Succulents can look absolutely fabulous in pots and there is nothing like a good, colourful succulent arrangement in a pretty pot. But are succulents meant to grow in pots and will they survive long term?
The majority of succulents will grow just fine in pots, but there are a few that grow too rapidly to be kept in pots, unless the pot is very big. Succulents are well designed to grow in restricted space and adapt fast to being grown in pots. But they may need a bit more TLC than their counterparts grown in the gardens.
Which Succulents Are Not Suitable For Pots?
There are a few succulent species that grow too rapidly for pots and will eventually struggle being confined to pots. These plants usually share a few traits- they grow fast and have the ability to spread over vast space.
We have a few of these in the nursery and some are classed as environmental weeds in certain parts of the world (not where we are though). One such plant is Aptenia Cordifolia, a pretty groundcover with daisy like flowers that will soon spread everywhere. In pots, especially smaller pots this plant is likely to lose the majority of its leaves and struggle.
It is the same with fast growing groundcovers such Delosperma, Oscularia, some Senecio (particularly Barbetonicus and Serpens varieties) and some Sedum.
Which Succulents Are The Most Suitable For Pots?
The best succulents for pots are, what I like to refer to as, the super hardy varieties. This would include many Graptopetalum such as the Paraguayense, Sedeveria (Maialen), many Sedum (Rubrotinctum ‘Jelly Beans’), Crassula (usually the Ovata varieties), many Graptosedum or Graptoveria.
As with everything, there are exceptions within these genera, but most of these succulents will do very well being grown in pots.
The secret is their ability to ‘bonsai’. If they are left in smaller pots the stems will grow thicker with less leaves and as a bonus they tend to be more colourful. Being in difficult spots with restricted root-space creates a stress response and they gather all available water and slow their growth.
What Happens With Succulents Grown In Pots?
How well a succulent grows in a pot will depend on a variety of factors. The size of the pot, the potting mix, the climate, position and, of course, the type of succulent. If a succulent stays in the same pot for a long time (years) and the pot is quite small, it is likely to get stressed and grow very compact & slow, not reproducing much. With some plants (the above) this will be fine but with others they may become too stressed and shed the majority of their leaves or die off completely.
If succulents are re-potted yearly (even one size up is sufficient), using fresh potting mix, they will grow much better, bigger and with more pups.
To get a good looking plant in pots a succulent potting mix should be used. Lots of succulents will grow even in poor potting mixes, but they tend not to look their best.
Succulents in pots are a little more sensitive to changes in the environment (heatwaves, prolonged rainy spells) in comparison to their counterparts living in the ground.
While succulents in the ground can keep their roots cool in the event of heatwaves, plants in pots heat up much, much quicker (especially if grown in a dark coloured pots). The heat, if strong enough, can essentially cook the roots and the whole plant will die.
How To Get The Best Out Of Succulents Grown In Pots
It really depends on what you want from a succulent in a pot. Many people just want a pot plant that does not need looking after and will slowly do its thing. But others may want the plant to grow big and beautiful with lots of offsets.
If you want your succulents to grow well in pots choose plants that are suitable and look for signs of stress after the plant has been in the same pot for about a year.
To get potted succulents grow and produce ‘babies’ re-pot every year using fresh succulent potting mix.
If the pot is out in the open it should have a drainage hole so they don’t drown when it rains too much.
The potting mix in a pot will dry very fast and so potted succulents should be watered quite often, especially when the weather is warm. Keep an eye on terracotta pots as they are super fast to dry due to the porous walls of the pot. If your climate is hot and dry, terracotta may not be the best type of pot.
Finally, potted succulents should be placed where they grow best. Sun loving succulents should have at least 4 hours of direct, preferably morning sun per day and shade loving succulents will do best in a bright shade/filtered light position.
During heatwaves (above 35C/95F) the pots should be placed in shade as strong sun can burn or kill your succulent. The majority of succulents are not suitable for indoors, so if you’re after a succulent for inside do your research first to determine which species will survive best.
In conclusion most succulents will be ok in pots and a little bit of love and care will see them flourish.