The Only Succulent Guide You’ll Need, Thanks to Summer Rayne Oakes
The founder of Homestead Brooklyn is back to make your green thumb even greener; this time, by giving you a great little guide to taking care of your succulent plants, at home or at work…
Succulents are some of the easiest plants to care for in the home, provided that you give them the right conditions and just a little attention.
I have four large south-facing windows in my home and it’s always a challenge deciding whether the precious sunlight should go to my succulents, light-loving flowering plants, or herbs. For the most part, my succulents and cacti have two of the four windows. If I didn’t give them that south-facing light, I probably wouldn’t be able to have them at all — so if you haven’t surmised already, light is one of the most — if not the most — critical element to growing succulents indoors.
As I’ve already established, having a south-facing window (if you’re in the Northern hemisphere) is critical for growing most succulents. This will provide optimum conditions if you want healthy plants, though through observation and experience, I’ve found that some of my succulents — particularly in the summer months — can get too much light, turning pallid or even going dormant for a time. If that happens, I just move them a little further away from the window. Aloes, Euphorbias and Sansevieria are some of the least sensitive when it comes to light. I actually have most of my Aloes and Euphorbias in northeast-facing windows, and in the case of my Sansevierias, (some of the easiest plants to care for), they’re not even in my windows. Other succulents, like the Adenium, Kalanchoe, Lithops, Echeveria, Crassula, Sedum, Graptopetalum, and others, prefer to bask in quite a bit of light throughout the day. Whereas you can get away with members of Gasteria and Haworthia in slightly less bright conditions, so this is important to know, particularly if you’re interested in growing succulents indoors.
If you’re considering getting a succulent for the home, then you’ll want to invest in the right kind of mix, which has good drainage and is lightweight. I get a “Succulent and Cacti Soil” from my local plant shop, which is a soil-less mixture of horticultural grade peat humus and sphagnum moss, perlite, earthworm casings, and mycorrhizae. If you get anything heavier, then you’ll likely suffocate or rot the sensitive succulent roots when watering.
I would generally encourage the novice succulent-grower to get a terra cotta planter pot with a drainage hole and saucer because if he or she has a tendency to overwater, at least the water will drain through the bottom or be wicked away through the breathable terra cotta pot. However, I have most of my succulents in upcycled or recycled tea containers, which have absolutely no drainage holes. I am careful to observe which plants need water and take care in watering the plant well — but not enough for the soil to stay wet.
A good general rule of thumb for watering your succulents is once a week in the morning hours during the summer months and once every two weeks during the winter months. However, I always think observing what your plants need is the best method. Recently I walked into my dentist’s office, who has a number of beautiful succulents in her south-facing window. One in particular was looking a little desiccated, so I suggested that she’d water it a little and pull it back from the direct light. It worked wonders!
Typically, you’ll want to make sure that the soil around the succulent isn’t dry and dusty. Water it thoroughly enough for the water to come out of the drainage hole. Don’t pour water too fast into the container because most succulent roots are shallow and can easily be exposed to the sun or broken. That brings me to the next point: Don’t feel compelled to use a moisture meter or even your finger for that matter. Sticking your finger or an object into succulent soil will most definitely destroy some of the roots, and you’ll want to be careful of that.
Surprising to some, different succulents go dormant at different times of year. The important thing to note is that just because they’re dormant, they are going to be subject to their environmental surroundings, and if it’s hot and dry, transpiration, or the evaporation of water, will be happening from their leaves, and that will need to be replaced through watering. Some plants, like my Senecio, drops its leaves in the summer, and if it weren’t for its turgid, pale blue-green stem, it would look dead. Keep in mind — it is not dead. It just has stopped growing and is conserving its energy for the growing season.
One of the major benefits of having succulents in the home is that they are relatively pest-free. I have, however, seen mealybugs, which are a common cottony white scale, on succulents, and this will eventually compromise the health of the succulent if its left unintended. Generally you can just wipe them off with your hand or dip a Q-tip with some isopropyl alcohol and dab them off the plant carefully. Follow up periodically to make sure the plant is pest-free, and if becomes to be a problem, you can bring in some beneficial insects like mealybug destroyers to take care of the problem.
Hopefully these basic tips will have you feeling confident about bringing a succulent indoors. Remember, you can alway start with one and go from there!
If you’re curious on learning more about your houseplants, consider supporting Summer Rayne’s Kickstarter for a Houseplant Masterclass. And if you’re interested in learning more fun plant facts, tune into the weekly YouTube series Plant One On Me, my blog and Instagram.
GIF by Jessie Kanelos Weiner. Photos by Homestead Brooklyn.
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