So recently I have become OBSESSED with succulents. It all started when I accidentally came across some really cute succulent seeds on Amazon. The obsession launched from there. I will list all the items I have purchased from Amazon and Etsy. I will do separate posts reviewing the Etsy sellers I have purchased from. This post will just be a general/misc conglomerate of random knowledge I have accumulated about succulents over the last two months.
Facts about Succulents:
- Odds are you will find the most individual sellers of succulents in California. In fact, I haven’t come across one from anywhere else as of yet. This is because California is the perfect environment for succulents to thrive, nearly all year round.
- Succulents love three things: sunshine, well draining soil, and minimal rain.
- Succulents and cacti can be grouped together. Most people know that cacti live in hot, dry climates with minimal rain, like in a desert. Well succulents are similar. You barely ever have to water these hardy plants, making them convenient for the forgetful plant owner.
- The variety of succulents is almost endless! There are so many different types and colors to choose from. Not to mention if you like cacti there is a wide variety of them as well. You might be surprised! I recently purchased a cactus whose spines are soft like a baby hair brush!
- You can find succulents locally, but it may be harder than finding your common perennials, or annuals. You may also find only one or two of a type at your local store.
- Ordering succulents offline is convenient and you can find a wide variety of plants. Downside? Shipping costs can become astronomical. Look below for my tips on buying succulents online.
- You can easily propagate, or grow new baby plants, from your current supply of succulents through leaves and cuttings.
Buying Succulents Online
You gotta be careful buying succulents online. A little research and you quickly discover that many Etsy sellers use the same “stock” photos and descriptions of succulents. These photos may just come off Google, but they are pristine examples. Odds are the plants you will receive are not going to look that pristine and symmetric as the photos. So don’t buy from a seller because their photos look nice. Instead look at reviews, return/refund policies and in particular shipping costs. Sometimes two different sellers will have the same plants, but different shipping costs. Bottom line, when it comes to buying something online it can be a hit or miss. If you order from one seller and receive at least two bad plants, I would move on to the next seller. Also check and see what the return/refund policy for each seller is. When I received two bad plants I reported this within 24 hours of receiving it and received a replacement and refund from my seller. If your seller has a 24 hour policy it is within your best interest to know and not delay. Also pay attention to whether the seller lists the plant as barefoot. A barefoot plant is just a plant without a pot or soil. These tend to be a little cheaper because the cost of the pot is removed.
When purchasing any succulent, online or in-person, be sure to quarantine the plant for at least a week. This will allow you to detect any unwanted pests or rot before it can be spread to your healthy plants.
There is really only one type of soil you can use. You must use a well draining soil. There are specific pre-mixed cactus and succulent soils you can purchase, or you can find various recipes online so you can mix your own. I’ve used this soil here ($10.90) and here ($11.80). The first soil I purchased from Amazon. It arrived with the soil ever so slightly moist; enough to allow you to pack the soil down. The second type I purchased in-store and was very damp. Damp enough to register a 3 on my moisture scale. I won’t have to water the plants I used that soil with for a very long time. Both soils seem fine, very similar, and have been working for me.
Pots and Containers:
Pots are a bit more complicated! Broadly there are two different pot types. There are ones with drain holes, and ones without. The ones without drainage holes are sometimes labeled as terrariums. Examples of pots without drainage holes would be containers like these that I purchased off amazon. These are two different sizes with the larger of the two listed first.
Amazon link ($13.72)
Amazon link ($10.50)
I used these Command hooks ($3.77) to hang them without damaging my walls. This is a perfect alternative for a college student! Here are pros and cons to containers without drainage holes. A quick note, both these globes had a dimple on the front like many reviews complained about. Despite my slight OCD it doesn’t bother me that much. If you think it would bother you maybe try to find containers like this in person so you can inspect them before purchasing.
- You can get really creative with containers! There are hanging containers that you can hang from your ceiling to create a really interesting display.
- You can recycle old containers you didn’t know what to do with, but were too nice or pretty to throw out.
- You don’t have to water you plants as often because the moisture is held in
- You can hang them on walls which allows you to fill an otherwise empty space with beautiful plants, while saving counter space at the same time!
- It’s easier to kill your plants. Without a drainage hold you can easily over water your plants and accidentally water log your plants. The extra water will lead to root rot which will slowly kill your plants, roots first, meaning that by the time the rot rots a visible part of your plant and you detect it, it’s too late to save it.
- Best for more experienced succulent owners because of the special watering needs.
Basically it’s best if you can drill your own hole into your container. There are many tutorials online for how to do this. I haven’t personally done it because my wall hangers can’t have drainage holes or I’d ruin my walls! From what I’ve read it’s an easy process that can be done on most any material.
