ISSUE 37  |  Style on a Budget

9 Secrets to Growing Succulents Indoors

September 18, 2014 4:00 PM

BY Erin Boyle

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 they give up and die. Despite hearing time and again about how foolproof succulents can be, I’ve never had luck. I have a hunch that I’m not the only one. Fellow succulents killers, are you out there?

Distraught about my inability to nurture a succulent in my tiny New York apartment, I took advantage of a recent trip to San Francisco 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?

Considering succulents? See our favorite hardy varieties in 10 Easy Pieces: Best Succulents.

Photography by Erin Boyle except where noted.

1. Let’s talk climate. Succulents like dry air. That’s why 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. 

If you live in a humid climate, let succulents dry out thoroughly between waterings (those pillowy leaves hold moisture for them to use when they’re growing in the desert).

2. Give succulents as much sun as possible. Succulents are desert plants. They thrive in hot 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.

3. Experiment with different kinds of succulents. They’re not all alike. Some will thrive in indoor conditions that others might not like. Read on…

4. Start with the green ones. The greener the succulents that you choose, the greater the chances that they’ll survive inside. Pass up the gray ones, the blue ones, and the purple ones, and head straight for succulents with bright green leaves.

5. 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.

6. 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. 

7. Instead of focusing on having a variety of color, look for green succulents in a variety of shapes.

8. Give succulents room to breathe indoors. In outdoor settings, succulents can do well in crowded compositions, but if you’re hoping for succulents to survive in lower indoor light, it’s best to space them apart so that a maximum amount of sunlight can reach them.

9. Planting succulents in unglazed plants can help them to drain completely in between waterings and will prevent them from becoming water-logged.

Above: Photograph via Needles and Leaves.

10. Don’t give up on your succulents if they get leggy. Here’s an easy DIY fix: You can snip off stems, strip the leaves, and root the leaves in potting soil. For more on how to root succulents from leaves, see DIY: Root Succulents from Leaves.

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.

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N.B.: This is an update of a post originally published on June 24, 2013 as part of our Dry Gardens week.