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?
A common idea that people have about succulents is that they do not ‘require/need’ water. This is a myth. All plants need water including succulents. Yes they can survive long periods of ‘drought’, ie no water, but they ‘do‘ need water to live. How often and how much is the question. As succulents store water in their leaves, stems, or roots they can survive when there is a drought, therefore it is better for a succulent to be too dry than over watered. Do not use a spray bottle, the roots of the succulent need water.
Generally, you should water more often in the summer when the plant is actively growing than in the winter when the plant goes into semi-dormancy. Watering also depends on quite a few variables with regard to the succulents growing conditions:
Is the plant grown in a pot or the ground
Inside the house or outside
Type of soil
Light Conditions – ie how much and how strong is the sun
Maturity of the plant
Time of Year – Spring/Summer/Autumn Winter
Lets assume that the soil is free draining, the pot has drainage holes and the succulent has the right amount of sun/shade exposure.
Give a good soaking—water should run out drainage holes at the bottom of the pot
Be sure to empty the water that runs into the saucer
Let the soil dry out completely before you next water. It does not mean it needs water as soon as the soil it dries out, just to let the soil dry before you do water again.
Larger pots can hold more moisture, small shallow pots will dry out a lot quicker and may require
to be watered more frequently
Outdoor in Pots
Outdoor pots generally require more regular watering than indoor pots due to warmer conditions.
Give a good soaking—water should run out drainage holes at the bottom of the pot
Be sure to empty the water that runs into the saucer
Let the soil dry out completely before you next water. It does not mean it needs water as soon as the soil it dries out, just to let the soil dry before you do water again.
Larger pots can hold more moisture, small shallow pots will dry out a lot quicker and may require
to be watered more frequently
Large pots hold more moisture so do not dry out so quickly
Small pots will dry out a lot quicker than a large pot as it holds less moisture.
Pots will dry out a lot quicker in spring/summer compared to autumn/winter. So the need for watering will be required more often in the warmer months.
Winter rains can keep the pots moist continuously, but as they are in pots consider moving them to a sunny position under the eaves of the house to control the amount of water they receive. This can also protect them from frost. Don’t forget to water them while they are under the eaves though!
Succulents in the Ground
Succulents growing in the ground have different watering requirements to those that are grown in pots. The soil temperature stays cooler and doesn’t dry out as quickly. The succulents will also establish a stronger root system.
The succulents above are growing in my garden. I very rarely water them myself, they survive on annual rainfall.
Consideration regarding natural rainfall is required when deciding how much to water succulents in the ground. As with succulents in pots give the succulents a good soaking, ensuring the water does not pool around the base/roots of the plant.
In the Winter you should not have to water succulents growing in the ground at all. As long as you ensure they are grown in good draining soil – ie not clay soils. Most succulents can cope with a lot of rain. Planting succulents on banks, in walls or building a mound of soil and planting the succulent on the top of the mound will ensure their roots do not sit in water and they will then cope with rain.
In Spring or Summer if they receive rain once every 7-10 days you still should not need to water them at all. If there is no rain once per fortnight should suffice, or even once per month.
There is no simple answer to how often to water succulents. Sometimes it is more about when to recognise that they need to be watered or when they have had too much water.
Signs of an Over-watered Succulent
An over watered succulent has leaves that are soft and squishy, they will drop off easily from the plant and can be pale green or sometimes yellow or orange in colour.
Remedy: Do not water for ‘at least’ two weeks to give the plant time to dry out properly. If the leaves drop off take them out of the pot/away from the plant. Sometimes it may be too late and they will not recover but if you catch the signs of over watering early the succulent should survive.
This succulent shows classic signs of over watering. The lower leaves are lying flat. They are also soft, spongy and pale compared to the new leaves growing from the centre. These leaves will fall off very easily.
Signs of an Under-watered Succulent
An under watered succulent’s upper leaves become dry and crispy, the entire plant becomes shrivelled and many leaves shrivel at the tips. The leaves look puckered and dry.
Remedy: Firstly, check the soil, you could be watering the succulent but the soil is not holding any moisture for the roots. Re-pot the succulent if this is the case. If the soil is ok just give the plant a good soaking of water and keep in mind this succulent may need watering a little more regularly compared to other species of succulents.
