Succulent Plants

Succulent Plants - Desert Cactus Dish Garden

Figure 1: Desert Cactus Dish Garden

Succulent plants are sometimes referred to as ‘Succulents’ or ‘fat plants’ since parts of them are thick and they usually retain more water in dry climates/soils, according to Wikipedia. Their low demand for water allows them to survive periods of neglect, making them some of the best indoor plants for beginners. They are perennial tropical plants often grown as ornamental plants in flower pots and gardens because many of them have a very unusual appearance. Joshua Trees (pictured in Figure 2, below) are often confused with succulent plants, but they are actually a variety of Yucca.

Succulent Plants - Joshua Tree Yucca

Figure 2: Joshua Tree

Many Succulent plants are flowering plants that offer easy care and look beautiful in your home alone or with a companion plant such as CyclamenHibiscus, Hydrangea, Azaleas or Geraniums–which have similar requirements for lighting. Succulent plants come in a myriad of colors and leaf shapes and a current trend that is gaining popularity is to include different varieties of succulent plants with Peonies and other flowers in bridal bouquets. Unlike Spider Plants and Palm Plants, Succulents generally like the low humidity and warm conditions found in many houses; they seem to be able to adapt to direct or lower light. Many of the smaller plants look great on indoor plant stands, and stands with wheels are available for larger plants. Succulent Plants prefer a good draining soil that’s not watered often, and it’s best to let the soil become completely dry between waterings.

Succulent Plants – Interesting facts

  • The tallest free-standing Cactus is about 63 feet tall (19.2 m); the smallest is approximately 0.4 inches (1 cm) at maturity
  • Plant health care for Succulents is less demanding than Orchid care
  • A fully mature Saguaro Cactus (Figure 3) can absorb as much as 200 US gallons of water during heavy rainfall.

    Succulent Plants - Saguaro Cactus

    Figure 3: Saguaro Cactus

  • Both Succulent Plants and Orchids produce oxygen at night, unlike most other types of plants which only produce oxygen while they are receiving light. For that reason they are a great option for bedrooms.
  • Remember that all Cacti are succulents but all succulents are not Cacti
  • Popular because they use less water and have less impact in droughts
  • They are fire-resistant and fire retardant
  • Many of them are not poisonous plants, but use barbs or needles for their protection, similar to Roses

Some of the Simplest Succulent Plants to Care For

Aloe Vera: Although the sap of this plant has been used for hundreds of years to heal wounds or sunburn, it has sharp teeth on the edge of the leaves that can cut – needs to be placed where it will not be bumped into for that reason.

Succulent Plants - Aloe Vera

Figure 4: Aloe Vera

Let the soil dry out between heavy waterings but do not leave it standing in water. Keep Aloe Vera in direct sunlight and fertilize 3 (three) times in the summer with a 10-10-10 fertilizer. If you have African Violet fertilizer you can use that on your succulent plants as well. Do not repot unless you particularly want to or the roots are pushing their way out of the pot.


Pin Cushion Cactus: There are approximately 200 species of this group for home-growing, most of them coming from Mexico.

Succulent Plants - Cactus Garden with Pincushion Cactus

Figure 5: Cactus Garden with Pincushion Cactus

The spines (modified leaves) appear fine and harmless but have hooked ends like a porcupine quill, which makes it difficult to pull out of the skin.  These cacti may take different shapes and often flower in the house. They require a lot of light. Let the soil get fairly dry between waterings; do not water in the winter time as the plant is in a dormant period, necessary for flowering. A balanced fertilizer, 10-10-10 is needed three times during the summer months.

Burros Tail: This succulent plant looks cute in a hanging plant pot or basket with its tails out over the side; gray with green or blue ‘leaves’ can grow up to 3 feet long.

Succulent Plants - Burros Tail

Figure 6: Burros Tail

Allow the soil to dry a little between waterings and fertilize in summer with a 10-10-10 fertilizer; be aware that it rarely flowers but it is possible that pink or red flowers could appear during the summer. Leaves fall off of a Burros Tail easily; try to keep it where it will not be bumped by anything. If you move it outside for the summer, put it in the shade so that it does not get sunburned, or, on the patio where it could get morning light then shade from the afternoon sun.

Ponytail Palm: The Ponytail Palm is not a palm tree and does not appear to be a succulent plant although related to the agave. Use a quick draining soil for this plant – cactus potting soil is a good one.

