What are succulents?
Derived from the Latin word sucus, meaning sap or juice, succulents are a group of plants that store water in their thick, fleshy leaves. This allows them to be drought resistant – thriving in dry, hot climates. Their nature allows them to be tolerant to neglect, so they make for excellent indoor plants.
How to care for succulents
Succulents need an open sunny position and will grow in temperate to hot climates. Some are frost-tolerant. Others are very sensitive to cold so in cool areas, check before you buy.
When planting in pots, the best soil for succulents is free-draining cacti and succulents potting mix. If you’re planting them in the garden, sandy free-draining soils work best.
Succulents require minimal watering. Test the soil with your finger – if it feels dry, give it a little water. Direct the water to the roots and avoid it sitting in the crown of the plant as this can promote rot.
If planting your selection of succulents in containers, almost any pot, tub or trough will do the trick! Just make sure you allow enough room to cater for the roots of the plants, and for sufficient drainage. Repotting is only ever required when the roots start to burst out the base of the pot or become obvious on the surface of the soil. This is a job best done in spring.
A beauty of succulents is they’re so easy to multiply. Snap off a short stem with leaves attached, leave in a dry area until the end forms a callus or starts to sprout hair-like roots, then plant in potting mix.
Types of succulents
Known as Burro’s Tail or Donkey’s Tail, this Mexican succulent is perfect for is hanging baskets, with its heavily laden stems trailing down. It has thick, tapering blue-green leaves that sit on the rope-like stems that grow up to 30cm long. It produces pink flowers. It is very hardy and will thrive on neglect, however it will need protection in colder climates. Most sedums prefer full sun to part shade and should be watered on a regular basis with good drainage.
2. Aloe Vera
‘Allo, Vera! These attractive plants not only possess amazing healing properties, but they’re also very easy to grow. Humans have been using the sap from the Aloe plant to soothe burns, abrasions and bites. Aloe Vera is best planted in frost-free zones and like full sun or light shade. Semi-frequent watering is required, however you can let the soil dry in between watering without the plant suffering too much. They can be found in many sizes, including miniature versions. The larger types can grow leaves that extend up to 1.2 metres, so make sure you choose the right type for your space.
3. Foxtail agave (Agave attenuata)
Agave can be grown in pots or in garden beds and are drought tolerant, so they are the perfect plant for the lazy gardener. Among the most architectural plants, agaves feature bold succulent leaves that set the tone for wherever they're planted. Many varieties bear sharp spines along leave margins and at the leaf tip, which adds to their dramatic presentation. The bluish-green rosettes naturally spread by producing offsets at the base of the plant. It is an excellent choice for sunny, hot, dry areas, especially desert regions, with good drainage.
Considered one of the most attractive succulents, due to their colours and variations, echeverias are extremely hardy and can tolerate extended periods without water. In fact, what one of the issues with any succulents is over-watering, so be sure to let the soil dry out completely before water again. They do well in unglazed clay pots, which allows the water to evaporate. Their rosettes can be as little as 2cm, up to 50cm in diameter. Colouring can range from white to orange, and pink to red. These low growing evergreen succulents fall under a category called hens-and-chicks. These succulents have an original rosette called the ‘Hen’, which produces tiny rosette offsets that are known as the ‘Chicks’.
5. Sempervivum tectorum
Sempervivum tectorum – also called houseleeks – are often likened to rubbery roses. They're also known as hens-and-chick and look similar to the Echeveria variety. However their care requirements are quite different – Sempervivum are a tough, hardy plant preferring cold weather. Their leaves are narrower than those of Echeveria and have pointy tips. They produce small pink, red or orange star-shaped flowers.
6. Blue chalk sticks (Senecio serpens)
These succulents can grow up to 30cm tall and produce yellow daisy-like flowers in summer. They are perfect as a ground cover plant and do very well in sunny positions. It has a dense growth habit and grows very quickly over a large area, so it is perfect for those areas of the garden you would like to be maintenance-free. In order to maintain its bushy clump, give it a little prune after it flowers.
7. Jade Plant (Crassula ovata)
The jade plant – also known as a money tree – is considered a symbol of good luck. The South African native is characterised by thick stems and thick glossy green leaves and can grow up to one-and-a-half metres tall. The most important consideration in caring for a Jade Plant is proper watering. You should never let a jade dry out, but overwatering will cause root rot. Position your plant in a well-draining terracotta pot for good air movement through the soil, in a bright, sunny spot.
8. Pincushion Cactus (Mammillaria)
The Mammillaria family of cacti includes around 250 different species and they're the most popular cacti to grow at home. They form small, round or barrel-shaped clumps, growing no more than 15 centimetres in height. They're easy to care for making them suitable for beginner gardeners. The pincushion cactus hails from Mexico, making them drought tolerant and sun-loving. Ensure they are potted in well-drained, gritty soil and positioned in full sun. Allow the soil to dry out completely between watering and stop watering entirely during the winter months. With the right moisture, heating and a dormant period – your pincushion cactus might produce stunning flowers in spring.
9. Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
The snake plant – also known as mother in law's tongue – is a succulent that any black thumb can keep alive with minimal effort. Native to tropical West Africa, the plant gets its name from its long, pointed, patterned leaves that are reminiscent of a snake. It makes great indoor plant, tolerating low light (but growing best with medium to high light) and it should be left to dry out in between waterings. Research by NASA has found that these succulents are one of the best air purifying options for your home, removing toxins like formaldehyde and benzene from the air you breathe.
10. Zebra Plant (Haworthia fasciata)
This small, striking succulent doesn't require much TLC. Growing no more than 10 to 15 centimetres, it has distinctive zebra-like stripes across its spiked fronds. Position your plant in full sun and let soil almost dry out between waterings.
11. String Of Pearls (Senecio rowleyanus)
String of pearls – which feature small green pearl-like balls along dangling stems – are an eye-catching addition to your space, particularly when draped in a hanging basket. Like most succulents they are very drought tolerant, requiring bright light, well-drained soil and minimal watering. Another added benefit it that they grow quickly (dangling up to around 60 centimetres) and are easily propagated.