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Succulent plants are a very diverse range of plants with thick leaves or stems that store water. Many of them make excellent houseplants and container plants. Their popularity has skyrocketed due to their ease of care, bright colors, and architectural shapes. For the most beautiful and healthy succulents, keep in mind they have slightly different needs than many container plants. Also, keep in mind that since “succulent” is just a category, specific plant varieties may have more specific needs.
Succulents can store water in their leaves or stems for long periods. This makes them perfect for the infrequent or less attentive waterer. In fact, succulents should never be left in water as their roots can rot. Instead, water them when the top 2 inches of the soil seems dry, and the pot is light. Water them enough so that the water drains through the bottom holes, but then make sure the pot is not set back down in the water. Succulents with wrinkly leaves are the exception as they have gotten so dry that they have almost used up their store of water. They can be soaked for an hour at a time to restore their leaves.
Most succulents prefer high light and, when grown outdoors, can even take the direct sun in the morning and late evening. If they’re not getting enough sunlight, succulents are more prone to root rot, insect damage, and “stretching” or etiolation where their stems elongate, destroying their shape. When growing succulents as houseplants, they should be placed near a window. For south-facing windows, putting them several feet from the window is recommended, so their leaves don’t burn.
Succulents don’t require much fertilizer. When the light is lower in the winter, they shouldn’t be fertilized at all, as this can also encourage “stretching.” However, during the higher light months of spring, summer and fall, they can be fed twice monthly with a fertilizer for cacti and succulents such as “Liquid Cactus Plant Food” by Bonide.
Succulents actually prefer pots that are relatively small compared to their size but can be repotted once a year into a slightly larger pot. Choose a pot that is around one inch wider in diameter, and that has drainage holes. A pot without drainage holes is not recommended since this can lead to overwatering and root rot. A succulent specific potting soil such as Fertilome’s Succulent Potting mix is recommended since it has the right amount of drainage.
Succulents usually don’t have many plant problems but may experience spider mites or mealy bugs. In the case of a light infestation, the bugs can be removed with a q-tip and rubbing alcohol. For more severe infections, a systemic soil drench can be used. Oils such as horticultural oil and Neem oil have the advantage of being organic but should ALWAYS be tested first as many succulents are sensitive to them and could be badly burned by a foliar spray. These products should also only be applied in the early morning or late evening to reduce the risk of burning.