This a question that people ask a lot. A common misconception is that succulents are indestructible. I was under this same impression when I started with succulents. It can certainly seem that way when you see them growing on the side of the road. However, like any plants, succulents have their likes and dislikes. Too much of their dislikes and they will curl up and die.
I hardly watered my succulent! Why did it die?
Common misconception number one is that succulents do not need ‘any’ water. Only misting a succulent with water is not enough and even though some varieties of succulents can survive without water for years not watering a succulent can also kill the plant. Succulents ‘do’ need water like any other plant. Misting a succulent will not give their roots the water they require. A good watering once a week in Summer, ensuring the water drains through the soil would be sufficient. Once per month in Winter.
I watered my succulent every day and it still died!
On the reverse side of the watering coin, over watering is the number one killer of succulents. As soon as I buy a succulent I wait at least a week before I water it. Hardware stores and sometimes nurseries will over water succulents as they have a watering regime for all their plants and include succulents in this regime. It is a natural human instinct that to care for a plant you need to water it. You have to trust the science of succulents- less water is good. Too much water can rot the roots as per the photo below.
This Echeveria had too much rain. The outside leaves are soggy and pale. Pale due to lack of sun, soggy due to too much rain. It did not die though.
This is classic root rot from too much water. The leaves are thin as they are not storing water. If your succulent looks like this it wont survive unless it has produced an offshoot.
Does your succulent get enough light?
Some succulents will survive inside as long as they are near a window that receives strong sunlight/light for part of the day. Some will survive in a partially shady spot in the garden. There are so many different types of succulents with different light requirements. Some succulents will not survive inside and require full sun to grow and thrive. If your succulent is not receiving enough light then it will grow long and lanky (called etioliation) and not look right.
Both of these succulents have stretched (etiolated)
Both of these succulents have stretched (etiolated)
Is your succulent really dying?
You may think your succulent is dying or looking decidedly ill when actually it is just growing to its circumstances. If you identify the problem for the type of succulent you have then you can change the position and/or watering conditions and your succulent should perk up in no time and be the healthy looking plant it was when you first bought/received it. See post: Where can I identify my Succulents? to find out what conditions your succulent prefers.
Why are the leaves on the bottom of my succulent dying?
It is natural for leaves on succulents to turn brown and shrivel up. They will then drop off. This does not mean that your succulent is dying. They are the oldest leaves on the succulent. You can pull them off or cut them off with secateurs. See post: Should I prune my Succulents?
Succulents will usually not die without water alone and will not die without sunlight alone. It is usually a combination of the two.Some succulents will look different in their dormant season. The succulent below – an Aeonium Aboreum has its dormant period during the Summer. It will come to life again in the Winter.
This Aeonium is fine and healthy but looks different as it is dormant in the Summer.
This Graptoveria shrivelled up and looks dead. However, the 4 attached rosettes sprouted new roots into the ground!
This Graptoveria Succulent looked like it would die. It has hail damage. It took a few months but it did fully recover.
My Aeonium has drooped and the leaves are falling off. This is due to extreme temperature, lack of water and dry soil.
Even those of us who love growing succulents have succulents that die. Most of the time we can pin point a reason as to why they die but sometimes plants just die and we do not know why! Do not let this stop you trying again or getting a different succulent to nurture. See post: Succulents 101: A Beginners Guide to Succulents – Part 1 and Succulents 101: A Beginners Guide to Succulents – Part II for some tips if you are a beginner.
I killed this succulent by moving it from a semi shaded position to a full sun position and did not water it for a few weeks!
This is a question I asked myself when I first started out with succulents. I have a large garden which I wanted to fill with succulents that could survive on rainfall. Then I found that, although possible, it would take a huge amount of succulents (in general) to fill my garden.
Yes there are some species of succulent that are quite large and take up a lot of space, but generally succulents are low growing and are a smaller plant species. I could have filled my garden with just large succulents, but found there were so many amazing types of succulents and I wanted to plant them all.
Which are the largest succulents?
