Succulents have long been one of the most popular types of indoor plants. There are a variety of reasons for their popularity. They come in a wide range of shapes and sizes and require very little care in the way of watering and pruning.
There are some succulent species that don’t require a lot of light, which makes them the ideal choice for spaces devoid of natural light.
Ambius has been enhancing interior landscapes since 1963. We are experts in the use and care of succulents indoors and often use succulents in our green walls and interior landscaping projects. Ambius plant specialists know how to care for succulents what they need to not just survive, but to thrive in almost any environment.
In order to answer the most common questions about succulents, we asked Matt Kostelnick, Senior Horticulturalist at Ambius.
Click on one of the questions below to be taken directly to the answers.
General Information About Succulents
- What is a succulent?
- How did succulents get their name?
- Where do succulents come from? Where did they come from originally?
- Why are succulents so popular?
- Where’s the best place to buy succulents?
- How can you tell a succulent from other plants?
- Is there a difference between succulents and cacti?
- Is there a difference between succulents and “air plants”?
- Are succulents easy to take care of?
- Are succulents expensive?
- Are succulents poisonous?
- Which succulents are safe for pets?
- Which succulents prefer shade?
- Which succulents can survive well in winter?
- Which succulents can be planted together?
- Which succulents are edible?
- Which succulents prefer full sun?
- What succulents flower?
- How do succulents store water?
- Are there any warnings about succulents or health concerns?
Basic Caring for Succulents
- What are some succulent garden planting tips?
- How do you take care of succulents? Do succulents need pruning?
- How do you water a succulent? Is there anything special to know?
- When should someone plant succulents?
- In what soil should a succulent be planted?
- Where should I plant succulents?
- Should succulents only be planted indoors or are there outdoor succulents?
Advanced Succulent Care Questions
- Can succulents be planted in other things besides soil, such as rocks? If so, is there anything special that should be known about caring for the plants in that medium?
- How do you propagate a succulent and can you propagate succulents from cuttings?
- Why do succulents lose their leaves?
General Information About Succulents
What is a succulent?
Succulents are plants that have telltale fleshy leaves containing sap. The reason that they have those leaves is so they hold as much moisture as possible. Where they are found in desert areas, but can be found in multiple places around the globe.
Succulents cover a wide variety of types of plants. Aloe plants, cacti and even orchids can be considered succulents. ZZ plants and other common indoor plants are usually in the succulent family. They are popular because they are relatively low maintenance, require little watering or pruning and some species need very little light to thrive.
How did succulents get their name?
Succulents get their name because of the thick, fleshy, sap-filled leaves that are their trademark. These leaves allow them to hold and retain water more effectively than plants with thinner leaves.
Where do succulents come from? Where did they come from originally?
Succulents originally came from dry, arid areas such as deserts. There are also some succulents, such as orchids, that do get rainfall, but they grow in branches or areas where the rain might not reach them so easily. Many succulents come from Africa and other areas that have long dry seasons and where plants have evolved ways of more effectively and efficiently storing and using water.
Why are succulents so popular?
Succulents have been around for a long time, of course, and have been used as office plants and in indoor gardens for a long time. However, in recent years their popularity seems to have grown. The reasons for this are many:
- They’re low maintenance. They require less watering and little to no pruning.
- They come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. This includes very tiny plants in small pots which can easily find a home on a desk.
- They attract fewer pests. Many times plants bring about pests because of the constant need for watering. When you don’t have to water the plants as much, such as with succulents, the risk of pests reduces dramatically. The thick, waxy leaves of succulents are also more difficult for pests to penetrate and feed through.
- They are easier for greenhouses and stores to sell. Since they can last a very long time without water they can sit on a truck for days, making transportation easier. Many succulents are very small, which allows growers to ship large numbers with lower freight costs. Some can even be packed in plastic bags and shipped across country. They can also be stored at the garden center much longer and last longer.
- It’s very difficult for most to overgrow. One of the problems with some common indoor plants, like Pothos, is that they grow and eventually start to vine. This requires lots of maintenance and can be an inconvenience.
Where’s the best place to buy succulents?
Succulents have become so popular that they can be found just about anywhere that sells plants. That can range from garden centers to larger big box stores. Even some grocery stores that sell plants may have a selection of succulents.
However, if you’re interested in adding succulents to your business space it is highly recommended to work with an interior landscaping professionals like Ambius.
How can you tell a succulent from other plants?
