Guide to Succulents

Succulents are the perfect plant -- exotically shaped and so easy to care for! Here are important facts about succulents and how to grow succulents in your garden or on your patio.


What is a succulent?

Succulents are plants that come from arid areas that are able to retain water in their thick and fleshy leaves and stems. Succulents come in a seemingly endless selection of sizes, shapes, and colors, and can adapt to many different types of growing conditions.

When is a succulent not a succulent?

Sometimes, in the world of gardening, terminology can be a little messy. For example, any plant, usually from an arid climate, that has fleshy leaves and stems to store water is considered a succulent. This includes cacti, sedum, aloe, agave, echeveria, sempervivum, crassula, kalanchoe, and hundreds of other species. However, most gardeners use the term succulent to only include species with fleshy leaves. Any plant with spines is called a cactus, even though all of these plants fall under the succulent umbrella.

How to Grow Succulents

Like all plants, succulents require four things to survive: sun, soil, water, and fertilizer.
Sun: Succulents require at least 6–8 hours of full sun a day.
Soil: They can grow in any type of soil but do best in well-draining soil with sand or small stones to facilitate drainage.
Water: These tolerant plants like hot and dry conditions and can often go weeks without a drink and still look good. Succulents don't like to sit in wet soil, which can actually kill them.
Fertilizer: Give succulents fertilizer in spring. Use a balanced fertilizer with equal proportions of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.
Once established, most succulents require almost no care, but a few taller varieties, such as 'Autumn Joy', need to be trimmed back in the fall or early spring.

Hardy vs. Tropical Succulents

Check the plant label before you add any succulents to your landscape. Some succulents are rock-solid landscape performers in northern gardens, while others prefer a warmer climate. Use tender succulents in frost-free regions or as houseplants during the winter.

Where to Use Succulents

Succulents attract gardener types because of their quirky good looks and flexibility in the garden. Succulents woo decorator types because of their interesting shapes, colors, and textures. Succulents are attractive to first time gardeners, too, because they are so easy to care for and look great with very little attention.

Containers: Succulents can live happily in the contained world of a low bowl or pot. The only requirement is that there are drainage holes in the container so water can drain away from the roots of these plants. Pack a variety of succulents together to make a mosaic of color.
See sensational succulent container garden plans.

Gardens: Succulents can solve problems in many landscapes. Use low-growing types such as 'Dragon's Blood' as a ground cover in sunny open areas. Some sedums can even take a little shade.
See easy-care sedums for your garden beds and borders.


Specialty Gardens: Small specimens can be used to make wreaths and are ideal for vertical gardens and green roofs.

Make a succulent in a frame.

Make a succulent wreath.

Get the top ten succulents for your home.

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