The answer to the question – which locations do succulents thrive in – is : any and all locations! There are so many succulents that there will always be a species that will thrive in a location in your garden.
If you are a succulent novice or a well seasoned succulent gardener there will always be a new succulent that you acquire that you will be uncertain about which location to put it in. Does it cope with full sun, is it a shade lover?
If the succulent you buy comes with an ID tag (that’s if you are very lucky) its possible it ‘might’ give you a ‘vague’ idea of the sort of growing conditions the succulent would thrive in. General suggestions like ‘full sun’ or partial shade’, ‘fertilise in spring’. They are generalised by the nursery for all plants that they grow. For further explanation on some of these see: (How much sun do succulents need? Morning or Afternoon? Full or Part? )
This ID tag contradicts itself – may tolerate dryness but the soil must not dry out! – not helpful!
But how will you know if your succulent is just surviving or if it is thriving?
Signs that your succulent is just surviving.
There are signs that will tell you that your succulent is not doing well. Such as, stretching (etoliation) from not enough sun/light, wilting leaves from over watering, puckered leaves from under watering and burnt leaves from too much sun. It is surviving but not as well as it could. These signs do not mean that it is dying but it could be doing a lot better in a different location.
Stretching succulents: If your succulent is not receiving enough sun/light and is stretching then it needs to be moved straight away into a position that gives it more light. Stretching (also known as etoliation) is not reversible, the only remedy is to prune the plant back so that it can start again in its new sunnier position where it wont stretch and will grow compact and healthy.
This is an example of an etioliated/stretched succulent. Tall and lanky rather than short and compact.
Burnt leaves: If your succulent has burnt leaves it may be because it has been previously grown in a part sun/part shade situation at the nursery. The good news is that having burnt leaves will not kill a succulent, once the burnt leaves become the oldest leaves they will shrivel and die. The new leaves that grow from the centre will be strong and healthy and will have acclimatised to full sun and will not get sun burnt. Succulents will acclimatise to new locations in 2-3 months
Note: The only exception to this rule is if there is an abnormally hot day/week (around 40C/104F) the chances are that even a succulent growing in full sun can still get sun burnt leaves.
These leave are suburnt.
Wilting/Pale leaves: Over watering can cause the leaves to look pale or yellow and they will wilt. If you notice this on a few leaves then do not water the succulent until you see signs of recovery. This could be weeks or even a month! It may already be too late and the plant will die but you may catch it in time. See post: How often should I water succulents? Do succulents need water?
Puckered Leaves: It does not happen very often but sometimes you can underwater your succulent and it will have puckered leaves. Give the plant a drenching of water and leave it to dry out. Do not make the mistake of then giving it too much water.
Puckered leaves can be a sign of an under watered succulent
Signs that your succulent is thriving
It can take some time to know if your succulent is thriving. It is not something you can know within a week of receiving the plant. The signs that it is thriving are:
– not showing any of the above mentioned conditions
– new growth – especially in the succulent’s growing season
– flowers – a succulent will only flower in the right growing conditions
– pups/babies -succulents will only produce offspring if it has the right growing conditions to do so
– getting to its maximum species size
Succulents can thrive and look different!
A succulent will always adapt to its growing conditions. See example below. Both of these succulents are the same genus/species and are producing babies/pups ie thriving. Sempervivums (House Leeks) are grown on roof tops in Europe so would receive full sun at some times of the year and no sun at others and would therefore look different during different seasons.
These Sempervivum are exactly the same species. The Sempervivum on the left are growing in partial shade. The Sempervivum on the right have 8 hours of full sun.
Whether your succulent is grown in the ground or in a pot. If it is not doing well do not be scared to dig it up and move it or put the pot somewhere else. The majority of succulents are very hardy and if it is not doing well in one position there is no harm in moving it to another location.
