and they have curled up and died in the garden. (see below)
Thrived in full sun in a pot.
Died within a month in the ground.
In Part II of Succulents 101: A Beginners Guide to Succulents I will be writing about:
How do I know if my succulent has enough sun?
How do i know if my succulent has enough water?
Why does my succulent change colour?
Can succulents survive inside?
Note: I do not profess to be an expert on succulents and do not have a horticultural qualification. My blog is simply my opinion and details my experience with succulents in my garden. All photos are taken by me. If there are photos of succulents not taken by me this is mentioned.
Please feel free to comment on anything and/or ask questions. You can do so by registering in the user admin section of this page.
Echeveria ‘Black Prince’ also known as Hen & Chicks is one of the first Succulents I bought, I like its dark brown/blackish appearance. It is a good contrast to other succulents colour wise. I have found it slow growing and can be a bit temperamental – in my opinion. However, it does tolerate full sun and has survived 40C heatwaves. It does not require much water either so it is ideal for hot Southern Hemisphere Summers. The leaves start off green in the centre of the plant but darken to a deep lavender/brown and in time the lower leaves grow outwards.
This is the plant two years ago when I first purchased it.
The outer leaves turned orange over the winter with too much winter rain.
This photo was taken in 40C heat, still coping with a bit of leaf burn.
When the Echeveria pinky red flowers appear (this is called bolting) you can take the leaves on the flower stem off and propagate a new plant quite easily. Lay the leaf on top of the soil/potting mix and it will soon start to grow new roots. You can also propagate by gently pulling off any of the leaves, however, the leaves on the flower stem are more likely to grow as they have more hormones in them – from producing the flower.
Echeveria Black Prince flowering. This is called bolting.
The below photos are of one of my Black Prince which I recently decided to plant in the ground as it was looking quite strange in its pot. I have come to the conclusion that it had too much water over the winter, hence the light brown to orange leaves. A rule of thumb for Succulents is: the thicker the leaves the less water they need, Echeveria Black Prince have thick leaves. Once the rains stopped the plant started forming its famous tight rosette of leaves. Some of the leaves were squashy as well – a bit water logged I think.
Black Prince should be a dark colour, to live up to its name. However, as you can see by mine in the above photos it can change colour. A very light brown seems to be the colour it changes when it has alot of water. It can turn black in full sun and green in a more shaded position without sun. If you have your Black Prince in the ground and it does not get a lot of winter sun and changes to a green colour do not worry, this is just the plant adapting to its current conditions.
Black Prince can be a juicy morsel for mealy bugs. During the winter one of my Black Prince had mealy bugs, it looks like cotton wool spread over the plant. Unfortunately I did not take any photos. I removed the infected leaves and then moved the plant away from my other succulents. I did not treat it with anything. The plant recovered after a month or two. I have found my leaves have been munched on by something but can never find the culprit.
If you have dead leaves on the underside of the plant remove them, is is natural process and nothing to worry about. These dead leaves can encourage mealy bugs. Also remove any leaves that have been eaten (as above).
Surviving A Heatwave
Yesterday we had over 40C again. I took the photo of my Black Prince today. On the left hand side of the photo you can see the leaf burn on the older leaves but the new leaves in the middle are not effected at all but are strong and healthy. A pleasing sight to see that it has coped so well in such extreme heat.
Black Prince with Leaf Burn from 40C heat
A few months later and the Black Prince has grown very well in the ground. Just starting to flower. A point to note: Black Prince is an Echeveria and therefore will not die after flowering as the Echeveria species is NOT monocarpic. Echeveria Black Prince will normally flower during the Winter.
Almost 95% of the time, when I buy succulents, from any hardware store/ nursery, the plant has a generic tag that says: Succulent ……. that is all! This is not helpful! Even when I have purchased succulents from a nursery they still do not have identification tags.
Generic Succulent Identification
Advice on the back
It surprises me because any other plant that you buy has details about: the variety, watering conditions, how much sun etc. Tags that are generalised are really no help at all.
How are gardener’s supposed to learn about plants if there is no name, details or what conditions it is likely to thrive in? This is why we are lucky to have the internet- information at our finger tips. There are numerous sites to help with identification.
It would help to have some idea of which variety of succulent you have ie Agave, Echeveria, Sempervivum etc but if you are a complete novice and all you have is the plant itself do not despair there is a website that can help.
This website is great if you only know what the plant looks like. It is image-intensive with thumbnail photos showing images of succulents. Run your cursor over images to reveal the names of the succulent. Click on the image to make it larger. More information can be obtained about the succulent by following the linked Genus or Family headers. It is free!
If you start out on the ‘Gallery Succulent Plants’ tab on the left hand side of the page it lists succulents in alphabetical order. Lets hope the one that you are looking for does not start with a Z! If you have a succulent which is different to any other this website is the one to use.
