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.
Most plants have a growing season which is generally spring and summer and are then dormant during winter. The dormant months give the plant time to rest and gather strength for the growing season.
Why do I need to know when a succulents growing season is?
It is handy to know when a growing season is so that if your succulent is ‘not’ growing and looking a bit different then you know it is in its dormant season. (I am mainly referring to Aeoniums here! – see below) The growing season can give you an idea of when you should expect your succulent to produce new growth. If you like to fertilise your succulents, the beginning of the growing season is the time to do so. If you are transplanting it is best to do so at the right time of year. Also, watering requirements may be different during the growing season compared to the dormant season.
However, saying that, some succulents actually seem to grow all year round!
What if my succulent grows during the expected dormant season?
Plants do not have an ‘internal clock’ but rather grow due to their environment. They determine when the appropriate time to grow or be dormant is. A vast majority of succulents are ‘opportunistic growers’, even if they are classified as “winter or summer growers” it really depends on the local climate and growing conditions. Opportunistic growers will grow any time of the year that the conditions are right. Mostly this depends on temperature. If the succulent has a summer growing season and temperatures stay elevated through autumn then the succulent will continue to grow. It will only slow its growth when the temperatures start to drop. Even when a succulent is in its dormant season it may still grow; just at a slower rate.
It is impossible to list when all succulents have their growing or dormant season. A rule of thumb is to determine where their origins are.
Autumn-Winter Growing/Summer Dormant
Succulents from a Mediterranean climate ie The Canary Islands receive the majority or all of their water during the winter. Therefore most of these plants are dormant in the summer. Some autumn/winter growers are: most Aeoniums, a few Euphorbias, Haworthia and Kalanchoe.
Summer Growing/Winter Dormant
Succulents from the central American region, South Africa and Madagascar are summer growers and dormant in winter. Such as Echeveria, Crassula, some Euphorbia. Graptoveria, Graptopetulam, Pachyveria and Sempervivum to name a few.
What are watering requirements during the dormant season?
Generally when a succulent is in its dormant season it is best to water sparingly. However, if you are like me, and have your succulents growing in the ground make sure that they are planted in a rockery, on a slope or if on flat ground; grow them in a mound so that rain will drain away quickly.
The Aeonium species is one particular succulent that has its growing season in the winter and is dormant in the summer. When dormant the rosettes close up very tightly so it looks different in the summer compared to winter. (see below). Most Aeonium also flower during the winter months as well.
dormant Aeonium rosette
growing season – winter
the rosette is large and open-winter
Agave’s have their main growing season during the summer months. It is reported that they do require some moisture during the summer months, however, I do not water any of my Agave Attenuata during the summer, they survive on summer rainfall only. Agave do have a dormant season in the winter if you live in the colder parts of the world. In Australia, however, they may still grow at a reduced rate depending on how cold the winter is.
Most echeveria have their growing season during summer but for some varieties it is during spring. However, if winter and autumn months are fairly mild they will continue to grow slowly during their dormant period.
This echeveria agavoides has been merrily growing (and flowering) through autumn to the beginning of winter.
Some Aloes have their growing season in the winter and some are in the summer. It is on a species by species basis. Most, however, have their growing season in summer and flower in the winter.
If you are like me and want to grow succulents in your garden rather than in pots then the questions will arise. ‘Which are the best plants to grow succulents with?’ The most obvious answer is going to be : other succulents. The reason being: other succulents will prefer the same growing conditions. ie not too much water, they will love the sun and well drained soil. However, you can grow succulents with other plants as long as you consider a few things.
Succulents will die very quickly if watered every day, so do not put them with plants that thrive in a moist soil and require water on a daily basis. There are many native and other plants that can do without water every day and can be watered weekly. Many succulents grow well under trees as they are protected from rain showers and the ground does not get as saturated.
In general, all succulents will grow their best in a sunny position. Many will get leggy (etiolated) without at least six hours of sun and many become more colourful and flower more profusely with eight or more hours of direct sun.
For this reason if you are planting succulents with other plants be sure to grow your succulents at the front of the garden bed (or sunniest position) so they receive enough sun. If another plant grows (over time) to a height that shades your succulents they will not do very well. Most succulents are low growing plants so they will look great at the front of a garden bed.
Succulents do ‘not’ require a humus rich soil. Most succulents originate from desert or semi desert areas where the soil is mainly sand and does not have any nutrients. They ‘will’ survive in normal soil and normal potting soil. Clay soil is not ideal for succulents as it holds water and can rot succulent roots. So do not companion them with plants that require a humus rich soil.
So you can grow succulents in most soils except clay. The main point to remember is to make sure that the soil drains well, so planting in a raised garden bed or on a rockery with other plants is ideal. If you plant succulents in a flat garden bed you can build a mound above the garden floor and then plant the succulent in the mound so that the water will run off.
Can you grow succulents with succulents?
Succulents love growing in small confined spaces such as rock crevices and rockeries and also love being squashed in a pot with other succulents. As they grow as a plant they grow squashed together. (see below) The only possible problem that can develop is if one of the succulents develops mealy bug. This can easily spread to other succulents when they are planted close together. If this does happen it is best to remove the infected succulent as soon as possible. This can be done by cutting off the part of the plant that is infected by the mealy bugs.
Growing succulents in pots
Growing different succulents together in pots look great. They will outgrow the pot eventually but as they are succulents you can prune the plants that are getting too large and transplant it in another pot or elsewhere in the garden. ( see post: Succulent Planters/Containers – should I buy one? )
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.
It is great to know that if you want a garden full of succulents that there are plants for every area. Whether it be sun or shade, or a bit of both. Succulents are a great plant to grow under a tree because they can grow well in the shade. Succulents grown in the shade need even less water than those grown in the sun.