I have found that planting a succulent in the garden, that is not doing so well in a pot, makes the world of difference. As long as the soil conditions and drainage are correct the roots of the plant will fair better in the ground, as the conditions are not so variable, compared with a pot which can heat up and dry out quicker and constrict the roots.
The difference between a succulent ‘surviving’ and a succulent ‘thriving’ is location, location, location!
Which succulents grow in full shade?
Do Succulents really prefer Sun?
The human race is a very impatient species. Even more so nowadays with Gen Z wanting everything yesterday. I can understand that when it comes to succulents, I cannot wait till my baby succulents grow and thrive, in the back of my mind though I hear a voice saying ‘succulents are slow growers’……. but are they?
As always, with succulents – due to the vast quantity of species and varieties – the answer is yes and no.
What is the definition of a fast growing plant?
It depends on your individual interpretation of what is slow or fast! To me growing overnight is fast growing! The only plants that literally grow overnight, that I remember from science class, are water cress and mung beans. Some varieties within a species will grow faster than other varieties within the same species. To me a fast growing plant is one that you can see a difference in size within a few months.
Each species will have some varieties that are faster growers than other varieties in the same species. In general though I believe that most species are either fast, moderate or slow growing.
Which conditions increase the growth rate?
There are a two conditions that will effect the growth rate of a succulent.
Growing Season A succulent will grow faster during its growing season than it will in its dormant season. Some succulents do not grow at all in their dormant season and some will grow; but a lot slower. (see post: When do succulents have their growing and dormant seasons? ) So if you purchase/receive a succulent in its dormant season do not be worried if it sits there doing (almost) nothing.
Environment How fast a succulent grows will also depend on environmental conditions. Sunlight, temperature, soil and moisture can all affect the growth rate of a succulent. If the plant has its ideal amount of light, temperature and moisture and grown in the right soil medium it will grow at is optimum rate.
Which succulents are fast growing?
Firstly let me say what I consider to be fast growing. If I can see a succulent has increased in its overall size by about 25% within a 4-6 month period I would consider it to be fast growing. I take a photo of a succulent the first day it arrives, including its name. If you are like me and check your succulents every day you would not notice their growth. Looking back at the original photo can show you how much they have grown in that period.
The following succulents are species that I grow in my garden and have witnessed their growth first hand.
The Aeonium Aboreum below was planted in the middle of its growing season and had formed a thick mass after only 4 months. It would have been a totally different story if I had planted them in the summer when this species of succulent is dormant. (see post: Indestructable…..Aeonium Aboreum ) Don’t forget succulents have a dormant season as well – so make sure you know when this is.
Most Echeveria are fast growing. As long as you can see new leaves forming in the centre of the Echeveria then they are liking their environment and growing as fast as they can. Most of my Echeveria varieties grow for about 9 months of the year due to our short winters.
April 2017 – 4 months later
Graptoveria are a very close relative to the Echeveria species as they are a hybrid of an Echeveria and Graptopetulum (see post: What is the difference between an Echeveria and Graptoveria succulent?) Therefore they also are generally a fast growing species.
Graptoveria Fred Ives
The Crassula species is also a fast growing plant. Especially Crassula Ovata which is also a very hard variety.
Research on the world wide web indicates that the following succulents are of the fast growing variety.
Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi – Lavender Sallops
Sedum rubrotinctum – Jelly Bean Plant
Crassula perforata – String of Buttons
Which succulents are slow growing?
There are a few slow growing succulents.
Euphorbia Millie – Crown of Thorns
Euphorbia Milli is quite a slow growing succulent. The one below suddenly lost all its leaves and flowers so I moved it to a different position and it grew again – but very slowly. It took 8 months just to grow its leaves back but still is not any taller.
Giant Barrell Cactus
There are some succulents that literally grow so slowly you wonder if they are growing at all. The Giant Cactus Barrell (below) is one of these. However, they can live for approximately 100 years.
Lithops are very slow growing but like the Giant Barrell Cactus they live a long time.