Succulents are a distinctive type of plant. They just look different from other plants. One of the key differences is their leaves. When you touch the leaves of a succulent, they are usually thicker than other plants, and the leaves even feel a bit like rubber. They also tend to have very shallow root systems and don’t usually sit in very wet soil (in fact, soil that is too moist is bad for them).
They come in a wide variety of types, shapes and colors. So, if you have any questions, be sure to ask and expert to be sure or read the labels that have been attached to the pot or in the soil of the plant.
Is there a difference between succulents and cacti?
There does seem to be a bit of a discrepancy within the plant world over whether or not cacti are succulents. Some horticulturists say that they are a separate category of plants, but most people who garden consider them to be.
Ultimately, cacti do qualify for the requirements of a succulent. They do not require much water. Cacti have thick green stems instead of leaves but they have a unique system for using what little water they get efficiently. Some of them also flower, which makes them popular among plant enthusiasts who do not want to have plants that require a lot of maintenance.
Is there a difference between succulents and “air plants”?
Air plants (Tilandsia spp) and succulents are pretty much in the same class and are similar enough to be classified as succulents. Air plants have almost no root system and are often found growing on other plants or structures – such as the branches of trees. They are very hardy and require almost no water at all.
Air plants only need to be misted from time to time and their leaves retain most of their water. They absorb what little moisture they get and retain it. When shipped together in boxes or bags, they absorb the water emitted from other air plants and stay alive, which makes them very popular these days.
Are succulents easy to take care of?
One of the reasons that succulents are so popular is that they are easy to take care of. They do not require much water or need to be repotted (although you can if you wish to for aesthetic reasons). They grow slowly and do not need to be pruned.
The only thing to watch out for is the tendency people have to over-water succulents.
Although it is stated pretty plainly that they do not need much water, people have a natural tendency to want to water plants daily. This should not happen with succulents. Just test the soil and see if it’s dry.
If you do water your succulent and keep it in a saucer, remove it and hold it under a tap and let the water drain. Or, if you use a watering can, once you water the plant, check later to see if it is sitting in water. If it is, remove it from the saucer and toss it away. When soil is dry, avoid light watering (aka “splash and dash”) – always water the plant thoroughly when needed and discard any excess water.
Are succulents expensive?
Generally, they are not very expensive, but the family of succulents is so wide and varied, there are always exceptions. There might be some rare types of succulents out there that could go for a higher price. In very broad terms, however, most succulents are very affordable. They are unique, often with odd colors and shapes and for that you might pay slightly more than you would for a more standard plant, but you get a more unique and interesting plant for that.
To make sure that you get your money’s worth; ensure the plant is in good shape. If you are going succulent shopping in a big box store, make sure to inspect the plant and see if it looks like it’s on good condition. They turn brown or yellow when they are sick or dying just like any other plant. Despite being hardy plants, they can suffer if neglected for too long.
Succulents take time to grow, meaning a small plant may be worth quite a bit and shouldn’t be worth a certain amount just because of its size. In general, succulents are worth more in their size than the average houseplant.
Are succulents poisonous?
In very generic terms, most succulents are not poisonous; there are many beneficial and medical uses for succulents.
For example, Aloe is a succulent and the sap inside the leaves of that plant are known for helping with burns and have been used to make cosmetics such as face creams. That being said, people can sometimes have allergies to plants, including succulents. People who develop allergies to latex should be particularly cautious with succulents that produce sap (particularly succulents in the genus Eurphorbia). More than likely anyone who has an allergy will have a skin reaction like a rash.
Which succulents are safe for pets?
Again, given the sheer number of succulent varieties that might pose some concern and most plants should be kept away from pets as much as possible. The bigger risk to pets might be some of the succulents that have large, pointed, stiff stalks that could pose a more physical injury (such as to eyes). However, generally succulents are OK for pets.
Which succulents prefer shade?
While it is well known that succulents do not need much water, there are a few that don’t require a lot of sunlight. However, keep in mind that most succulents grow in very sunny, dry areas, such as deserts and other arid climates.
Always check the information that comes with the plant to see what the light requirements are.
Some plants that will likely do well in lower light conditions include:
- ZZ plant
- Sansevieria (Snake Plant)
- Cacti – yes, even cacti. They are known for being in sunny deserts, but some will survive for quite some time in lower light conditions (species dependent).
Which succulents can survive well in winter?
