How to Care for Succulents: 3 Myths Debunked

These days it feels like misinformation is everywhere, you don’t have to look far to find reams of information online about how to care for succulents indoors. The issue is, as well as useful tips there’s a whole load of myths which will help you kill your succulent quickly! 

In this article I’ll talk through the dos and don’ts of succulent care so that you can keep one of the most popular and easy house plants alive. I’ve owned succulents for over a decade so you can trust that I’ve made every mistake in the book and I’m ready to share that all with you. Read on to find out more about how to take care of succulents.

Table of Contents 

What are the Different Types of Succulents?

‘Succulent’ is a very broad umbrella term in fact. It refers to plants which store usable water in fleshy mass like trunks or leaves. Around 5-6- different plant families contain succulents. It’s estimated that there’s over 10,000 different types of succulent plants across the world, with actually about 10% of those being cacti. 

More Popular Succulents:

sea green echeveria ariel view

Echeveria – also known as Hen & Chicks because of their tendency to produce lots of babies. They are one of the most common succulents around. They are characterized by their spirals of rosettes which can either be smooth or hairy and come in a range of colors and sizes. Some Echeveria will also bloom and can have orange, yellow or pink flowers. Echeveria are a good choice if you want your succulent to stay cute and compact because they don’t grow tall. 

Echeveria are native to Central and South America and are part of the family Crassulaceae. 

purple and green aeonium plant up close

Aeonium – these succulents are very easily confused with Echeveria as they look super similar. They are also native to Central and South America and part of the family Crassulaceae. They require slightly more care to look after them, they can grow up to four feet tall and their rosette heads can get really big.

The main difference between this succulent type and others is that they like a slightly more moist soil. This means they need watering more often, hence why I have rated them as higher maintenance than other succulents. 

aloe vera plant in white pot and mint background

Aloe Vera – native to the Arabian Peninsula this succulent type has taken the world by storm and is now found everywhere. It is popular for its uses in medicine and cosmetics.

For more specific information about how to care for Aloe plants we have a great guide with loads of great tips.

green and pink crassula ovata up close

Crassula Ovata – this is the commonly named Jade Plant. It belongs to the same family as the Echeveria and Aeonium, but looks quite different. These succulents are great because they are so easy to propagate . The leaves sometimes develop a red hue which is stunning against the rest of the bright green plant, and if you’re lucky you might see your Jade Plant flower. These succulents are native to South Africa.

haworthia in clay pot on table

Haworthia – very similar looking to Aloe these succulents have thick foliage but grow spines on the leaves rather than on the edges of the leaves. Haworthia also have pointer, longer leaves than Haworthia do. These plants are often called Zebra Cactus because they commonly have stripes on their leaves, created by the rows of spines. 

Haworthia are also native to South Africa and are some of the most tolerant plants of mistakes. So they are a perfect first succulent.

kalanchoe with pink flowers in bloom white background

Kalanchoe – these plants are beautiful. They’re famous for their colorful blooms and they are super easy to find. We have them in all our grocery shops as well as florists and plant shops. For specific information about this succulent look no further than our kalanchoe care guide.

There’s a ton of other common succulents including Bromeliad, Euphoria, Sedum and Sempervivum each with their own amazing qualities! 

To identify if a plant is a succulent look out for the following features: 

  • Leaves that grow in a fractal pattern (a pattern that repeats whilst increasing or decreasing in size evenly, like a pinecone)
  • Fleshy, thick leaves
  • Shallow root ball
  • Spines, hairs or wax surrounding the plant 

What Are Some Myths That Can Be Unpacked?

Myth #1

Many ‘experts’ claim that putting rocks or gravel at the bottom of your plant pot will help to improve drainage, or is useful to stop soil from coming out of the drainage hole. This probably started from when all plant pots were made of terracotta and only had one large drainage hole. As the water all exited through the same drainage hole it could become waterlogged. By adding pebbles the water trickled through the hole more slowly and prevented waterlogging. Now our plant pots are much better and this is ultimately unnecessary..

Why Are Rocks Unnecessary?

Unfortunately, it is nonsense. In conclusion it ultimately prevents water from properly draining through the plant pot and out of the drainage hole. When your plant gets water, it gradually filters through the growing medium. If this water encounters a new medium the water just sort of sits, it moves sideways instead of down and the result is super soggy soil at the bottom of the plant pot. This same idea goes for any kind of new medium in the pot and it will lead to root rot which is the easiest way to kill a plant. 

Never use pebbles to create better drainage, it just doesn’t work, drainage is only affected by gravity and capillary action (the way water moves based on how water molecules stick to each other). In every pot, no matter what there is a point at which gravity and capillary action equal each other and there is a thing called a “perched water table” which is just going to wet soil basically. Using gravel in your plant pot pushes the wet soil upwards towards the shallow root system of the succulent which increases the likelihood of root rot. 

