5 Mistakes You’re Making With Your Succulents

You’ve spotted them in interior design magazines, in elaborate wedding centerpieces, and even everywhere on Instagram. Succulents are all the rage right now. The often prevalent claim that succulents are easy to grow is, in fact, far from the truth. Of course, that can be easy, but it requires a little mental adjustment. You have to get into the desert mentality: imagine a relentless sun, monsoon rains and the boomerang temperature changes that characterize desert days – and you might be a little luckier.

If you can’t figure out why your jade is dropping leaves or how to keep your sedum from wrinkling day by day, even with regular waterings, there are some handy tips you can follow. Here are five of the most common mistakes that succulent beginners make, and how to make these beauties thrive.

1. Not giving them enough light

succulents on the windowsill

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Natural light from a plant’s natural habitat is perhaps the most difficult environmental variable to emulate indoors. For common houseplants, we have an easier time. Many are from the tropical jungles and used to the changing periods of shade and sun that occur in your home. After all, this is what happens naturally when the sun moves over a forest canopy.

But if you put a plant that used to live 12 full hours under the scorching sun on an east-facing threshold, you beg for failure. Your best bet: choose the sunniest south-facing window available, and if all the windows face elsewhere, choose a more forgiving succulent like aloe or throw the towel and opt for a robust pothos.

2. Do not understand their watering needs

watering succulents

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The Chihuahuan Desert receives just over 9 inches of rain a year – a drop in the bucket compared to what the lush green landscapes most of us call home receive. In the desert, however, when it rains, it pours. To make your own desert dweller happy, try to emulate the native precipitation patterns of their original habitat. Do not treat your cacti with a net; turn on the taps and release a deluge.

All succulents (and all plants for that matter) benefit from a full soaking, until the water comes out of the bottom of the pot. For succulents, wait until the soil is dry, then a little, to water again.

3. Setting up for a standard potting soil

succulents in pots

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Most potted plants come in a standard soil mixture that works for almost all types of plants, from ferns with figs with violin leaves. The problem: succulents are designed to withstand one of the most extreme environments on planet Earth, so standard potting soil is not enough.

Once you have your succulent baby at home, change the soil to a desert mix, combining half the soil with something inorganic like perlite. This very well-drained, nutrient-poor soil will work for most succulents, whether they are used to thriving in the tall, dry Andes or the lowlands of the Death Valley.

4. Overcrowding

succulent in the geometry glass terrarium

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The succulents tend to come wrapped in adorable little dishes, all piled up playing with jowls. There are not many plants that like this arrangement, including succulents. Overcrowding is one of the best ways to encourage mold and insect infestations.

The second problem is that although succulents do very well with thin pickings, they still need food and water. Too much competition means they are likely to miss. If your succulents arrive in a crowded arrangement, carefully pluck them out and give them each their own spacious desert mini-dune.

5. More and more impractical types

close up of potted cactus

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I know it’s really hard to resist growing saguaros indoors, but please DON’T Some wild things are not supposed to be tamed, no matter how beautiful their flowers are or how attractive they are. . Instead, stick to the little hard cookies that will gladly accept the window sill as their sweet home.

Crassula is a good genre to explore if you work with indoor conditions, just like Sansevieria (aka snake plant). Mammillaria cacti (so called for their woolly hair, see above) are another good choice if you are looking for a thorny companion.


Molly J Marquand is a gardener, small farmer, botanist and writer living in the Catskill Mountains in New York. True to his university education, all of his writings reflect a careful examination of nature. You can find more of his work at mollyjmarquand.com.

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