Succulents are raging hot items right now. The variety of colors, unique textures, and sizes make them a an ever increasingly popular commodity both in the home and on social media.
They’re touted as bulletproof plants that even those among us who aren’t exactly what you’d call ‘green thumbs’ can’t screw up. But in reality – there is many a succulent or cacti skeleton in most of our closets. Particularly for those growing indoors.
So what do most people tend to get wrong with succulents?
The five most common mistakes include
- The wrong container choice
- The wrong soil choice
- Too much love and attention
- Wrong succulent choice
- Fertiliser mistakes
We’ll cover each of these errors below, so you can navigate your way to succulent success!
1) The wrong container choice
When you bring a new plant into your home, placing it into a new pot is usually one of the first steps you take. For succulents, choosing the correct container is extremely important. The right pot will allow your plant to thrive, whereas using the wrong pot will hinder or even harm your succulent’s growth.
The two most important features to consider with a container are:
Ideally, you want to select a container that has a well-sized drainage hole(s). This allows excess water to drain out easily so your plant’s roots don’t rot.
If you have your heart set on a container that doesn’t already have a drainage hole, you can do a little DIY magic to rectify the situation.
For glazed ceramic pots, use a glass or tile drill bit to carefully make a hole. If your ceramic container is unglazed, a masonry bit will also work.For plastic and metal containers, a normal drill bit will get the job done.
To keep the soil from falling out, use a piece of mesh tape to cover the hole. You can also place your pot on a similarly sized tray.
Sounds a bit too hard? Alright Janice, don’t fret. We have a cheat for you.
If you’ve found the container of your dreams, and you just aren’t the drill a hole type, then what you need to do is keep your succulent or cacti in a cheap plastic pot (full of drainage holes) that’s SMALLER than your decorative container.
Place some gravel or stones in the bottom of your decorative container (so any moisture which works its way down doesn’t pool at the bottom of your root ball) and then place your plastic container within.
I then place some decorative pebbles over the surface to hide the inception container setup, but it’s not necessary. You don’t have to live the OCD life like me.
When it’s watering time, simply remove your inner container, water, then return. As this has to be done only every second or third week with succulents (generally) it’s not too much of a hassle.
What your container is made out of matters, too – believe it or not.
Generally, ceramic and terra cotta pots work well for indoor succulents because they’re breathable. If your succulent requires full sun, keep in mind that the container itself will heat up, which means that the soil may dry out faster.
Plastic pots don’t offer as much breathability, but with proper soil and a decent sized drainage hole, your succulent should be in good shape.
Metal containers generally aren’t a good choice for long term use because they’re very vulnerable to temperature changes. The regular exposure to moisture from watering will also rust metal pots, creating less than ideal conditions for your plant.
2) Incorrect soil choice
Once you’ve found the perfect container for your succulent, the next important step is choosing the best soil. And oh my lordy do people go wrong here. First thing’s first, do not assume the garden store or nursery soil that your succulent came planted in is any good. It’s probably crapola.
With the wrong soil choice, excess water won’t be able to drain properly. Even if you’re following the correct watering schedule, poorly draining soil can cause the roots of the plant to stay wet all of the time, leading to root rot.
The best soil for succulents and cacti are both fast draining, and retain plenty of natural organic material.
You can purchase a ready-made potting soil blend created specifically for succulents and cacti, or you can make your own.
When potting or repotting several succulents at a time, it may be more economical to make your own mix. Using larger particles of porous material is the best choice. In this article I go over my personal home made mix for succulents and cacti. It’s pretty awesome, maybe you should check it out.
Avoid dense, heavy soil mixes for succulents. Regular potting soil blends that are sold in garden centers are bad news, as they’re typically formulated to retain water. Soils containing water retaining beads, peat moss, and vermiculite shouldn’t be used.
The features you want to look for in potting soil ingredients are light and airy, with particles approximately 6mm in size. Materials that work well include:
- Crushed granite
- Coarse sand, but not construction sand
- Pine bark
If in doubt, buy one of the ready made “succulent and cacti” planting mixes. If you’re a hands on little ranger, then make your own – this is the best way. See article linked to above.
3) Too much love baby
Janice, sometimes you just need to take your finger off the pulse. I know you love your new succulent, and you’re caring for it better than your relationship and friendships. I know those feels.