How long does it take to grow succulents from a leaf?
Once again depending on conditions a leaf can sprout roots within a week and start to sprout within a 3 week period. To grow to a new plant – depending on the species and variety you can have a new succulent baby within a 3 -4 month period. This is a huge generalisation but has been my experience with a lot of leaf propagation I have tried.
In summary, I would say, most of the popular and more common succulents that are available in Australia are moderate to fast growing. Taking into consideration the general growing conditions of succulents; the weather in most parts of Australia are ideal and even with their dormant season thrown into the mix you will still see a huge difference after one year of growth. Below is a photo of my front succulent garden bed with just a 9 month growing period.
Succulents are known for their ability to survive without water and thrive in the heat of summer. There are some succulents that will survive extreme heat ‘and’ cold temperatures. There are some succulents that can survive snow and therefore there are some succulents that also can survive frost!
This is not surprising as many succulents originate from the mountainous areas of Europe. So which succulents can survive frost?
In the Garden
For those of you who are growing succulents in the garden – there are a lot of succulents that survive frost. They will get frost damage and look unsightly for quite a few months but will eventually grow new leaves and the old frost damaged leaves will die back. The succulents below were victims of a hailstorm (see post: Succulents DO NOT like hail!! ) Hail is like frost so far as freezing water is deposited on the leaves of the plant.
The same succulents below 8 months later looking healthy with no signs of the hail. (This would be the same for frost.)
For those of you who are growing succulents in pots. If you are worried about your succulents getting frost damage the best course of action is as follows:
- Do not water
- Move your pots under the eaves of your house
There are some general points to observe when it comes to frost and how to avoid damage to any succulent.
- Do not water
- Keep the soil as dry as possible (they are more likely to survive freezing temperatures if the soil is dry)
- Ensure adequate ventilation
- Make sure your soil has good drainage
It always surprises me how hardy the Aloe species of succulent is. Aloe is a very frost hardy succulent. However, there are some Aloe species that survive frost but if they are flowing when they are hit with frost their flowers will not survive. Cut the flowers off as soon as you have noticed they have been effected.
Sempervivums are hardy succulents once grown on roofs to protect against storms. They are native to the mountains of central and southern Europe and therefore are used to cold temperatures, snow and frosts. These are one succulent species that should survive frost without incurring any damage. They can withstand extremely cold temperatures. Most will be fine even in temperatures that plummet down to -30. This is for Sempervivum growing in the ground or rock crevices – ie in the garden. If you are growing your sempervivum in pots you should still move pots under the eaves of the house. The temperature of soil in a pot can drop very quickly AND be a lot colder than soil in the ground.
Sempervivum covered by snow
Other succulents that are frost hardy are Sedums, Lewisia and Delosperma
What to do if a frost is forecast
When a frost is forecast, do not water succulents. They are more likely to survive freezing temperatures if the soil is dry. If you have time to plan ahead, keep the plants on the dry side well before the weather cools. If it is a succulent that stores water in their leaves they are plump with water, their cells are more likely to burst when the temperature drops.
Point to note: succulents that do survive frost and cold temperature tend to struggle with very hot summers.
What can I do if my succulent has been damaged by frost?
If your succulents are damaged by frost, the affected leaves will probably turn white or a very light colour within a day or so. The damaged leaves then turn black and mushy as they rot. If only part of a plant is damaged, then the rest of the plant should survive. Usually it is only the top leaves that will be layered with frost and therefore the under leaves should not be affected.
When my succulents were affected I left the leaves on the plant rather than prune them so if another frost/hail incident happened the leaves that had already been damaged protected the leaves below. They do look unsightly but this is better than more leaves being affected and rotting the plant.
Once the risk of frost or hail has passed and warmer weather has arrived you can prune the affected leaves.
This post is dedicated to my dear friend Mathew.
