The first succulent I ever bought was a completely unintended purchase - it was simply in a set with a couple of cacti I was after. I thought I should probably figure out how to keep this little plant alive, and ended up becoming completely hooked on them.
Not only are they stunning additions to the home, they are so easy and fun to propagate, so you can essentially duplicate them for free! They generally have the same needs as a cactus, making them great low maintenance plants.
Much like cacti, succulents do not like to be watered too often. The required frequency of watering will depend on the season - in the summer, I'll water my succulents around once a week. As autumn sets in and the temperatures begin to fall, watering is reduced to once a fortnight, maybe even three weeks. In the winter their growth speed will slow down massively, so I reduce watering to around once a month. Always ensure that the soil is thoroughly soaked, and all excess water has been expelled from the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. The soil should also be completely dry throughout before watering again. Many succulents leaves will actually begin to shrivel slightly when they are thirsty, alerting you that they are running low on their reserve and require more water.
When spring begins, succulents begin to speed up their growth. This is the best time to use a fertiliser and encourage healthy growth. I use a concentrated plant food that is specifically made for cacti & succulents. Make sure to dilute the formula correctly, as too much fertiliser can have negative effects on growth and roots.
Most succulents require bright but indirect sunlight. An ideal spot for them would be a bright south-facing windowsill, underneath timed growlight, or they can be outside under certain conditions. Most of my succulents will only go outside during summer, and in a spot that receives mainly bright morning sunlight. Midday summer sun exposure can leave them scorched and sunburned. I always ensure to slowly introduce them to stronger sunlight - this also helps me to gauge whether each succulent requires either indirect or direct sunlight. However, not receiving enough bright light can make them stretch out as they try to get closer to a light source, making them irregular in shape and size - depending on the plant, this can be rectified by cuttings (see Propagation for more)
It's also really important to make sure that your succulent is potted in a suitable environment, otherwise the careful watering will all be for nothing. These plants need a really well-draining soil, otherwise the soil will stay damp for too long - the succulent won't be able to take in any more water, and the roots will begin to rot away. For my succulents, I usually purchase a specific cactus & succulent potting mix, and add a handful of my own ingredients; such as perlite, orchid bark and coarse sand. Another way to help with drainage is to use unglazed terracotta pots - terracotta is very porous and allows water to move freely. If the pot contains damp soil, you'll see the colour change!
Why propagate? There are a number of different reasons I've propagated my succulents - to grow more, test different methods, rescue a plant from rot, even regrow a plant that was lost to rot. Here's a few different methods!
Many healthy succulents will grow offsets - these are essentially baby versions growing directly from the mother plant. They receive the nutrients they need from the parent plant, and when they are large enough, they can be removed and replanted on their own.
Many types of cacti produce offsets when mature. Depending on the type, they can form at the base, along the stem, or on cactus pads. When the offsets are approximately one third the size of the parent plant, they can be carefully removed. Leave the wound to callous over for a few days, then plant in well-draining soil. Within a few weeks, the offset should begin growing its own roots.
Many cacti also produce flowers, which can be pollinated using a paintbrush or toothpick. Successful pollination means that after a few weeks, the flowers will turn into pods, which could hold hundreds of tiny seeds!
So to recap the most important factors of a happy, healthy succulent:
- Water approximately every 1-2 weeks (depending on season)
- Fertilise once a fortnight during growing season
- Potted in fast draining soil
- Pot requires drainage holes at the bottom for excess water
- Bright, indirect light for healthy growth