How To Care for Succulents: Care, Planting, Grow Air Plants Indoors & Out

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | May 15, 2023

Woman holding a succulent plant next to a window with a watering can in her hand wonders how to care for succulents and if there is a growing guide for indoor and outdoor succulents that includes air plant care tips.

If you’re wondering how to care for succulents, then you’re not alone. These popular plants are lovely to have, but can seem tricky to keep healthy.

The word succulent comes from the Latin word sucus, which means juice or sap, and as of late, these plants have become so popular that even Lego has made a 771-piece set to build your own artificial succulents!

Succulents are a desert-dwelling plant that has become a staple of indoor growers due to their hardy nature. Colorful succulents make an excellent addition to both your home, as well as your outdoor garden.

But, keeping them healthy can be tricky unless you understand the needs of our particular type of succulent.

This complete guide explains how to care for succulents, regardless of type, and offers key tips and practices to ensure that your indoor and outdoor succulent plants stay healthy and thriving for years.

Different Types of Succulents and Air Plants

There are a plethora of different types of succulents, all of which share similar characteristics but can have stark differences. According to botanists, succulents have thickened flesh which is engorged to retain water.

succulents are not their own taxonomy, it only describes a set of characteristics, so they may either come from a genus or a family.1

Succulents come in all shapes, sizes, geometric patterns, and colors. From blue succulents, purple succulents, and of course green, there’s enough variance to please anyone’s preference.

One of the more common succulents that you’ll be familiar with is the aloe vera plant. Used by many for its medicinal benefits, this plant has been a staple of many indoor succulent enthusiasts.

Top view photo of a cactus in a black plastic container.

(Image: marcegaral24)

When the leaves are cut the gel or latex, leaks from the flesh and can be used as a topical ointment for burns,19 and acne, or even taken orally for more serious conditions like ulcerative colitis2 (please refer to your healthcare provider before ingesting anything).

Growing Zones for Succulents (Where To Grow)

It’s important to know the growing zones for succulents (where to grow) if you intend to grow them from a seed or a cutting.

Succulents tend to prefer hot, dry climates with minimal rainfall. To begin learning how to care for succulents, you should familiarize yourself with the USDA hardiness zones.3

The USDA hardiness zone is a map developed by the USDA to help gardeners, landscapers, and arborists to determine what plants can be grown in their area.

The portions of the map are separated by the average minimum winter temperatures, and then into further subcategories. This map isn’t fool-proof as its best suited to the eastern portion of the United States due to its geographic consistency.

Regularity of freeze cycles, soil drainage, and snow cover over perennial plants are all things that affect the growth of plants but aren’t accounted for with the hardiness zone map. As you west of the 100th meridian line, the map becomes far less useful.

This is due to the fact that microclimates exist in greater numbers past that 100th meridian line. You’ll find mountains over 10’000 feet with beaches along the coast all in the same zone.

Back to succulents, their preferred hardiness zones are between 9 and 10.4 These plants are accustomed to warmer climates, where the annual lowest temperature recorded doesn’t go further below 20f to 30f.

So if you’re along the west coast (and not living atop a mountain), or along the southern border, chances are growing succulents outside should be perfect.

How To Care for Succulents Indoors

How to care for succulents indoors can prove to be a challenge at times, but there are a few tips that will help you keep them thriving. For starters, not every succulent is suited for indoor growth.

If you choose a pickier plant that requires full sun the chances that it will do well are quite slim.

A quick rule of thumb is that if the succulent has bright colors, it won’t do as well indoors.5

No matter what type of succulent you’re caring for, give them as much light as you can find. When grown outdoors they should be getting 6 hours of sunlight per day, if possible, place your succulent around a south-facing window.

Several small succulents in variety of containes inside a house,

(Image: milivigerova25)

If you need to get creative, consider hanging succulents within a window if you just can’t find the right spot for them.

What you plant your rare succulent in plays a major factor in their longevity. Using a proper container with a drainage hole that is slightly larger than the container it came in will go a long way.