Here’s what to do instead of putting rocks in your pot, to actually help the plant out:

If your goal is drainage: mix perlite or chunky bark in with your potting mix. This in turn increases the air spaces in the medium which reduces capillary action therefore lowering the point in the soil at which capillary action and gravitational force are equal.

perlite with scooper

If you need to fill space in a large pot: use a flat material like wood or card with a drainage hole added to raise the bottom of the pot. Basically just make the pot shallower by creating a false bottom.

To prevent soil from falling out of the drainage hole: use newspaper or paper towel just over the drainage hole. It’ll still allow the water to drain and prevents soil falling out.

Myth #2

Using ice cubes to water your plants. 

This idea could seem sound upon first glance. It gives water directly to the soil and avoids getting any on the leaves, provides a steady slow supply of water and could work when you’re away. Unfortunately it’s too good to be true, but there is an alternative which can help do the same thing without any of the damage that comes from ice cubes. 

Why Are Ice Cubes Bad?

Using ice to water your succulents is detrimental for a few reason. Firstly the temperature of the water will be far too cold and can shock and kill the plant. Therefore it’s much better to water your plants with tepid water (not too hot, not too cold). Additionally, it’s hard to control how much water a succulent will actually be receiving. Overall, succulents are native to dry climates where they experience major drought and then rainfall. So it’s better to water them less frequently but more thoroughly, so a regular, small supply of water isn’t actually necessary for succulents. 

Plant watering globes are a much better alternative to water directly into the soil. But honestly, they’re just not necessary for succulents. Let your succulent dry out rather than overwatering.

green succulent cactus plant in clay pot white background

Myth #3

I’ve read a lot of people saying that succulents are not beginner friendly and that they are actually really hard to care for. I could not disagree more – the key to proper succulent care is to know what type of plant you are looking after! Simply knowing that they are succulent is not going to cut the cake this time. It’s entirely possible you gave your heart and soul to a succulent and it died on you. Nevertheless don’t lose hope or give up. It might have just been in fact a monocarpic succulent! 

What Are Monocarpic Succulents?

Monocarpic succulents are plants which experience its whole life cycle within one year and will die after blooming. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad plant parent, it’s just natural. Some plants die quickly after flowering, like Echeveria and some take years to die, but will never flower again, like Agave. To get the most out of your monocarpic succulents, collect their pups and practice your succulent propagation to keep them going for longer than just one year.  

The general rule of thumb is that if the plant grows its flowers from the center of the plant it is likely the ‘bloom of death’. Meaning it is monocarpic. 

Polycarpic succulents like sedum are actually easy indoor plants and can be grown for many years.

pink sedum flower in the sunshine

What Are the Light Requirements for Indoor Succulents?

Succulents need a TON of light, about six hours of sun each day as the absolute minimum. If your succulent is a baby it will be a little more sensitive. It might be better off firstly in indirect light and then gradually after some time introduced to full sun.

Succulents will grow towards the light naturally because of their hormones. Auxins are a hormone in the plant. The auxins like the shade so move away from the light, the auxins cause the plant cells to elongate. The side of the plant facing away from the sun grows longer which causes the plant to bend and then lean towards the light source. If you notice a lot of leaning it can be a sign your plant needs more light overall. But just a little bit is natural and can be easily dealt with by rotating the plant when you water it. 

Too Much Light Vs Not Enough Light

How to tell if your succulent is getting the right amount of sun:
Signs of too much lightSigns of not enough light 
Pale patches, sometimes white, sometimes light green on the leaves. This happens because the plant reduces its production of chlorophyll (the pigment that makes plants green and absorbs light) as it is receiving too much light.Leggy succulents need more light, this is where the plant is leaning towards the light so the stem is elongated and the plant is not making enough energy to produce lots of leaves, the leaves start growing with large gaps between them.
Brown leaves that shrivel from dehydrationLoss of variation or patterns 
The soil seems to be drying out really quickly Faded, leaves where the plant 

green and blue succulents in the sunshine

Fixing Leggy Succulents

Some succulents naturally get quite tall like the Aeonium. Whereas most succulents only grow tall if they have gotten leggy! 

It’s not necessarily bad for the plant to experience etiolation (which is just the name for an over-stretched leggy plant). But if they grow too long they‘re at risk for falling over which can damage them, also it just doesn’t look great. 

When I want to correct this issue in my plants I do two things. Firstly I propagate the main rosette and some extra leaves just in case any fail. 