If you grow succulents in pots or the ground then there may come a time when they need to be transplanted. Even though succulents like growing in tight spaces they may outgrow a pot. The position in your garden might become shaded and the succulent needs to be moved to a sunnier one or simply because they have overgrown an area. You may want to transplant a succulent from a pot to the ground. Whatever the reason the question may arise – Can you transplant succulents?
The answer is: of course you can ! Succulents are not like other plants that turn up their toes and die if they are moved. They are very adaptable to pruning, transplanting, tolerate drought and numerous other situations. They have very shallow roots that makes them very easy to transplant. They are the easiest plants to transplant.
Transplanting from pot to ground
If you decide to transplant a succulent into the garden you will need to consider the following:
a) how much sun or shade has been received in the pot
If the succulent has received only morning sun in the pot the easiest transition to transplanting into the garden is to find a spot that receives the same type/amount of sun. If you transplant to a position that receives full sun in the afternoon the leaves will get sun burnt as they wont be conditioned to this amount and type of sun intensity. Conversely, if the pot has received full sun and the garden area is shaded for part of the day it will be coping with different conditions.The succulent will ‘not’ die but will take time to grow back to its previous condition in the pot while is acclimatises.
If you want to transplant to different sun conditions and want to avoid the sun burnt leaf situation you can put the pot in the garden position and increase the amount of time it spends in that position until the plant becomes used to it. When you see that the succulent is doing well (in the pot) in that area of the garden you can go ahead and transplant it in the ground.
b) how often you have watered the succulent
The succulent will receive annual rainfall when planted in the garden so keep this in mind when you choose the position. If you have a very wet winter it may affect the appearance of the succulent. Planting succulents under trees is often a good idea as the tree roots will use a lot of the water in the ground. (as long as it is a sunny position under a tree!)
c) the type of soil/ground area
I have planted all of my succulents directly into soil in my garden and have not used special succulent potting soil. Succulents can survive in many soil types except probably clay which holds water rather than letting it pass through. A good tip for succulent planting is to build a small mound of soil and plant them in the top of the mound so that any rainfall runs off. This is the opposite of advice for normal plants when you dig a hole and put the plant in so water stays around the roots of the plant.
d)best time to transplant
I successfully transplant succulents at any time of year but general advice is : autumn is best for succulents with a winter growing season and spring is best for summer growing succulents. If you transplant the succulent into the garden and it doesn’t do well you can dig it up and move it to a different position until it does thrive.
See before and after photos below (7 month growing period) of one of my succulent gardens.
Succulent garden planted – October 2016
When they have outgrown the pot
Succulents will happily grow squashed in any crevice or rockery and also any pot. Its sort if their ‘thing’ to do so. It will not kill them to be squashed but they would be happier if they had more room to spread and grow. The more room they have the further they will spread. (see below)
You can transplant a succulent into another pot the same way you would transplant any other plant. Choose a larger pot, put some potting soil in, carefully upturn the succulent pot and put in the new pot. The only difference would be not to water the new pot straight away. When you have transplanted a succulent, whether it be in the ground or another pot. Do not water it for a couple of days (at least) so that it becomes used to its new surroundings and the roots can heal.
The photo below is a good example of a pot which I need to transplant into a bigger pot.
Transplanting from one area to another
If you want to move a succulent from one part of your garden to another. It is as easy as finding an area with similar sun conditions, digging it up and moving to the new area. If it does not do well after a month or so you can transplant it again. Most succulents will thrive and prosper in any soil in the garden with the right amount of sun and with soil that drains well.
There are a few reasons why your succulent leaves have turned brown. The first and most common is that the older leaves on the underside of the plant have died. The second is that the leaves have sun burn.
Why are the leaves dying on the bottom of my succulent?
