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From Flora Grubb Gardens: 9 Secrets to Growing Succulent Plants Indoors

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From Flora Grubb Gardens: 9 Secrets to Growing Succulent Plants Indoors

January 20, 2021

I’ve killed every succulent I’ve ever attempted to grow. Things start off well enough, but a few weeks after I bring one into my home, it starts to look spindly and sad before it gives up and dies. 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 trip to San Francisco to head to that city’s gardening mecca, Flora Grubb Gardens, to ask for advice: Why are my succulents dying, and how can I keep them alive?

N.B.: See our favorite hardy varieties in 10 Easy Pieces: Best Succulents.

Photography by Erin Boyle, except where noted.

1. Don’t overwater.

Let&#8
Above: Let’s talk climate. Succulents like it dry. They grow 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 succulent plants 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 wetter climate, let plants dry out thoroughly between waterings (those pillowy leaves hold moisture to use when they’re growing in the desert).

2. Let the sun shine.

 Give succulent plants as much sun as possible. They are desert plants and thrive in hot places with plenty of sunshine. It&#8
Above: Give succulent plants as much sun as possible. They are desert plants and 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. Conduct experiments.

Try out different kinds of succulents. They&#8
Above: Try out different kinds of succulents. They’re not all alike. Some will thrive in indoor conditions that others might not like. Read on.

4. Go green.

Start with the green ones. The greener their leaves, the greater the chances that they&#8
Above: Start with the green ones. The greener their leaves, 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 the bright green leaves.

5. Embrace old faithful.

Succulent plants and succulents at Flora Grubb in San Francisco

Above: Varieties in the Crassula genus are a dependable option. A Crassula “Gollum” Jade is available from Mountain Crest Gardens for $3.95.

6. Get agave and aloe.

 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.
Above: 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.

7. Know your colors.

Part of the appeal is the variety of colors and shapes. But succulent plants in the purple and orange color family are really better suited for outdoor spaces.
Above: Part of the appeal is the variety of colors and shapes. But succulent plants 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.
Above: Instead of focusing on having a variety of color, look for green succulents in a variety of shapes.

8. Provide breathing space.

Give succulent plants room to breathe indoors. In outdoor settings, they can do well in crowded compositions, but in lower indoor light, it&#8
Above: Give succulent plants room to breathe indoors. In outdoor settings, they can do well in crowded compositions, but in lower indoor light, it’s best to space them apart so that a maximum amount of sunlight can reach them.

9. Plant in unglazed pots.

Planting succulents in unglazed plants can help them to drain completely and will prevent them from becoming waterlogged.
Above: Planting succulents in unglazed plants can help them to drain completely and will prevent them from becoming waterlogged.

What else? Any other tips for the succulent killers among us? See more tips and container-plant design ideas for our favorite succulents:

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