Succulents are a diverse range of plants that transcend taxonomic boundaries, existing outside of individual families of plants. Their popularity as houseplants and as outdoor plants is assured by their ease of care and striking appearance. In this blog post, I’ll be providing advice on how to incorporate them into your indoor spaces, as well as insights on how to care for them. Expect this post to be long, since succulents are such a diverse group of plants.
Will succulents work in my space?
Succulents are extremely versatile plants, and can withstand any environment, with the caveat that they need bright light. This can be direct or indirect. Essentially, they need to be placed close to a south-facing or west-facing window in order to survive indoors. Of course, there are a few exceptions, which I will get to in the care section.
Given their versatility, you can find a succulent for most design needs. If you need a trailing element, try the String of Pearls (Senecio rowleyanus). In fact, many senecio succulents will trail for you. In particular, variegated String of Pearls (Senecio rowleyanus variegata) can add a lot of interest to a space or arrangement. A small amount of it is pictured above, trailing off the edge of the larger pot. If you need a plant that takes up horizontal spaces, try Echeverias and aloes. In particular, I recommend the Echeveria agavoides “Romeo Rubin”. Its leaves are a bright shade of red, which makes it an instant focal point for an arrangement that lacks direction or focus.
If you’re looking for a succulent which has more of a tree shape, try the Jade plant (Crassula ovata). It is believed to bring good luck to growers. A personal favourite of mine is the Crassula ovata “Gollum”, which has the regality and refinement of a bonsai, but requires next to no care.
In terms of interesting textures, Haworthiae take the cake; their dark green foliage set with stiff, raised stripes of pure white (which can turn orange in the sun) make them look like the plant equivalent of an Iris Van Herpen garment.
Unlike some other houseplants, succulents are so low maintenance that they can thrive in a single pot together, since all of them require the same “care” (read: neglect). This means that oftentimes, your designs can be self-contained as an arrangement, until their roots start to compete for space. If you space them out enough, they can coexist for around 2 years. To mask the gaps between them, simply use pebbles that you can later remove when the plants are larger. This feature of succulents makes them ideal presents too.
How to not succ at growing succs
Light: Bright direct or indirect sun. However, note that some species don’t want to be attacked by UV rays all day everyday. Aloe varieties prefer some degree of shade. Aloe barbadensis and Aloe “Sunshine” being two notable examples, which in my experience, really don’t like being completely bathed with hot, Australian sunshine. That being said, Candelabra Aloe (Aloe arborescens) can actually withstand full sun rather well.
Watering: Succulents don’t need to be watered as often as other plants, but when you do water, try to water thoroughly. Overwatering can wreak havoc on succulents. In fact, some of them will tell you when their soil is too wet. Aloe vera leaves will curl some upwards towards the centre of the plant rather dramatically as a result of the structures of the leaves expanding rapidly as they take in a great deal of water. The result makes them look like they’re in a perpetual state of being almost blown over. Take this as a sign that you need to let them be for a while. Do not water them when they exhibit this behaviour.
Fertilising: There’s really no need to fertilise. These bad boyes will hulk out with sunlight and a little water.
Propagation: Take a leaf off of anything that isn’t an Aloe or Haworthia and watch it grow roots and a smaller clone on its own B) Simply pot up the new plant once roots appear. Some will produce “pups”, small clumps of baby plants that poke out of the ground as new plants, but are connected to the mother plant through their shared root system. Detaching the two by cutting the part of the root that connects them encourages the pup to grow independently. I have an in depth blog post about succulent propagation, which you can find here.
General care tips:
- Try to pot succulents up in terracotta to help avoid overwatering. However, if you know what you’re doing with them, feel free to ignore this tip.
- Try not to manhandle succulents too much. Many will lose their leaves the moment they’re disturbed, which makes evolutionary sense, since the leaves can become an entirely new plant upon being detached from the mother plant.
- These are excellent beginner plants. Give them to your friends to get them into houseplants.
- When making arrangements, try using pots that are wide, but shallow. See my image of a layered arrangement below.