Classic under watering. The leaves are puckered/shrivelled.
Watering mature plants versus new succulents
Established plants will have a stronger root system and tolerate dry conditions better than new plants. Especially succulents that are growing in the ground. So a mature plant is more likely to survive longer without water/require less regular watering than a younger one.
A mature plant growing in the ground will have established roots and require less watering than a younger plant.
How should I water the succulent leaves I’m propagating?
Until the leaves develop the tiny roots the leaves shouldn’t require any water. It would not be detrimental to water them but why waste your time doing so! Once the roots develop a once per week watering should be sufficient, watering the leaf and the soil. The roots – which are still above ground – will absorb any moisture in the air and soil below.
Should I water after re-potting a succulent?
Succulents are the opposite of normal plants and do not require ‘watering in’ or water when re-potted or planted in the ground. They actually prefer not to watered straight away.
Should I use a moisture metre?
Moisture metres are a great idea to test the moisture in the middle of a pot. When the top soil may be dry the soil below may still be wet and therefore the pot does not require more water. You can buy moisture metres from your local hardware store.
I agree, this is a lot to consider and may sound complicated but just consider the following basic steps for any of your succulents.
- check the soil conditions to see if it dry or moist
- look for signs of over or under watering
- if you are unsure whether to water – do not water!
The subject of how much sun succulents need is always a hot topic among succulent lovers, newbies and experts alike. How much is too much? Is morning sun ok but afternoon is a no no? Will my succulent die if it gets too much sun? What is the definition of full sun, partial sun, dappled sun, partial shade and full shade?
Photosynthesis is a process used by plants to convert ‘light energy’ (the sun) into chemical energy that can be released to fuel the plants’ growth. In low light, plants need to absorb maximum light for photosynthesis if they are to survive. In high light the plant needs to reflect some light for photosynthesis if they are to survive.
What is the definition of Full Sun/Partial Sun/Partial Shade/Dappled Sun & Full Shade?
Some succulents prefer full sun and some prefer partial shade, partial sun and a few prefer full shade, but what does this mean. I found the definition below on a gardening website which clarifies the meaning of these requirements.
- Full Sun means 6 full hours of direct sunlight. The six hours could be from 8 – 3 or 12 – 6; anytime during the day. The hours can also be three morning hours, plus three afternoon hours.
- Partial Sun / Partial Shade: These two are interchangeable to mean 3-6 hours of sunlight each day. While the terms are interchangeable, there is a default understanding. Partial shade refers to morning and early afternoon sun, while a plant listed as partial sun means relief from the intense late afternoon sun ie requires shade from a structure or a tree.
- Dappled Sun is similar to partial shade. The plants are getting partial sun as it makes it’s way through the branches of a tree.
- Full Shade means less than 3 hours of direct sun each day, best if it’s morning sun. But even in the absence of direct sunlight, full shade can be bright light. Plus, full shade likes a filtered sunlight the remainder of the day. Every plant needs some sun; even those that thrive in full shade.
The above would only be a guideline. This does not mean that if your succulent has more than 6 hours of sun you need to move it to shade or it will die. Some areas of my garden receive sun from early morning to late afternoon which is more than 6 hours. These have succulents growing and coping well with the large amount of sun they are receiving.
What is the different between morning and afternoon sun?
Many succulent enthusiasts advise that succulents prefer morning sun for optimum growth. I am unsure why exactly. From a Iayman’s point of view I would say that morning sun is less strong/vibrant than afternoon sun. Morning sun is less intense and less heat is generated from the sun in early morning. However, I have searched the internet and I am unable to find any science to explain the real difference between morning and afternoon sun. As per the previous paragraph ‘full sun’ can be 6 hours of sun whether it be in the morning or the afternoon.
E. Strawberry Heart
The succulents above have survived and thrived 6 hours of afternoon sun!
Can you tell by looking at the succulent if it will cope in full sun?
There are some succulents which have characteristics that give us a clue as to whether the plant will grow and cope with full sun. Succulents such as the Cotyledon Orbiculata, some Echeveria and some Kalanchoe have a waxy coating on their leaves. These succulents grown in full sun will produce copious quantities of the white waxy coating.The coating reflects a high percentage of the sun’s light. The coating is thicker in full sun and less so when not required. Similarly a coat of hairs on Sempervivum leaves protect the plant from a high percentage of the sun’s light. In general, plants that cope in full sun have small thick leaves as opposed to shade plants have large thin leaves.
