New To Succulents? Everything You Need To Know To Care For Them

Let’s be honest, one of the things about succulents that’s so appealing to a lot of people (and especially beginners) is the ease with which they can be cared for but this is also where a lot of people go wrong. Yes, they’re easy to look after but there’s a massive difference between being easy to take care of and no care at all. Succulents don’t need a huge amount of looking after and can be very forgiving of neglect, but if you’re new to these beautiful plants it can be difficult to know where to start which is why I decided to write this article. 

There’s a lot of information out there about how best to look after succulents but most of this is aimed at experienced gardeners who just want a little bit of help along the way. There’s very little in the way of help for first-time succulent owners, but if this is you then fear not. In this article, we’ll look at everything you need to know to not only keep your succulent healthy but also to help it thrive.

Choosing the right succulent

Succulents are known to be easy to look after but if you’re new to looking after plants (of whatever variety) there are some things that you need to take into account. For example, are you intending to keep your new succulent indoors or outdoors, how much light do you get, and how green-thumbed are you? All of these will play a role in the type of succulent you get.

Not sure which succulents are good for beginners? The best succulents for first-time owners.

Once you’ve decided which succulent you want to get you need to look out for one that’s healthy. Ideally, it should have a full shape, good color, and healthy foliage. You should avoid plants that have too many dead leaves, signs of damage (such as broken leaves of stems), or a lot of bugs.

Deciding which pot to use

Believe it or not but the pot your succulent is in will have an effect on your plant’s health and wellbeing. The ideal succulent pot will allow the soil to drain properly, either by allowing the excess water to evaporate or by letting it run through drainage holes.

I personally think that the best pot for succulents is either made of a porous, breathable material such as terracotta or has drainage holes.

If you’ve got your eye on a pot that doesn’t have any drainage holes (and is made of a non-porous material) then don’t worry you can still use it. You’ll just need a smaller (normally plastic) pot with drainage holes that can be placed inside the other pot. Just make sure you don’t leave any standing water in the out pot for any longer than an hour.

What makes a great pot for your succulent? What to look for in a succulent pot.

Do you have the right soil?

You probably won’t give the soil your succulent is in a moment’s thought (I know I didn’t when I got my first plant) but it plays a far bigger role in your plant’s health than you might realize. Being drought-tolerant plants, succulents don’t like to be sitting in water so it’s important the soil can drain away excess water and doesn’t hold on to it.

What’s the best soil for your plant? What your succulent really needs from its soil.

Sadly though, while succulents need well-draining soil, chances are that when you get your new plant this won’t be the case. A lot of nurseries plant their succulents in the same soil they plant everything else in which is why it’s good practice to repot new succulents shortly after you get them. 

Not sure how to repot plants? From start to finish: everything you need to know to repot your succulent.

Making sure your succulent gets enough light

Succulents need plenty of light

It’s easy to think that all plants need the same amount of light but this isn’t the case, nor is it the case that all succulents prefer bright sunshine all day long. Each succulent is different and while something like a snake plant may be happy with little light, an echeveria needs to have bright sunlight.

That said though, as a rule of thumb, indoor succulents (including those that don’t require as much sun) need at least 4 to 6 hours of sunlight. That can either be on a window sill for sun-loving succulents, or near a window for those that aren’t.

If you’re keeping your succulents outside then it’s important to keep in mind that they don’t like it if the sun is too intense. Even in the wild, they’ll find areas that have some shade as they can burn if the sun is too strong. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to make sure your succulent has some shade.

How much sunlight do succulents need? Everything you need to know about how much sun succulent need.

Keeping your succulent at the optimum temperature  

The ideal temperature for succulents is between 68°F and 76°F (20°C and 24.4°C) which means that, if you’re keeping your succulents outside then you’ll need to keep an eye on the temperature and bring them in (or move them) when the weather gets too cold, especially if they’re not frost-resistant. If you live in a relatively warm climate (such as California) then you may be okay to leave your succulents out all year round – you can read more about this in my recent article on whether succulents can survive winter outside.

