Succulents have a reputation for being easy care houseplants that anyone can grow. While this is true, succulents still require some TLC to look their best. If your succulents are not thriving, they may need some extra attention. Keep them happy and healthy by reviewing the 10 most common succulent mistakes to avoid.
Water needs to be able to drain through when you are watering to avoid overwatering. Since succulents prefer dry soil, be sure your pot has proper drainage and doesn’t hold in any extra humidity.
It may be so tempting to use a cute little teacup or a fun container without drainage, but for most beginners this does not typically end well. Even if you are using the best soil formula, if you are using a container without a drainage hole, it can still be useless if you are watering the wrong way. Water may pool in the bottom and eventually lead to root rot. Someday when you are more familiar with controlling the amount of water you provide for your plants, you can use planters without drainage. But until then, try to add drainage to your pots if there are none. What I like to do is plant succulents in a pot with drainage holes that is smaller. Then place it inside the pretty container that does not have drainage holes. Remove the inner pot to water your plant, and once the extra moisture has finished draining, then return it to its decorative container.
Not using a fast-draining soil mixture
Succulents prefer their roots dry most of the time. You need a soil mixture that does not hold a lot of moisture for long. I prefer to make my own soil mixture (soil + coarse sand + perlite) or use a potting mix formulated for succulents and cacti. Even then, I still add perlite to the succulent/cacti soil. The likelihood of overwatering is high if you use the same soil that you are using for regular plants.
Misting instead of watering
Avoid misting your succulents instead of watering as this will not do the trick. This may be good for plants that require extra humidity like many ferns or other tropicals grown indoors. Succulents actually take up water from their roots.
Misting the foliage can also cause damage or rot and also slows down the rate of transpiration. Instead make sure you are using a container with proper drainage and well-draining soil. Give your succulents a good soak when it is completely dry. If you do happen to get water on the leaves, make sure it is fully dry before putting your succulent in the sun. Water magnifies the sun and can cause the leaves to burn.
Overwatering your succulents
Overwatering is probably the most common mistake for succulent beginners. I prefer not to use an exact watering schedule. Instead I like to examine my succulents to determine if they are ready for more. Only water your succulents when the soil is dry.
This can be checked a few different ways. Poke your finger at least 1 inch deep into the soil and if it feels dry water it. You can also use a chopstick to check soil. Stick it all the way down into the soil. If it comes out fully dry with no soil attached, then it is time to water. My favorite way to check if my succulents need water is to use a moisture meter. They are inexpensive and they really helped me when I was new to succulents.
Be sure to empty saucers after watering if needed. Most succulents do not like wet feet, so do not allow them to sit in water filled saucers for extended periods.
When you give a succulent too much water, the roots can rot. If you see that any of your leaves look slimy, yellow, or translucent, you may be watering too much. Succulents grown in climates with higher humidity will need less water, as soil may not dry out as fast. Plants grown indoors will also need less water as they typically receive less light than outdoor succulents.
Not watering succulents enough
Most succulents can go weeks or even a month without water and survive, but that doesn’t mean you never need to water them, or that they can get by with just a few drops at a time.
Succulents survive drought by storing extra water in their leaves and sometimes roots, but if you frequently let your plants go multiple weeks without water, they might start to shrivel up and drop leaves.
Instead, pay attention to the soil; when it’s dry, it’s time to water. If the soil is dry, give your plant a good soak. Make sure to let all the extra water run out the drainage holes and never leave the pot sitting in a puddle.
Starting with unhealthy succulents
Unhealthy succulents that are overwatered, etiolated, or infested with pests, are definitely a mistake. Starting with healthy plants makes your succulent growing journey so much easier.
Very plump succulents with wet soil can damage the plant. If soil remains wet for several days it is overwatered or does not have proper drainage. If you buy a plump looking succulent and it dies a few days after, it was most likely overwatered even before you bought it.
Not Giving Succulents Enough Light
Not all succulents love to be indoors. Most succulents need a lot of bright or even direct sunlight to really thrive. Even placing your succulents in the brightest spot in your home, does not always guarantee their happiness.
