Succulents 101, helpful tricks and tips from sugar & succulents

It’s finally, truly, undeniably spring! (well..for now, at least) and with that in mind I’m taking today to write about one of my favorite things: plants I can't kill!

Succulents are popping up all over the place- in weddings, decor magazines, and gardening trends…as they should be! They’re beautiful, low maintenance, and add unique textures to a space.

I love fresh flowers as much as I love cookies (and I really love cookies); but I just cant keep traditional flowering plants alive. Instead, my home is filled with cacti and succulents. They can be just as gorgeous and require much less effort. Win-win!

I'm sharing some tips for taking care of the succulents in your homes and some of my favorite types. If you want some decor ideas or you’re unsure how to stage these beauties, check out my article over on Lela’s blog, In the New House Designs, for an Ultimate Guide to Decorating with Succulents.


What is a succulent?

Succulents are plants that are amazing at storing water. Typically from dry, arid climates, they have adapted to live in less-than-ideal environments like deserts. That means they hold onto water well and when I forget to water them for three weeks they are still happy little plants!

Actually, once in college I asked a friend to plant-sit for me when I went away and she over-watered my poor Aloe vera plant and it died. If you don't have time to read this article, take away these two simple rules: less water, more light.

This is the most important bit. These plants love, love, love sunlight, but not direct high-sunlight. They prefer south facing windows or brightly lit rooms without direct midday sun. If they aren't close enough to a window, they will begin to orient towards it or stretch out their stems/leaves to reach for the sun. If you live someplace without a lot of natural light, I would suggest purchasing faux succulents instead. I have a few available in the shop that are very realistic!

So this part is pretty important too. In the summer months water them more frequently. I usually aim for once a week.
In the winter when they are dormant, I water once every three to four weeks. 
Aways wait until the soil is completely dry, then soak it and let drain. If you live in a humid climate, this might take longer than one week and that’s okay! Adjust as needed. I usually bring my plants to the sink and water the leaves and the soil, let them drain fully, and then return them to their “homes.”

Succulents do not like damp soil or “keeping their feet wet”. It’s best to use a soil formulated for drainage. Cacti mixes can be easily found at gardening centers and places like Lowe’s and Home Depot. I also add pebbles to the bottom and top of the pots to help with draining. The ones on the top add a nice decorative touch, while the ones underneath allow water to drain without soaking the roots. 

I’ll be honest, I’ve never fertilized my plants. I do buy the cactus potting soil which comes with fertilizer, so when I repot my cacti (which should be every year, but I usually do it every 2-3 years; I swear I abuse these poor things.) they get a dose, but I don’t go out of my way to fertilize mine. They’ve done just fine for me; but I don't think fertilizing would hurt.

Picking the Perfect Plant:
Say that three times fast; and then choose your succulent!
I’ve always had the best luck with the greenest, cheapest plants. The really unique or special species sometimes need additional care. Also, if I killed a $3 plant as an experiment, I don't think I'd be as sad as when the gorgeous $20 succulent dies unexpectedly.
When you’re comfortable with caring for these plants then you can expand to more interesting varieties. My first was an Aloe vera plant that I still own and I suggest you start with one of those! Not only are they affordable and easily obtainable but they are a great addition to a first aid kit for minor burns and abrasions. 


Some favorites:
Almost all cacti are succulents and I highly recommend any plants from the Cactaceae family, but one of my absolute favorites is the Christmas Cactus. 

Christmas cactus: there are a few species in the genus Schlumbergera, and they're all equally lovely. My mother-in-law gifted me a 200 year old Christmas cactus and I was terrified that I was going to kill it. Apparently it likes me because it’s flowered twice this year, and I couldn't be more happy about it. 

Originally from Brazil, this cactus will bring you so much joy when it finally flowers for the first time. Named because they usually produce gorgeous pink flowers in the middle of the winter, around Christmastime. 


Aloe vera: are probably the most commonly known species of succulent. They come from the family Xanthorrhoeaceae. As mentioned above, you can buy these plants almost anywhere (even in IKEA) and they do very well. I love having them around for sunburn, or small kitchen burns. 


Agave: I use agave nectar to sweeten my tea sometimes, although I haven't grown one at home- I’d love to try! They look very similar to aloe plants but are from the family Asparagaceae. They have been called the century plant because they take years to mature and only flower once in a  lifetime. How cool would that be to witness?!


Hens and chicks: my grandmother grew these outdoors when I was a kid and the name always stuck with me. These hardy little plants are what generally comes to mind when I first think of a succulent. They are named because of the way the propagate, where the mother plant seems to have babies following her. The plant family is Sempervivum, but plants from Echeveria, Sedum, and Bergenia have also been called “hens and chicks” due to the same growth style. 

 If you're looking for more examples or visuals to help you choose which succulents you'd like in your home, check out this FTD article "127 Stunning Desert Plants and Succulents"

Do you have succulents in your home? Show us how you've added them to your decor with the hashtag #sugarandsucculents on Instagram, or post them to our Facebook page! 

1 comment

  • LIsa @ fArmhouse ON BOone

    Very informative! Would you believe I’ve killed succulents?! I’ve made the mistake of watering then why my other house plants which is a big mistake. Beautiful pics in this post!

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