Caring for Indoor Succulent Plants

The following video has some interesting tips for caring for indoor succulent plants.  Suggestions include the use of a water meter to ensure proper succulent watering, and also the use of a syringe.  Yes, using a syringe in containers without drainage.  Caring for succulents is easy but there are some important things to remember for some varieties.

Hi guys; Laura with Garden Answers.  So today I’m going to address a bunch of our most frequently asked questions regarding succulents specifically the succulent containers that I do quite a bit of.  We get asked the same questions over and over and over again and will probably continue to be asked those questions and that’s okay, but I went through and I wrote down a bunch of our most frequently asked questions.

Caring for Indoor Succulent Plants

First question is “What is your favorite soil to use?” and I just use the pre-bagged stuff.  Anything that’s labeled cactus and succulent soil has done really, really well for me and I don’t care what brand I’ve used.  Let’s see, Miracle Grow, Espoma, Black Gold they’re all kind of the same – same – same to me.  I like them. I’ve never had any problem with them.   Some people like to add additional perlite to their cactus and succulent soil and that’s great.  It probably works out nice.  It adds additional drainage.  I just have never done it because I just don’t want to mess with it.  I don’t want to have the extra stuff around.  I just want to grab a bag of soil and have it be done and good to go.  So that’s what I do.

Oh, before I go on I should probably disclaimer that I am NOT a succulent expert. This is just stuff that I have gathered from experience from doing tons of succulent containers specifically this last year.  It seems like I’ve done a lot of them with fairly good luck.  So this is just information I’ve gathered just from working with them myself.  I don’t live in an area where they’re abundant.  They’re not natural here, not a lot of them anyway.  They’re not hardy enough to survive our winters except some sedums and some Verbatim.  They survive here and I do great but all the rest of them are kind of just relegated to containers and they have to be brought in for the winter time.  So these are just answers that I have gathered, not answers I guess, but opinions that I have gathered through working with these throughout the years.

So question 2:  “What fertilizer do you like to use?”  Kind of the same; I’ll just use anything that’s cactus or succulent labeled.  Right now I’m using something called Cactus Juice.  I’ve used Authentic Haven Brand Manure Tea which I’ve really liked. I just think it’s important to know the growth cycle of all the succulents and cacti that you’re feeding because they go through different dormant periods.   Some are winter dormant; some are summer dormant.  So I think it’s important to research that before you start feeding them and that way you’re not giving them fertilizer when they don’t need it.  So yeah, that’s pretty much it for that one.

Number 3:  “How much light do you put your succulents in?”  I put mine in spots where they get at least four to six hours of sunlight and usually morning sun – no afternoon sun.  It gets so hot here, like 110 plus, and it can scorch like this right here.  This is a sedum and full sun would scorch this poor little thing.  So, morning sun is great – afternoon sun not so much.  But you get something like this cactus right here; this can take pretty much anything that I throw at it.   So again, it’s just knowing your succulents and cacti, and kind of learning about them before you go throw them out in full sun area.  Most people think they want full sun, but the perfect area is morning sun and dappled or filtered afternoon sun or they can even take shade in the afternoon.   So that’s what I do – that’s outside.

Inside, during the winter time when the sun’s not as intense, I’ll actually put them in a west-facing window.  They’re thinking about that west-facing window where they get the afternoon sun because it’s not as intense.  They need that light and they do really, really well.  So I have all of my – I have one set of west facing windows -and I have everything clustered right around that window.  You can’t even get to it but they do really well in the winter time.  In the summer they wouldn’t like it so much.

Question number 4:  “Is it okay to mix cacti in with your succulents?”  Yeah, I don’t see why that’s a problem at all.  Some people get kind of, I don’t know nervous about it because cacti and succulents grow at different rates.  I think it’s just knowing that and then kind of designing around that.  So if you’ve got a little barrel cactus that you’re putting in with all these big beautiful succulents, put it toward the edge.  So that you know that your succulents can grow and fill in and then you’ll still be able to see your little cactus in the front there.  And some people too will kind of mound up like if their pot level the mound of soil up and kind of plant their cactus a little bit higher.  I’ve not done.  I haven’t seen a need for it.  I just make sure that the design as a whole can handle the different growth rates of the succulents.  So I think its fine; really they can take the same kind of light and do really well.

