How to Grow Succulents Indoors

My Garden Life
April 17, 2019
Table of Contents
Succulents are a fun, fascinating and easy-care group of plants. Great for growing indoors or out, their sculptural forms create a sense of décor as well as natural beauty. They’re perfect for anyone new to houseplants and gardening and they’re very popular with those who want the natural feeling and health benefits of indoor plants, but who simply don’t have a lot of spare time to spend tending them.

What is a Succulent?

Succulent plants get their name from their fleshy leaves, stems and roots that can store water in their tissue for long periods of time. No surprise then, that their native habitats are sunny, dry locations such as deserts, steppes, or in the nooks of craggy rocks, where most other plants could not survive.

What’s the Difference Between a Cactus and a Succulent?

Close up of cactus spines with areoles

Both cacti and succulents have the ability to store water within their tissue and both are native to arid climates. Their main difference is a special structure found on cacti called an areole. Areoles are small round spots found on every cactus that produce tufts of small hairs and/or spines. While there are a few types of succulents that produce thorns, the thorns don’t emerge from areoles, and so they are not cacti.


Growing Succulents Indoors

You can have great success growing succulents in your home or office if you provide the
right conditions. The keys are: sufficient light, a well-draining container and soil, and proper watering. Here are the six top tips for success with succulents:

1. Container

Succulents can be grown in just about any kind of container from a coffee mug to a standard clay pot, as long as water can drain out the bottom. If you want to use an unconventional container for your succulent, you need to drill a drainage hole in the base (multiple holes if the container is large). Unglazed terracotta planters are especially good for succulents because of the porous nature of fired clay. Moisture can permeate the pot and evaporate away; reducing the risk of overwatering your succulent. You can create your own miniature desert garden by placing multiple succulent plants in a large, shallow planter.


Succulents prefer a snug fit in their containers. When it’s time to repot, choose a container no more than an inch larger than the diameter of the root ball.
repotting a succulent plant

2. Light

Succulents grow best with at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. If possible, place your succulents by a south or west-facing window where they can get the maximum amount of natural light each day. For those with less than ideal situations you can help keep your succulents happier with artificial light.
Choose fluorescent or LED bulbs. They burn cooler and provide good energy efficiency. A daylight spectrum is best. What type of fixture depends on how many plants you have. Realize that plants directly under the light will get the most benefit so the more plants, then the more – or larger – fixtures you will need. The light doesn’t need to be any closer than a foot above the plant.
Just like people, succulents enjoy lounging in the summer sunshine. Your indoor succulents will benefit from a summer vacation out on the deck, a patio or balcony. Individual plants make a nice centerpiece on patio or end tables. An arrangement of pots terraced down the side of the stairs creates an interesting and welcoming entrance.
It’s best not to put your plants outdoors until the temperatures are consistently above 50°F. Transition your plants from indoors to outdoors by placing them in a shaded location first, then gradually moving them into more sun over the course of a couple of weeks. Just like people, if you place your succulent directly into full sun after a winter indoors, its delicate flesh can burn. Bring plants back indoors in early fall, before the danger of frost hits.


3. Water

Properly watering succulents is a case of “less is more”. The easiest way to damage or kill your succulent is by overwatering it. Try to keep it on a schedule by watering thoroughly (until the water runs out the drainage hole in the base of the pot) and then allow at least the top two inches of soil to dry before giving it a thorough watering again. To determine the right schedule for your plant, feel the soil. It should be thoroughly dry to the touch. Eventually you should figure out your plant’s water usage to the point that you can water it on a regular schedule. Never mist succulents. The moisture can pool up in the foliage and lead to rot.
Plants use the most water when they are actively growing so you will want to pay attention to seasonal light changes that affect plant growth. Your plant will probably dry out faster in the summer than in the lower-light days of winter, or even periods when there are many cloudy days in a row. Home heating can confuse matters because it dries the air and can, in turn, cause soil to dry out faster in the winter, even though the plants may not be actively growing. If, after you check the soil with your finger, you are unsure, hold off on watering for a couple days and then check the soil again. Remember, succulents are built for drought conditions. You are less likely to harm your plant if you let it get a little dry.


4. Soil

The simplest way to ensure that your plant has the right kind of soil is to purchase a potting mix specifically formulated for cacti and succulents. If you want to mix your own, a 1:1 blend of potting soil and perlite will do the job. Crushed pumice or gravel can be used with, or instead of perlite. Pure sand is not a good potting medium. It doesn’t provide any nutrition to the plant and can become so compacted over time that it blocks water drainage.

5. Fertilizer

Select a fertilizer designed for cacti and succulents. Fertilizers can be found in several forms. Liquids are especially convenient to apply as well as slow-release granules. Whatever type you choose, be sure to follow the product directions for the correct application rate.
In winter continue to fertilize your plant only if it is actively growing. Depending on the light level, some plants may slow down or even stop growing in winter. That’s okay, growth will resume when the daylight hours grow longer again. You can resume feeding when the plant starts active growth again.


6. Temperature

In general, succulent plants are happiest when temperatures remain above 50° F. Keep them out of cold drafts, away from doors in winter, and away from air conditioning vents in summer.


What’s Wrong with My Succulent Plant?

Echeveria succulent plant with leaf damage

During active growth your succulent may shed some of its lower leaves. You’ll see an occasional leaf shrivel up and eventually drop off. This is how many succulents function and it’s quite normal. If, however, you see leaves at the tips or new growth falling off, or general leaf damage, then you’ll want to look for other problems such as insect pests or over-watering.

Will My Succulent Flower?

Crassula ovata Jade plant with flower

A variety of conditions might be required for your succulent to produce flowers, ranging from exposure to a specific number of hours of daylight and maturity of the plant, to water and dormant periods that mimic the conditions found in nature. It’s best to enjoy your succulent as a foliage plant and if you do happen to get flowers, consider it a happy bonus.

Succulent Houseplants and Pets

Pet friendly houseplants

When you have pets, it’s always best to research any plant you intend to keep indoors. Some of the most common succulent plants, such as aloe and jade plants, are toxic to cats and dogs and can cause sickness if your pet ingests them. Start your research with the ASPCA’s list of Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants. It’s a list of many common plants that can harm your cat, dog, or other domestic animals. If you don’t see your plant listed there, then try a general search online or perhaps check with a veterinarian.

Succulents Planted in Glued Rocks

Succulent plants in a dish garden

Its common these days to find individual cacti, succulents, and dish
gardens for sale that are potted with a rigid material made from glued rocks that covers the soil surface.
This material holds the plants snug and makes it easier to ship them without worry that the plants will become dislodged while in transit.
If you would like to remove your plant from the rocks, start by running a thin, blunt tool around the inner rim of the pot; between the rocks and the side of the pot. You could use a flat-head screwdriver, knife, or other flat utensil (we don’t recommend sharp tools because we don’t want you to cut yourself). Once all the gravel is loosened from the side of the pot you should be able to lift the plant out of the container and break away the glued gravel. If it doesn’t break easily try using a pair of needle-nose pliers, taking care that you don’t gouge the plant or roots. Once the gravel is removed you can repot the plant as you would normally.

Succulent plants in a dish garden

Looking for other plants that would make good companions to your succulents? Click here to discover more great houseplants.


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