There are many beautiful pots with drainage holes that are perfect for any succulent owner, beginner or otherwise! I found these two adorable pots which are perfect for one small succulent.
Amazon link ($9.99)
Amazon link ($12.99)
I am an animal lover so of course I had to get these two! I own hedgehogs so that little guy is my favorite of the two. Mine currently hold my little cactus. My hope is that over time the cactus will grow and fill the pot and make it look like the spines of a hoggie.
This is another container ($14.99) I have purchased. This container, like the ones above, are ceramic coated. There is a difference between the different container types.
Ceramic containers have a glaze coating that makes them shiny and smooth. This coating is non-porous which means nothing gets in or out from either side. It holds in moisture keeping the lower soil damp longer. This means that over watering can easily lead to root rot which I mentioned earlier. With this kind of pot you have to be sure to use some sort of covering on your topsoil to retain water and prevent early evaporation.
Clay pots commonly referred to as terracotta pots are the best pots to prevent root rot. Clay is a porous substance which means it absorbs. The water is absorbed through the clay and evaporated out the other side evenly. This prevents water from pooling and water logging the roots. I still suggest a top covering to prevent the top from over drying.
These are the plastic pots ($9.99) I purchased off Amazon to use during the quarantine period. Many of the plants I ordered came barefoot and needed a pot to be put into.
Sometimes pots like these are called nursery pots because these kinds of pots are used in nurseries to grow plants. These are a little nicer quality than a typical nursery pot and have a TON of drainage holes to allow for super even drainage. I like the various colors and like to match them up to the color of the plant it holds. Contrasting colors to your plant can also make your little guy pot. Each container has a saucer which is super convenient for watering to help keep your counters watermark free.
Succulents need very low levels of fertilizer or they’ll be over fertilized and die. I would recommend using only succulent specific formulas to be safe, but if you want to dilute your own there are recipes online. I use this formula ($9.85).
So most every site I’ve visited has recommended using only distilled or bottled water. This type of water has been filtered of chemicals and the water is neither basic nor acidic. If you can’t get either at least use filtered water. Never tap.
I really like this watering can ($16). It’s a good size and has a nice flow. You don’t get too much water at once which might flood small pots.
If you plan on propagating or growing from seeds you are going to need a spray bottle. Any bottle will do. Try to get one that has a fairly fine mist. You don’t want to knock you plants down, or spray them out of their containers (this has happened to me when I spray too aggressively!). The only other time you would ever want to mist a succulent instead of watering it is when they are attached to something like driftwood. I will explain how to do this in a different post if you’re interested.
When it comes to watering you want to imagine your plants are growing in their natural habitat, the desert. So your plants would normally go through long periods of no water, and then a rainfall, and then back to no water. You need to thoroughly soak your soil till the water runs out of the drainage hole and everything is wet. Then you just wait until it COMPLETELY dries out. Now this can be quite the challenge, unless you have one cheap and handy tool. I don’t know what I did before this (actually I do, I killed quite a few of my first succulents over watering them. After I got this handy guy I haven’t killed anything…yet).
This bad boy is a moisture meter ($7.99). By sticking it into the soil you get a perfect reading of how wet your soil is, especially the soil you can’t see or get your finger down into. Now ever meter is slightly different; some meters come with a chart listing what level each plant should be at. This one didn’t, but through a quick Google search I discovered that it should be reading in the dry level for most of the time. It will of course read wet right after watering it, but it shouldn’t retain that high level of moisture long or else you might get root rot. Once the meter doesn’t register anything anywhere (check the top, middle, bottom, left, right, and center) you can water again. If in doubt, don’t. This is a good motto to live by. These really are desert plants and can go weeks, if not months, without water and still be fine. You’re far more likely to over water instead of under water.
Lastly, succulents go through active and dormant periods. Most are active during the spring and summer, meaning they create new roots and grow, and are dormant during the fall and winter time, meaning they go into plant hibernation. Each plant species is different though so be sure to Google everything to make sure you have the right dormant/active periods. Some species are dormant in summer so you can really screw the pooch making assumptions. During the dormant period your plant really is in plant-hibernation. This does not mean, however, that you should never water them. You need to keep up with the same advice I listed earlier in the watering sections. Water when the soil is dry. In the winter if you keep your plants indoors and heat your house, you may actually have to water more frequently in the winter than in the summer because the heat dries the soil out quicker than your nice cool air conditioning.
