What is a succulent?
By Denton County Master Gardeners
Jun 25, 2024
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Succulents are plants that have thickened, fleshy parts used to retain water in arid conditions. Gardeners grow them because of their varied, striking, unusual appearance, as well as their ability to thrive with relatively little care. Many plant families include succulents. It seems as if it would be easy to grow succulents by putting them in soil, give them a little water and put them in the sun, but it isn’t quite that easy. Succulents can be a challenge. 

Overwatering is one of the biggest problems succulents face and is a major challenge for growers. In their natural environments, succulents have adapted to survive with very limited water sources, such as mist and dew, so while they do need water, they certainly don’t need very much. 

A second problem succulents struggle with is a soil mix that is too rich in organic matter for them.  They need well-drained soil that is porous enough for water to quickly run through. Succulents will rot with too much water. Screen out woody particles from cactus mixes by sifting it through a sheet of ¼ inch-grid hardware cloth. This will make it easier to keep from overwatering your succulents. Alternatively, you can modify regular potting mixes by mixing sharp sand (not play sand) with it until you have a 50/50 mix.  Because of the lack of organic material in the proper succulent soil, you should fertilize regularly with a low-dose fertilizer during the time of year when the plants are actively growing.

Succulents can be planted in a pot or bowl if it has a drain hole. The container you choose is limited only by your imagination. Fill the container about 75% full of soil. Add your succulents and fill in around them with more soil. 

You can still use the “thriller, filler, spiller” style with succulents because there are SO MANY choices! To settle everyone into place, water in with a squirt bottle, but be careful not to overdo water.

Many gardeners overwinter their containers of tender succulents in a greenhouse or inside their home. Succulents that have a higher cold hardiness can be planted in the ground. There are very few varieties that would survive our winters, so choose carefully. Plant your succulent in a protected area and be sure they have good air circulation. Succulents enjoy the radiant heat from rocks or nearby hardscapes in the winter and don’t mind it much in the summer. Succulents need to be in a partially shady area outside as they, like us, get sunburned in full sun.  They are drought resistant – meaning they can go long times without water, but need the occasional good long drink. 

Note that different succulents go dormant at different times. Some are dormant in the summer, while some wait for winter to move into dormancy.

Thank you, Carolyn Tinner, DCMGA Member and Propagation Specialist- edited from newsletter.


Container Gardening Basics 

 Happy Gardening!

The Denton County Master Gardener Association