Try to avoid mason jars and other containers that won’t allow the rare succulents to “breathe.”

In the same vein, providing well-draining soil for your succulent is just as important.

If you keep your succulents in moist soil they will quickly begin to rot, so give them a coarse potting mix with good drainage.

Fertilizing your succulents annually is also a good practice to be in. Doing this in the spring would be a good start, as this is when your plants begin new growth.

How To Care for Succulents Outdoors

How to care for succulents outdoors can differ from indoor succulents in a few key ways. Succulents will not be able to survive a frost, so if you’re planning on keeping outdoor Succulents be sure to check your hardiness zone.

Unless you’re in hardiness zones 9 or 10, and even then some succulents prefer hotter zones, you’ll need to keep them in pots that can be moved indoors if things get too cold.

If you are in a proper zone then you can take your succulents to the garden bed. Like their indoor counterparts, provide your outdoor succulents with sandy soil that’s able to drain easily.6

As a desert plants, outdoor succulents are just as susceptible to rotting away if kept too moist when growing outside as they are inside. If you’re planning to grow your succulents in a pot outdoors then you must ensure proper drainage.

One bout of excessive rain can spell doom for your Succulents.

When To Plant Succulents for the Best Yield

When to plant Succulents for the best yield really depends on what you’re trying to achieve. You’ll never want to plant a succulent on a hot day.

Wait for the evening when the temperature has begun to cool down, or even an overcast (but not rainy) day. While they may be suited for hotter climates, planting them during a heatwave can be a shock to their system.

Early spring is considered the best season to be planting your Succulents, as this is their period of growth which should enroot and establish them into the soil. If you’re planting a succulent that was grown in a greenhouse, there may be a time period required to acclimate them to sunnier climates.7

Slowly introduce them to the sun with a few hours of direct light each day before returning them indoors.

A single type of succulent planted along each other with their individual bright pink blossoms.

It’s important to know as much as you can about the type of succulent you’re growing before dropping it into the ground. Each plant has its own unique needs and quirks, and learning this can prevent any unforeseen mistakes.

Companion Plants for Growing Succulents

As either a gardener or an enthusiast, knowing the best companion plants for growing Succulents is valuable knowledge. When designing your garden don’t just stick to Succulents, there are a plethora of companion plants that will accent your garden naturally.

Starting with Lavender,23 this flower from the mint family is native to the Mediterranean, Canary Islands, and all across Asia and Europe. They’re a beautiful plant often grown for ornamental purposes, though they could be used for essential oils.

Their gray-green leaves, almost dusty leaves look like the perfect partner for your Succulents.

Rockrose, a Mediterranean native, is a hardy shrub that’s easy to grow. They produce a menagerie of flowers from the early spring (the perfect time to plant those Succulents), all the way to summer.8

This plant has silver to grey foliage and creates a palette well-suited for the succulent.

The Euphorbia is one of the most diverse genera of flowering plants and is an excellent addition when paired with your Succulents. They vary from annual, biennial, and perennial and vary in a multitude of colors.

Finding the right Euphorbia to include in your garden should be a simple task.

The Yarrow is a perennial herb (living through the years), in which flowers take on an assortment of colors ranging from whites, reds, pinks, and yellows. These hardy herbs aren’t very picky and can withstand desert-like conditions.

So long as you give these plants sunshine, the Yarrow will be a perfect inclusion to your yard.

There are too many companion plants to name in this article. Do your research, match plants with your hardiness zone, and be sure to pick your favorite colors.

Best Growing Conditions for Succulents

The best growing conditions for succulents depend on the type of succulents you’re caring for, if they’re indoor or outdoor, and are also dependent on your hardiness zone. While all succulents have similar needs including water and sunlight, the conditions may vary from home to home.

If you’re growing the Sansevierias succulent, you may hardly ever have to water them. Once every two weeks should be satisfactory, and even less frequently during the winter months.