In general, succulents grow the best in the sun for at least part of the day; many will get leggy and weak (etiolated) and will not flower without at least six hours of sun; some are more colourful and flower with eight or more hours of direct sun.
However, some will scorch in the intense heat of full sun; these need to be shaded from mid-day from afternoon sun. Some will cope with growing in full shade.
One of the few Agaves that can thrive in shade is the Agave Attenuata – also known as Foxtail. They are amazing and versatile as they can thrive in full sun as well. One point to note: if your Agave is growing happily in the shade if you move it to full sun it will look a unwell at first and would take a while (a few months) to adjust to being in full sun.
This agave has grown from a small pup in full shade.
Crassula Ovata (Jade Plant) grows very well in the shade and is a lovely deep green colour due to the lack of sun. Crassula is one of those succulents that you can snap off a piece and stick it in the ground and it will start growing without any care or attention. It also looks great when it flowers every year.
Crassula Ovata grown in the shade.
Flowering Crassula Ovata
Crassula Ovata grown in the sun.
Even though Aeoniums prefer some sun I have grown them successfully in the shade. They are not keen on hot Summers so if they have shade in the Winter and a bit of dappled sun in the Summer this is perfect for them.
Grown in full shade this Aeonium Aboreum has survived a long hot Summer and dry Autumn.
Grown in 90% sun. A hot Summer and warm Autumn with minimal rain- not looking too good!
Haworthia grow in a rosette of spiky, chubby foliage, and form a clump of smaller rosettes. They prefer to be grown in the shade, however, it should be bright light shade rather than deep darker shade. They are great plants to grow inside on a bright windowsill or light room. If they get too much sun they turn orange.
This Haworhia has grown in my well lit bathroom for the past six months.
There are a lot of succulents that can be grown in the shade, the succulents above are only a few that I have had success growing in the shade. Succulents that prefer the sun ‘can’ be grown in the shade but they will not be as healthy as if grown in the sun. Succulents are very adaptable so if you want to try growing a succulent in the shade do so, You will know if the succulent has too much shade as it will start to stretch (etiolate) and possibly change colour. Cutting/pruning it back and putting it in the sun should bring the succulent back to its correct shape and colour.
Every garden in Australia (and the Southern Hemishphere) would have a full sun area. Full sun can mean temperatures getting up to over 50ºC (122ºF) for more than a few hours. There are succulents that can survive these sorts of conditions; which is why I love succulents. As I’ve mentioned in other posts not all succulents will survive full sun, they require some shade or their leaves tend to get sun burnt.
A number of succulents produce a waxy or powdery sun-protecting coating, often in delicate shades of pink, blue or pale lavender. It is called ‘farina’.It’s thought to be the plant’s natural protection from strong sun (like their natural sunscreen).. This coating will rub off at the slightest touch revealing the green photosynthesising surface underneath. Try not to rub the leaves as the farina will rub off very easily and it will lose its protective coating.
The following succulents ‘have’ survived full sun in my garden. They have survived heatwaves of 3 days or more, which means 40ºC+ (104ºF) heat.
I know this is a common favourite among succulent lovers and I can see why. They are one of the prettier types of succulents with their gorgeous rosettes, they are quite hardy, do not need much water and YES they love full sun. They are also very photogenic as you can see below. There are lots of different types and forms of this amazing succulent. When they are growing in ideal conditions they will produce ‘pups’ – little babies that grow to the side of the parent plant. They are low growing but eventually they will spread and form a beautiful carpet across your garden. All of the Echeveria below have grown in full sun during this Summer through several heat waves. Some echeveria have a wax or powdery layer on the leaves, this is a natural protection against the sun so try not to touch it or wipe it off.
There are some very hardy Crassula succulents. The most common one is the Crassula Ovata – Jade plant. Hardy to me – meaning they love full sun. They also cope with some shade. In full sun they have orange tipped leaves, in shade they are mostly green. There are some interesting varieties. I love the Crassula Aborescens – or Ripple Jade that looks like a lettuce (to me). See below photo on the left.
I have had varying results with the Agave Attenuata in my garden. Yes they definitely love full sun. However, they sometimes take a few years to really grow well in a full sun position. Once established however, they do very well. I have also had success growing Agave Attenuata in full shade.
Another succulent that is hardy, loves full sun and is also spectacular is the Aloe succulent. They come in many shapes and sizes with the most common being the Aloe Vera. There are some large Aloe succulents and some smaller varieties.
The Kalanchoe species is another succulent that can survive in full sun. They flower prolifically in the Winter and come in lots of different colours. This is another succulent that you can snap a piece off and stick it in the ground and it will sprout roots and grow.
Aeonium Aboreum cope very well in full sun. However, take note that this succulent has its growing period in the winter and is dormant in the summer. So it will look very different in the summer but will survive full sun heat wave.
Succulents in pots will not tolerate full sun as well as succulents in the ground!
These are a few of the succulents that I grow in my garden that love full sun conditions. Keep in mind that sun tolerance in a pot is much less than in the ground. The soil in your pot heats up on hot days and it can be fatal for plants. Even when air temperatures are mild, pots standing in full sun become hot. The temperature of potting mix inside a pot can be 10 degrees or more above the air temperature. The roots in pots cannot cope in extreme temperatures and die. Keep this in mind when you buy a new succulent in a black plastic pot from the nursery.
The succulents that love full sun also do not require a lot of water. That is a win win situation. They can make do with annual rainfall or a good watering if you get the time.
Agave Attenuata – The Big Boys of Succulents
Can Succulents survive heatwaves?
Do Succulents really prefer Sun?