Tony O’Neill, gardener and author of the popular “Composting Masterclass” and “Your First Vegetable Garden,” combines lifelong passion and expert knowledge to simplify the art of gardening. His mission? Helping you cultivate a thriving garden. More on Tony O’Neill
Succulents, including cacti, are native to semi-arid regions with intermittent rainfall. They cope with these conditions by optimizing available water.
Succulents are typically sun-loving plants that require lots of light. Some species may survive in lower light conditions, but most need six to eight hours of intense light to thrive. In the desert, it is hot during the day and chilly at night, so succulents can adapt to a range of temperatures.
Introduction to Indoor Succulents
Hello. My name is Tony, and I’m a succulent addict! I find these plants appealing with their thick, fleshy leaves or stems and varied forms and colors.
I think you’ll understand my compulsion once you try your hand at these easy-to-care-for plants.
- Low Maintenance: They only require light watering. Succulents are a fantastic choice for a gardener who works or frequently travels, as neglect and dry soil are ideal. In actuality, overwatering is the simplest method to kill a succulent plant.
- Resilient: Few diseases and pest issues affect them. Other than the occasional mealybug problem, succulents rarely experience other issues.
- Versatile: They grow well indoors and outdoors but won’t endure freezing temperatures. You can use them as houseplants, in terrariums, as cascading plants, or, if temperatures permit, grow them outdoors.
- Diverse: They have unique plant shapes and flowers. Nothing compares to succulent plants’ range of colors, forms, and patterns.
The cactus family (Cactaceae) alone has almost 2,000 species; with one exception, all are native to the Americas. All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.
What do Succulents Need?
Succulents need a lot of light but only moderate water and fertilizer.
Light is one of the most restricting elements to growing indoor succulents. Place your succulents in a light-filled area, or add extra light using grow lamps that offer full-spectrum, high-output lighting.
Find the indoor space with the most light possible; ideally, this area will have at least six to eight hours of bright, indirect light.
Some species may survive in lower light conditions, but most require six to eight hours of intense light to thrive.
It can be challenging to achieve this level of illumination indoors.
For the summer, succulents can be relocated outside. Still, they should be in partial sunlight and shielded from the intense afternoon sun. The intensity of the light can harm and burn the leaves and stems.
Because succulents have unique ways of managing moisture, well-draining soil is essential for their well-being. Soils need not only to drain well, but they must also have limited water retention capabilities.
Common potting soil mixtures can kill succulents by causing root rot caused by prolonged water retention. Succulents do well in soil combinations with one-third organic and two-thirds inert material.
To build your succulent potting mix, mix two inert material, such as perlite, pumice, or fine gravel, with one organic material, such as compost or coconut coir.
I don’t use commercial cacti potting soils, but that’s a personal choice.
Containers can be made of various materials, such as glass, ceramic, glazed pottery, terracotta, clay, and plastic. Always use pots with drainage holes for succulents, and don’t block them with pebbles.
Succulents do not tolerate wet feet or damp soil for several hours. If you want a specific pot that doesn’t have drainage holes, double-pot the plant by placing the plant in a container with drainage holes inside the more attractive container.
Succulents do great in clay or terracotta pots, allowing faster water evaporation. Succulents also prefer smaller pots where roots are slightly bound.
Even though many succulents are native to hot climates, they don’t necessarily need warm temperatures to thrive. Nearly all succulents thrive in a home’s typical temperatures.
The majority of succulents naturally grow in regions with significant day-to-night temperature variations. Succulents can tolerate and even prefer cooler nighttime temperatures when growing indoors.
Succulents do best when kept between 55°F and 75°F (13 to 24⁰C). Many species can survive in conditions as extreme as 85°F and 45°F (7 to 30⁰C).
Healthy soils can trap air even when flooded, called saturation porosity. It’s like taking a breath before diving into a pool. If that diver can’t surface to take a fresh breath, he’ll panic.
Regardless of your soil’s saturation porosity, if water is added before the soil dries, that porosity is lost. Thorough watering of DRY SOIL followed by draining is required for saturation porosity.
When soil is flooded and drained, the ground should remain wet – how wet the soil remains is knowns as the soil’s field capacity.
The soil’s ability to store air (take a breath) is compromised if we don’t allow it to dry between the saturation stages. Overwatering does that, but allowing the soil to dry before the subsequent flooding prevents it.
Water should only be used when essential. The most accurate test for soil moisture is to feel how dry the potting soil feels.
If the mixture is dry at your fingertip after inserting your finger up to the second digit, it needs water. Check at least to a depth of a third of the pot.
Water deeply when the soil is dry. Fill the pot, ensuring it is saturated before draining it completely.
This process ensures that the roots in the bottom two-thirds of the pot receive enough water and removes accumulated salts.
Don’t let the pot sit in the accumulated water; empty the tray after a few minutes (not hours).
Most succulents don’t need much fertilizer to flourish, and a half to quarter rate applications in the spring and summer should suffice. Succulents shouldn’t be fertilized during the winter when they’re in dormancy.
A healthy airflow benefits most plants, but especially succulents. Moving air can minimize humidity, aid soil drying, and reduce insect pest risk.
If succulents are crowded, consider using a small fan to help move more air around the plants. Plants should be adequately spaced to allow for excellent ventilation around the plants.
Well-draining soil, avoiding overwatering, and providing ample bright light are essential to healthy indoor succulents.