Ordering plants online is becoming more and more popular, especially since many countries have experienced Covid-19 lockdown. Our nursery is one of many sending succulents and other plants in the mail. While it can be challenging to figure out the perfect way to send plants in a box on a long and often very bumpy journey, it is certainly very possible.
Succulents and succulent cuttings are the best plants to send this way as they are very hardy and likely to survive well over a week in the mail. But what to do when they reach the other end. Do they need to be potted up straight away? Put out to get some sun? Is it normal that the leaves are a bit wrinkly? How long before the roots start growing?
On our website fernfarmplants.com.au succulent cuttings are one of our most popular products and we have posted thousands of packs to date. Over the years we’ve received many questions from succulent newbies and more experienced gardeners alike and this article will address the ones people ask most frequently as well as provide a quick how to guide for planting succulent cuttings after they’ve been in the mail.
How do I plant succulent cuttings after shipping?
Remove cuttings from packaging and inspect
Plant the cuttings and place in a protected spot
Water the cuttings
Check for pests
Check for roots
1. Remove cuttings from packaging and inspect
The first thing to do when you receive a parcel containing succulent cuttings is to open up and remove all the plants from packaging. Different nurseries use different packaging methods- we use shredded wrapping tissue paper to minimise impact and bruising.
If any plants look mushy/ damaged/ dead contact the seller with photos. We offer full refunds or replacements and chances are many other sellers will too. It may be a good idea to read the shipping policy before you buy.
Shrivelled or even some bottom yellow leaves are normal and before the cuttings send roots they will shrivel further and can fall off.
Lay the cuttings out in a shaded spot and decide whether you want to plant them in pots, trays or straight in the ground. Trays are the easiest option, though transplanting can be a bit of pain as the roots of different plants will mingle. This is not a massive deal with succulents as they are unlikely to die or have their growth impacted on by a few severed roots.
Pots are a good option. I’d recommend smaller pots (7-10 cm /2.7-4 inch in diameter) to start off with and upgrade once roots poke out from the bottom of the hole or when the pot feels full (it is difficult to squeeze as the roots have grown all around). Planting straight in the garden is also an option, though do be careful planting them out in full sun during the height of summer. Cuttings are susceptible to getting their foliage sunburnt when the sun is too strong.
2. Plant the Cuttings & Place in a Protected Spot
This brings us to finding the best spot for the cuttings. Depending on the seasons and temperatures outside, the cuttings are best off placed in a very bright but shaded spot for the first 3 or so days. If you have a shade-cloth or a greenhouse with at 30% shade factor, then this would be ideal. A bright patio with a bit of morning sun or under a tree would be just fine as well.
The reason for keeping them mostly in the shade is that they have been in a dark box for some time which makes them a little vulnerable to the sun’s UV, compounded by the fact they have just been cut off and do not have any roots.
In spring, when the sun is not too strong, the cuttings will be fine in pretty much full sun after their time in the bright shade. When the sun is quite hot (over 25C/77F), morning sun-afternoon shade is recommended. In the height of summer your cuttings can pretty much cook in direct sun during heatwaves over 35C/95F. While established succulents with roots can withstand harsh, hot summer sun, cuttings are not likely to.
Similarly, cuttings are very likely to die if left out in the frost. Most succulents are not frost hardy and will need to be kept out of the freezing cold. They will survive temperatures to about 1C/33.8F. If you live in a cold climate it may be best not to order cuttings during the winter months.
The best medium to plant the cuttings is a succulent potting mix. Other potting mixes can be used as well, but we do recommend a good quality, well-draining product. Never use potting mix for vegetables or ones that are high in nitrogen/manure/compost as succulents do not like manure rich growing medium. It is likely they will still grow even in poor mix, but some may die or have distorted growth.
Many people ask about drying the cuttings out before planting. In our experience (and we plant tens of thousands of cuttings every year), it is enough to dry cuttings for 24hours, so after your plants have arrived there is no need to dry them out further.
To plant the cuttings, make small hole with your finger and place the stalk in the hole. It is likely some of the leaves closest to the soil will die off, but this is normal. There will be cuttings with very little stalk, but this is also fine- make the hole a bit wider and shallower & sit the cutting in it. The roots will eventually find their way in. Do not plant the cuttings too deep as this can rot some plants.
3. Water the Cuttings
The advice differs greatly when it comes to watering cuttings. Some say to not water cuttings at all until the roots appear, others believe it is best to not water for at least a couple of weeks. We water pretty much from the get go.
As the climate allows us to grow and propagate succulents all year round, most of our plants are grown outdoors in the elements, including the majority of cuttings we take to propagate. Some species will send roots even if they are kept dry but others, such as trailing sedums with thin stems (Acre or Little Mr/Missy for instance), will almost definitely day if they are not watered regularly.
How often depends greatly on the seasons and weather. If it is rainy, there is no need to worry too much, but if it’s hot and dry, in our opinion, it is best to water once the potting mix has dried (do not leave it dry for too long though). At the end of spring and during summer this would probably work out to be every 2-3 days.
Cuttings in pots will require much more watering than cuttings in the ground. The pots get hot and dry out very fast (especially when they are black) but the ground stays cool and moist for longer periods.
