Tired of Killing Your Succulents? Me Too.

Hannah BryanGrowing, Learning OpportunitiesLeave a Comment

While my mom is an all-around green thumb–she’s mastered orchids, bulbs, annuals, perrenials, cut blooms, wreaths, and just about everything else in the gardening world–I am more of a grey-ish/black thumb. While I can work with cut flowers and arrange potted plants (as long as they don’t come out of the pot!), I have always struggled with keeping other plants alive. Especially succulents. So far, none of the succulents I’ve taken under my wing have come out alive.

When I was down in North Carolina recently visiting my aunt and uncle, we went to the North Carolina State Farmer’s Market in Raleigh, and I fell in love with it. Open 7 days a week, 365 days a year, this mecca for green things was home.

I was able to pick up a pot of aloe plants (a necessity when you are as pale as I am) for just $5 and was determined to keep the plants alive and kicking through the summer. I bought a pot at a neighboring garden store and my aunt was kind enough to donate another of her pots to me. She showed me how to prep the pots (gravel is key!), and what kind of soil to buy and before you knew it, our hands were dirty and the aloe plants were tucked safely in their new homes.

Not my aloe plants, but love the container for this one!

Not my aloe plants, but love the container for this one!

Now…I’ve gotten to this point before and it’s always excited to have some new green things to put in my little apartment, but the excitement is usually replaced with sadness when they inevitably die a few weeks or months later. So, instead of winging it and shrugging, I decided to do research, that I’ll share with you here:

Do different succulents need different attention?

I came across an Apartment Therapy article in my research that included this perfect little quote that I’ve been trying to remember ever since:

“Succulents in the purple and orange color family prefer the outdoors. They will prefer your patio or deck to your darker rooms. Succulents that are really very green will do better indoors.”

Additionally, I’ve heard rumors that aloe and agave plants can thrive indoors as well, as long as they’ve got a bright window to enjoy.

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Do they even LIKE being inside?

As mentioned above, green succulents fair far better than purple and orange succulents inside, but beyond that, the question can get a little more complicated than just inside versus outdoors. If you are keeping your plants inside, keep in mind that they should be somewhere away from a direct breeze (like under the air conditioning vent), and out of very humid places (like the bathroom or laundry room). After all, they are cacti, and humidity can spell disaster.

How often should I water them?

This is the biggest problem I have because the opinions differ and I never can remember the last time I watered, so every drop of water is a risk in and of itself. Thankfully, there are resources like “Succulents and Sunshine” who have all the answers you could ever need. Check out their very helpful and appropriately titled blog post “How to Water Your Succulents”, for more specific information.

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Why do their leaves keep turning yellow?

Yep…you guessed it. The succulent is likely overwatered.

An example of an overwatered succulent that's turned yellow

An example of an overwatered succulent that’s turned yellow

What should I do with leaves that fall off?

The answer to this one is up for debate. When you start to look around, half of the resources and experts will say to remove the leaves and throw them away while the other half say it doesn’t matter for the health of the plant, and can be removed if they bother you enough. All experts agree that you shouldn’t pull the whole plant out of the pot to remove dying leaves at it can shock the succulent and prevent it from growing and re-rooting.

When will my succulents start to multiply and spread?

If you are tired of waiting for your succulents to spread on their own (it can be a long process), then you can read up on how to propagate succulents¬†yourself! It’s a fairly non-intensive process and in a few simple steps you’ll be well on your way to succulent stardom.

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I personally haven’t made it to the point where my succulents are healthy enough to try and propagate, but if you give it a go, will you let me know how it goes?

Do succulents grow year-round or are they seasonal?

A little bit of both. They won’t die back like other plants who close up shop in winter, but succulents are more “active” during warmer months. Growing season for succulents is from the spring to the fall. During these seasons, your succulents will need more water and fresh soil/fertilizer. When winter comes along, feel free to leave them alone for the most part, and they usually aren’t growing a ton when it’s cold out.

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Can you save a succulent that’s been overwatered (or: how late is too late?)

The good news is that usually, yes, an overwatered succulent can be saved. The first sign of a plant that has been overwatered is if you can touch the leaves and they fall of with just a slight touch. As mentioned above, yellow leaves can also indicate overwatering.

Can you underwater a succulent?

Damn skippy, you can! Just like you can be too heavy-handed with a watering can, if you neglect your succulents, you may see their leaves start to shrivel up. There are some succulents that are more susceptible to this than others, but as long as you’re keeping an eye on your succulents, when you notice a little shriveling begin, it’s a safe bet that it could use a little water to perk up.

Which is worse?

From what I’ve read, it seems underwatering a succulent is far easier to rectify than trying to bring a drowning succulent back to life.

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I’ll post an update on my aloe plants in the next couple weeks to let you know how they’re doing and if I’ve managed to take these lessons to heart and keep them alive (fingers crossed!). Is there anything I missed? Any problems you’ve experienced while trying to keep succulents alive? Black thumbs, we can unite around this!

Hannah BryanTired of Killing Your Succulents? Me Too.