Examples of succulents with waxy coating protectant
Can succulents get sunburn?
Yes succulents ‘can’ get sunburn! It looks exactly what you think it would look like – brown or black markings along the leaves that are facing the sun. The good news is that it will not ‘usually’ kill the plant, the succulent will recover. It happens when a succulent has been grown in the shade or partial shade and then moved to sun/full sun. The new leaves that are produced while in the sun position will cope with the sun and not get sunburn. When the leaves that have been burnt get older they will shrivel and die just like any other non sunburnt leaves on the plant.
This Sedum was sunburnt when i moved it to full sun. As you can see the leaves on the top are strong and healthy.
Some points to remember.
– Even though a succulent may be able to survive full sun be aware that air flow is very important.
– Succulents will adapt and evolve (acclimatise) according to the amount of sun/shade they receive.
– Plants can change their leaf angles and orientation in response to a change in sun conditions.
Being a lover of the hardier kinds of succulent, Sempervivum are certainly up there in my top 10. They are just as hardy as any Echeveria, Crassula or Agave succulent in my opinion. They can survive heat, drought, frost and general neglect and still look fabulous. In Europe their common name is House Leek, in the United States it is Hen & Chicks. Here are a few facts and pointers for the Sempervivum genus.
A member of the Crassulacae family Sempervivum are native to the mountains of central and southern Europe and can grow at 3000-8000 feet above sea level. There are about 50 different species. They vary in size, form and colour and grow in rosette formation. The name Sempervivum comes from the Latin words semper, meaning “always,” and vivus, meaning “living.” Which describes its everlasting nature. Pronounced: Semper Vee Vum.
Sempervivums come in many colours such as pink, orange, yellow, red, green and brown. To see its colour in full glory they need to grow in full sun. If not grown in full sun they will grow as green in colour. Mature plants can be from half an inch to 6 inches (1 to 15 cm) in diameter.
Even though Sempervivums are native to Europe which is not well known for its hot summers. Sempervivum cope, and dare I even say ‘love’, full sun. They do not need a lot of water and are drought tolerant. This is great news for hot Australian Summers, however I would be inclined to cover them if the temperature if forecast over 40C/104F as their leaves may get sun burnt. I would suggest that this would not kill the plant but probably just look a bit unsightly until the sun burnt leaves shrivel and drop off.
On the other side of the coin Sempervivum are one of the most frost resistant succulents. This would be due to their origins being in mountainous regions of Europe. They can survive in extremely cold temperatures, most will survive temperatures as low as -30F/-34C apparently.
Light and Water Requirements
Sempervivum can survive in full sun and tolerate drought conditions. They do not require a lot of water but can also survive a wet winter as long as they are growing in well drained soil or on a slope if grown in the garden. If grown in pots move them under the eaves of the house to avoid temperature fluctuations and avoid wet winters.
Some species of Sempervivum are…….. hairy. That is the only way to describe them. They have tiny white hairs growing along their leaves and also on the tip. This is the best way to distinguish a Sempervivum from any other rosette forming succulent. Only Sempervivum have these tiny hairs.
Hairs on Sempervivum
Sempervivum covered with cobwebs
Sempervivum Arachnoidium looks like it is covered in spiders webs. (see below). It is another amazing succulent. The cobweb starts off in the middle of the plant and eventually spreads to cover all leave in the rosette. It can then spread to cover the clump of Sempervivums.
Sempervivum Arachnoidium Pygmalion
Most Sempervivum are prolific at producing offsets which grow off the side of the parent plant and produce a large clump. However, some Sempervivum produce offsets on the end of long stems which are called ‘stolons’ these then set down roots at a distance from the parent plant. Once the roots have developed the plant can be grown independently from the parent plant.