It is natural for leaves to die on any plant and is part of the cycle of the plant as it makes way for new growth. On a succulent they are on the underside/outside of the plant. Succulents naturally grow new leaves from their centre. Once they have turned brown and dried they can be gently pulled off. You can also snip them off with a pair of secateurs. Secateurs are required for succulents such as Agave as their leaves stay firmly attached to the stem of the plant. If you do not pull/snip the leaves off they will eventually dry and fall off by themselves and rot into the soil/ground. The benefits of pulling them off, when they are ready, is two fold. Firstly, they can be unsightly so the look of the succulent is much more pleasing. Secondly, without the dead leaves, there is better air flow to the underside of the plant and this discourages any bugs/diseases to take up residence. It also makes more room for new plants (pups) to grow.
Examples of dead leaves on underside of succulents.
Examples of dead leaves on underside of succulents.
Why are there brown patches on my succulent leaves?
If you’ve recently purchased a succulent and have had it for a week (or less) and the plant suddenly has brown patches on the leaves – do not worry. This is probably sun burn on the leaves. Many succulents are propagated under shade cloth and therefore used to these growing conditions. If the succulent is then put in direct sun, the leaves (which are not used to direct sun) can then burn. See below for two examples of sun burnt leaves.
The leaves which have been burnt cannot be repaired. However, most succulents will enjoy the direct sun and in time become used to it. As long as you can see new growth in the middle of the plant then the succulent will survive. Eventually the sun burnt leaves will mature, turn brown and drop off. As per the above paragraph.
If your succulent looks similar to the one below this is not good. It is a dead succulent and there is nothing you can do. If you are unsure what went wrong read the following posts which may identify the reason: Succulents 101: A Beginners Guide to Succulents – Part 1 and Succulents 101: A Beginners Guide to Succulents – Part II.
If the leaves turn any other colour such as yellow/orange and feel quite spongy this means the plant has probably been over watered. These leaves will fall off very easily. It may be too late for the succulent. The best remedy for this is to stop watering or to move the pot under the eaves if it is Winter and getting too much natural rainfall.
I have often wondered whether I should fertilise my succulents but have never really bothered to do so. It is a question that many succulent lovers would ask themselves. Plants can grow without any fertiliser, my garden has survived 20 years without regular applications of fertiliser. The occasional watering with some Seasol (seaweed solution) when I remember is the only additional fertiliser they received. They receive some natural fertiliser as possum poo is a regular addition to my soil.
To fertilise or not to fertilise?
There are positives and negatives for fertilising.
Here are some positives.
- Succulents can benefit from regular fertilising, as with all plants succulents use nutrients to help them grow.
- They can get nutrients from the soil. However, as they are succulents they generally need less fertiliser and not as often as other plants.
- Fertiliser can help them to grow and produce more vibrant colours.
- Fertiliser can also help your succulents to flower profusely.
Here are some negatives.
- Fertiliser causes succulents to grow more quickly which can cause stretching if the succulent isn’t getting enough light.
- If you use a fertiliser that is too strong it can burn the succulent.
- Succulents are, by nature, slow growing, fertiliser will not speed that up.
example of stretched (etiolated) succulent
If I do fertilise how often should I do it?
Generally fertilising once per year in Spring should be enough. For many succulents this is the beginning of their growing season so this is a good time to fertilise. However, some succulents which have their growing season in the Winter should be fertilised in Autumn.
Succulents grow in stone crevices!
Succulents grow in stone crevices, sandy soils, paths and in rockeries where there is hardly any soil. Succulents are tough plants that can survive without the luxuries of the plant world. Yes succulents will do well with some fertiliser but they will survive without it and probably be a lot hardier because of the lack of it.
I doubt these succulents received any fertiliser
So if you want to fertilise your succulents make sure you check out the best type at your local nursery or hardware store. If you do not want to fertilise them they will be fine without it I have used Seasol (seaweed concentrate) on my succulents on occasion which is not ‘by definition’ a fertiliser but more of a plant tonic. It can help the plants roots growth and help plants cope with stress.