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10 Things Nobody Tells You About Succulents

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10 Things Nobody Tells You About Succulents

March 9, 2020

Popular as they’ve become, succulents still have a few secrets up their sleeves. Whether you grow them as houseplants or in the garden, succulent plants will bring you great pleasure if you get to know them. Here are 10 things nobody tells you about succulents:

1. “Gray” succulents can be horrible houseplants.

Miiko Skin Co’s aloe and other succulent starts for the Victoria, California, plant swap.
Above: Miiko Skin Co’s aloe and other succulent starts for the Victoria, California, plant swap.

Some succulents grow better indoors than others. “The greener their leaves, the greater the chances that they’ll survive inside,” writes Erin Boyle. “Pass up the gray ones, the blue ones, and the purple ones, and head straight for the bright green leaves.” Read more at From Flora Grubb Gardens: 9 Secrets to Growing Succulent Plants Indoors.

2. Instagram is the best place to hunt for rare succulents.

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Above: “Check out this amazing Compton Carousel by @fairyblooms,” writes @the_simple_succulent.

Sometimes it seems like you seem the same dozen cultivars of succulents over and over at plant shops. For unusual varieties which may be available from boutique growers, check out tags such as #variegatedsucculents, #raresucculents, and #succulentsofinstagram. See more ideas in 10 Houseplant Lovers to Follow on Instagram.

3. Container succulents need more care than you think.

An antique pot spills over with succulents in the garden of a circa- house by architect Reginald Davis Johnson (who also designed the main house at Lotusland), in Santa Barbara, California. See the remodel by Brooklyn-based architect Roberto Sosa. See more at Landscape Revival: A Secluded, Historic s Estate in Santa Barbara (Rose Garden Included). Photograph by Roe Ann White and Bill Dewey.
Above: An antique pot spills over with succulents in the garden of a circa-1929 house by architect Reginald Davis Johnson (who also designed the main house at Lotusland), in Santa Barbara, California. See the remodel by Brooklyn-based architect Roberto Sosa. See more at Landscape Revival: A Secluded, Historic 1920s Estate in Santa Barbara (Rose Garden Included). Photograph by Roe Ann White and Bill Dewey.

Be careful not to overwater succulents planted in containers and keep them from getting singed in too much sun. Despite their hardy reputation and easygoing attitudes, succulents need extra attention when they’re corralled in the miniature ecosystem of a container. See more growing tips at Succulents: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design.

4. It’s not your fault you don’t know the species of a succulent.

A graptosedum. Which is what, exactly? See more at Succulents Explained: How to Identify and Grow Graptos. Photograph by Mimi Giboin.
Above: A graptosedum. Which is what, exactly? See more at Succulents Explained: How to Identify and Grow Graptos. Photograph by Mimi Giboin.

ID-ing succulents can be tricky because  “succulent” is a description, not a name for a family of plants. There are thousands of succulent plants in different groups, all sharing some physical characteristics: they store their own water supply (explaining why succulents look so pillowy) and as a result often have thick stems, roots, and leaves. See more tips in our series Succulents Explained.

5. Burro’s tail succulents are as fragile as blown glass.

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Above: Don’t over water Burro’s tail (Sedum morganianum) or it will rot. Don’t jostle it because its leaves fall off easily. Other than that, easy plant to grow: partial sun, cool temperatures, well-drained soil.

See more about sedums in Stonecrops: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design.

6. Any three potted succulents will look good together.

See more ideas for how to care for succulents—and how to arrange potted succulents in vignettes in your home—in Required Reading: Success with Succulents. Photograph by Rebecca Eichten.
Above: See more ideas for how to care for succulents—and how to arrange potted succulents in vignettes in your home—in Required Reading: Success with Succulents. Photograph by Rebecca Eichten.

Trios are pleasing to the eye. Odd numbers are visually appealing because they they force the brain to pay more attention. Unlike repetition and the symmetry of paired objects, a trio of planters requires an observer to consider each one individually. Variations in height, diameter and pattern can add additional interest.

7. Plant swaps can save you hundreds of dollars.

A Crassula ovata goes home with a new owner after a Victoria, Canada plant swap organized by horticulturalist Sarah Scott of Botanic Creative (@botaniccreative.ca).  Photograph by Andrea Collins, Cedar Coast Photography.
Above: A Crassula ovata goes home with a new owner after a Victoria, Canada plant swap organized by horticulturalist Sarah Scott of Botanic Creative (@botaniccreative.ca).  Photograph by Andrea Collins, Cedar Coast Photography.

A cutting costs you nothing to take from one of your succulent plants and can be swapped at no cost for someone else’s. See more at The New Sharing Economy, Plant Swap Edition.

8. A pencil cactus is the first succulent you need to get.

Photograph by Erin Boyle.
Above: Photograph by Erin Boyle.

A pencil cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli) is both visually striking, with its strong sculptural silhouette, and easy to care for.  A pencil cactus likes well-draining, gritty soil and a sunny windowsill. Water every two to three weeks in summer months, and once a month in winter to prevent roots from rotting. See more in The New “It” Houseplant.

9. A string of pearls succulent is the last thing you need in your life.

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Above: “The succulent string of pearls, with its small green bubbles along a slender stem, recalls the plastic pop-apart beads of childhood dress-up bins. It can’t help its quirkiness.,” writes Annie in Gardening 101: String of Pearls. Photograph by Clatiek via Flickr.

String of pearls is a finicky succulent. If you move it around too much or bump into it, the pearls will drop off. If it gets too much water, or too little, same problem. What makes it seem more unforgiving than other succulents is that when the pearls drop, the exposed “string” looks so bare. Don’t make this your first succulent: build up to it. See more at String of Pearls: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design.

10. Succulent wreaths look better on a table than a wall.

Photograph by Justine Hand.
Above: Photograph by Justine Hand.

Before you dismiss the succulent wreath as a trend whose time is past, try placing it flat on a tabletop instead of hanging it on a wall. See more ideas at DIY: A Succulent Wreath to Display All Year.

See more growing tips at Succulents: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design. Read more about our favorite succulents:

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