4 Secrets for Successful Succulents

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G is for Gardening: 4 Secrets for Successful Succulents

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Earlier this summer a local greenhouse in my area offered a succulent workshop.  It was a fun way to kick off the weekend with some girlfriends and I learned a ton about growing healthy succulents! As the class was beginning, the instructor asked how many of us had succulents growing at home?  About three quarters of the class raised their hands.  Next she asked how many of us had ever killed a succulent? Every hand in the room went up. It is a miracle any of my succulents have survived as I quickly learned that I was doing almost everything wrong.  In this article I want to share just a few of the basic things I learned which may lead you to have more succulent success too.

4 Secrets for Successful Succulents

Secret #1: The Soil

The first secret to successful succulents is to have good quality soil.  I about fell out of my chair when the instructor said she changes the soil in her pots of succulents every year.  I have several small succulents on my kitchen window sill that have probably been in the same pots and same soil for at least 10 years. Oh brother! I knew I was in trouble for sure.  The instructor recommended that you buy good quality potting soil and add your own perlite to it rather than buying more expensive cactus specialty soil.  What is perlite, you ask? It is the little white styrofoam looking pieces that you see in soil mixtures.  It is actually a mineral that helps hold moisture and nutrients in the soil and creates pockets of air so that the soil does not become too compacted.   She also recommended that you never keep your succulents in the soil they came in unless you know the source is reputable.  So, I probably shouldn’t have just jammed that little succulent I bought at IKEA into a random pot when I got home, huh? Who knew?

As we prepared to plant the succulents, we took each plant out of the container and gently shook all of the soil off the roots. Here is another thing that I have never done with my plants! Once the soil is off, you can look over the roots to make sure they look healthy.  If any parts look dark or rotten, you can gently cut them off or pull them away.  This is also the time to gently remove any dry or old looking leaves from the bottom of the plant.

4 Secrets for Successful Succulents


Making sure that your soil has adequate drainage is also important.  We started our containers with a small layer of gravel (see photo below). This will allow excess water to drain to the gravel ensuring that the soil does not stay too wet.
4 Secrets for Successful Succulents


After filling our containers with a layer of gravel and then good quality potting soil, it was time to gently arrange the plants.  Because the soil is so light and fluffy, it is easy to pull out a plant and re-position it until you get just the look you are going for.  Once the plants were in their final places, we topped the soil with another light layer of gravel. A small paintbrush was a great tool to use for finishing touches.  The handle can be used to gently tuck the gravel up under the plant so that none of the leaves are laying on the soil.  The brush itself can be used to clean any loose soil or debris off the leaves of the succulents.


4 Secrets for Successful Succulents

Secret #2: Adequate Sunlight

The second secret to growing successful succulents is to make sure they get adequate sunlight. Succulents really do need plenty of light. My little potted succulents have done well on my kitchen window sill because they get a lot of sun there.  What I didn’t know is that when growing succulents outdoors, you need to be careful that they do not get too much direct sunlight (no more than 4-5 hours of direct sunlight each day). Keeping them on a covered porch or under a table or overhang is best. My planter from the workshop has been hanging out under one of my small patio tables this summer and seems quite happy there.

You also need to be mindful about sunlight indoors.  Have you ever had a succulent sprout out or lean to the side? Great! It’s growing, right? Nope! Not a good thing… your succulent is actually stretching itself towards the sunlight because it is not getting enough light.  Do yourself a favor and make sure your succulents are placed close enough to a sunny window to get enough light each day.  At this point in the workshop, I was starting to wonder if I have what it takes to grow healthy succulents.  These little suckers are kind of high maintenance, eh?

4 Secrets for Successful Succulents

Secret #3: The Right Amount of Water

The third secret to growing successful succulents is to water them correctly. Oh man, this was another thing I was doing completely wrong. Yikes! It is important to err on less water rather than over-watering.  Too much water can lead to rotting, dying succulents.  Succulents store water in their leaves and stems so they can withstand periods of dryness without a problem. So if your succulents aren’t looking so great, check the soil but don’t just keep giving them more water.  I speak from experience here and it wasn’t pretty.

During the warmer months of the year, you will want to water your plants thoroughly and then allow the soil to dry out before watering again.  Before adding more water, stick your finger into the soil to check first.  If it still feels moist, wait a little longer to add more water. Watering about one time per week is probably adequate. During the colder months, succulents go into a more dormant state and can be watered much less frequently. Once a month may be enough!