But a very common cause of indoor succulent death is too much love – specifically, overwatering.
While an under-watered succulent can usually bounce back, an overwatered plant is difficult and sometimes impossible to save. It only takes a few days for the plant to rot if you drop the ball here.
Unlike some other houseplants, succulents don’t have complex root systems. Instead, they retain water in their stems and leaves. In fact I’m pretty sure my fat cells are like succulents. No matter how much I wish it weren’t so, if I eat a little too much those bad boys just mop that energy up and store it away, even though I very clearly don’t need more fat…
Anywhoo. Back to succulents. If you have too much moisture available to your succulent, it’ll just keep eating it up without any self control, just like me around cakes. The key difference between myself and succulents is that succulent cells eventually swell and split and die. My fat cells seem to be immortal on the other hand, which is a pity.
I really don’t know why I’m describing my fat cells in detail here. I apologise.
Luckily, determining whether you’re overwatering your plants usually isn’t too difficult. Signs of over care include:
- Leaves appearing translucent or yellowish
- Stems appear puffy
- Leaves are soggy and mushy to the touch
- Stems and/or leaves develop black spots
- Your plant is dying a slow and mortifying death
If your succulent shows signs of any of the above, you need to ease back on your watering schedule and just chill a little. Hopefully you’re not too late.
As a rule of thumb, I never water succulents more than once a week – and I do this only for my full sun succulents that get a lot of baking. My indoor succulents get watered every 10 days – 3 weeks depending on the species, location (light intensity) and season.
4) Not matching the succulent to the growing conditions (light, humidity)
Succulents come in so many sizes and varieties that it’s understandable that you may want to put them anywhere and everywhere throughout your home. However, placing your plants in an area with the right growing conditions is essential to their ability to thrive and survive.
A small succulent may look cute on your bookshelf, but if it’s in a dark corner of the room, you better have chosen your species wisely or you’re going to be adding another corpse to your shame closet.
Succulents need and love sunlight. Ideally, they should be positioned in a spot that provides bright indirect light or direct light for at least 5 hours a day.
Rotate your plants frequently so that each side of it has adequate light exposure. Avoid placing them in dimly lit rooms that don’t receive sunlight.
With that said, some succulents do well in shade. But you need to know which before you slap one in your dimly lit bathroom. Read this article here for more info re selecting the correct species for your light conditions.
Temperature and the humidity level also impact a succulent’s health. The ideal temperature for indoor succulents is between 10 and 27 C. We tend to think of succulents as desert plants and assume that they need heat to thrive, but that actually isn’t the case. Keep in mind that deserts cool down considerably once the sun sets.
Succulents enjoy lower humidity levels, ideally between 10 and 30 percent. So generally, it’s best to avoid placing them in rooms with higher humidity levels, like the bathroom.
However, if your succulent is in the right location with respect to light, and gets the right amount of water, I’ve found that humidity and temperature level (especially inside) usually isn’t a deal breaker.
To work out the individual growth requirements for your succulent, I recommend succulentsandsunshine.com – a cracker resource.
5) Fertilising fails
Unlike other houseplants, succulents and cacti don’t require frequent fertilizing. They can often do just fine without extra fertilizer, but occasional feedings can help them thrive.
However, over-fertilising can cause the plant to grow too quickly, making it leggy and weak. This can also cause root rot, which will kill your plant. Not good Janice.
It’s important to note that succulents are slow-growing plants and typically do the most growing in the spring and summer seasons. Those are the optimal times to feed your plant.
My rule of thumb when it comes to fertilizer is no more than 3 to 4 times a year, as a maximum. I personally fertilise with a watered-down balanced liquid fertilizer twice a year; once at the start of spring, and once at the start of summer.
Succulents are typically dormant in the winter months and just wan’t to be left alone.
To avoid root rot, fertilise in the spring and summer ONLY when the top layer of soil (or better yet all of the soil) is dry. Don’t feed wet soil please.
Succulents are pretty darn awesome indoor houseplants for many reasons. They come in many varieties, are relatively easy to care for, and can add a lot of character to a space. Some are small and cute, while others are detailed and striking. However, many succulent lovers make simple mistakes that hinder the plant’s growth, or worse, cause its demise.
Avoid these common care errors and you’ll help your succulents to look their best and grow happily in your home for many years to come.
Much love as always
Miss Pot Plant xoxo