Succulents sitting inside by a window

How to Care for Succulents Indoors

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I dreamed of growing succulents inside my home for years before I finally bought my first plant. It took all of five minutes for me to fall in love and realize that my dream was coming true.

Whether you’re an experienced indoor gardener or a serial houseplant killer, growing succulents is (in my humble opinion) always a good idea. Among the thousands of succulent species, you can find almost any color and shape imaginable.

There’s a succulent for everyone, and I promise even my black-thumbed readers can keep one alive. Once you learn how to care for succulents indoors, you can build your collection of these tiny, beautiful plants.

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What Is a Succulent?

In the plant world, ‘succulent’ refers to a species of plant that can store water in its leaves, often as an adaptation to life in the more arid parts of the world. You’ll recognize succulents by their thick, moisture-filled foliage and funky shapes and growth patterns.

Succulent plants are immensely popular in cultivation, and it’s not difficult to see why. Even if you don’t live in a warm climate that allows you to grow them outdoors, it’s still easy enough to maintain an indoor succulent collection.

There are endless species and variations to collect, with most being easy enough to care for as long as you follow a few basic guidelines. They are just what you need to bring some life into your home!

Which Succulent Is Right for Your Indoor Space?

Succulents arranged on a table

If you headed out to your local plant store or garden center and became overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of succulents for sale, I wouldn’t be surprised. There are thousands of different species! Some are easier to care for than others, but how do you know which succulents will work well in your home?

As with all houseplants, which succulents best suit you depends entirely on your home and the amount of care you’re willing to provide. However, there are a few species that are particularly suitable for beginners to grow indoors:

  • The genus Crassula, like the classic Jade tree (Crassula ovata)
  • The genus Aloe, including the widely known Aloe vera
  • Many members of the genus Haworthia, like the popular zebra-striped Haworthia fasciata
  • The genus Beaucarnea, better known as ponytail palms
  • The genus Opuntia, a cactus you might know as the prickly pear
  • The genus Sansevieria (which was recently reclassified as Dracaena)
  • The genus Agave, especially if you have a bit of space available
  • The genus Sedum, more commonly known as jelly-beans

Related: When Should You Bring Succulents Indoors?

How to Care for Succulents Indoors

All plant species began outdoors at one time or another. So in order to bring them inside, it’s important to mimic the necessary conditions that succulents thrive on in their natural habitat.

1. Lighting Conditions

Succulents tend to need more light than most other types of houseplants. This is because many species have evolved to adapt to life in environments that don’t feature much in the way of taller growth like trees. Without shade, the sun beats down on them all day long, so it’s not surprising they won’t respond well to being left in a dark area.

Sunlight is an important factor in growing succulents indoors successfully, but it’s somehow also something that many beginner succulent growers overlook. All varieties of succulents need sufficient levels of light in order to photosynthesize (and thus survive and grow). This means that unless you use artificial lighting, you can’t just take a few succulents and cacti and pop them in a shaded corner to help brighten it a little. They might take a while to die, but they’d be doomed from the start.

For the best results, you should place your succulents directly on the lightest windowsill you have available. If that’s not an option, then you may want to consider investing in some grow lights as I have had to do. Otherwise, your succulents may soon end up stretchy, light-starved, and spindly. Not a good look.

For indoor growing, it’s best to avoid the highest-light succulents altogether. One example of a species that is hard to grow using only natural lighting is the beautiful Echeveria ‘Perle von Nürnberg”. It simply needs more direct sun than most houses receive and will often end up looking sad when grown indoors.

Luckily, there are a few succulent genera that adapt particularly well to life indoors due to their lower light requirements. They should still be grown on a windowsill, but they’re not quite as needy as some of their cousins:

  • Aloe
  • Haworthia
  • Gasteria
  • Gasteraloe (a hybrid)
  • Sansevieria (snake plant)
  • Schlumbergera (Christmas and Easter cacti)
  • Rhipsalis cacti

2. Temperature Conditions

Temperature requirements for succulents vary widely. Surprisingly enough, some species can actually withstand frost if you keep their soil dry. Luckily, you don’t have to worry too much about the temperature indoors. Room temperature is fine, although many succulents also do well at cooler temperatures between 50-59 °F during winter. In fact, a drop in temperature stimulates blooming in certain species.

Be sure to keep your succulents away from air conditioner units and heaters. Although they’re hardy and can take a wide range of temperatures, they don’t like sudden changes.

3. Watering Schedule

Improper watering habits are the #1 succulent killer. It’s common to fall into one of two traps: either loving your succulent to death by drowning it or failing to realize that most species do need regular watering despite their capacity to store some moisture.

So how do you prevent your succulent from turning into a pile of snot due to rot (as a result of overwatering) or devolving into a wrinkly, crispy mess (because of underwatering)? The basic rule of thumb is to water infrequently, but a lot.

Here’s a breakdown of how to water succulents:

  • If you notice your succulent’s soil is dry, place it in the sink (to avoid spilling water everywhere) and soak it very thoroughly. Think sudden desert rainstorm!
  • Leave the plant in the sink so excess water can flow out of the planter through the drainage hole.
  • Once the water has stopped dripping from the planter, put your succulent back in its normal spot.
  • Wait until the soil has gone fully dry again. Poke a finger in the soil to test it.