Another tip about watering … don’t pour the water directly on the plants if you can help it.  It is better to pour the water into the soil around the plant keeping the succulent leaves dry if possible. Oh, boy! I used to pour the water right down the center of mine and I thought they liked it. Oops! It really is a wonder that any of my previous succulents made it.  Also beware of leaving your succulents in the pouring rain.  One heavy downpour can be the undoing of your hard work.  This is another reason keeping them under something outside is best.  That being said, they do really love rainwater – just not being rained on directly.  See?  High maintenance, right?

4 Secrets for Successful Succulents

Secret #4: Ideal Temperature

The fourth secret for growing successful succulents is to be aware of the temperature.  If you are growing your succulents outside, it is important to know that they cannot tolerate temperatures lower than 40 degrees Farenheit.  If the temperature is expected to get lower than 40 F, be sure to bring your little darlings inside.

4 Secrets for Successful Succulents

I took my class through Molly at Swell Succulents.  If you are in Michigan, I highly recommend you check out one of her workshops or host a private party.  Even if you are not local, you must look at her Facebook and Instagram pages.  Her succulent photos are incredible.  And she is a master at growing the cutest little baby succulents from leaves and cutting of her existing plants. Amazing!



I hope that these tips will help you grow gorgeous succulents of your own.  I am no expert by any means (as you can see by all of my examples of how not to do things) but I do feel like I have a much better understanding of these awesome plants.  There are so many incredible variations of succulents in every color you can imagine.  And all kidding about being high maintenance aside, these plants are really fun to grow and aren’t as difficult as they may seem.  Wishing you all sorts of succulent success!

4 Secrets for Successful Succulents

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38 thoughts on “4 Secrets for Successful Succulents

  1. What a great post!! So much useful information.

    I am a total succulent junkie and I had to laugh at your comments as to how you used to care for your plants as that’s me totally 😉 I have killed the odd one but generally mine do fairly ok all things considered. Now with these extra tips I’m sure they will do even better – Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • I’m glad you can relate. Ha! Honestly, I was a little nervous to replace the soil in my window sill succulents because they have been alive for so long. I was afraid the nutrients from fresh soil might shock them to death. Lol! Have a great weekend. 🙂

      • My succulents are growing outside in a planter. They are planted directly into the soil. I’ve added potting soil and perlite to the mix as well. They sit in the middle of my yard, with some morning and afternoon sun. I live in Wyoming and our winters can be miserable. I’ve put a red bark mulch all around the plants. What do you suggest for wintering them outside in our blistering cold temperatures?

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  3. Thanks so much for this information. I know next to nothing about succulents – well, until today! Thank for sharing at Snickerdoodle Sunday! Pinned to share

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      • I actually have a question after a cycle it has flowered is it best to cut the dead flower stem completely off or is it best to let them flower completely and die off and fall off on their own? Also how do I get my hands on some of these rare succulents like the Sun Burst echeveria? They do not sell them at my local nurseries.

        • Hi, Suzanne! I am certainly not a succulent expert – I know just enough to be dangerous! 🙂 I believe that it is okay to cut the dead flower off once it has bloomed – that is what I have done. As far as rare succulents go, if your local nursery cannot help you order what you want, I would search on Facebook or Instagram for succulent lovers such as Swell Succulents or The Simple Succulent. They might be able to help you find what you are looking for. Thanks for stopping by with a comment. Have a great day!

  5. Your lessons are my new guidelines. I thought I knew something about succulents until I started growing them in Palm Desert. Too much water, drainage problems in all my glass terrariums, not enough light for some, too much for others. Thanks for the inspiration, maybe I will share my successes once I get the hang of this.

    • I’m glad these tips are helpful to you, Linda! Since I took this class, I have had much more succulent success than ever before. I would love to hear about and see your success in the future! Happy growing!

  6. so glad I found your website, I definitely need all the help you have to offer. And you have
    explained your 4 secrets so well, each one I need to help my succulents. Thankyou.

  7. This was so informative! My grandaughter gave me a succulent for mothers day last year in a round clear glass pot. I had no idea how to water the thing! I know they store water but didn’t know when to water till I almost killed the thing. All leaves started falling off. Somehow one small piece lived & has started to grow. Instead of watering I misted the flower. Guess I made every mistake you could possibly make! Thanks for your post it is very helpful. Think I’ll start with new soil.?