The temperature isn’t as important for succulents that are kept indoors though because the temperature of the average house is somewhere between 60°F and 80°F (15.5°C and 26.6°C). That said though it’s also important to check the temperature around your succulent when the radiators are on and move them if necessary.

Rotate your succulent regularly

You might think that once your plant is in the right place that’s it but it’s not quite the case as you need to rotate the plant regularly. By keeping the plant in the same place without rotating it at all you’re effectively only exposing that side of the succulent to the light. This will cause the plant to grow in that direction and ultimately lean more towards the light. 

I personally like to rotate my succulents every Sunday, you don’t need to be quite as religious as this but I find it helps me to remember to rotate them.

How much to water your succulent

Succulents don't like too much water

While succulents are easy to care for watering is the one thing that’s so important to get right, yet oddly enough though the thing that most people get wrong. Overwatering is the single biggest killer of succulents with many people thinking they need more water than they actually do, just look at my Aleo Vera (pictured).

Being drought-tolerant plants, succulents can survive with (and prefer) far less water than most other plants. With this in mind, it’s better to give your plants less if you’re not sure. In time you’ll learn what it needs but to start with underwatering is far better for your succulents. I recently wrote an article about how to water your succulent that you might find helpful.

It’s also worth pointing out that the time of year will make a difference in how much water your succulent needs. Like all living things they need more nutrition (in this case water) as they grow which is why it’s always advisable to check if the soil is dry before watering. Don’t just presume they need water when they don’t and vice versa. A very simple rule of thumb is that, if the soil is bone dry they need watering, if it isn’t they don’t.

How to water your succulent properly

You might think that you use a watering can (or some sort of jug) to water your succulent and that’s it but there are in fact two different ways to water a succulent, top-down and bottom-up. As the names suggest they involve the plant getting the water from the top or from the bottom and they both have their advantages and disadvantages. 

Personally, I prefer to water them from the bottom by placing them in a container of water for around fifteen minutes. This way the succulent can take only the water it needs, reducing the chance of soggy soil and ultimately root rot.

If you’re not able to (or prefer not to) water your succulents from the bottom then use a watering can or bottle to pour water into the soil until it runs out of the drainage holes. This will stop the leaves from getting wet which can lead to them rotting. I’ve included links to Amazon where you can buy a good quality watering can or bottle.

Check succulent regularly 

Rotating your succulent will help to keep it uniform

A lot of people buy (or are given) succulents, water them, and then think that’s it, their work is done but if you want your plant to be in the best condition then you’ll need to check it regularly too. One of the things you need to check your succulents for are bugs. Even if you keep your plants indoors they can still suffer from pests and bugs. Checking them regularly will help you to get rid of them quickly before they have a chance to spread to other plants.

You should also check your succulent for dead or dying leaves because these can start to decay and attract bugs if left. Dead leaves that have fallen off can easily be picked up and thrown away but if a leaf is still attached then you’ll need to remove it yourself. This might sound daunting but it’s actually a simple and easy process and can either be done with a sharp knife or, if you don’t have a shape knife, you can pull the leaf off – believe me this can be so addictive!

Another thing you need to check your succulent for is dust, it might sound silly but succulents do actually get dusty. While you might not think it’s important it can in fact inhibit your plant’s growth. You can remove the dust by wiping the leaves with a mildly damp cloth, rubbing alcohol, or a paintbrush. Personally, I use rubbing alcohol because it gets rid of any pests I might not have spotted too.

To fertilize or not to fertilize 

Some people recommend fertilizing succulents while they’re growing but, while I can see the benefits of doing this I personally feel that, if you use the right soil and change it regularly there shouldn’t be any need to use fertilizers. 

Another reason to not use fertilizers is that it can also be too easy to get the quantity wrong and over-fertilize the plants. While this will obviously cause them to grow, they’ll grow too quickly and become weaker.

If, however, you do choose to fertilize your succulents I’d suggest using half the recommended dose of fertilizer, this way you won’t be able to give the plant too much. If you are going to use fertilizer then I’d also recommend using one that has a good helping of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.

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