Succulents have a reputation as tough houseplants making it seem like they can survive anywhere, even dark rooms without much natural light. While this is true for a few different succulents (like snake plants or zz plants), most grow best in the brightest location you can give them. If you plan on growing indoors look for succulents that require low light.
Without enough light, some succulents can become etiolated, stretching out their stems to find light, or lose their color. Put a red or orange-leaved succulent in the shade, and it will revert to green. The plant will be fine, but you may be disappointed. This is especially noticeable with aloes, crassulas, echeverias and kalanchoes. Sun is essential for color and for flowering as well. Any time you buy a plant, check its label for lighting requirements and try to come as close as you can to that. Otherwise consider providing your succulents with grow lights so it can get the light it needs.
Exposing Succulents to Full Sun when they’re not ready
If your new succulent was under a shade cloth at the nursery or in a greenhouse, don’t immediately set it in full sun. It may sunburn, producing beige patches that won’t heal. Even if the nursery tag says full sun, if you buy them from an indoor nursery, give them time to slowly acclimatize. Gradually introduce new plants to greater sun. Learn more about sunburned succulents here.
Not protecting succulents during extreme conditions
Be careful for temperatures that are too hot or too cold beyond what your succulent can tolerate. Sometimes extreme temperatures below 40° F and above 90° F, can make them become colorful. A few succulents, like sempervivums, can tolerate frost, but a lot of succulents cannot. Some succulents can tolerate temperatures above 90° tems as long as they are already accustomed to the heat. Therefore, be vigilant when temperatures drop below freezing. When temps are forecasted to drop to drop below 35° F, throw on a sheet or cover them with frost cloths. When it is very hot during summer, you can provide them some shade.
Mixing succulents with different needs
Generalizing the care of succulents will not always work. They come from different families and some of their needs might be slightly different.
While a few succulents can go on without water for weeks, some need to be watered on a weekly basis. Stonecrop, for example, needs more water and less sun than rotund euphorbias.
Not all succulents survive when neglected. Care for them as unique species. Find out how much light and water your succulent needs. You might even need to adjust their soil mixture for them to thrive well in your location.
It is not uncommon to combine different succulents in arrangements. If you put chubby succulents in a pot with thin-leaved ones, it is almost as if you’re making a temporary floral display. They are pretty to look at, but don’t expect them to last. For them to last try putting together succulents with the same light and water requirements. If you don’t, you won’t make them all happy. Some will remain compact, while others will elongate. Some will be colorful, while others get some sun damage. Be sure to check each succulent’s tag for their care requirements.
Not knowing how to read succulent signs
When succulents are not receiving enough sunlight, they will lose their compactness and stretch out.
If pests are feasting on them, you will notice some sooty mold, white cottony web-like substance at the joints (mealybugs), curled leaves, or stunted growth. If they are sunburned, the damaged portion of the leaves will change colors and/or scab. Your plants can tell you what is wrong with them. All you have to do is pay attention to them and find out what it is.
Planting Too Many Together, or with Non-Succulents
Avoid planting too many succulents together, and make sure that those that are planted together have similar needs. There are plenty of beautiful succulent arrangements out there, but most of them will only survive temporarily. Succulents can handle tight quarters better than most plants. Although, they will eventually start to compete for resources such as water and nutrients if you have a bunch of them squeezed together. This can lead to malnourishment. Crowded succulents may also encourage pest infestations and even the spread of mold.
Planting Succulents with Non-succulents
Avoid planting succulents with other non-succulent plants that have different care needs. I personally think succulent arrangements mixed with other types of ferns or moss varieties are gorgeous. Unfortunately, that can only be done temporarily. Planting a drought-tolerant succulent in the same container as a fern that likes consistently moist soil, will end with one or both plants suffering. A moss plant will thrive in an environment that’s moist throughout and succulents can’t stand being wet. It’s literally impossible to have a cohesion without one of the plants dying.
I hope you learned more about the 10 most common succulent mistakes to avoid. While this may seem like a lot of information, there are really only four key concepts: lots of sun, drainage holes, let the soil dry out, water deeply. If you want to learn more check out my YouTube channel to view some of my other succulent care videos. Happy growing!
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