The largest succulent that comes to mind is the Agave. I have several in my garden in varying stages of growth. My Agave’s survive on rainfall only. Some will grow fast to a large size over two to three years while others can take a while to take off. Once they are established they will shoot out new pups on the side of the plant which add to the width of the plant. The oldest Agave I have is 10 years old and has grown in a full sun position on a sloping bank and is about 1 metre wide by 1 metre high (3ft x 3ft). For more information on the Agave: See post: Agave Attenuata – The Big Boys of Succulents
The Euphorbia species of succulent has large varieties. They can grow up to 1.5 metres (5 ft). There are about 2,000 different varieties that grow well in differing conditions. Just be aware that this succulent species is poisonous to humans and pets. See post: Are Succulents Poisonous?
Some Kalanchoe’s varieties are also known for being large succulents. There are many Kalanchoe species, from low-growing plants to tall treelike forms that can reach heights of 6 metres (20ft). The Kalanchoe – Pinnata also known as Cathedral bells can grow to 6 metres. (see the image below)
I have seen a few large Aeonium plants. One was as tall as a house. These succulents can get very tall and lanky but if you prune them regularly this will ensure compact growth, they will still grow quite large.
I have a very large Crassula Ovata (Jade Plant) which was the succulent that first piqued my interested. It is about 1.5 metres by 1.5 metres (5 ft x 5 ft). It did take about 8 years to get to this size.
How long does it take for a succulent to grow?
The next question to ask yourself is how long will it take for the succulent to grow to full size? Is it fast growing? Most succulents are not fast growing. The succulents below took 20 years to reach these sizes. However, they survived only on yearly rainfall. If your succulents are grown in ideal conditions, light and moisture wise, then they should grow to their largest possible size sooner than if they only receive yearly rainfall.
Do succulents grow very large in pots?
As a general rule most succulents can be planted in containers/pots. I have read that it actually will bonsai the succulent by containing the roots, which shortens the growth of the plant. Therefore, the succulent would grow as large as the pot will allow it. So yes, you can grow large succulents in pots but they will grow a lot larger in the ground. See post : Should I grow succulents in a pot or the ground?
There are photos of large succulents on Pinterest and the internet in general where the succulents such as Echeveria look quite large. Which perplexed me at first as Echeveria are not a large succulent. Don’t be fooled by these photos as it is just the angle of the camera that makes these Echeveria look large. They also look large compared to some small low growing succulents next to them. See below for examples.
As I have mentioned before in previous posts It is difficult to find a variety of succulents in Australia. There are many more succulent varieties in the world than are available in Australia. You see the same varieties your local hardware store or when Ikea or Aldi have a succulent sale there are rarely any new varieties that I have not seen.
With the popularity of succulents increasing, hardware stores and garden centres do have a bigger range than before but I am still unable to find the succulents that I see on Pinterest or on any American websites.
There are numerous websites around the world that sell succulents. Unfortunately, however, they do not ship worldwide. Also due to Australian Agricultural and Environment laws that protect our Country we are unable to buy succulents from these websites.
The nursery that I found in McLaren Vale has a large variety – see my post : A great succulent nursery in McLaren Vale. I am sure that each state in Australia has a good succulent nursery or two. Plus each State/Territory in Australia has its own Cacti and Succulent Society which usually has a Fair where you can purchase succulents. These sites normally list nurseries and garden centres where you can buy succulents.
Of course, you can buy anything online. I personally have not bought any succulents online but have completed a bit of research to find out what is available.
Here are a few Australian websites that post to most States in Australia.
Based in Glenorie, New South Wales
This website gets my vote for the best Australian Succulent website. It posts Australia wide to the States able to receive plant matter. It has a ‘Caring for Succulents’ page and a huge range of succulents to choose from at reasonable prices. Each plant has a small description and care instructions – ie water and light requirements. Prices range from $7 – $10.
Based in Rockhingham, Western Australia
This looks like a great succulent nursery.. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like they post Australia wide but do have a delivery service for those of you who live in metropolitan Perth. They do not have a huge selection but do sell mixed variety succulent trays.