4. Check regularly for pests
Your young cuttings are likely to attract a variety of pests and so it may be a good idea to check them regularly. Aphids, mealy bugs and slugs are the most common ones, though there are scores of other animals that will love to eat your succulents (see this article for more info).
5. Check for roots
In the growing season the roots should start appearing within 3 weeks. The growing season can differ for some succulents, but most will grow rapidly in Spring. A few succulent species are dormant in Summer (Aeoniums for instance) and will be a bit slow to send roots but the great majority will grow well in Spring, Summer and the beginning of Autumn. In cold climates planting in Autumn could be a bit risky and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have a greenhouse with a plastic or hard cover.
Some plants can also take longer than others, but this is nothing to worry about.
To find out if the roots are growing gently tug on the plant and if there is slight resistance, you have roots.
At this stage you can transplant to a forever home or leave as they are. Once the roots are present the plants can also be slowly introduced to more sun but do be careful as they are still a little vulnerable.
Mail Order Succulent Cuttings FAQ
My plants were delayed in transit. Will they be ok?
Succulents are exceptionally hardy and should be ok for about 2 weeks. This period may be shorter during heatwaves or if the parcel has been left in a very hot vehicle/ out in the sun.
In our experience cuttings are resilient and in our 5 years of trading online, we have never had a cuttings pack arrive with damaged plants.
I have written a separate article on how long can succulents survive in little to no light that explains what happens to succulents when they are in complete darkness and how long can they stand it for.
Should I give my plants sun when they arrive?
No. The plants should be kept in a bit of morning sun/ bright afternoon or under shade-cloth for the first few days- week. During heatwaves, it is not advised to expose cutting to direct hot sun at all, only gentle morning sun.
Once the roots start appearing the plants can be introduced to more sun. After that the amount of daily sun can be increased gradually. Avoid exposure to very hot sun (over 30C/86F). During mild temperatures to about 23C/73F cuttings can be in almost full sun. after a couple of days adjusting in bright shade.
Can I plant cuttings straight into the ground?
Yes, cuttings can be planted straight in your garden, but be vary of hot direct sun as it can burn the foliage or even kill your cuttings. Most of the time, the cuttings will be fine, but if there is a hot day/heatwave expected a shade-cloth or some other type of structure can be erected over the cuttings.
Should I let the cuttings dry out first?
In the plantmail scenario, the cuttings would have had enough time to dry their wounds. By the time you receive the parcel, they will be ready to be planted.
Should I water my cuttings?
Yes, definitely do water your cuttings, though give the potting mix time to dry out between watering and never let them sit in soggy mix for too long.
Will rain rot my cuttings?
In most cases it shouldn’t, but there are succulents out there that are particularly sensitive to too much rain and water. These are in the minority though. If the potting mix is of good quality and well draining, your cuttings should be just fine in the rain.
The cuttings are shrivelling- are they dying?
Before cuttings grow roots many will lose water and shrivel quite a bit, but once the roots start appearing they will have the ability to bring water back into the plant and plumping up the leaves once more.
However, if the leaves are shrivelling to the point where they fall off en masse, then you may have a problem. Some leaves will naturally fall off in the cuttings stage and throughout the life of the plant (this is normal), but lots of dying leaves is not a good sign and there may something wrong. The most common causes for cuttings losing too many leaves are too much sun, potting mix that isn’t draining well, not enough light, succulent indoors in insufficient light and not enough water.
My cuttings are losing leaves, what’s wrong?
As mentioned above cuttings and succulents will naturally lose leaves, usually the very bottom leaves. Many succulents are also sensitive to touch and their leaves will break off easily when handled (you can read a more in-depth article here on the reasons succulents lose leaves).
You shouldn’t panic if your plants have dropped one or two bottom leaves. If it is a lot of leaves, however, there is likely to be a problem.
How long before roots appear on my cuttings?
This will depend on succulent species and the seasons. Some varieties are extremely fast to send roots and can take less than 2 weeks (many sedums, graptopetalums, sedeveria etc.), while others can be slow and will make you wait for over a month (some hybrid echeverias, slow growing haworthias etc).
If you’re planting your cuttings in the growing season, the rooting process will be quite quick. Outside of the growing season, things can slow down.
It is also worth mentioning that the growing season differs between some succulent genera. For instance, Aeoniums are dormant in summer but will grow in autumn, winter and Spring. Nearly all succulents will grow in spring.
When can I transplant the cuttings?
It is good to wait until there are at least a few roots on your cuttings as they are now able to grow and take nutrients & water from the growing medium. To ascertain if there are roots, gently tug on the cutting. If it resists to come out, you have roots!
A couple of weeks after the roots have started growing, succulents can be transplanted to their new homes.
Can I kill my cuttings transplanting them?
There shouldn’t be any problems transplanting succulents. The beauty of these plants is in their toughness. Even if a few roots are knocked off, they will still be ok.
Should I spray my cuttings?
No, succulents should not be sprayed, ever. Most succulents do not like to have their foliage wet and spraying will also not deliver enough water to the root area. Watering well when the potting mix has dried up is the best method.
In conclusion ordering succulent cuttings is the best and most economical way of starting a new collection and in most cases, they are incredibly easy to raise. Happy succulent gardening!