Of course, all succulents can survive the winter if they are being considered for indoor plants. If you are planning on planting succulents outdoors, then it might be best to ask your local plant expert at the nearby garden center as much of this depends on what your local climate is like. Some varieties of cacti will do quite well during cold winter months. Prickly pear is a good example of a type of cacti that tends to do well during winter and will survive in many temperate climates that receive snowfall in winter. Also Yucca plants are hardy and tolerate many temperate climates.
Which succulents can be planted together?
Succulents tend not to care too much if they are grouped together. They don’t require a lot of humidity, which can increase when you group a bunch of plants together.
Plants like palms and ferns crave the heavy humidity, but most succulents don’t care. There is no particular benefit to grouping them as far as growing, but if you are looking to group several together because they look nice, most species can co-exist pretty well.
Which succulents are edible?
There are not a lot of succulents that are edible.
Pineapples fit the definition of succulents, actually, so that would be one instance where the fruit produced would be very edible. Many cacti are edible and can easily be found in the produce section of most grocery stores. Generally, however, it would not be particularly appetizing to try and make a salad of succulents.
Which succulents prefer full sun?
Since most succulents come from dry, arid, areas like deserts and other climates of similar temperament, most of them do well in full sun. Cacti, jade plants and varieties of agave in particular do well in full sun. Even some species of orchid, which can be considered part of the succulent family, do well in high sunlight areas.
What succulents flower?
There are a few that will produce flowers:
- Orchids – of course, if you allow for orchids to be considered succulents, obviously these will flower into a wide variety of dazzling colors.
- Cactus – many varieties of cacti bloom and produce very colorful flowers.
- Euphorbias – one variety of Euphorbia is the Poinsettia. Many Euphorbias are considered succulents and many types of this plant will produce flowers.
- Christmas Cactus and Easter Cactus – both blooming around the time of the corresponding holiday.
There are many types of succulent that may produce blooms, but their very nature is such that the blooms may not happen on a regular basis. They will not produce flowers every spring or summer, for instance. Check with a plant expert if you want to find varieties of succulent that produce blooms more often than not.
How do succulents store water?
Succulents are built to store water to adapt to dry conditions where water is scarce. This is an adaptation to their environments, evolved over time.
The reason that most succulents have the thick, rubbery, leaves is so that those leaves can store the water for use when the plant needs it but is not readily available in the soil. Often, with many succulents, if you break open the leaves you can see a moist, fleshy interior loaded with stored water.
Are there any warnings about succulents or health concerns?
If there is any true warning that goes with succulents and air plants, it would pertain to children and pets. Some succulents have very pointed leaves that can be very sharp. Make sure that the plants are kept out of reach of children or pets that could potentially injure themselves on the sharp leaves.
Basic Care for Succulents
What are some succulent garden planting tips?
As with any garden, you have to choose plants that appeal to you. Whether that garden is indoors or outdoors, choosing what types of plants you want is a personal decision. If you have decided to start a succulent garden, that advice applies, as well. Choose the ones that you like and that appeal to aesthetically.
The other tip would be to watch how often you water the plants. Remember that succulents by their very nature do not need much water. If you have them indoors and have your succulents in saucers, toss away the excess water that gathers there after you water them. If you chose a variety of air plant, just mist the plants.
Beyond that, make sure that you read the information that comes with the plants and ask questions of the plant or garden experts to make sure you know how to care for any and all plants you want to put into your garden.
How do you take care of succulents? Do succulents need pruning?
Succulents are probably one of the lower maintenance plants that you will run across. Of course, that does depend on the variety you have chosen. However, by their nature, succulents grow slowly and the majority of species do not vine like other plants. This is why they are so popular for indoor plants, because they do not generally need to be pruned. They need little watering and very little pruning.
As for care, read the information that usually comes with the plants you buy. Remember not to let them sit in water and do not overwater them.
How do you water a succulent? Is there anything special to know?
Like most plants, the best way to water a succulent is to remove it from its saucer and run tepid tap water over it. Let the water drain completely through it and then replace it in the saucer you are using beneath the pot. Check later to see if any excess water has pooled beneath the plant and throw that away.
Always keep in mind that succulents will not tolerate prolonged wet, soggy soils. Check the soil and see if it seems particularly dry. Also, be sure to check the watering instructions that will come with the plant you buy.
When should someone plant succulents?
Since most people want succulents for indoor use, there is no planting season involved. You can set up a succulent garden indoors any time of the year. However, if you are looking to plant succulents outdoors, it might be best if you chose spring or summer.