Whereas the Big Peace Lily is one of the greedier Succulents when it comes to water, requiring a top-up roughly once a week.

Plant with huge and green leaves and white flower.

(Image: Lan Gao26)

Testing your soil before planting your Succulents will ensure you’re giving them the best environment to thrive in. The best soil for succulents will have a pH of around 5.5, but depending on other factors can do well between 4 and 6.5.

Mix a half-cup of water with a scoop of your soil followed by baking soda, if your mixture begins to fizzle or bubble, you know you’re in the acidic range.9 Depending on the succulent, some may prefer neutral pH, in which case if you test your soil once with baking soda and another test with vinegar, and no bubbles appear, then you have neutral soil.

Rotating your Succulents will prevent them from getting uneven amounts of light. They will naturally lean towards the sun themselves so rotating them will keep them standing upright.

If you find your Succulents leaning heavily it may be an indication that they need more sun.10

How To Care for Succulents: Watering Needs for Succulents

From small succulents to tall succulents, the water needs for succulents can vary. As you’ve read earlier, the container plays a major role in keeping your succulent properly watered.

Larger succulents in a bigger container can be watered less frequently as the soil will hold the moisture for longer. Mini succulents with shallow containers may dry out quicker.

If you want to be extra vigilant then start a watering journal to determine your individual plants watering needs.

Succulents love the spring and will do the majority of their growing between early spring and summer, which means a lot more watering. You may end up watering them up to 3 times a week depending on the species and the amount of sunlight.11

If your succulents are getting over 6 hours of sunlight then it’s prudent to keep watch over the soil and make sure it’s not drying out too fast.

Outdoor succulents that have been long established will have a stronger root system and withstand drier conditions better than new plants. Whether you’re indoors or outdoors, adding some perlite to your soil will assist you in keeping your succulents properly watered.

Proper watering is one of, if not the most important aspect in how to care for succulents.

Planting Tips for Succulents

There are a few planting tips for succulents worth considering when you first start.

Place mesh over the drainage hole in the bottom of your container. This will prevent the soil from falling out and leaving voids in your container, while still allowing proper drainage.

It’s gravely important to give your succulents a few days of rest after planting. This will allow your succulent to properly root itself into its new environment and give it a period of rest before it starts soaking up water.

A woman planting succulents in a yellow clay pot,

(Image: Gary Barnes27)

Following this advice can help you prevent root rot.

According to the East Austin Succulents Nursery, succulents prefer a 10-10-10 mixture that’s been diluted to ¼ strength. That’s equal parts nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.12 Adding this to your soil during the succulent’s spring growth will assist them with needed nutrients.

How Far Apart To Plant Succulents?

How far apart to plant succulents depends on the species and whether or not you plan on allowing them to propagate. If you have a plan for your succulent arrangement then take this into consideration.

If you end up crowding your succulents too close together then you can hamper their ability to grow properly. The simple reason for this is that the Succulents won’t have the ability to properly spread their roots.13

Another downside of planting them too closely is that they’ll be more difficult to water, as some root clusters may take up the majority of the moisture.

An appropriate amount of space to give your succulents is around 0.5 to 1 inch apart. If the empty space between your Succulents is displeasing to you, consider a top dressing like sand or gravel.

This will be purely ornamental but can tie your setup together quite nicely.

How Much Sunlight Do Succulents Need Each Day?

The question “How much sunlight does flowering succulents need each day” is easy: lots.

These little plants are akin to cacti and grow up in similar conditions.

Despite this, they still require more water than a Cactus, as their native environment is typically a semi-desert, places with similar conditions have more annual rainfall.

Generally speaking, your succulents will do well with roughly 6 hours of sunlight, plenty to keep them happy. This amount should be plenty even for flowering succ

If your succulents don’t get enough sunlight, they may suffer from elongation or etiolation, a condition causing the plants to stretch and contort as they search for more light.14

If you have a Haworthia Succulent,20 a string of hearts (one of the types of trailing succulents), or the Peperomia then you can place them in indirect sunlight. They’ll tolerate these conditions, but tolerate is the operative word.