Watering – cactus don’t usually require quite as much water as soft succulents and that’s where this thing comes in really, really handy.   It makes it so nice.  So if you’ve got your cactus and succulents mixed together you can easily direct the water right toward your succulents and kind of keep it away from your cactus root balls.  Of course, it won’t 100% keep the water away but it helps out a lot and that way you can kind of monitor where the water is going, also the amount of water.

Question number 5:   “How many plants can you put in a container?  Will they survive if they’re packed in so tight?”  I get that question a lot.  People think that when I put so many succulents and cacti in together that they’re just going to overcrowd each other like in a week and start to look unhealthy and they don’t. They can stay packed in closely for a long, long time.  What I do to kind of keep it in check is I will take cuttings off the succulents and then propagate them somewhere else.  And then like if I’ve got aloes or agaves I’ll harvest the pups that they push and repot those.  Really that kind of keeps everything in check.

I also won’t fertilize quite as much as I normally would if they were by themselves in a larger area.  And that helps them to not put on so much growth obviously.  And they do kind of stay a little bit relative to the size of the container.  If they’re not, you know, if they’re kind of bound in there, they’re just naturally not going to grow quite as quickly. So I’ve had really, really great luck even with the stuff that’s all packed in really tight.  So don’t worry about that so much.  I’m just the type; I don’t care about watching the process of watching them grow in that doesn’t thrill me at all. I want it to be pretty right from the very beginning and if you watched any of our videos you’ve probably recognized that.  I don’t know, I just, and they’re plants.  You know if something starts to not do so well I can pop it out and put something new in.  That’s my philosophy.  Take it or leave it.

Okay, question number 6, and this is actually the last question.  But I’m going to kind of answer in two different parts.   This one is probably the most often asked question.  The first part is containers with drainage; obviously, it’s ideal if you can have a container with drainage just because the plants stay healthier.  It’s a lot easier to keep them healthy I should say when there’s drainage in the pot.  You don’t have to monitor quite as closely when you know that the water is escaping at some point.

Watering is completely subjective.  It is the size a container you’ve got your stuff in, to what kind of light you’ve got it in, whether or not you’re in a real rainy dark area, or if you are in, you know, heat and bright sun.  Whether or not it’s windy in your area, it’s just kind of a common-sense thing.  You just kind of, gotta, kind of watch your plants and kind of learn about them.  You will notice like on the soft succulents that their leaves will start to shrivel a little bit if they need a little bit more water.  They’ll start to yellow at the bases and start to look kind of sick if they’re getting too much.  You just need to key in on those things. There’s no real right answer.  I can’t tell you to give three tablespoons or half cup. I can’t.  People want like a definite, like how much water exactly do I need to give?  Well, there’s no exact answer.  It’s just something that you have to kind of learn on your own a little bit.  A general rule of thumb, you just put in just enough water for the root balls to be moistened – no more.   You don’t need to worry about saturating the heck out of the soil.  That’s not necessary with succulents and cactus.

So, and again, that’s where my syringe comes in really handy.  I can just point it right toward the root ball of each of the plants and just squeeze a little bit in and it does a really good job.  And that too helps with water pooling like around the crown of plants which isn’t super great for them.  When I have some cactus and succulents outside in the summer I water them about once a week.  When they are inside I’ll water them every one to three weeks depending on their location in my house.  Most of them like I said are in the west-facing window so they’ll need it a little bit more often because it does still get kind of warm right there even in the winter time.

A moisture meter is super, super handy in these kinds of cases because you can stick your moisture meter down in your pot.  It’ll tell you right where the moisture is clocking in and you’ll know whether or not you need to water.  So that might be a really good thing for you to invest in.  It’s just a nice moisture meter and then you can be sure that you’re giving your plants the right amount of water.