The reason I don’t just give you a watering schedule is that the time it takes for a succulent’s soil to dry out can vary dramatically. If you’ve put yours on your sunny balcony for the summer, you may end up watering multiple times a week. In the middle of a dark, gloomy winter, on the other hand, a succulent may not need water for more than a month. Don’t worry if this all sounds complicated: you’ll get to a point where you’ll know whether your plant needs water just by looking at it.

Related: How to Fertilize Succulents (A Complete Guide)

4. Soil and Planter Preferences

Providing a succulent with the right type of soil and planting it in a suitable pot makes a huge difference in its chances of survival. As we’ve discussed, these plants like to be soaked whenever their soil is dry. However, excess water should drain freely and the soil shouldn’t stay moist for too long, lest root rot becomes a problem.

Luckily, it’s not difficult to find a suitable planter for your new succulent friend. Anything that has one or multiple drainage holes in the bottom should work just fine! Succulents are often sold in plastic nursery planters, which are a good choice but not always pretty. Terracotta is also popular.

As for soil, some garden centers and plant shops offer special “succulent” mixes. The difference between these and standard houseplant potting soil is that they contain added gritty material like perlite, sand, or small bark chips. This is done to create air pockets and keep the soil loose, giving the plants’ roots a chance to breathe and helping excess water flow away easily. These mixtures dry out more quickly than other potting soils.

If you’re thinking of repotting your succulent (which should be done whenever it outgrows its current container or every one to two years) but don’t want to buy a soil mixture, no worries. You can actually DIY succulent soil mix. It’s cheaper and tends to result in better soil! Just buy some non-water-retaining houseplant potting soil, perlite, and coarse sand for a gritty mixture that your succulents will love.

Related: How to Use Worm Castings in Potted Succulents

How Do You Propagate a Succulent Inside?

One fun succulent fact is that these plants are usually extremely easy to multiply. This goes for many houseplants, but succulents just take ease of propagation to the next level! If you’d like to expand your collection to keep, sell, or give away, sometimes all you need is a single succulent leaf.

Here are a few of the most popular succulent propagation methods (which work inside your home):

  • Leaf propagation: Many succulents can be multiplied by removing a single leaf and laying it on some succulent soil to root. Mist them every one to three days and you’ll soon see roots and a teeny tiny baby plant appearing.
  • Stem propagation: A classic method that works with most succulents. Just behead the mother plant and stick the stem in some succulent soil so it can root and continue growing. The headless plant will also re-sprout, so now you have two!
  • Separating offsets: With some succulent species, you’ll see babies pop up all around a healthy mother plant. You can separate their connection to mom and pot them up separately. Many will even already have their own root system, meaning they’ll often keep growing as if nothing happened!

Indoor Succulent Troubleshooting

Unfortunately, growing houseplants isn’t always smooth sailing, and succulents are no exception to this. There are certain issues you may run into, but luckily this should happen less and less often as you gain more experience.

A few more common problems you may face with indoor succulents include:

Overwatering

Root rot spreads quickly and can kill an entire plant! Water infrequently but deeply, and make sure the soil dries out relatively quickly. If it doesn’t, you may have to repot it. It can be difficult to revive an overwatered succulent, but the sooner you recognize the signs, the better.

Underwatering

Once your succulent plant’s soil is dry, don’t wait for ages to water it again. Yes, many succulents are desert plants, but that doesn’t mean they don’t love water. They can be quite thirsty, especially during summer.

Bugs

Check all new succulents thoroughly to prevent pests from infecting your entire collection. I made this mistake when I grabbed some succulents in a hurry on the way home from some errands one day. One of the plants was riddled with white mealybugs, and they quickly spread to some of my other succulents!

Thankfully, I was able to gain control of the situation and get rid of the mealybugs. You can battle bugs using homemade solutions like neem oil and dish soap or 70% alcohol. But I chose to use an organic pesticide called Earth’s Ally 3 in 1 and it worked great.

Stretching

Is your plant gradually growing taller and taller, with more and more space between each leaf? You may need to assess whether you’re providing it with enough light. Etiolation, or stretching, happens over time as a plant tries to reach for more sun. Maybe consider a grow light?

Don’t worry too much if one of your succulents doesn’t make it. First of all, at least you learned something, and secondly, some species just won’t work in your specific home. Just find another type of succulent to try and don’t give up too easily. Take this from me: even succulent bloggers kill the occasional plant 😉.

With the Right Conditions, Succulents Can Thrive Inside

As you’ve hopefully concluded, growing succulents indoors is something almost anyone can do. The many species of succulent plants tend to be relatively easy to care for, and they’re a perfect way to brighten up a boring windowsill!

Keep in mind that care for each individual succulent species can vary slightly, meaning it’s a good idea to look up each plant’s specific care requirements. Some like more light, others more water, and yet others only like to be watered during specific times of the year.

Have a look at your plant’s label to find out its name and commit to doing some additional research to create a dedicated care guide for your species.

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