All succulents are plants, but not all plants are succulents. This article is about the noun form of a succulent; if you are looking for inspiring photos of plump fruits or mesmerizingly tasty recipes for tonight’s dinner, you will have to look elsewhere.
As a noun, a succulent is a plant that is native to arid regions of the world and places that get little rainfall, irregular rainfall, or seasonal rainfall. As the etymology of their name suggests, succulents have been named such because of their fleshy leaves—ideal for storing water so that they can survive those periods when there is very little water in their external environments.
Succulent plants do not have needles like coniferous trees nor do they have broad, flat leaves like deciduous trees. As such, succulents and their unique anatomy require different methods of care than a spider plant or your freshly chopped Christmas tree (which doesn’t actually count as a coniferous houseplant, by the way).
Choosing Your Succulent: Best Species for Indoor Growing
There are hundreds of species of succulents, including varieties like cacti, aloe plants, and orchids. Even among these different succulent species, there will be different standards of care and recommended ways of caring for succulent plants. Don’t worry, you don’t need a green thumb to keep most of these indoor plants alive. The following are five types of indoor succulents that would fare well lounging on your dining room table or looming above an entryway.
Aloe Vera (Aloe vera)
Aloe Vera has long, slender leaves that are dotted with prickles. The sap inside the leaves has been used for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years to treat burns and other wounds. It does best in direct sun.
Zebra Plant (Haworthiopsis attenuate)
Zebra Plants have triangular leaves that radiate out from a single stem and that have horizontal stripes. This plant usually grows to about five inches tall and six inches wide; it is a compact plant that will do well in tight spaces. Zebra plants require moderate to full amounts of sunlight.
String of Pearls (Senecio rowleyanus)
String of Pearls is another relatively compact plant that is made up of short vines covered in what look like green, fleshy “pearls”. While it is a hardy plant, it also requires moderate to full sunlight.
Panda Plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa)
The Panda Plant has many wide leaves radiating out from the stem. These leaves have small brown spots on their tips and are covered in little white hairs. This fuzzy plant’s size will depend on the size of its planter; it thrives in dry conditions.
Burro’s Tail or Donkey’s Tail (Sedum morganianum)
Burro’s Tail is made up of small, fleshy “pearl”-like leaves that are densely packed together to form numerous hanging clumps. This succulent is easy to grow and care for as it can tolerate any kind of soil with good drainage.
How to care for succulents indoors
Succulents may be evolutionarily adapted to do well in low moisture conditions, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need any water at all. If you grow succulents indoors, make sure you keep them in a container that gets good drainage so that the water in the soil has a chance to dry out completely between waterings. Although be wary of your plant drying out quickly because of lack of water or too much drainage. Because the leaves of succulents are made to store water, you don’t need to water them as often as other houseplants and doing so could actually be detrimental to the health of the succulent. Some clues to watch for to see if your succulent needs more water? Look for anything out of the ordinary about the leaves. If they are usually plump and shiny but are starting to shrink and turn dull, the leaves are telling you they need more water. When you water succulents, pour water into its container until it starts to drip from the bottom. When draining soil at home, make sure you’re using a container that allows for water to drain through the bottom. Then remove the saucer while letting the water drain so that the succulent soil doesn’t continue to soak in the water that it is trying to dispel.
When choosing a container for your succulent to call ‘home,’ the most important thing to remember is that this container needs to have drainage holes. If the container is too good at holding in water, your plant will suffer in overly moist conditions. Also, since most succulents have shallow root systems, you don’t need a lot of soil and can get away with using a shallow bowl to house your plant. Beyond these health concerns, feel free to choose as cute or as ugly a home for your succulent as your heart desires.
Nix your normal potting soil when planting succulents. They thrive in sandier soils that promote water drainage; you can purchase succulent-specific soil, or you can replicate this medium by creating your own mixture of potting soil and sand. You want it to have the consistency of a handful of sweaty cookie crumbs—there’s enough moisture for it to clump together a bit but the mixture will mostly remain gritty and loose.
Usually, the more light a succulent can get, the happier it will be. In nature, these plants often thrive in bare, arid conditions that get plenty of sunlight. While you will want to research your specific species of succulent to determine its ideal lighting conditions, you can generally expect to find a place in which your plant can get bright light for long stretches of time. In warmer climates, you can even find a place for your plants in a sunny outdoor spot. However, light is not equivalent to temperature; please don’t leave succulents to suffer in frigid temperatures in your efforts to find them a light-flooded habitat.
When growing succulents, you can encourage them to grow quicker by feeding them fertilizer. Succulents naturally grow best during the spring and summer months so it is more helpful to fertilize during these periods of increased growth than during winter months in which their growth rate is experiencing a natural decline. You can use normal houseplant fertilizer for succulents, but remember to pare down the amount of fertilizer you use. Go for half (or less) of what you feed your other house plants and feed them 3-4 times TOTAL over the course of a few months.
Succulents like having friends as much as we do. When growing your succulents, try pairing them with another plant. You can plant multiple species of succulents in the same container—check before doing so that you are pairing together plants that have similar growth rates and care requirements.
Contrary to what your doting heart may believe, succulents survive best when they are mostly left alone. Because your living room is not the native habitat of kind of succulent, it’s a good idea to look into the species of succulents that are better equipped to handle domestic life and what conditions will keep them happiest. Keep in mind the container and soil they’re living in, how you are watering them, the amount of light they get, and if they could benefit from a little fertilizer. Succulents require a very different standard of care than other houseplants, but that doesn’t mean it has to be difficult to raise your own succulent garden of these unique plants.