I've been growing and selling succulents for over 10 years and so I know a fair deal about them. But my journey in the Horticultural industry began with foliage plants for florists. When I made the switch to succulents I was kind of a beginner too. I knew a bit about them but have learned so much by just growing and certainly made my fair share of mistakes.
I wish I was aware of some stuff not many books talk about. In this article I'm going to share seven tips that would have really come in handy when I was new to growing succulents and would have avoided many innocent succulent deaths.
Not all succulents are the same
There are thousands of different succulents you can buy. Some are plants that naturally grow in the wild and some are man-made hybrids.
The naturally occurring succulents also come from different environments. They mainly grow in arid parts of the world but, some can grow at altitude and, some even in humid jungles.
Most prefer it bright, with good exposure to the sun but others like indirect sun better and, would likely not grow very well if exposed to too much hot sun
And finally, quite a big portion of the hybrids that were created by humans are touchy, to say the least, and mostly bread for looks rather than hardiness.
I always like to use Echeveria Romeo as an example. It is one stunning and super popular succulent hybrid but it is hard work. Not only can it die suddenly, it's very sensitive to water and humidity for it to grow well and not have lots of dark spots. You almost need a well ventilated greenhouse. That is not all though. Because it's so good looking, Romeo has been used to create other hybrids despite all of the problems. These are not great beginner plants, even i sometimes have trouble growing them.
I remember when I started getting succulents to grow as stock. I bought loads of different varieties and treated them all the same and, for a while, they all looked and grew great. All because I started at the end of winter when the weather is mild and all succulents grow well here. But when the good old Australian summer heat waves came along, followed by rain and humidity, I quickly learned that not all succulents are as hardy as each other.
I had to start using a polytunnel with fans to keep some of these succulents happy. Others needed shade cloth and then there were some plants that just grew no matter what.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you're new to succulents don't just go and buy them willy-nilly as they are not all the same. Do a good bit of research first to establish which particular plants are good for what you want from them. If you want garden succulents there are some fantastic varieties anyone can easily manage. If you want to keep succulents indoors you'll need shade tolerant varieties as most other succulents would very likely die in a couple of months which brings me to my second tip.
Not all succulents will grow indoors
The things that first drew me to succulents were terrariums, amazing succulent art and arrangements.
After trying my hand at all of these and testing them out indoors, it quickly became apparent to me that most succulents just won't grow well inside a typical house as there isn't enough light for these sun-loving plants.
However, there's decent enough variety of shade tolerant succulents to make lovely arrangements or fill up a plant shelf or two.
Good quality succulent potting mix makes all the difference
From the very beginning I've been getting top quality succulent potting mix for my plants. It costs but it is definitely worth it.
But there were times when I needed to cut costs and went with the cheaper option and once even tried making my own. And let me tell you, the difference in how well my succulents were growing was noticeable.
Although, many succulents will grow in just about anything, if you want really nice looking plants, a good potting mix will get you that. I've seen many people just banging succulents in generic potting mix or even straight up dirt and they really don't look that great.
If you grow succulents in pots, they'll need a bit better than that. In the garden succulents can be planted in dirt but it is best to mix in a bit of potting mix. Garden succulents will tolerate bad soil better than potted succulents.
Rain won't kill most succulents
Yes, succulents can be sensitive to too much water but, the great majority will tolerate overwatering and rain. This may shock a few people but I grow most of my succulents as well as cacti outside, even when it rains.
As long as your succulents are planted in well-draining potting mix, the pot has a hole and they get plenty of sunlight they'll be just fine. In my opinion, the problems arise when indoor succulents are overwatered or when they live in a spot that does not give them enough light.
While it's good to exercise caution don't panic if your succulents get rained on it is much more important to make sure they get enough light.
Start with tough varieties
If you're new to succulents I would highly recommend to start your succulent journey with the tough varieties.
There are so many great resilient succulents that will be okay in heat, cold, drought, rain, potting mix that is not ideal and will deal with just straight up neglect. Here's a list of some good, hardy varieties.
Nurseries grow succulents in greenhouses
This one is kind of obvious but, hear me out. Not always but, often enough, succulents you buy have been raised in climate controlled greenhouses, in ideal growing conditions. But once they're brought into the real world, they can suffer a bit.
While they adjust they can suffer burns from the sun, or marks on the leaves. I sometimes buy plants like these when I need to get new varieties and have learned my lesson. They always go under a shade cloth first during summer or when the sun is strong. If you don't have a shade cloth you can slowly introduce them to morning sun first. If the temperatures are mild you should be okay and don't have to any of this.
You will likely kill a succulent
It's very much possible that one of your succulents is going to die somewhere along the way. it may or may not be your fault and you're definitely not alone. I've had many succulents die over the years. it just happens.
Plants can sometimes be weird and die for no apparent reason. You may be doing everything right and have one cark it anyway. Don't beat yourself up about it too much, it happens to all of us.