No gravel; do not add any gravel to the base of your pots.  I don’t know why people do this; just like, oh that’s one of my pet peeves.  When people, even not just even with succulents and cactus, but with big containers they want to put like pop bottles or bark or just whatever random things, to raise the soil level.  A lot of people say it’s to improve drainage but I think it’s just because they’re being cheap.  They don’t want to buy enough soil to fill up the whole pot.  It’s just one of those, ah, it bugs me.  When you have plants outside you want the – I don’t know why you wouldn’t want the whole pot to be full of soil because that helps with water retention and nutrients.  It also when you add in gravel into your pot it just makes your pot smaller.  I mean, if you think about it that way, if you’re adding gravel into an already draining pot the pot’s already going to drain out the water.  It doesn’t matter if there’s extra gravel in there.  You’re just essentially raising that soil level and making your pot smaller which essentially, in the end, can make your plants more unhealthy because there’s not as much room for root growth.  So, that’s my two cents on that.

Okay, so the second part of this question is:  “How to water succulents and cacti in containers without drainage?”  Now, like I said before, it is ideal if you can have drainage in your pots.  In fact, we did a little series of how to drill holes, drainage holes, in containers and glass, metal and ceramic, and we’ll link those down below if you want to check it out.  But sometimes it’s just not possible; you can’t be drilling holes in something.  I recently did a planter for a customer who had this really neat old antique wood dough bowl.  It was like a really neat piece of art and history and of course you don’t want to mess with that.  You don’t want to ruin it by putting a hole in it.  So we lined it and just planted it without drainage.  So in those kinds of cases, that’s when you just can’t and you just have to go with it and just make sure you’re monitoring the plants a little bit more.  If you want to check out that video, it was actually a really fun video to do, and I really liked how it turned out.  We’ll link that one down below as well.

First of all, in planters without drainage, you will not need to water as often and that should be obvious.  In a planter that has drainage that I watered once a week, without drainage I’ll probably check it every week and a half to two weeks. So it essentially makes it lower maintenance.

People ask about charcoal and gravel in containers so that drainage all the time and you know something that I used to do.  I used to add charcoal and gravel.  In fact, I think we did a video one of our first few about a terrarium and I did add those layers in which – is something that I would not do now.  I have learned a lot over the past year.  Charcoal is fine.  It’s just a purifier, so if you throw in a little bit at the base of your pot that’s totally fine.  It’ll help eliminate any odors if there’s any water pooling which is something that shouldn’t be happening anyway you hope.  So it’s really not super necessary to add that.

The gravel is an absolute no-no.  Do not add an extra layer of gravel at the bottom to help with drainage or to give it water a place to go.  The problem is you cannot see how much water is pooling down there and eventually you might have yourself a little pond down at the bottom of your pot and you don’t know it because you cannot see it.  So it’s just a good idea to put a well-draining soil and just fill it up and just water it only when dry and this is when a moisture meter comes in handy.  Again, you can stick it down in there; you’ll know exactly where – what the water level is at, and you’re good to go.  When you add gravel in again it makes your soil level higher, makes the pot smaller and your soil – it won’t drain extra water until it’s completely saturated.  So your soil is going to gather up all that moisture and it’s natural for the water to settle just at the base of the soil before it starts to drain. So you’ve just moved that level from the bottom of the pot up closer to the root ball.  So that’s not great.  It can let – lead to root tip rot and just unhealthy plants and disease and all that kind of stuff.  You just don’t want to do that.  There’s actually a really helpful link – can’t member who wrote it – but we’ll put the link down below and it talks all about how putting gravel in the bottom of a pot is a total myth and it’s something that you shouldn’t be doing.  It helped me out quite a bit.  It explained a lot to me.

Again, I use a syringe to help me water succulents and containers without drainage because I can get it right in there by the root ball and dribble in just enough to wet the root ball.  I’m not accidentally pouring in too much water because that happens every once in a while.  You’re pouring and all of a sudden a big rush of it comes out and you have no control so this helps you control that water.  I got this syringe at the nursery where I work.  We have a hydroponics area where we had this.  You can also pick these up at a local feed store.  They have great big syringes like this so they’re really, really handy to have.  I have a few of them just in case.

Alright, that pretty much sums up all of our most frequently asked questions about cactus and succulents.  If you have any other questions, please message us.  I love to hear from you guys and if you have any tips or tricks that you have learned to have more success with cactus and succulents I’d love to hear them. Thank you guys so much for watching and we will see you in the next video.  Bye

A nice summary of container planting, whether or not to use gravel and charcoal, how to adjust watering for pots without drainage holes, and more.  The video and transcript gave some great tips to successfully care for succulents.

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