5 Common Mistakes You May Be Making with Your Indoor Succulents

Yes, these popular houseplants are tough, but getting the watering and lighting just right can be tricky. Keep your plants thriving with these tips.

Succulents have a reputation for being easy-care houseplants that anyone can grow—and they are—but that doesn't mean you can just plop them down on a table and forget about them. They may be tough and simple to grow, but they do still need some care to look their best. If your succulents aren't thriving, they might need a little more attention. People tend to neglect them because they seem indestructible, but there are a few conditions even these plants can't survive. Keep them happy and healthy by avoiding these common mistakes (and fix the errors you're already making).

Trays and cake stands holding succulents
Blaine Moats

1. Using Containers Without Drainage

It's tempting to pair cute succulents with a fun container, but if you plant your new echeveria in a tiny ceramic pot with no way for water to drain, it's not going to end well for your plant. Most succulents prefer their soil on the dry side anyway, but using a container without drainage holes increases your chances of overwatering, since the moisture will just pool in the bottom of the pot and literally drown your plant's roots.

Also, don't add a layer of pebbles to the bottom of a pot without holes in an effort to simulate drainage. Instead of helping extra water run out of the soil, it actually makes the drainage in your container worse. That's because the soil will be more likely to hold onto the extra water rather than letting it run into the pebbles. The rocks will just elevate the layer of soggy, overwatered soil, so it's closer to the roots and crown, and more likely to cause them to rot.

You can fix this by planting your succulent in a smaller pot with drainage holes and placing that in the pretty hole-less container you wanted to use. Use potting mix ($6), The Home Depot formulated for succulents and cacti. When you water, remove the inside pot until the extra moisture has finished draining, then return it to the decorative container.

2. Misting Instead of Watering

Because succulents don't need much water to survive, you might think that misting them is a good way to prevent overwatering. Misting leaves is great for plants that appreciate extra humidity, including many types of ferns, air plants, and other tropicals grown indoors. But for succulents, it can damage them and even cause them to rot. Instead, use a container with drainage and a succulent potting mix, and then give them a good soaking when the soil is completely dry.

3. Not Watering Enough

It's true that most succulents can go weeks without water, or even a month, and survive, but that doesn't mean you never need to water them, or that they can get by with just a few drops at a time. Succulents survive drought by storing extra water in their leaves, and sometimes roots, but if you frequently let your plants go multiple weeks without water, they may start to shrivel up and drop leaves.

Instead, pay attention to the soil. When it's dry, it's time to water. A good way to tell is to stick the tip of your finger into the pot and if you feel any moisture, you can wait another couple of days before watering. Or, you can use an inexpensive moisture meter to help you out. If the soil is dry, give your plant a good soak. Make sure to let all the extra water drain and never leave the pot sitting in a puddle. Also try not to get water on the leaves, which can cause rot. Blot up any stray drops with a cloth or a paper towel.

4. Not Giving Them Enough Light

As desert plants, most succulents need a lot of bright or even direct sunlight to really thrive. However, their reputation as tough houseplants makes it seem as though they can survive anywhere, even in dim rooms without much natural light. In fact, there actually are a few succulents that can handle low-light conditions, including snake plants, but most will grow best in the brightest light you can give them.

Without enough light, succulents often lose their color and become leggy (meaning they stretch out their stems to find light). Any time you buy a plant, check its tag for how much light it needs each day and try to come as close as you can to that amount. If you want to grow one in a dim room, consider investing in a grow light so your succulent can still get the light it needs.

crate of succulents
Amy Haskell

5. Planting Too Many Together, or with Non-Succulents

There are plenty of beautiful succulent arrangements out there, but most of them will only survive temporarily. Succulents can handle fairly tight quarters better than most plants, but eventually, they'll start to compete for resources, including water and soil nutrients. So don't cram them together. Additionally, avoid planting succulents with other plants that have different care needs. Planting a drought-tolerant plant in the same container as a fern that likes consistently moist soil will end with one or both plants suffering. For long-term succulent arrangements, consider a dish garden; you'll still be able to plant multiples in one container, while also giving them enough space to thrive.

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