Succulents are some of the most popular ornamental plants right now. But as a beginner, can you manage to grow them?
One of the reasons for succulents’ popularity is their minimal growth requirements. You actually don’t have to keep an eye on them every other day compared to most houseplants. That’s quite ideal for the busy grower or a starter like you. So yes, succulents are absolutely good for beginners.
Of course, minimum requirements are still requirements so you’ll need to step up every now and then to keep your succulent thriving. Read below to get an idea of what you’re supposed to do and when.
Caring for Succulents as a Beginner
Succulents naturally grow in areas with little rain, loose soil, and lots of sunlight. So to successfully grow one of these babies, you’ll need to mimic these conditions as close as possible – a fairly easy task.
Caring for succulents means looking into stuff like the soil/potting mix, pots, watering, light, fertilizer, and pest control.
What kind of soil should you use? How frequent should you water? These are quite different for succulents compared to other plants in general.
Let’s take a look!
The type of potting soil you use matters a great deal since that’s where your succulent will be most of the time.
The best potting mix for succulents must be coarse and fast-draining which helps to keep the plant dry most of the type – just the way they like it. Yep, that’s a bit different from most houseplants that are better off in moist soil.
Keep a succulent in a slow-draining mix and you’ll probably lose it soon enough – root rot is a big problem among beginner succulent growers.
The easiest route to get the ideal soil for your succulent is, of course, to purchase a commercial succulent mix.
But if you have a knack for making stuff, you can prepare a well-draining mix at home. You’ll need the usual potting soil, pumice or perlite, and coarse sand.
Mix these in measured proportions to get the required level of drainage. A recommended mixing ratio is two parts potting soil, two parts coarse sand, and one part pumice/perlite.
To ensure you have the real fast-draining mix, add water and try squeezing. Is it coarse and crumby? If not, add some more sand and pumice/perlite.
The container matters just as much as soil mix. In fact, using a well-draining mix and an inappropriate container is pretty pointless. You’ll end up with the same problem associated with soggy soils – root rot.
To choose an ideal pot, you need to consider aspects such as the material, drainage, and size. Let’s have a look at each:
You might be aware of the various materials that are used to make pots – glass, plastic, ceramic, wood, terra cotta, and even metal.
But the most ideal succulent pots are made from just two – ceramic and terra cotta. By nature, these two materials are breathable which is exactly what you need to boost drainage.
At the end of the day, growing succulents comes down to having just enough water for the plant to survive – not too much. A pot with proper drainage is extremely important here.
And speaking of drainage, it’s nothing complicated, really. All you need is a hole or two at the bottom of the pot.
Turns, size does actually matter – at least in the context of succulents. Basically, you don’t want a pot that’s too big or too small in relation to your plant.
Larger pots give too much space for roots to spread which translates to a teeny plant. Smaller pots on the other hand won’t allow roots to spread which will also affect your succulent’s growth.
Generally, an ideal-sized pot means having one to two inches between the plant and the pot.
Water, of course, is just as important for succulents as any other living thing out there. But the situation is slightly different – they don’t need lots of it. Remember the natural conditions that succulents thrive in?
So how often should you water your succulent?
The general rule of the thumb is to wait until the topsoil completely dries out between watering sessions. This allows the roots to completely dry out just like in their natural environment.
Keep in mind though – your watering frequency will vary with the seasons. Winter for one is a dormant period which means you might want to put away the can for much longer than, say, in summer.
But whatever the season, make a point of soaking the soil during each watering session. Aim your water can or pipe at the soil (not plant leaves) and keep the water going until it flows out through the drainage hole at the bottom.
Succulents aren’t big fans of excess water but they sure do love light – lots of it.
A typical succulent needs a daily light exposure of at least six hours which isn’t that hard to achieve. Just find the brightest (sunny) spot in your house or office and let your baby plant soak up some rays.
Also, remember to rotate your plant every now and then to ensure every part of it is getting enough light to prevent leaning.
Insufficient light will cause elongated stems (etiolation) and discoloration – not a good look.
Succulents don’t generally have pest problems but it’s good to be vigilant, especially if you’re keeping your plants inside. Common succulent pests include mealybugs and gnats.
Before you take a plant home, be sure to check for any of these pesky little things and keep inspecting your plant periodically when you’re home.
All you need in case of any pests is some rubbing alcohol solution. You can either use a spray bottle or cotton swabs to deliver the alcohol solution to affected areas. And while at it, don’t forget the soil too.
Pests like mealybugs love to lay their eggs in the potting mix.
Fertilizing too, just like pest control, isn’t a big issue with succulents. But it doesn’t hurt if you do it in moderation.
The plants will appreciate the extra boost of nutrients – they’ll grow healthier with more intense colors.
You’re always better off using succulent-specific fertilizer to maintain simplicity as far as taking care of your babies is concerned; especially since you’re just starting out. A low-balanced soluble fertilizer – 8-8-8 0r 10-10-10 formula – is always a good option (the numbers here represent the percentage of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus).
Nitrogen is good for leaf development, potassium on the other hand is important in fighting diseases while phosphorus is vital for both healthy roots and spectacular flowers.
But even with the ideal fertilizer, you have to be careful not to over-fertilize. A good way of ensuring this is using half of the recommended amount on the fertilizer package.
Also, just keep your fertilizing frequency to just once per year – in spring. This is the time when most succulents are at the beginning of their growth phase so they’re in a better position to utilize the nutrients.
Succulents are easy to care for compared to other ornamental plants. They can do without fertilizer, they need little water, and are pest-resistant for a larger part.
If you’re just beginning your journey in raising plants, succulents are probably your best bet. You can raise some absolute beauties without having to spend all your days tending to them.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you ignore the plants completely. Some occasional watering, a nice pot, a few hours of light, and once-a-year fertilizing can do wonders.
Hello! I’m Oscar, a freelance writer from Kenya. Among other topics, I also love writing about houseplants – succulents to be specific. I prefer them because they’re so much easier to care compared to other plants and they also offer so much variety in terms of shape, size, and color.