Beginner’s guide to growing succulents

Updated: Nov 5, 2021

Succulents are one of the most popular plant groups in contemporary gardens, and it’s not hard to see why. They’re easy to grow, tough, drought-tolerant and child’s play to propagate. And succulents are the perfect plants for containers, courtyards and roof gardens, taking intense sunlight and wind exposure in stride.

But like all plants, they still need the right growing conditions and care to do their best. Pay a little attention to their needs and your succulents will reward you with sculptural style and year-round performance. Here are a few rules of green thumb to get you started.

Keep out of the rain. Prolonged exposure to rain during cold winter months is anathema to most succulents. If their leaves are allowed to take up too much moisture, succulents become more vulnerable to frost damage. And the leaves of some low-growing species such as Echeveria are liable to rot in very rainy weather.

Get the soil right. Very free-draining, aerated soil is key to growing succulents well, both in the ground and in containers. If your soil is heavy clay, you’re better off growing succulents in pots. Numerous commercial potting mixes for succulents are available now, or you can make your own by mixing a light potting mix with coarse sand, crushed pumice, gravel or perlite (four parts potting mix to one part sand, for example). A gravel mulch will also help prevent rotting in the stem of the plant. You can plant succulents into garden beds, provided the soil is well drained and doesn’t become too cold in winter.

Water carefully. Succulents are xerophytes, which means they have adapted naturally to very little rainfall by storing water in their stems and leaves. However, they still do need to be watered, especially if they’re growing in pots. Check that the soil is reasonably dry before watering, as waterlogged soil is fatal to succulents. Soak well as you would other plants, but do it less often and always check for dryness beforehand.

Keep an eye out for pests. Succulents may be tough but they’re not immune to pests. If soil conditions are good and the plants are well fed and watered, this shouldn’t be a problem too often.

Aphids can infest flowers and new growth, while mealy bugs will often set up shop in between leaves. In rainy weather, powdery mildew can also attack succulents, and in very warm weather ants like to invade potted plants. Although these pests and diseases may not kill your succulents, infestations need to be controlled as you would with any plant. Try organic sprays such as neem oil on aphids and mealy bugs.

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