Remove the entire stem from the soil and use sharp clean scissors to cut the main rosette leaving some stem with it. Then gently remove the lower leaves so that there is some stem with exposed nodes. 

green long coned succulent on blue background

You can either just replant the rosette straight back into the soil by placing the stem back and leaving the head slightly above the soil level. Alternatively you can place the stem in water until it roots before replanting it. I normally just stick the stem and rosette straight back in the soil. I’m a little bit lazy and it’s been fine every time. 

How Often Can I Water Indoor Succulents?

My favorite way to water succulents is to wait until they are completely dry and then bottom water them. Fill a container with water, about 2-3 inches and leave the plant in there for around 20 minutes, refilling the water if needed. Regular watering is fine too but just be careful not to get water on the leaves as this can encourage pests or sunburn for instance. It’s easier to avoid the leaves if you use a watering can with a narrow spout. I recommend this watering method because succulents are generally native to areas which experience extreme drought and then sudden, heavy rainfall. Additionally, by recreating this drought period the plant is encouraged to grow bigger, stronger roots in order to search for more water for example.

I water my succulents roughly every 2 weeks. However this frequency will change so it’s more important to know the signs that your plant needs to be watered rather than relying on a schedule. 

Bottom Vs Top

Not suitable just after potting up More likely to get water on the leaves
Encourages stronger root systems Helps to flush out pests or fertilizer from the soil
Allows the plant to drink as much as they needQuicker and less hassle 

Is There a Fertilizing Schedule? 

Most succulents do not need fertilizing and will be supported with just the nutrients from the soil. However, if it’s been a long time since the plant got new soil you might want to start fertilizing for example, I like to use something with an even N-P-K ratio and dilute it. Follow the instructions on the individual fertilizing you use. If in doubt, dilute it further. 

What Tips Should I Follow for Repotting?

repotting cacti and other succulents in different pots

There’s 3 things to consider when repotting a plant. The pot you’ll move it into, the soil you’ll use and when to repot.

Choosing a Pot

The best choice for a succulent pot will be something with great drainage, I like to use terracotta or ceramic pots instead of plastic. Plastic pots are a lot less breathable in fact and therefore the soil stays wet for longer. 

Plant Pots Compared by Material 
PlasticCeramic Terracotta 
Super cheap More expensive Super duper cheap 
Less breathable Breathable Extra breathable 
Ugliest choiceLoads of aesthetic options Cute but less options

All in all, I chose terracotta. I love it, it’s also worth remembering that whilst there’s less options on the market you can paint terracotta pots to match your other pots! 

Soil Type

Since succulents are so diverse they each have slightly unique preferences. However generally, a well draining chunky soil mix will serve you well. You can buy cactus specific soil if you want. However I just mix my compost in with perlite and bark to make my own soil mix for example. 

When to Repot

  • Every two to three years 
  • During active growth season 
  • When the roots begin to grow out of the drainage hole
  • The soil dries out super fast (bone-dry in a few hours kind of fast)
  • When your succulents are top heavy and need more support

FAQ About Succulents

Why are succulents called succulents? 

The name comes from the Latin word meaning sap sucus which refers to the storage of water in their leaves which helps them survive.

Do succulents need sun?

I think that because succulents are called a low maintenance plant that is easy to care for, people often associate that with them being able to grow anywhere, like in low light environments. Unfortunately, it’s not the case, every plant needs sun, or artificial light, especially succulents. In summary these plants benefit from being in a bright, sunny location.

There are a few succulents which can cope with less light than others like the snake plant but they still need some sun to photosynthesise. 

How often should you water a succulent?

Generally speaking, when the temperatures are cold outside you should only water your succulent once a month. However, when it gets really warm outside during the summer months, especially above 100 degrees fahrenheit (38 C) you should water it every other week. When the leaves start to shrivel, this is also a clear indication that your succulent needs to be watered.

How do you care for succulents indoors? 

Make sure you provide them with an environment similar to their native habitat. Succulents enjoy long dry periods with a short period of heavy watering. 

The Bottom Line When It Comes to Succulents 

The key thing to remember is always that the best way to take care of succulents is to replicate their natural environment. Lots of dry periods followed by a heavy watering, minimal fertilizer and lots of sun are the keys to happy succulent plants.

Any questions? Just leave us a comment and we can try our best to help you out!

Enjoyed this guide to care for your succulent babies?

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Photo of author
Katie Riggs
Katie’s love of plants began at a young age, in fact it was the first time she went camping and discovered the medicinal wonders of a dock leaf that the fascination with all things botanical took hold. Spending time in nature and frequently visiting the Kew Gardens, she became obsessed with the diversity of plants you could grow at home. Her favorite things to grow are herbs and vegetables outdoors as well as her prized fiddle leaf fig and calathea orbifolia. Hundreds of mistakes later she has become well versed in how not to kill a houseplant. Her passions now involve sharing her love of nature and all things green to help other people keep their plants happy and healthy.

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