Sempervivum Tectorum with stolons
Flowering – and the bad news
Flowers are shades of pink, red and sometimes yellow. If and when Sempervivum flower it happens in mid to late Summer. The bad news with regard to Sempervivum flowers is that Sempervivum succulents are monocarpic which means that the parent plant dies after flowering. It will shrivel and die. It can then be easily pulled out and this will allow room for the pups to spread. Sempervivums are perennials so they live for at least 3 years or more before they flower. Sempervivum flowers produce a star-shaped fruit containing seeds which can be collected and grown. See Post : Which succulents die after flowering?
In Europe Sempervivums were traditionally grown on roofs. They were thought to ward off evils spirits and raging storms. Below are a couple of examples from Pinterest. I assume they would need to be grown on a pitched roof for water to run off so as the roots are not sitting in water.
Being as hardy Sempervivum are they do not have many additional problems to deal with. Any succulent is prone to mealy bugs or powdery mildew and root rot from over watering.
I was shocked and a bit devastated when I found out that some succulents die after flowering. It’s not something you should blurt out to a novice succulent lover! But do not worry, of the thousands of different succulents there are only a very small number that are ‘monocarpic’.
Monocarpic plants flower, set seed and then die. Other words with the same meaning are hapaxanth and semelparous. However monocarpic is the term that is used to describe the succulent process. Probably because it is easier to say!
Monocarpic plants can be divided into annuals, biennials and perennials. Annuals flower and set seed in one year, biennials two seasons and perennials sometimes take many years to flower.
So the question is: how long does a succulent live before it flowers?? The good new is: Succulents that are monocarpic can still live a long life as they are perennials. Below are the succulents that I am aware are monocarpic.
Agave – Attenuata/Americana (Century Plant)
The above monocarpic Agave’s can take 10 -25 years before the parent plant flowers. When it is ready the plant uses all its energy to produce a thick stem which grows from the centre of the rosette in a relatively short period of time – sometimes less than a week. The stem can grow up to 2.5 metres (8 feet) high. The Americana (Century Plant) has a stem that can grow to 9 metres (30 feet). Once it flowers the parent plant will wither and die, Compared to other succulents the Agave parent plant can take months or even years to die. Agave pups grow along the stem of the flower, these can be harvested and replanted. Any pups that have grown off to the side of the plant will not die, only the rosette that has produced the flower stem.
Some, but not all, Agave are moncarpic.
All succulents in the Sempervivum genus are monocarpic. At first this made me think twice about buying Sempervivum succulents. Each rosette only flowers once and then dies. However, most species produce lots of offsets which makes up for any loss after flowering. It will take 3 to 4 years for the rosette to produce a flower and die, in this time the parent plant would have produced many pups/babies to continue on in your garden.
In Europe they are known as ‘houseleeks’ but in the USA Sempevervivum are known as Hen & Chicks. However, some people call the Echeveria genus Hen & Chicks as well. Thus, it can get very confusing and people think that their Echeveria succulents are monocarpic. It is ‘only’ Sempervivum Hen & Chicks which are monocarpic not Echeveria.
There are some Sempervivum and Echeveria that look very similar, they both have rosettes. If you think your succulent is a Sempervivum and it flowers – from the centre of the rosette- and does not die – suffice to say this is an Echeveria.
The photos of the sempervivum below show small offsets from the sides. These can be mistaken for flowers. They are not flowers but new plants/pups sprouting. When a Sempervivum flowers it is from the centre of its rosette, not to the side.
Some Aeonium will flower within two years while others may take 10-20 years before they flower. They die completely after flowering but before do they will have produced offsets as well as large numbers of seeds. Not all Aeonium die after flowering, but for the one’s that do it is too late for the plant once the flower stalk starts to develop.
I found this Aeonium (below) in a nursery. It looks very pretty, but as it was flowering I figured it wouldn’t have a very long life span in my garden if it was an Aeonium that was monocarpic! Something to be aware of for monocarpic succulents.
The Kalanchoe ‘Flapjack’ is a monocarpic plant, once the Kalanchoe flowers new “baby plants” can be seen at the base of the plant and along the flower stalk. They can easily be propagated from the stalk.
So, if you have any of the monocarpic succulents you should be prepared for its dramatic flowering death at some point!
In the Crassula family there are plants that closely resemble other plants leading to confusion. Echeverias are one of the most popular and beautiful succulents (see post: Echeveria Genus ) Often overlooked or simply confused with Echeverias are two other plants that look like Echeveria: Graptopetalums (see post: What is the difference between an Echeveria and Graptoveria succulent? ) and Pachyphytums. They have been hybridised with Echeveria and are called Graptoveria and Pachyveria. Pachyveria is a hybrid between Echeveria and Pachyphytum.