Based in Lara, Victoria (near Geelong)
This website has a long list of succulents to choose from and has a short description of the plant with regard to growth habit. The prices vary from $5.95 to $9.95. Many of their listings show as ‘Out of Stock’ which I assume means they cannot keep up with demand. They also have a Quarterly Newsletter that profiles different Succulents, an Instagram and Facebook page.
Based in Queensland
This website also has a fairly large range with plants priced around $5. They also sell at local markets in Queensland. It does not look as professional as the other websites but this is not a reflection on their succulents.
If you like Aloes then this website has a few to choose from. This company has been around for years. They also stock a few sedums and Echeveria. Not really a one stop shop for succulents though.
Note: If you are buying online make sure the website is secure. If it is not secure your credit card details could be compromised. If there is a Paypal option use this method of payment as this makes the payment secure.
There are people selling succulents on Gumtree. Some succulent enthusiasts sell succulents from their front garden, so if there is someone local you may pick up a bargain or a new succulent variety.
Sending succulents via Australia Post
Not all States in Australia are able to receive plants via Australia Post. These States are : Tasmania, Northern Territory and Western Australia as they have strict quarantine regulations. Fines are applicable if you get caught! Succulents are sent ‘bare rooted’ which means they do not have any soil attached to them.
Buying Succulents on Ebay
We cannot buy seedlings/plants from outside of Australia from Ebay due to The Australian Government prohibiting importation of 3,335 potential weeds to protect the nation’s agriculture and environment. So if you see a great deal on Ebay from Hong Kong or China make sure you check that the plants will not be stopped by customs when they enter the country.
Some succulents are edible, such as some forms of cacti and some are also used for healing such as Aloe Vera. However, there are a few succulents that are poisonous to humans and to cats and dogs. Some are only poisonous if they are ingested and some are poisonous to the skin.
As we all know humans use Aloe as a skin treatment and it can also be eaten, either cooked or raw so its fine for humans. However, Aloes are poisonous to cats and dogs, they contain saponin which irritates the stomach and can make them vomit. Symptoms may not occur until the next day. Some (not all) Aloe Vera plants have spikes on them (as per the photos below) but this does not stop some adventurous pets eating their leaves.
Crassula Ovata – Jade
Jade plants are also poisonous to cats and dogs. They can cause vomiting and a slow heart rate. Some websites advise that eating Jade can cause depression in cats and dogs too. Jade is ‘not’ toxic to humans.
Crassula (Jade Plant) is toxic to cats & dogs.
Kalanchoe’s can cause animals to become sick if they eat the leaves. Usually it will cause some sickness but is rarely fatal. Kalanchoe is ‘not’ toxic to people.
Kalanchoe is not toxic to humans.
Euphorbias are toxic to humans and pets, the white sap in the leaves can burn the skin and generally cause a rash to appear. The spines and needles are also a dangerous part of the Euphorbia.
I would advise to wear gloves when handling Euphorbias to avoid skin contact with the sap. You also shouldn’t ingest the sap of a Euphorbia plant in general. Getting any of the sap in your eyes could be a lot more serious .As the majority of Euphoriba’s are spiky it may be easy enough to keep your pets away from these succulents, however, I would not chance it and make sure you keep them well out of the way of dogs and cats. If you are taking cuttings or re-potting it’s advisable to use gloves, and wash thoroughly if you’re exposed to the milky sap.
Eurphorbia’s are toxic to humans and pets
Euphorbias are very spikey.
The Agave succulent is listed as being mildly toxic to dogs. The sap of the plant can burn and injure the dog’s mouth and throat. The sap is ‘not’ toxic to humans.
Out of the hundreds of succulents species the above selection of succulents that are poisonous is really only a small number. However, it is good to be aware of these as most succulents sold do not have a warning on the label that the plant may be toxic/poisonous.
I had a German Shepherd and she was never interested in any of my succulents – eating wise. She did knock a few over with her tail and dug a few up but was never sick from eating any. However, if your pet eats any poisonous plants give the Vet a call and they will let you know what to do.