Succulent Plants - Ponytail Palm

Figure 7: Ponytail Palm

It is a long-lived indoor houseplant with average room temperature good for most of the year in a location with bright light. Winters it prefers temperatures around 50-55°F. Spring through fall you should allow the surface soil to dry before watering; during the winter only water once-in-a-while. Fertilize in the spring with a 10-10-10 balanced fertilizer, and give it a very bright room for the summer months. Repotting every second year is adequate for this succulent. This plant can grow up to twenty (20) feet high indoors!


Snake Plant (also called Mother-in-Law’s Tongue):

Succulent Plants - Snake Plant

Figure 8: Snake Plant

These succulent plants have stiff, upright leaves that can grow to 3-4 feet tall. The Snake Plant has a green border on the leaves while the Mother-in-Law’s Tongue has a yellow border.

They make a tough houseplant and can withstand almost any conditions with the exception of over-watering or not watering. Soil should be a loose and well-drained potting material; preferably with sand in it. Give it a mild 10-10-10 cactus fertilizer in the growing season. Prune out damaged leaves.

Hens and Chicks: Two succulent plants use this name – both produce chicks – little plants offset from the mother. The flowering patterns are different: one grows bell-shaped blooms while the other grows pink star-shape flowers on plants that die after flowering.

Succulent Plants - Hens & Chicks

Figure 9: Hens and Chicks

Grown in the house, the two perform identically; both should be allowed to dry a little between waterings – overwatering will rot both plants. Water very little during dormant period. Feed them a 10-10-10 fertilizer in the summer. New growth can be started by removing the offsets and potting them. The plants will be scarred if water touches them or the leaves get bumped.

Panda Plant: This succulent plant is a native of Madagascar and is grown for its foliage – thick, green leaves covered with silver hairs; the edges tipped with brown or rust-colored hairs.

Succulent Plants - Panda Plant

Figure 10: Panda Plant

Let the top couple of inches of soil dry out between waterings and in winter, its dormant period, barely water it at all – just don’t let it dry out completely. The panda plant likes medium to bright filtered light. A 10-10-10 fertilizer should be used in the summer. The plant doesn’t require much in the way of pruning.

Jade Plant: this succulent plant, originally from South Africa, is so easy to grow. It has thick stems with shiny green leaves that have a touch of red. Allow the soil to become bone dry between waterings, but don’t leave it that way.

Succulent Plants - Jade Plant

Figure 11: Jade Plant

Jade plants are most commonly killed by too much water. Fertilize three times in summer with a 10-10-10 fertilizer. The terra cotta pot offers good air movement through the soil; repotting is rarely necessary as the plant has a small root system. Keep the plant pruned for balance – both appearance and weight – if one side grows too large it could upset the whole plant.

 Sources and Citations – research source – research source – research source – research source

Plant Health Care

As I mentioned in a previous post, I quickly learned how to identify plant health care issues with indoor plants, and I thought I’d share some of my insights here. I’m not an expert on plant diseases, or how to identify different types of plant pests, but I can quickly identify signs and symptoms of over-watering, too much light, too little light, etc. The best indoor plants can be killed by these common mistakes. Some of these symptoms may also be symptoms of diseases, so if the steps that I recommend for plant care don’t help, you may want to consult with a nursery for more help.

Plant Health Care – Too Much Water

Plant Health Care - Aqua Globes

Figure 2: Aqua Globes help balance watering

When a plant has too much water, the tips or edges of the leaves may turn brown. Often the soil will smell kind of like sour milk and will get a brown crust across the top. At times the little white pieces in the soil turn kind of a muddy brown. If the base of the plant is a sickly brown right above the soil, that is an indication that the plant is rotting from too much water and you may not be able to save it. African Violets and Succulent plants are 2 varieties of plants that you should especially keep an eye out for these signs. It is very common for them to be over watered and get root rot.

If you notice these conditions stop watering your plant until the soil feels dry to touch when you stick a finger down into the soil 1 inch (2.5 cm). If the plant pot is sitting over (or in) water, remove the water while you let the plant dry. After the plant has dried out sufficiently, water it and then let it dry out again between future waterings. If the plant pot does not have drainage holes, repot the plant into a pot with good drainage and let the plant sit in a dark corner or dark room for about 3 days to recover from repotting.