The word Pachyphytum comes from the Greek word ‘ thick leaves’. Their leaves are plumper than an Echeveria hence their name. Below are photos from Pinterest of some Pachyphytums.
Pachyphytums are similar to Echeveria. Other than their appearance they are also drought-tolerant, cope with winter rain and cold temperatures, tolerate full sun and poor soil. However, they are more delicate, their leaves can fall off with the lightest touch. The falling leaf will easily propagate. Like Echeveria they grow in clumps. Pachyphytum’s are also native to Mexico.
Below are photos of some Pachyveria from Pinterest. As you can see, to look at, some species are very similar to Echeveria. If the plant did not have an ID you may think it is an Echeveria. Also, it would not surprise me if it had been labelled incorrectly by the nursery or the store you are purchasing from.
Pachyveria Blue Haze
Pachveria Elaine Reinelt
The species traits that give away that it is a Pachyveria and not an Echeveria are:
– plump leaves. Blue Haze, and Haagei are good example of this.
– elongated leaves. Glauca and Haagei are good example of this.
What are the differences between an Echeveria and a Pachyveria?
– Pachyverias are more cold tolerant succulents enduring quite low temperatures compared to Echeveria
– Their leaves are more likely to fall off at a mere touch where most Echeveria are quite hard to pull off
What are the similarities to an Echeveria?
– their growing periods are in the summer
– they flower in spring/summer
– drought tolerant
– love full sun
– prefer well drained soil
– propagated by leaves
– native to Mexico
In conclusion, if you have a Pachyveria and you believe it is an Echeveria and you cared for it as you would an Echeveria it would not really make any difference. The plus side being that if there were some low temperatures that you were not expecting the Pachyveria would be less likely to be effected than an Echeveria would.
The only tip for when planting a Pachyveria in the garden would be not to plant them where they can easily be knocked by passing pets or humans as their leaves may be knocked off on a regular basis.
Lots of people keep their succulents in pots so they can control their environment. If you live anywhere in Australia you can grow almost any succulent in your garden. Landscaping with succulents is a great idea as once they have established they do not need a lot of attention. There are many more reasons to landscape with succulents ………
Succulents for all areas of the garden
There are hundreds of different succulent species and varieties available. There are succulents that grow and cope with full sun (see post : Which succulents survive in full sun? ). Succulents that grow in full shade. (see post: Which succulents grow in full shade? ) Succulents that cope with humidity. Succulents that can survive frost. (see post : Which succulents can survive frost? ) I think you get the idea. So wherever you live and whether you have a sunny or shady garden you can landscape with succulents.
Heights and Sizes
Succulents come in all shapes,sizes and colours. So if you require low growing ground cover or bushy succulents there should be one that suits your situation for full sun, full shade or part shade/part sun position. Remember to find out how large a succulent grows. Plant the larger growing succulents at the back of the garden bed so they do not shade the lower growing succulents in the front.
My front succulent garden with larger succulents at the back such as agave and a larger aloe. Smaller succulents at the front.
Mass plantings of any plant look great. However, mass planting of succulents looks amazing. Unless you buy succulents in bulk, which of course can be expensive you can start your mass planting with one plant and then use cuttings and offset plants to add to your mass planting. The photos below are from Pinterest of some examples of mass plantings of succulents.
Succulents are known as water wise plants but they also have fire retardant properties, so they are also fire-wise. Due to their ability to store water in the their leaves and stems succulents do not really burn – they cook, bake or boil but they do not burst into flames or spread flames. While succulents cannot stop a fire, they can help protect your property from embers and slow the passage of flames. This is a great reason to landscape with succulents. (see post: Fire-wise succulents – surviving a bush fire with a succulent garden! )
I built the Gabion wall below myself (ok with a little help from my husband-he cut the wire to size). The rest was all me. It took about 4 weekends. Along with my love for succulents I also admire gabion walls. The two look great together. I must admit the position of this gabion is not the best for succulents. The succulents only receive afternoon sun for a short while in the winter which is not really ideal. However, they have still increased in size and grown really well. A gabion has great drainage which succulents love.
