5 Tips to Keep Your Succulents Alive

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I recently killed a round of succulents. Can you relate? You notice the cute, strategically placed containers at the store, you can’t resist buying a few of the small plants, and now they look adorable on your window sill. Until one day you glance up to see rotting, dying leaves.

No? Is it just me?

Well, if you’ve had this experience, or just want to avoid it in the future, here’s how not to kill your succulents to keep your succulents alive.

First off, let’s talk about origins. Succulents are desert plants, so they’ve adapted to hang onto water for a while. That’s what gives their leaves, or petals, a plump, dewy look: they’re full of water.

It’s also what makes caring for them potentially challenging to nurturing folk. Because succulents retain a lot of water, you don’t need to water them often, especially in humid climates. In addition to watering guidelines, here are a few other strategies that can turn your window ledge into the refreshing, Pinterest-ready display you always knew it could be.

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1. Water: Not too much, not too little, but just right

Put one hand over your heart, the other raised, and repeat after me, because you are about to take an oath: I will not overwater my succulent. I will not overwater my succulent. I will not... Maybe you don’t struggle with this as much as I do, but I’ve realized (through a lot of plant killing) these dry guys do not like to be overwatered.

Overwatering leads to root rot (gross) and will eventually kill the plant. Watering twice a week with a tablespoon of water might do in an arid climate, while in humid areas, going up to several weeks without watering can be enough. It really depends on the succulent size and how humid it is where you live. Look to see that their soil has dried out between waterings, and when you do water, don’t let the plants sit in a container full of it. You can always pour some out if your plant appears to be taking a bath.

Speaking of water…

2. Use soil that drains well.

Not all dirt is equal. For your succulents, find soil specifically made for desert plants. Cactus soil is often what you’ll see and it works well. You can even make your own by mixing a one-to-one ratio of standard potting soil with a combination of lava rock and sand.  

3. Make it cute and functional

Here’s where you get to flex your creative muscle. Almost anything can be used as a home for succulents, but preparing it is what determines their fate.  

Soon after buying your succulent, you’ll want to get a container that is the right size (if you put the plant in container that’s too large, the soil will likely stay moist for too long and not dry out between waterings), and containers are almost as important as soil when it comes to your succulent’s health. With both, good drainage is key. Once you have the right soil, find a container that allows it to dry out between waterings. While most types of material work, from terracotta to straw, avoid glass --  it retains the moisture that your succulent so desperately wants to avoid. If a pot or bowl you love doesn’t have a hole, you can either drill one or try a product called Better Than Rocks to help absorb extra water and assist with drainage.   

4. They love sunshine

These desert sprouts thrive on sunshine, so let them enjoy it. Try to find a sunny spot near a window to place them so they can get at least a few hours every day.

If you’re able to put your succulents outside, awesome! They’ll love it there. Just be sure to shield them from overexposure when it gets above 90 degrees. Like our own skin, succulents can actually get sunburned. And if it gets to freezing temperatures, bring them inside.

5. Ongoing Care and propa...what?

To keep your plant babies as vibrant as they were in Whole Foods, in addition to the appropriate amount of water and sunlight you by now are an expert on, you’ll want to feed them. Typically, once a year will be enough to “feed” your plant some fertilizer. Look for a succulent or cactus specific kind.

As they get bigger, you can think about propagating your plants. Propagation is the best way to get more succulents for less no money... it’s free. Yep. You’ll take a petal from your original plant and nurture it into it’s own, brand new plant. If you notice your succulents getting taller, it’s a good time to propagate. They’re trying to spread out to reach nutrients, so eventually, the bottom leaves will start to fall off.

Before this happens, make new succulents. Just pluck off one of the leaves closer to the bottom of your plant, and let it “heal” in a well-lit spot. When you start to see small roots coming out, your new plant is ready. Find another cute container, use your cactus-appropriate soil, and plant the little guy. Just in time for the holidays. The offspring are great gifts! 

See, even if it’s not in your genes, you can grow a green thumb (terrible pun, I know). Enjoy your new succulents and check out some of our handwoven baskets for colorful container inspiration.

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Author: Sonya is our resident blogger. She is a writer and craft beer enthusiast who has studied in Africa and worked passionately for schools and nonprofits. Her mantra (and daily reminder on her phone) is “write every day" because it's the only way to get better.