I have heard this time and time again: “I love succulents but I can’t keep them alive.” Below are the answers to some of the most common succulent questions I have been asked.
1. How often do I water a succulent? A succulent is any plant that can store water in its fleshy leaves or stems. Because of this anatomical wonder, succulents do not require as much water as other plants. Over watering is the number one killer of succulents, in my opinion.
That being said, they do require water to live. So how do you know when and how much water to give your succulents? Water only when soil is completely dry. Once completely dry, drench the plant to the point water runs out of the drainage hole. Water the soil directly and try not to get the leaves wet. Allow the plant to drain completely and do not let the plant sit in the water that drains from the pot. Never use a spray bottle to water a succulent. Water sitting in the drainage dish or settling down into the leaves can, and definitely will, cause rot and kill your succulent. I use a houseplant fertilizer diluted to 1/4 strength 2 to 3 times per year with one of the waterings.
2. What type of soil does a succulent need? Succulents require a faster draining soil than other houseplants. You can purchase a potting mix for cactus but these usually are not the best quality. You can cheaply and easily make your own. Mix 1 part coconut coir or peat moss with 1 part perlite. You can also throw in a few handfuls of clean, coarse sand. The point is to create a well-draining mix that can’t become saturated. Store it in an airtight container.
3. How much light? Place indoor succulents in bright light. Some don’t tolerate direct light well. A few examples include some aloes, haworthia and “string of something” senecio. I have had these plants on my east-facing window sill, where they received a few hours of direct morning sun, then watched as in a few days they turned pale or grey in color. After I moved them a just a foot away to a place where the sun never touched their leaves, they returned to their healthy color. Other succulents such as jade don’t mind direct sun. Just pay attention to their coloring. Some direct sun can make succulent’s coloring more vivid.
4. What temperature is best? Most succulents thrive in cool temperatures, but not freezing. The ideal temperature is around 40 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Some (Sempervivum) are very hardy and can be left outside all year. Your indoor succulents can live outside if the temperatures stay in the 40-to-80-degree range. Be sure to bring them back in when the outdoor temperatures reach above 90 degrees.
5. What is that bug? The main pests I have encountered on succulents are mealy bugs and scale insects. They are common and very easily spread from plant to plant. Isolate the infected plant. Use a Q-tip dipped in 70 % rubbing alcohol to wipe the visible ones away. Alternatively use a spray bottle filled with rubbing alcohol and lightly spray the crevices between leaves, undersides of leaves and the stems, then allow to dry. Repeat as needed. (This is the only time a spray bottle is useful for succulents!)
Note: I will be offering a free fruit tree pruning demonstration at the Patagonia Community Garden, on Feb 26, 10a.m. to noon. Please join me if you are interested.