How to Take Care of Succulents (Indoors and Outdoors Guide)

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Succulents are beautiful plants with fat stems and leaves that absorb and retain water. Thanks to this special ability, succulents do not need to be watered every day. That should make them easier to care for, right? Maybe not.

How to Take Care of Succulents (Indoors and Out)

While a popular choice among gardeners for both indoor and outdoor gardens, succulents do require tender loving care in order to thrive. In particular, you must meet their specific water and soil needs in order to enjoy thriving plants. Here is a look at the top tips you should follow when caring for your succulents, whether indoors or out. 

1. Select the right succulent for your purposes

Not every succulent will grow equally well indoors or outdoors, thanks to their differing light needs. Every succulent prefers sunny conditions to grow. Most require at least 6 hours of sunlight every day. However, some plants will only thrive in the direct sunlight available outdoors, while others grow well in the less direct sunlight available indoors. 

As a result, before you plant a succulent, choose one that will go with the environment in which you grow it. In particular, when growing succulents indoors, choose a variety that does not require significant amounts of direct sunlight. Usually, this means choosing succulents that are primarily green, such as the zebra plant. The brighter succulents, such as sedum, usually require more sunlight and do better outside.

2. Choose a location that has ample light

As mentioned above, succulents love the light. At least 6 hours of sunlight is ideal for most varieties of these plants. This means that, whether you plant them indoors or out, you need to make sure your location has enough light hitting it. 

Outdoors, you can choose the right spot by watching how the sunlight moves across your lawn throughout the day. Choose a location that has plenty of sunlight over the course of the day

Indoors, you can choose the right spot by selecting a location that receives ample sunshine. Preferably this will mean setting your plant near a window, where it can soak up the sunlight that comes through all day long. 

Indoors Tip: Rotate your succulents

If you take care of your succulents indoors, you run the risk of having the plant stretch and bend itself in an attempt to get near the sunlight coming in your window. This can lead to plants that look thin, spindly, or crooked. To avoid this problem, first make sure where you place them inside has lots of light coming in. Second, rotate your plants regularly. Doing so will keep them from growing in one direction to reach the light and will instead keep them upright and compact in their containers. 

3. Choose a location that has ample air flow

Air care for succulents growing

Succulents do not just enjoy the light. They require air flow to thrive as well. Air circulation allows the soil to dry out faster after watering, preventing moisture retention and root rot. As a result, you also want to ensure air flow throughout your succulents. 

Outdoors, you should be able to achieve this goal simply by selecting a location that isn’t completely secluded from the elements. Indoors, you can create air flow by choosing a container that has sufficient drainage. The right soil will also allow better air flow because of its porous nature. 

4. Create the right soil environment for your succulents

One of the most important elements in caring for succulents is planting them in the right soil. Whether you plant them inside or outside, they need the same type of soil: Coarse, nutrient-rich soil that drains well. 

If you are planting your succulents outdoors, you can test the drainage of your soil by digging a hole in your desired location that is one foot deep. Fill the hole with water and wait for it to drain. It should empty of water within a half an hour. If it does not, you should mix in 3 inches of coarse soil, like sand, in order to create soil that will drain quickly. 

If you are planting succulents indoors, you can create the same kind of coarse, high-drainage soil by mixing coarse soil in with your topsoil. You can also choose to use a succulent-specific soil to fill your containers. By creating a gritty but highly nutrient environment, you can help your succulents to grow, indoors or out. 

Indoors Tip: Choose a container that drains

When planting succulents indoors, you need to create a similarly drainage-friendly environment. This starts with selecting a container that drains. Most materials will work, as long as the container has drainage holes at the bottom. 

However, you should avoid using a glass container. Glass containers rarely have a drainage hole where water can run out. They also restrict air flow that the succulents need to stay healthy. If you grow succulents in a glass container, you will have a difficult time giving your succulents enough water to grow without the water becoming trapped and damaging the plant. 

Why is drainage so important when taking care of succulents? Because the succulents’ roots are very tender. If they are exposed to too much moisture over too much time, they are likely to rot, killing the plant. Excess moisture can also lead to the growth of pests like mealybugs. Keeping your succulents well-drained is critical in keeping them healthy and pest-free. 

5. Watch out for, and deal with, pests

Succulents are susceptible to two primary types of pests: Gnats, and mealy bugs. Gnats often appear when the soil does not drain properly. The dampness attracts them, and they lay eggs on the succulent. When the larvae hatch, they eat the leaves. 

Mealy bugs are small white bugs that tend to gather toward the center of the plant. These bugs will eat away at your succulent, leaving the leaves misshapen. 

