How to Care for Your Succulents
Succulents are loved for their striking shapes and colors and their easy care. But before you take one on, make sure you know what kind of care these cute little guys need!
The first thing to consider when learning how to care for any kind of plant is their native habitat. Does your plant grow in the undergrowth of tropical forests? Chances are, it wants lots of humidity, moist soil, and indirect light. Succulents and cacti, for the most part, grow in deserts. This means that they like dry soil and tons of light. Let’s start with that.
Most succulents you’ll find at Niche like lots of bright, unfiltered light. This is difficult to come by in the average Boston-area apartment, unfortunately. You’ll want to place your succulents in a sunny window or buy a full-spectrum grow light to supplement what you have at home. A lack of light can lead to etiolation, or legginess (see image below). This isn’t a deadly condition as long as you’re watering properly, but it can make your succulent look a bit awkward over time.
The few exceptions to the light rule are haworthia, gasteria, jade, aloe, and rhipsalis. These green succulents can handle indirect light and may actually scorch in super bright light. A general rule of thumb is the more colorful (red, orange, pink) a succulent is, the more light it needs to thrive.
Note that, while succulents (and cacti) do generally want direct sun, it is still possible to scorch these plants if they are in an especially hot and sunny spot.
Since most succulents need to dry between waterings, you shouldn’t be watering too often, and you want to keep the balance between water and light even. So if you can’t provide your succulent with full light, you’ll want to water less frequently to account for the fact that the soil isn’t drying out as quickly. In a similar vein, you should be watering less frequently during the winter than in the summer, as daylight hours are shorter.
This said, less frequent watering doesn’t mean you should be giving the plant less water at a time. On the contrary, you should give your succulent a thorough soaking each time you water it. The logic behind this is: when it rains, it pours. When it rains in semi-arid climates (think Arizona and parts of Mexico), there are torrential downpours with long periods of drought between them.
Another important point: larger plants need to be watered less frequently than smaller ones.
Tto Mist or Not to Mist?
One of the biggest misconceptions we hear from customers is that succulents should be misted regularly. This is ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE. You should never be misting your succulents because any water left sitting on the leaves can eventually lead to rot. It’s for this reason that you should also be careful to water only a succulent’s soil and try not to let any splash up onto the leaves.
One semi-exception: when propagating succulents from a cutting on top of dry soil, misting can be a nice way to moisten soil every so often, without overwatering. Aim to mist at the base of the cutting (where roots form), not on the leaves.
You might notice that succulent leaves break very easily. This is a propagation adaptation of the plant for its species to survive in the often harsh climates that succulents live in. While it’s a bummer to lose a leaf, the upside is that you can gain a whole new plant, by propagating!
To propagate most succulents from a cutting (aka broken leaf), simply lie the cutting on a surface of dry soil (such as on the soil of your existing plant). Then: wait. After a few days, give the soil a light spray of water to give the cutting some moisture. Then: wait some more. Over time, you’ll find that tiny roots begin to form at the base of the cutting, and you might eventually see a pup sprouting. Continue to let the plant root itself in place, helping it along with occasional light waterings.
Propagating succulents is easy, but takes patience, not every propagation attempt will be successful, and it takes months to grow anything more than a few leaves. But it’s also very rewarding to see a tiny succulent grow larger and thrive under your care!