You want your plants to have between 12-16 hours of sunlight a day. You don’t want too much direct sunlight as it can actually burn the leaves of your succulents, similar to a human sunburn. Instead you want them to get the most early sunlight and indirect afternoon sunlight when the sun is at its brightest. If you’re like me and you don’t live in sunny California you might opt in for a grow lamp. Even if you live in a generally sunny area, it still might be good to have one for the wintertime when you might have less sunlight. I would recommend LED for sure as they burn the coolest and take up the least energy. Here are the two lamps I currently have:
Amazon link ($22.88)
Amazon link ($22.89)
Personally I like the first light better. The second lamp has a loose nut which makes it hard to position. I’ve tried tightening it but it loosens frequently. I have mine set on a timer ($11.99) for 16 hours on. This timer has two outlets so I can use it for both lamps without taking up extra outlets.
Succulents are desert plants so they like things warm (warmer than 40 degrees F) and dry. Most succulents are not winter hardy so if you live in an environment that gets below 40 you will have to bring your plants in until it warms up again.
Propagating is when you take part of a plant and use it to grow another. You are most likely familiar with using seeds to grow new plants. Well those seeds came from a parent plant first. Propagating succulents is similar to that. Most succulents you can just carefully pull or twist a leaf off. Some succulents don’t propagate from leaves so instead you just behead your succulent and use that cutting to propagate.
Most importantly you need to let your leaves and cuttings callous over. This means you need to let the exposed part of the plant dry out and create a barrier. Without this barrier your cuttings will absorb too much water and rot. To speed up the process a little you can place the exposed tips against a cotton pad or paper towel. This will help draw out water and speed everything up a little. It can take from a few days to weeks to dry out a cutting depending on size and water density within the plant. I generally just leave them out until I notice roots forming. If the cuttings seem to be shriveling up you can mist them with water to help keep them from dying too soon.
Next what you want to do is lay all your leaves out in rows on top of a few inches of soil. You can nursery specific containers like this one ($11.40 for 3), or you can use a deep plastic egg carton, or one of those trays you can pick up at a local greenhouse. Just lay your leaves out on top of the soil. You do NOT have to insert the tip into the soil. Some people actually recommend against doing this because they believe it promotes rot. I lay mine out, and once the roots are pretty long I’ll just bury the roots and some of the tip under a little bit of soil. The roots MUST be covered with soil, or they will dry out too quickly and die. Once roots are established be sure they get covered.
Now it’s time to forget everything I’ve told you about succulents. When it comes to propagating you actually have to water the new cuttings quite frequently. I mist mine as soon as they dry out. Since I’m only misting (the roots aren’t long enough for me to bother truly watering them) the soil dries out every day. New roots need a lot of water. Just about everything new in nature needs more care; human babies eat constantly and so do baby plants. Keep them wet or they’ll dry out and die.
The coolest thing about propagating succulents is that they actually grow new babies that look like miniature versions of the parents. You will see a tiny flower forming at the end of your leaves. The leaf acts a bit like a placenta. It feeds the baby until the baby doesn’t need it anymore. The leaf will slowly shrivel up as the plant gets bigger and will eventually die and fall off. I highly recommend against pulling the leaf off at any time (even when it’s all shriveled and brown) because you can hurt the baby and kill it by accident. Just let nature take its course. It’s truly an amazing phenomenon to witness.
You can see in the bottom right corner of this image an echeveria growing off a leaf. It is so freaking cool I can’t even tell you. You can see the tip of its leaf starting to shrivel and die.
Your cuttings are actually pretty hardy, despite what I’m kinda suggesting. Just the other day I found an abandoned leaf on my desk. Without water, soil, or even really sunlight, it had managed to not only grow roots, but start forming a new flower. I promptly planted it and it’s still doing good.
The only downside to propagation? It doesn’t always work. In fact, most posts I’ve read suggest that you’ll lose about half the batch, if not more. Sometimes roots form, but no bud. Sometimes roots don’t form at all. Sometimes a bud starts forming, but not enough roots. So don’t go destroying all your plants to make new babies, because there is no guarantee it’ll work out for you. If your plant is getting leggy, too big, or you happened to knock off some aesthetically important leaves when planting (I’ve done this way too often), you can just pull most of the leaves off (leave some on the top to absorb sunlight), behead it and start from scratch. This way you don’t 100% lose out.
I would recommend having a pair of tweezers around. They have been my most helpful tool so far. You can use them to easily manipulate soil or the plants themselves. You can use them to carefully pull dead leaves off the stem, or pick them up off the bottom of the pot without accidentally breaking other leaves off in the process. During propagation I use the non-pokey end of the tweezers to create small indents in the soil to set leaves into. Here’s a little kit ($6.99) I just purchased off Amazon. I haven’t used it yet, but I already know it’s gonna be a life saver!