In order to handle these pests when they appear, you can take a number of steps. 

  1. Spray the plants and soil with 70 percent isopropyl alcohol. This technique works on both indoor and outdoor plants. 
  2. Practice preventative measures. Overwatering and overfertilizing are the two main causes of these pests. They are attracted to the moistness and the nutrition in the plants. By watering and fertilizing appropriately, you can minimize the occurrence of these damaging bugs. 

Indoors Tip: Separate your succulents when you notice pests

Separate the infected succulent from the others (if growing them indoors in separate pots). These pests spread very quickly from plant to plant. Separating the plants can prevent the spread of the infestation by making it harder for the bugs to move onto your other succulent plants. 

6. Know when to water, and when not to water

Succulents are a little bit picky about their water needs. They definitely require water periodically, but they do not need it every day. In order to take care of your succulents properly, you need to know when they need water, how much water to give them, and when not to water them. Here are some tips. 

  • Watch the leaves to know when to water

Your succulents’ leaves will tell you when they are thirsty. Look for dull or wilting leaves. Leaves that begin to fall off the top of the plant (not the bottom) are also a sign that your succulent is thirsty.  

  • Test the soil before watering

Before you water your succulents, you also need to check the soil. It should be dry about one and a quarter inches, or about two knuckles, deep. 

  • Water according to the season

Succulents love water during their growing seasons. This means during the spring and summer, you should water them regularly and abundantly. In the winter, however, they tend to remain dormant. They need very little water during these times. Make sure you watch their leaves and soil to know when to water them, and avoid watering them before they show clear signs of thirst. 

  • Allow the soil to dry out between waterings

When you water your succulents, you should water them until the water begins to drain out of the drainage holes in the container. If you are planting them directly into the ground, be a little bit sparing in your application of water to avoid overwatering. 

After you water your succulents, you must let them dry out before watering them again. If you do not allow the water to drain, you risk root rot, and pests. 

7. Fertilize lightly during the growing season

You may be tempted to feed your succulents regularly throughout the year. However, they actually need very little in the way of fertilizer. Too much fertilizer can attract pests. The best approach is to lightly fertilize your succulents during the growing season (spring and summer). Follow these tips for successful feeding of your succulents: 

  • Use a balanced fertilizer

Select a fertilizer that has an equal ratio of nitrogen, phosphorous, and phosphate (i.e. 8-8-8). This will give your succulent the right balanced of nutrition for its growth. 

  • Dilute your fertilizer to half strength

Your succulent does not need a lot of food. Feed it about half of what you would feed your other plants by diluting it to half strength. Use this application about 3 or 4 times during the growing season. 

  • Do not feed during the dormant period

Your succulent will become dormant in the colder months. During these months, it does not require feeding. Avoid fertilizing it at these times. 

8. Do not worry about wilting leaves on the bottom of your plant

Wilting leaves of succulents

Succulents will naturally shed their bottom leaves over time. Do not be concerned if you see this occur on your plant. What you should be concerned about are wilting leaves at the top of your plant. If leaves begin to change color and die off higher up in your plant, you may need to water it more regularly

Indoors Tip: Clean your succulents

It may seem a bit odd, but giving your succulents a good dusting here and there can keep them healthy when you are growing them indoors. They tend to collect dust on their leaves. The dust can make it harder for them to grow. Wipe off the leaves with a damp cloth to help them thrive

A Note on Containers: 

Containers are must, of course, if you are going to take care of succulents indoors. If you choose to plant your succulents outdoors, you can plant them directly into the ground. However, unless you live in a very warm climate that stays above freezing all year, you may want to choose to plant your outdoor succulents in containers as well. Here are a few reasons. 

  • Containers allow you to move the succulents indoors

Once the cold weather hits, any succulents planted in the ground will die off. You can prevent their demise by planting them in containers that you then bring inside during the winter months. 

  • Containers allow for better drainage after rain

Drainage is just as important for succulents that are grown outdoors. If you get particularly heavy rains, the water may overwhelm the roots. You can avoid this problem by planting your succulents in containers that allow for easy drainage during the rain. You also always have the option of moving the plants indoors if the weather gets too bad. 

Succulents have the potential to beautify your indoors or outdoors for years. You simply need to take proper care of them. Account for light, air flow, soil, and watering in order to enjoy thriving succulents in your home or garden. 

Rose Hawes

Rose Hawes

A former master gardener, I hold a Bachelor of Arts degree in creative writing and have been published in magazines such as Woman's World, Birds and Blooms, and Writer's Digest. I've also created hundreds of gardening articles for online sites such as Dave's Garden, eHow, and SFGate.

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