Ideas & Inspiration
Best Succulents for Your Garden
If you’re a gardener without much room or time to care for plants, then succulents are a great choice. These tough little survivors come from parts of the world with dry tropical or semi-tropical climates, like deserts and steppes, and are easy to grow virtually anywhere, as well as in containers. They come in many different varieties.
Because they live where rainfall is scarce, succulents store water in their leaves, which often look fleshy, and in their stems and roots. (The word “succulent” comes from a Latin word that means “juice.") Succulents are happy even in hot sun and poor soil, which makes them perfect for a sunny windowsill or garden spot.
Cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. Cacti have “spine cushions,” small areas on the plants from which the spines, roots and flowers grow. Some succulents also have thorns or spines, but they don’t have cushions.
Plant succulents outdoors in a sunny spot in soil that drains easily, or in a container with drainage holes, and place it in a sunny area. For containers, use a potting soil made for cacti and succulents. Mix arching, spreading and upright plants for a winning combo.
You can plant succulents along the edges of walkways or tuck them into spaces in walls where the soil is thin and little else survives. Amend the soil with sand or soil conditioner if needed.
Feed succulents with a half-strength solution of water-soluble fertilizer and water them well. Place decorative rocks around them, if desired.
Use different colors and shapes to make your outdoor succulent garden or succulent container garden interesting and fun. You can find succulents in shades of green and gray, and some have tints of red, purple and blue. Try picking the best succulent for your garden as a focal point and use a few more to set it off. You can find succulents that take sun or shade.
Common indoor succulents include burro's tail (Sedum morganianum), crown of thorns (Euphorbia milii), jade plant (Crassula ovata), aloe vera (Aloe vera) and snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata).
Some of the best succulents for a garden planted outdoors are hens and chicks (Sempervivum tectorum), stonecrop (Sedum spp.), whale's tongue agave (Agave ovatifolia), ball cactus (Parodia magnifica) and dudleya (Echeveria spp.)
You can grow succulents outdoors even if you garden in the Northwestern U.S., where the climate can be wet. An easy-to-grow choice for beginners is Sedum oreganum, which is often grown on rooftops. The plants form spreading mats and blossom with yellow flowers in spring. Also try Sempervivums like hens and chicks. Sedum dendriodes and S. palmeri grow into small shrubs that resemble jade plants.
Gardeners in the hot, arid West probably already know that succulents are ideal for their landscape. They can tolerate windy slopes, sunbaked rock gardens and even stand up to gusty winds. Jade plant (Crassula ovata) thrives in the West in containers but must come inside when temperatures drop to freezing.
If you grow succulents indoors in the South or Northeast, where winter temperatures would kill them, give them a window with a southern or western exposure. Remember that they’ll go dormant in the winter, so reduce your watering until they start actively growing again. If your plants are close to a window in an unheated room, make sure the temperature doesn’t drop below 35 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll only need to water when the soil is dry.
Hens and chicks are succulents that grow in mats. As they grow, the plants form rosettes. The parent rosette is the “hen,” while the small rosettes are the “chicks.” After they flower, the hens will die, but you can remove them from your garden or pot and have plenty of chicks left to fill in. Hens and chicks are some of the best succulents for your garden if you're looking for drought-tolerant, sun-loving plants. Many sempervivums are hardy to USDA gardening Zones 4 and 5.
Also called donkey’s tail or lamb’s tail, this plant, Sedum morganianum, is one of the best succulents for your garden containers and hanging baskets, thanks to its attractive trailing habit. The gray-green leaves are shaped like tear drops and grow on branches that can reach two feet long. Keep them cut back if they're in a small dish garden or container.
Echeveria are succulents that form rosettes as they mature. Most echeverias are fairly small, but some varieties grow into shrub-like plants, so check the tag on your plant if you want to plant it in a dish garden or other container. Echeverias are some of the best succulents for your garden if you want a variety of colors, such as powder blue, green and silver. Many have attractive red edges or tips.
Agaves come in various shapes and colors, but you’ll often see these plants sold as symmetrical rosettes with spiny, stiff leaves. Others have soft leaves and lack spines. Even though it can become large, an agave can thrive in a small pot or a small outdoor garden space for many years, allowing you to manage its size.
In general, succulents are hardier than many other perennials. Indoors, find the right spot for them and be consistent with temperatures and humidity. Avoid overwatering, which can lead to rotting.
Give succulents and cacti as much indoor light as possible. A window with direct sunlight is best.
Place succulents anywhere in your home or office, except humid areas such as bathrooms and kitchens. The dry air in most buildings suits succulents perfectly.
Just as they like dry air, succulents like dry soil. Water only when the soil is dry. Depending on the temperature, this may be once a month or once every other month. Water the roots, not the leaves. Make sure succulents have excellent drainage in your garden soil or in containers. Never let water stand around them.
If your succulents stop looking their best, diagnose the symptoms and try these tips:
- Gently remove any dead leaves from the bottom of the plant, making sure not to disturb the trunk or roots. Dead leaves at the bottom of succulents are perfectly natural. All plants have dying leaves, and as new leaves grow, old ones die.
- Suspect poor watering techniques or soil problems if your succulents have dry leaves near the top of the plants. Yellow, transparent leaves mean overwatering and black leaves signal severe overwatering that can't usually be reversed. Avoid overwatering by soaking the soil with water and waiting until it's completely dry before watering again. If your succulents have wrinkled, dry leaves, it's a victim of underwatering and needs more attention.
- Stretched-out succulents need more light. Move potted succulents closer to a light source and consider transplanting garden succulents into a sunnier spot.
- Even the best succulents for your garden can fall prey to insects. Mealy bugs are a common pest. Fill a spray bottle with 70 percent isopropyl alcohol and spray it on areas of the plant infected with bugs.
Planting succulents makes for easy work of any gardener. These low-maintenance beauties can survive drought and most love the heat when planted outdoors. Indoors, place succulents near a sunny window and water only as needed.