Beginners Guide to Succulents

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Let me preface this post by saying that I am a definite beginner when it comes to succulents.  But, when I become interested in something, I take it to the extreme, and I try to learn all I can.  Hence this post.

A few weeks ago, while researching my Etsy Mother’s Day Gift Ideas, I came across this really awesome succulent arrangement, and I was in love.  I was instantly reminded of the Hens and Chicks that grew throughout my grandparents flower beds.  I was always messing with them, and usually couldn’t keep my hands off.  There was just something about the way they looked – You could say I was mildly obsessed.  And now, I want to grow my own.  So, I’ve research, and researched, and researched some more.  And, here is what I’ve learned.

What is A Succulent?

A succulent is any plant with thick, fleshy water storage organs – their leaves.  Succulents store water in their leaves, their stems, or their roots.  The word “succulent” comes from a Latin word that means “juice.”  These plants have adapted to survive arid conditions throughout the world, from Africa to the deserts of North America.  Because of their ability to store water, they are very resistant to drought-like situations.  This means that they don’t need frequent watering, so, if you’re like me, forgetting to water isn’t a death sentence to these little plants.  Succulents are especially able to grow well in hot sun, and even poor soil.

 As a group, succulents include some of the most well-known plants, such as the aloe and agave, and also many unknown plants. Cacti are a unique subset of the succulent group, but it is important to understand that while cacti are succulents, not all succulents are cacti.

Succulents can be grown in many different places.  They will grow in stone walls, between patio pavers, and in rock gardens.  But one of the easiest ways to grow them is in shallow containers, which is the way that I am going to focus on.  Mainly because my son brought home this cool star shaped container, the other day.  My plan is to steal it, spray paint it, and then plant.  I’m hoping that if I let him help, he’ll go along with my plan.  If not, I’ll buy him ice cream.  That usually works.

Choosing A Container

Ideally, the container you choose should be shallow and at least 4 inches deep.  For those of you, without the perfect star shaped container at home, I’ve found some really neat containers on Amazon.  I really like the simplicity of this Round White Ceramic Planter.

Potting Soil

Succulents should be potted in a fast-draining mixture that’s designed for cacti and succulents, like this Organic Cactus and Succulent Soil Mix.  If you don’t want to purchase a special mix, you can follow these directions to make your own succulent soil.  The most important thing is to have a well-draining soil, because these plants have shallow roots that form a dense mat just under the soil surface.  When first potting your succulents, you will notice how shallow and brittle their roots are. Gently loosen other soil, and sift new soil around the roots, using your fingers or blunt end of a pencil to tamp it lightly as you go. Once you have them planted, cover the surface with sand or gravel or grit, and allow the plants to dry a few days before watering.


Succulents prefer bright light, such as that found by a south-facing window.  You will, however need to watch the leaves for indications that the light level is correct for your plants. Some species will scorch if suddenly exposed to direct sunlight. The leaves will turn brown or white as the plant bleaches out and the soft tissues are destroyed. Alternatively, it is important to note that an underlit succulent, without enough light, will begin to stretch, with an elongated stem and widely spaced leaves. This condition is known as etoliation, and the solution is to provide better light positioning and also to prune the plant back to its original shape. You can also research the plants you have chosen, because some will thrive outdoors, in the summer.


Many people assume that succulents can not tolerate the cold, but they are much more cold-tolerant than many people would think. If you think about it, in the desert, where there is often a definite contrast between night and day, succulents are able to thrive.  Even with nights temperatures that can drop to 40ºF, or below.

Ideally, though, succulents prefer daytime temperatures between 70ºF and about 85ºF and nighttime temperatures between 50ºF and 55ºF.


Succulents should be watered generously in the summer. You should allow the potting mix to dry between waterings, but it is important that you do not under-water. During the winter, when the plants go dormant, cut watering back to once every other month. Over-Watering can result in plant rot, which is the single most common cause of plant failure. An over-watered succulent might at first plump up and look very healthy. However, the cause of death may have already set in beneath the soil, with rot spreading upward from the root system. A succulent should never be allowed to sit in water.

The following are signs of under- or over-watering:

  • Over-Watering:  Over-watered plants are soft and discolored. The leaves may be yellow or white and they may lose their color. A plant in this condition may be beyond repair, but you can attempt to save it.  First, remove it from its pot and inspect the roots. If they are brown and rotted, cut away the dead roots and repot into a drier potting media, or you could take a cutting and propagate the parent plant.  You can learn more about propagating a succulent here.
  • Under-watering: Succulents prefer generous water during the growing season (spring and summer). An under-watered plant will first stop growing, and then will begin to shed its leaves. In addition, the plant may also develop brown spots on the leaves.


During the summer growing season, fertilizer as you would with other houseplants. You can feed your succulents easily with Miracle-Gro Succulent Plant Food.  Stop fertilizing entirely during the winter.

Common Types of Succulents

  • Hens And Chicks

    Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum) are succulents that grow in mats. As they grow, the plants form rosettes. The parent rosette is the “hen,” while the small rosettes are the “chicks.” After they flower, the hens will die, but you can remove them from your dish garden and have plenty of chicks left to fill in. Like other succulents, Hens and Chicks are drought tolerant, sun-loving plants.

  • Burro’s Tail

    Also called Donkey’s Tail or Lamb’s Tail, this plant, Sedum morganianum, is a popular succulent with a trailing habit. The gray-green leaves are shaped like tear drops and grow on branches that can reach 2 feet long. Keep them cut back if you have a small dish garden.

  • Jade Plant

    Many Crassula species are commonly called jade plants. A bonus to this plant is that under the right conditions, your jade plant may bloom in the wintertime. Look for variegated varieties in shades of green and red, and give them full sun to keep their colors bright.

  • Echeveria

    Echeveria succulents form rosettes as they mature. Most echeverias are fairly small, but there are varieties that grow into shrub-like plants, so check the tag on your plant, before you buy, especially if you want to plant it in a dish garden. Echeverias come in a range of colors, including powder blue, green, and silver, and many have attractive red edges or tips.

  • Agave

    Agaves come in various shapes and colors, but you’ll often see these plants being sold as symmetrical rosettes with spiny, stiff leaves. Others may also have soft leaves and lack spines. Even though they can become large, an agave can thrive in a small pot for many years, as long as you to manage its size.


I hope that I’ve provided you with the information you need to get started with your own succulents.  In addition, I welcome any corrections or helpful information in the comments below – I’ll take any help I can get!!  I hope to be able to show you my very own succulent plants soon!!



9 Replies to “Beginners Guide to Succulents”

  1. Thank you. Have you any experience with planting in Tufa containers? They help best the drainage challenge. I can tell you more if you like.

    1. I have not – I’ve read about them, but I’m still learning. I would love more information!

  2. Loved this! As I am a plant lover myself, I have one succulent (that I didn’t know was a succulent until this read) in a pretty groovy yellow clay wine glass shaped vase and It is flourishing! loved this read. Will be following your posts!

  3. I love the look of succulents, but have a poor green thumb. Especially with indoor plants. I’m going to try out these tips though 🙂

  4. I’ve moved my little cactuses to a different window for some more sun. One of them was sort of shrinking up! I realised that even though they were in a window it wasn’t actually that sunny, hoping they do better now.

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