This site has a unique way to identify succulents. If you only know whether it has spiky or chubby leaves or if the flowers smell like rotting meat….. I didn’t even know that there were succulents with flowers like that! Or it has rosette forming leaves this site groups together the succulents under those headings. It has other great attributes such as: descriptions of growth habit, different varieties and explanations of hybrids, short videos and listings to name a few. It also has a comments section so you can ask about your particular succulent, and ‘yes’they do reply. It is also free. Below are some images from the website. You can download a PDF file to peruse at your own leisure.
I doubt that all Succulents are on all sites so if you cant find it on one site try another.
I found this website which is dedicated to identification of Echeveria succulents. You can identify by name or by thumbnail photos. You may have to click through all the photos to find the plant you are trying to identify but it shouldn’t take that long scolling with your mouse. Please note that these are only Echeveria that are found in Australia so this is not a list of Echeveria that are found worldwide.
Besides websites there are Facebook Pages dedicated to Succulents. You can join a group and post a photo of the plant you are trying to identify and ask for help identifying it. People are happy to share what they know so don’t be shy. These sites are full of succulent enthusiasts. However, you can get different answers for the same plant. To combine both mediums ask for help on Facebook and then type the name on a website and make up your own mind. You can also learn a lot about care on these sites. One of the largest Facebook Groups that I belong to is: ‘Succulent Infatuation’. It has over 19,000 members and is based in the US. It is a closed group, you have to ask to join. Be ready for numerous post of succulents in your feed! An Australian page I belong to is ‘Succulents and Cacti Collectors Australia’. It has over 6,000 members, is also a closed group that you can join.
I bought a beautiful Succulent planter at a home show earlier this year. It had 3 different types of Echeveria and I could not resist. After all it was a bargain at $20. It looked perfect as it was, but, of course, succulents are not cut flowers and therefore grow. Herein lies the problem with buying Succulent planters. Are they a good buy????
This is how the planter looked when I purchased it in April
If you do decide to buy one the first thing to look for is a drainage hole in the pot. This will make life easier as water can drain through the bottom of the pot and not languish around the roots of the plant. If there is no drainage hole there is a risk of the roots sitting in water and dying due to root rot.
Inside or Outside?
The planter looked so nice I wanted to display it inside so I kept it on my dining room table during the week and put it outside on the warmer Winter days. We had a very wet Winter this year so I didn’t want to over water it. Although it does have a drainage hole! If you have a well lit covered patio area it would be ideal outside in Australian Winters. Unless you have your planter in sunny room that gives the succulent enough light to grow well, I would ‘not’ keep the planter inside. (like I did)
At the time I didn’t take too much notice of the plants themselves other than they were part of the Echeveria family. Looking back at the photos of when I first bought the planter I realise that the leaves were quite stretched/elongated. In the world of Succulents this is called ‘etiolation’ or ‘stretching’. This is due to the plant not receiving a sufficient amount of light. Succulents will happily grow with insufficient light, they actually seem to grow faster! however, they will not look their best or be their healthiest. So, take note if the plants have elongated/stretched out leaves.
After a 6 months of being moved inside and outside, my planter did not look the same as it did when I first purchased it. It looked decidedly worse. My dining room is not dark but does not receive any direct sunlight. It was not the same beautiful planter I had purchased 6 months earlier. (See Post: Do Succulents really prefer Sun? )
Keeping it inside out of bright light probably was not a good idea.
As soon as it was put outside in the sun it sprang to life.
Treat your planter as a mini garden
The planter you purchased is growing, so keep this in mind. It can be a good way to save money as you buy multiple plants, a pot and soil. Treat your planter as a mini garden, be prepared for the plants to outgrow the pot, change shape or possibly die. You could add a few of your own Succulents if there is space. Also, keep in mind the type of Succulents that in the planter. If you do not know much about the succulents and how large they will grow ask the person who is selling the planter, hopefully they should know a fair bit about their product!
This is what my planter looks like now – see below. I must admit I have put it through a lot. While outside in Winter it also endured a hail storm. (See post: Succulents DO NOT like hail!! ) The lack of light in the dining room made it stretch and the plants grow tall. It has been outside since Spring and is looking better every day,
Quite a different looking planter today.
Where the plant has stretched new pups are growing along the stem.
The main Echeveria is now quite tall and will soon outgrow the pot.
I would say that Succulent planters ‘can’ be value for money and they look nice. It is usually cheaper to buy a nice succulent arrangement than a bunch of flowers and even if it were to die it would definitely last a lot longer than the flowers. Just be aware that it wont stay looking the same and that you might need to replant or adjust the plants.
Summary – If you buy a Succulent Planter?
– Check to see if the planter has a drain hole
– Ask the retailer how big the plants will grow
– Ask the retailer if all the plants like sunlight or will grow in low light
– The plants may outgrow the planter pot – be prepared for this
– If its good value for $ than buy it – otherwise you could make one cheaper yourself
Note: I do not profess to be an expert on succulents and do not have a horticultural qualification. My blog is simply my opinion and details my experience with succulents in my garden. All photos are taken by me. If there are photos of Succulents not taken by me this is mentioned.
Please feel free to comment on anything and/or ask questions. You can do so by registering in the site admin section of this page.