I've killed every succulent I've ever attempted to grow. Things start off well enough, but a few weeks after I bring succulents into my home, they start to look spindly and sad before giving up and dying. Despite hearing time and again about how foolproof succulents can be, I've never had luck. And I have a hunch that I'm not the only one. Fellow succulent killers, are you out there?
Distraught about my inability to nurture a succulent in my tiny New York apartment, I took advantage of a trip to San Francisco last week to head to that city's succulent mecca, Flora Grubb Gardens, to ask for advice: Why are my succulents dying, and how can I stop killing them?
Photographs by Erin Boyle.
First, let's talk about climate. Before wallowing in despair about your inability to keep a succulent alive, it's a good idea to think about the exterior factors that you can't control (Remember my Fiddle Leaf Fig Dilemma?). Succulents in San Francisco grow like weeds. Wedged between crack in the sidewalks, spilling out of containers in the middle of the street, twisting out of hanging planters suspended from lamp posts, the succulents in the City by the Bay are so healthy and abundant that if I didn't know better, I might actually believe they were mocking me. But the truth is that outside in the dry San Francisco air, succulents are just decidedly in their element.
Succulents are desert plants. They thrive in hot, dry places with plenty of sunshine. It's no surprise that a sun-loving plant doesn't enjoy life in my dimly lit New York apartment.
But even if the climate in my small apartment can't mimic the desert, I learned a few rules of thumb for keeping succulents alive indoors anywhere.
As a general rule of thumb, when shopping for succulents to grow indoors, look for the green ones. The greener the succulents that you choose, the greater the chances that they'll survive inside.
Green succulents in the Crassula genus are a dependable option. A Crassula "Gollum" Jade like the one above is available from Mountain Crest Gardens for $4.50.
If you prefer the cactus look, agave and aloe plants can also do surprisingly well indoors if placed in a bright window. The thread-leaf agave (above) has my eye in particular.
Part of the appeal of succulents is their variety of colors and shapes. But succulents in the purple and orange color family are really better suited for outdoor spaces.
Instead of focusing on having a variety of color, look for green succulents in a variety of shapes.
In outdoor plantings, succulents can do well in crowded compostions, but if you're hoping for your succulent to survive in lower indoor light, it's best to space them apart so that a maximum amount of sunlight can reach them.
Maybe most important: succulents don't like to be watered very often. The soil should be allowed to dry completely before getting another drink. Planting succulents in unglazed plants can help them to drain completely in between waterings and will prevent them from becoming water-logged.
- Give your indoor succulents as much natural light as possible. No matter how much you want them to, they can't survive in a dim corner.
- Water your succulents sparingly, allowing the soil to dry out completely between waterings. Planting succulents in an unglazed vessel will prevent the soil from getting water-logged.
- When growing succulents indoors, stick to green varieties whenever possible: crassulas, agaves, and aloes make for ideal houseplants.
What else? Any other tips for the succulent-killers among us?
Looking for a sexy succulent planter? We found one.
For more on Flora Grubb Gardens, see our Shopper's Diary.
N.B.: This is an update of a post originally published on June 24, 2013 as part of our Dry Gardens week.