Succulents love growing in walls
Below is another part of my garden that I used succulents. Many succulents grow in rock crevices in the wild. A wall is an ideal place to grow succulents due to the excellent drainage. The wall receives full afternoon sun so it will be interesting to see how they cope in the height of summer. I have used Echeveria as they have coped with full sun in my front garden.
This succulent wall is amazing but would take a lot of time and dedication. Pinterest photo.
Established Succulent Gardens
I found the following photos on Pinterest of established succulent gardens. They look amazing and its great to see that people do landscape with succulents. Succulents grow well with other succulents and also look great in mass plantings.
Tips for planting in the garden
When planting succulents in the ground make sure you plant them on a mound rather than in a depression as you would with a non succulent plant. This will ensure that rain will run off the mound rather than pool in the depression around the plant. Succulents can survive with a fair bit of rainfall as long as the water does not pool around the roots. (see post: Should I grow succulents in a pot or the ground? )
I often wonder how long a succulent will live for when I buy it. I also have this thought when I have nurtured a succulent for a long period of time and then it dies. Do the different species and varieties live for different periods of time? I think this is quite a hard question to answer for any particular succulent. How long do succulents live, do they have a specific lifespan?
Nature versus Nuture
Firstly, a plant’s lifespan in nature will be different from a cultivated plant. Secondly, a plant’s lifespan will vary depending on the conditions it lives through/in ie in the ground or in a pot, the right amount of water, sun, temperature, soil conditions etc.
What is the definition of a lifespan?
Some succulents flower and then die but then then produce offsets/pups … are the offsets considered the same life span, or a new one? Some succulents die back and then re grow, with a ‘new’ plant growing from the old one… is this part of the same life span? I suppose that is something you can decide for yourself. I personally believe that if the succulent dies, even if it has produced a baby, that would be the end of its lifespan. Of course it is easier to cope with the death of your succulent if you have a few babies to be going on with.
Echeveria Agavoides Molded Wax offsets
There is very little information on the internet about the lifespans of succulents in general. One way of finding out how long a particular succulent may live is to ask the question about the succulent you are interested in on social media groups such as Facebook and/or Reddit or on Quora. It is not very scientific but will give you some idea. The more specialised a succulent is, the less likely it is to live a long life. I have found that the hardier and more common succulent plants do have some information and are the ones with notable lifespans.
The agave or century plant has a lifespan around 25 years, sometimes up to 30. It is a Monocarpic succulent. This means that when it produces its flower stalk the main plant will then die after producing many baby offsets.
Crassula Ovata – Jade Plant
The Crassula Ovata succulent often has a starring role in my blog posts and this post is one of them. I have a Jade Plant which has been growing in my garden for over 22 years and is still growing strong. I have also found an article on the internet that stated a jade plant had survived 30 years.
This Crassula is over 20 years old
This Jade Plants is currently 22 years old.
It is hard to find any information regarding the lifespan of the Echeveria Genus. As mentioned previously it depends on how a lifespan is determined. Many of the Echeveria species produce offsets/babies/pups continuously throughout their growing season – each year. So if you buy an Echeveria that does produce offsets (most – ‘not all’ produce offsets) unless something goes horribly wrong, you will always have that plant in some form. Even if an Echeveria gets root rot and the parent plant dies, most offsets usually survive. The Echeveria Elegans below is approximately 3 years old and keeps producing offsets which then become part of the plant. The plant is strong and healthy and has coped in all weather, a cold wet winter and a very hot summer. I am assuming it will live on for a few years to come.
Likewise with the Sempervivum genus it is also hard to find any information with regard to the lifespan. As with the Echeveria, Sempervivums produce offsets but more prolifically. So once purchased your supply of this succulent would also live on for years to come. Not all Semperivum produce offsets either. So keep this in mind when you are purchasing the succulent if you have longevity in mind.
The aloe vera succulent must be about 3-4 years old before the inner gel of the leaves can be used for skin treatments. The gel can then be used until the plant is 12 years old. So this gives us an indication of how long the Aloe Vera succulent lives for. Aloe succulents also produces offsets, so as per the Echeveria and Sempervivum genus you should always have an Aloe producing offsets once purchased.