Plant Health Care – Too Little Water

When a plant has too little water, the leaves will droop, flowers may drop off, and the soil will be powdery dry. Give the plant a thorough watering to the point where the water runs out of the holes in the bottom. Let the water drain out completely and then give the plant some “rest” time in a dark corner for a day or two. After that rest period return it to an area with the correct light for the type of plant and water it again when the soil feels dry down to 1 inch (2.5 cm) below the surface of the soil.

Keep in mind that plants in the same family can have different watering requirements. For example, Miniature Roses tend to need more water than regular sized Roses. Some indoor plant stands are self watering which can help alleviate the stress of trying to figure out how much water to give your plant.

If you have trouble finding a balance with watering your plants, you might want to try watering bulbs, like in Figure 2.

Plant Health Care – Too Little Light

 When a plant has too little light, the leaves will be washed out. For example, Spider Plants will turn from green and white to a yellowish blend of the colors, and Coleus will lose the vivid beautiful reds and purples and become more green, white, and yellow. If a plant is out of sufficient light for a long enough period, the plant will become spindly looking and grow in the direction of whatever light source it can find.

Plant Health Issues - Healthy Coleus

Figure 1: Healthy Coleus

To correct the problem, identify the type of plant that you have and give it the correct light source. For example, African Violets love bright, indirect light. For people who live in the Northern Hemisphere a North-facing window tends to be ideal for an African Violet. On the other hand, many succulents require bright, direct sunlight in order to thrive. Once you have the plant in the right light conditions, turn it frequently so that it grows evenly.

Plant Health Care – Too Much Light

If a plant has too much light the symptoms may resemble a plant that has too little water. There may be scorch marks on the leaves from the light burning them, and the soil may be very dry.  If your plant has symptoms like these, identify the plant and google it to find out what type of light it needs. Many plants prefer bright indirect light such as from a North-facing window (Northern Hemisphere).

It is common for many tropical plants to receive too much light because their owners know that they are tropical. However, many tropical plants (including some Palm Plants) grow in the shade and humidity of rain forests, and actually need less light and more water than one may expect.

Plant Health Care – Plant Pests

When you bring a new plant home keep it away from your other plants for at least a week so that you can make sure you are not introducing new diseases or pests to your other plants. Taking this precaution can save you a lot of headaches down the road.

If your plant is suffering from an infestation of plant pests, you may see some signs such as holes in the leaves, little black or white mounds or balls attached to the under-side of the leaves or to the stem, or the leaves may turn a sickly yellow or brown and drop off. I am not a proponent of pesticides because they tend to make people and animals sick. For that reason I highly recommend food grade Diatomaceous Earth. You can actually eat food grade Diatomaceous Earth, and your pets can safely eat it too. If you dust it on the leaves and soil of the plant it will kill the pests and not harm your plant. You can even mix it in water and mist it onto the leaves. Warning: ONLY use food grade Diatomaceous Earth because regular Diatomaceous Earth is harmful to your lungs and your body in general. Here is a link for the place where I buy my food grade Diatomaceous Earth (they only sell food grade).

Plant Health Care – Root Bound

Obviously the easiest way to know if a plant is root bound is to pick the pot up and look at the drainage holes. If you see bits of plant root poking out the holes, it generally means that your plant is due for a repotting. Another sign to watch for is spindly growth where there’s a single stalk with few leaves, and the leaves tend to drop off near the bottom of the stalk. A plant like this looks generally unhealthy and that’s a good sign to look for roots at the bottom. Also, if you have a foliage plants such as Spider Plants, and  they start growing flowers, then that can be an indication that they are root bound as well. Some flowering plants bloom best when they are a little root bound, so double check on the requirements for the specific plant before repotting if you are in doubt. After repotting a plant, be sure to give it a few days in a darkened room to recuperate from the shock of being uprooted.

The oddball plants in regards to being root bound are Orchids. They need to have their roots out in the open air in order to survive. They send out tendrils of fleshy plant that is sometimes hard to differentiate from a flower spike, but they are roots and should be allowed to stick outside of their flower pots. Orchid care tends to be different from most other plants, and I recommend that you research specifics about them if you are having problems with your orchids.

Poisonous Plants

It’s a good idea to wear gloves when repotting or pruning poisonous plants. While many varieties of poisonous plants (such as Cyclamen) are only dangerous if ingested, some are poisonous if you get cut by their sharp fronds.

 Sources and Citations – research source