    • I’m glad you found this post to be helpful, Rita! I can really relate to your experience. I was doing it all wrong too, but by following these tips I have had much more success. I bet you can get yours going again too. Thanks for dropping by with a comment! 🙂

  8. Thanks for sharing these tips! I will have to see if I can find a class like that in the Minneapolis area!
    In thr meantime, I have a question. If you remove all the soil from the roots, and then plant the succulents in new fluffy soil, how do you get them to stand up? Aren’t they all floppy?
    Thanks for your help!

    • Hi, Karin! Good question! You do want to pack the soil a little around the plant to keep it in place. I find that most of my succulents are fairly hardy and don’t tend to flop over. If you are using a light layer of gravel on top of the soil, that will help to keep your plants in place until the establish themselves as well. Happy growing! 🙂

  9. I appreciate your post and am going to put it to use. We recently moved back to MO after hubby’s retirement and am so happy my new home has a big windowsill with light.
    I have purchased a few succulants and am glad I came across your post – let the fun begin!
    Thanks again! And I to am a sucker for those classes. If I come out smarter, it was worth going!

    • Hi, Debby! I am glad that you found my post helpful. Sounds like you have a great place to start growing some succulents. And I totally agree, I am very rarely disappointed in a creative class. There is always something new to learn. Let me know how your succulent babies are doing! 🙂

  10. Thank you so much for the tips. My succulents seemed to flourish and grow at first but now are dieing. I have two questions I hope you might be able to answer. Living in the south the temperature reaches 100. Can the very hot and humid temperature cook the succulents even if they under the patio? Also, can you grow succulents indoors not by a window?

    • Hi, Sheila! I am glad that my tips were helpful. Although I don’t experience the extreme heat that you do in the south, I am under the impression that cold is the bigger problem for succulents. You do not want to let them bake in direct sunlight – I try to keep mine in a covered area if at all possible. As far as growing them inside, the do need light and will “reach” and grow in all kinds of crazy ways to seek the light. I have to remember to turn my inside pots regularly so that they don’t all grow towards the window! Hope this helps. Good luck!

  11. thanks for the information. I went succulent crazy this year spending hundreds on the cuties. i thought i knew what i was supposed to do. i read lots of sites and took their advice to heart. i have maybe 10% left. So what does a girl do when they fall in love with the unusual plant life of succulents and cant grow one thing? they find a new obsession called Tillasia or air plants and so far not one loss. Yay me
    All you succulent lovers know i am so envious yet happy with no more dying plant life..

  12. I have a number of succulents planted on an old log outdoors and most of them have done very well even in hot Alabama summer and they have even tolerated days of heavy rain. Of course, being a newbie, I didn’t stop to think about the winter. Any suggestions on how I could protect them from the cold?

    • I am by no means an expert here, but I would suspect that covering them during periods of extreme cold would help protect them. I have found that some succulents are hardier than others in terms of temperature. My hens and chicks do okay in the ground even during brutal Michigan winters. You may want to consult with a local greenhouse for more specialized advice for your region. 🙂

  13. I live in an apartment with hardly any indirect light let alone real sunlight!
    Is there any way I could possibly grow them using a plant lite?

  14. I was so pleased reading your article I am doing things right the only probably I am having is where I can buy the different colours I see them on websites but the best place is Amarica but I live in England so can you help me

  15. I love this post! I was wondering what type of succulent is in the back of the “4 Secrets for Successful Succulents” picture, with the slightly red stem and green leaves? It looks very similar to a succulent I just got, but don’t know the type!

  16. Great information! My husband died about a year and a half ago! Since then I just let all my plants die. But I recently opened the door to my Sun room and almost all of my succulents were alive! I could not believe it! Granted, they need a lot of work, but they are alive. It has made me want to get back into them. My question is, is it okay to replant and basically redo them in the winter time?M

  17. Dear Ava, Excellent article and very clear, helpful photos. Thank you very much. One question – drainage. The pots you used do not look like they have drainage holes (especially the large bowl shaped one.) Is this because the gravel at the bottom eliminates that need? i am about to plant a bowl full of succulents following your steps and want them to live.

  18. Great article. Thank you for the tips. I also would have raised my hand at that workshop. As a matter of fact, I have three cute succulents I bought at IKEA. Two problems, one, I did not change the soil right away and two, I water the too often. I am excited to create a little succulent masterpiece with your advice.

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