Using propagation and offsets for longevity
As well as using succulent offsets to continue your love of that particular succulent you can also propagate your succulents very easily by growing a new plant from a leaf or beheading a plant or cutting off a stem and propagating a new plant. That is one of the wondrous facts about succulents, they are so easily propagated. No matter the lifespan the majority of succulents are easily propagated so that, should you wish to, you can always have more succulents living and giving you pleasure in your garden. (see post: How to Propagate Succulents.)
Last year I visited a nursery that had been growing succulents for 20 years. The gardens surrounding the nursery had been growing for about the same time. Surviving on natural rainfall.
Prickly Pear Cacti
Cracker Barrell Cactus
People often use ‘native’ plants in their garden as they are native to their Country and grow in the conditions typical of their area. So it makes sense to know the conditions that succulents grow in, in their native countries as this can help understand the needs of that particular succulent. Succulents have adapted and survived in many other countries but they will grow better if they are grown in conditions similar to the ones of their country of origin. Knowing where a particular succulent plant originates provides two significant insights into its needs: its growing season and its range of acceptable temperatures.
Most of the commonly grown succulents originate from areas that receive very sporadic rainfall. Contrary to popular belief, succulents do not only originate from deserts. Few plants actually survive in a true desert (with less than 25cm of annual rain). Most grow in semi-deserts which have poor soil (not just pure sand), sparse vegetation and rocky outcrops. Succulents can survive in varying conditions from humid dark jungles to the desert with scorching days and freezing nights.
Succulents are found primarily in Mexico, South America, Central America, East Africa, Arabia, Madagascar, India, South Africa and parts of Europe.
Here are a few examples:
Echeveria / Graptopetulum / Sedum / Agave
Of the 154 species of Echeveria around 130 of them originate from Mexico. Agave is native to the hot and arid regions of Mexico as are Sedum and Graptopetulum.
Most Mexican succulents that grow at altitudes of 1200 m (4000 feet) will survive some sub freezing weather, however the succulents that originate from coastal Mexico can rarely tolerate frost. So make sure that you know which part of Mexico they originate from.
Mexican winters are mild, temperatures average around the 20 -24 Celcius (high 68 to 74° Fahrenheit) and in summer the average temperature is around 28 degrees Celsius (83° Fahrenheit).
This does not mean if your succulent comes from Mexico you have to re-create the exact conditions so that the succulent survives. Succulents are very adaptable and will adapt to the climate they are living in. It just means their natural habitat will give you an idea of the conditions that they will do well in.
If your succulent hails from Mexico then it will like lots of sunshine,will probably be quite hardy, not require a lot of water and can grow in a rockery.
On the other side of the coin…..
Sempervivum / Sedums
Sempervivum – also known as house leeks and hen and chicks, survive from Morocco to Iran, through the mountains of Iberia, the Alps, Carpathians, Balkan mountains, Turkey and the Armenian mountains. Their ability to store water in their thick leaves allows them to live on sunny rocks and stony places in the mountain, sub- alpine and alpine belts.
Their natural habitats are typically 3000 – 8000 ft above sea level in mountainous regions of central and southern Europe and the Mediterranean islands. They would be used to summer rain and humidity and not cope so well in dry heat with intense sun, they are more used to hazy sun.
Sempervivum growing in their natural habitat in Italian Alps
Kalanchoe growing in their natural habitat
How can I find out where my succulent originates?
There are 1000’s of succulents species/varieties, sometimes its hard enough to identify the plant. There are ways that you can find out the identification of your succulent first. (see post: Where can I identify my Succulents?) or (An easy way to identify your succulent variety!)
Then to find out where the succulent originates I use a great website called http://www.worldofsucculents.com
It has a tab called ‘Succulentopedia’. You can then browse by Succulent Scientific Name /Common Name /Genus/ Family or Origin. You can then search by the succulent Genus – ie Echeveria and it will tell you the origins or that Genus or you can search by the particular scientific name of the succulent.
You can find a lot more than just the origin of succulents on this site. There are also ‘how to care guides’ and some amazing photos too.
If you find a particular succulent that survives and thrives in your garden, find out the origin of the species and see what other succulents are from that area and they should also do well.
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.