Although succulents are hardy and can even survive the winter pretty well, succulents need to be planted when the soil can be worked. – they will likely do much better if planted in warmer months.
In what soil should a succulent be planted?
In general, when you go to buy succulents, they will already be planted in something. Most likely it will be soil. The great thing about succulents is how low-maintenance they are. Generally there is no reason to remove succulents from the container they came in and there is no reason to change out the soil.
Of course, if you are designing some kind of indoor succulent garden and have to remove them from the pots and the soil that they came in, succulents tend to like coarse, rockier, sandier soil, well-drained soil.
In fact, succulents do quite well in inorganic soils like clay, sand or silt. They also have relatively shallow root systems so they don’t need a lot of soil. Finally, many succulents come in tiny pots or containers, but that’s no reason to feel bad for them. Because of their nature, succulents do quite well in small pots and containers.
Where should I plant succulents?
Assuming that you are in an arid climate where succulents will thrive, they should be planted in a place that gets a good amount of sun. Remember, if you have any questions, be sure to ask your garden center experts on planting needs.
Should succulents only be planted indoors or are there outdoor succulents?
There are a wide variety of succulents and some of them do well indoors and some do well outdoors. A lot can depend on where you live and what the climate is like.
Remember that succulents do not want a lot of moisture and will likely not thrive as well in very humid areas as they will in dry, hot and arid climates.
However, the short answer to the question is: both. They can be planted indoors and outdoors.
Advanced Succulent Care Questions
Can succulents be planted in other things besides soil, such as rocks? If so, is there anything special that should be known about caring for the plants in that medium?
Your best bet is to just keep the succulents you have purchased in the soil they came in. There really is no need to re-pot them or transfer them to another medium. They have a fragile root system and constantly transferring them to other mediums can end up damaging the roots and the plant. If you do transfer them, they will do best planted in a soil similar to the one they came in.
If you do plant succulents in inorganic material such as rocks, remember that what little water they get will run right through. Although succulents need less water than other plants, growing media such as rocks typically won’t retain enough moisture.
How do you propagate a succulent and can you propagate succulents from cuttings?
Propagating (creating more plants from cuttings) succulents is a fairly advanced venture and maybe not something for the novice gardener. However, if you have been doing this for a while and you want to grow more succulents from the plants you have, it can be done. A lot depends on what kind of plant you have.
For example, if we use the definition that orchids fall within the realm of succulents, then propagation via cutting is just not done. Most orchids today are propagated via micropropagation in a laboratory environment. However, many orchids can be propagated by anyone through division (i.e. dividing an existing plant up into multiple plants). Division is a common way of propagating plants at home such as Hosta, Daylilies and Iris. This practice applies to a number of orchids.
However, some succulent like the Sansevieria does quite well from cuttings. In fact, it can be quite fun to propagate Sansevieria from cuttings. They are hardy enough that they can start to grow by taking the leaf cuttings and putting them in a small cup with moist soil.
Sansevieria cuttings like water and light as well as a warm soil to initiate root growth, so give them enough and they will start to grow. One odd thing about them, if you took a cutting from a striped Sansevieria, you may end up with a non-striped offspring.
Succulents such as ZZ Plants and some species of Sansevieria can be propagated via division. This is where the plant is broken into multiple parts, keeping the crown and root intact to grow more plants. This is a very old technique that has been used for centuries by gardeners. In fact, most homeowners have probably divided a plant at some point when gardening.
If you do decide to propagate your succulents, you would do well to buy a rooting hormone, which can be found at most garden centers. Rooting hormones help initiate root growth quicker, helping them to grow successfully.
Why do succulents lose their leaves?
If the leaves of your succulent are turning yellow or brown then something is not right. Although Succulents do well with little water, they cannot handle zero water. Yellowing leaves is generally a sign of extremely dry soil. Ironically, it could also be from a very wet soil – be sure to check the soil moisture to find out for sure.
Of course, plants also have leaves that get old and may turn yellow and die with time. This doesn’t happen frequently with succulents, but is not out of the realm of possibility. Again, monitor soil moisture and ensure the soil isn’t too wet or too dry.
When it comes to a hardy plant that will survive well indoors, you cannot go wrong with succulents. Their wide variety, easy care and slow growing rate make them ideal for interiors. Choosing succulents for your space also reduces your chances of being infested by insects such as fungus gnats. So, if you want plants to brighten up your indoor space, be sure to consider succulents.
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