Your Guide to Growing Succulents from Seeds
With more than 2,000 species of succulents and cacti suitable for decor, it’s worth your time and effort to try growing them from seeds. This allows you to experiment with combinations without going broke.
They’re beautiful, trendy, and diverse. And with proper care, they are ridiculously easy to care for and last a long time. Succulents are having a major moment right now, and we want to fill our homes, offices, and outdoor spaces with them. What better way to spread the succulent love than to learn how to grow them from seeds? In addition to saving money on mature plants, you’ll be able to introduce rare varieties to the mix that are difficult to find otherwise.
A couple of things to keep in mind before you begin: Growing cacti and succulents from seeds are a very similar process, but you will want to research the germination time for each variety to make sure you aren’t removing them from the growing soil too early. Definitely consider the germination time before you purchase your seeds. Also, sunlight and temperature are important to monitor when growing succulents from seeds. The moderate temperatures of spring and fall allow for optimal growing conditions.
Related: Creative Succulent Containers
What You’ll Need:
- Shallow planting trays (no more than 4 inches deep with drainage holes in the bottom)
- Sand (try horticultural sand or builder’s sand), pumice, or perlite
- Potting soil (optional)
- Succulent or cactus seeds
- Clear lid or plastic wrap for trays
Purchase Your Seeds
A little bit of research in this department pays off. Look for the type of adult plant you want to end up with, and then consider germination time (during which you will have to pay close attention to moisture levels) and climate to find the best one for you. Make sure you are buying from a reputable seed seller, since there are plenty of illegitimate suppliers out there. Most commercial seed companies will have real succulent seeds.
Some easy-to-grow varieties include:
Mix Your Growing Medium
There are many suggested combinations for growing media (that is, the soil mixture you’ll be planting your seeds in). Some suggest horticultural sand only, others a mix of potting soil and sharp sand, pumice, or perlite. The amount you’ll need will depend on the ratio you decide to use, the size of your planting trays, and how many trays you are using.
Succulents with fatter leaves hold more of their own water, so you can use more pumice in your mix for optimal drainage. Plants with more delicate leaves will benefit from a higher ratio of soil. We found that a half-and-half mix of coarsely sifted potting soil and sand or perlite works well for most varieties (and combinations of different varieties) while providing enough drainage for the plants.
Related: Make a Hanging Succulent Ball!
Since baby plants are especially susceptible to disease, you will want to pasteurize your soil mix before you plant the seeds. Do this by baking your soil mix at 300 degrees F for about 30 minutes in order to kill off bugs and bacteria. (Alternatively, you can microwave your soil for about 10 minutes.) Allow it to cool, then wet it thoroughly and allow it to drain.
Thoroughly wash your tray(s)s to ensure there is no residue from old soil. Fill your planting tray(s) with your soil mix, about 1/2 inch from the top.
Planting Succulent Seeds
Succulent seeds are very small, so you will want to do this step in a sheltered area where the wind won’t blow them away. Dampen the surface of the soil so that the seeds stick to the soil. Carefully spread the tiny seeds over the surface of your soil mix, giving them some space in between each other. (The space between will depend on the type of succulent you’re planting. Keep in mind their mature size when considering how far apart you will want to space them.) Use a toothpick to gently spread them around. If your tray is divided into cells, put one or two seeds in each cell. Do not cover the seeds with soil.
If you’re growing more than one type of succulent at a time, we recommend separating each type into separate trays. Since they will have varying germination times, this makes it easier to give them the appropriate amount of sunlight and water depending on their growth stages.
Cover your tray(s) with a clear lid or plastic wrap. Set them in a brightly lit location but out of direct sunlight. Make sure the temperature stays at about 70 degrees F. Keep the soil moist but not wet, as too much water can drown your seeds. Open the lid twice a day to keep air moving. If you’re using plastic wrap, you may want to poke some ventilation holes with your toothpick.
Watch Them Grow
Depending on the type of succulent, temperature, and sunlight, your plants may take anywhere from three days to a few weeks to begin growing. (Some may even take several months to a year to germinate, so it’s important to do your research when buying your seeds in order to anticipate growing time.) Once you see leaves begin to emerge, remove the lid during the day to keep them ventilated.
As your plants grow over the first week or two, continue to keep the soil moist and ensure adequate drainage. This is the time when their roots are just starting to develop, so it’s very important to keep them hydrated. Once the roots become established, it’s not necessary to keep the soil surface damp at all times. Monitor your plants’ growth and use your best judgment (plus your research on your particular type of succulent) until you’re watering them about once per week as you would adult plants.
This is also the time to begin to introduce your succulents to more sunlight. While succulents and cacti are desert plants, that doesn’t mean they thrive off of direct sunlight and heat. The baby plants especially do not like direct sunlight, so wait until their leaves begin to mature before slowly introducing them to more and more light. Increase the light by an hour or so every few days until you get them tolerating the amount of light in the area where you want to keep them permanently. Again, the best amount of light will vary depending on each type of plant.
Generally, it’s time to remove your young succulents or cacti from the planting tray when their size is mature enough that they won’t be damaged by handling and transplanting. Don’t rush this process, though: It’s better to keep them in a more confined area a bit longer than necessary than to uproot them before they’re ready. Usually, it’s time to replant after six months or so.
Because their root balls are fairly tight, succulents are pretty easy to transplant. Gently loosen the soil around the base and lift, without tugging on the roots, until the plant comes loose. Use your fingers to clear away the old soil and any dead roots that might be hanging off.
Related: Try This Succulent Tower Planter
Make sure your new pot is larger than the old one so your plants have room to grow. Put some rocks or loose gravel in the bottom for drainage, then mix a new soil medium that’s appropriate for your succulent type. (Do not use the old soil.) Fill the new pot halfway with the new mixture, set the plant inside, and add more soil mix to cover the roots. Press the soil down gently around the base to secure it. Wait a few days before watering in order to give your plant some time to adjust to the new soil.
Ongoing Succulent Care
Caring for succulents and cacti is very easy when you know what you’re doing. Every plant type prefers different things, though, so once again it’s important to know what varieties you have to ensure the best care. In general, succulents love light, but not always direct sunlight. And with light comes heat, so consider temperature and how quickly water might evaporate when choosing a home for your plants. It’s also important to rotate your plants so that all sides get adequate light. (A leaning plant might be an indicator that it needs more sunlight.)
Overwatering is a common mistake when caring for succulents. Succulents tend to require more water in the spring and summer when the weather is warm and the plants are thriving. Make sure the soil is drying out between waterings to a depth of about one inch below the soil surface. Water the soil directly until water comes out through the container’s drainage holes. (If yours does not have drainage holes, don’t water it as much.) Most succulents require water every week or so, but keep in mind that this varies greatly depending on type and climate.
Wipe off your plants every now and then to get rid of dust, dirt, and any potential bugs. If insects become a problem for your plants, you may need to reduce the amount of water you’re giving to them. Mix a 70% isopropyl alcohol solution and spray the soil to get rid of eggs and larvae. Consider adding a small amount of fertilizer when you replant your succulents.