Keeping your succulents in low light is never as ideal as in a sunny spot by the window.

Common Pests of the Succulents

While succulents are considered hardy plants, there are common pests of the succulents that can still harm or even kill your plants. Just because this is true, don’t give up and grab faux succulents quite yet.

One of the most common and dreaded pests of the succulent is the Mealybug.17 They are soft, wax-covered insects shaped like miniature Pillbugs.

They thrive in warm weather, which is why you’ll commonly find them afflicting your succulents. They feed in large colonies and will hide in the wedges between fruits, around plant crowns, or even beneath the stems.

These pestilent pests plague your succulents by sucking the sap right from the leaves and flesh while leaving behind a sticky wax. This can drastically affect your succulents’ vigor and can even change your succulents’ color over time.

It’s best to treat these immediately, as they will reproduce and if left unchecked, can lead to further complications.

Aphids are another common pest. They’re small with teardrop-shaped bodies which come in a variety of colors. They expel a honeydew-like substance as they feed which can lead to black sooty mold and other problems.

Prolonged exposure to these critters can cause misshapen leaves and stun their growth.

Cloaw up photo of a sucul==c===cpdi

(Image: jessicastorrer28)

You’ve probably heard of Spider Mites.18 They’re stealthy insects that, much like the other pests, love to suck the sweet sap off your Succulents.

The damage they cause is similar to that of the mealybug and the aphid. They’ll leave behind a webbing that can help you identify their inhabitance.

Natural Pest Control for Succulents

If you find your Succulents compromised, then a natural pest control for succulents is what you need. Thankfully there are a few remedies that can help curb the threat to your plants and bring them back to their full vigor.

If you find yourself with mealy bugs then swabbing the plant with a solution of 5% alcohol on a Q-tip directly on the bugs and any waxy substance should help remedy the issue. If the problem is expansive then spraying the solution directly onto the plant should help.

If you don’t have any alcohol then a few drops of dish soap diluted in 2 cups of water should suffice.15

This solution will work for other bugs, as the alcohol will eat at their outer shell, but it also acts as a desiccant, drying out their innards. I would apply this remedy to spider mites, aphids, white flies, and other common pests.

How To Stop Succulents Fungus

At some point you may need to learn how to stop Succulents fungus. This can be brought on by a variety of factors, including a pest problem.

Your best bet is to prevent your Succulents from being infected in the first place. Provide ample airflow and don’t allow your Succulents to fester, as still moisture can lead to an infection.

This is another reason to keep your Succulents in full sun, allowing the soil to properly dry after watering.

Some of the funguses you may encounter are Sooty Mold, Powdery Mildew, Grey Mold, and Leaf Spots. Quite frequently a spray with a copper-based fungicide is strong enough to stop some of these fungal infections.

In the case of Grey Mold,22 you may need to bring out the diluted dishwashing soap.

Growing succulents in worst-case scenarios may require you to triage parts of your plant by cutting off the infected areas.16

Understanding how to care for succulents is crucial for ensuring that your plants stay healthy, both indoors and out.

Frequently Asked Questions on How To Care for Succulents

Are Succulents Poisonous To Cats?

Thankfully, most succulent varieties are entirely pet safe, though there are some exceptions. Aloe vera, kalanchoe, and euphorbia can cause gastrointestinal distress if digested. If you think your cat has ingested a poisonous plant, then bring it to a vet along with the suspected plant.

Can I Grow Succulents From Cuttings?

Yes! You can cut off a piece of the stem or leaf, let it dry out and it will shortly start showing signs of root growth. When the roots have formed plant them in your potting medium and place them in the sun during the evening.

Are Succulents Edible?

There are some edible succulents that you could eat, though they may not be palatable. The aloe vera plant, elephants’ bush, and agaves are all edible.

Learn More About How To Care for Succulents


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