Got Succulents?

How To Grow And Care For Your Spectacular Succulents

by Kelle Sullivan // April - May - June 2018

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that succulents are popping up everywhere. There are so many different beautiful varieties out there and they’re so fun to grow and decorate with. Succulents and cacti are drought-tolerant plants that require very little watering, making them perfect for people who travel a lot or just don’t have the time to care for plants. In fact, mine do so much better when I just leave them alone and let them do their own thing. It’s all about practicing patience with these succas!

There’s a lot of different advice out there on how to grow succulents. Let me tell you, we North Carolinians in good ’ol zone 7b have our work cut out for us in this humid climate. We have the opposite of desert climate conditions, so growing and caring for them can be a little tricky. But don’t fret … I’m here to help with a few tips and tricks to keep your beauties thriving. 


The very first thing to consider is where you plan on placing them – indoors or outdoors? That’s the key question … there are some succulents that do great in low light conditions, but most require a good dose of sunlight. Be sure to protect them from direct sun when temperatures reach above 80 degrees; this will help to prevent them from burning. (FYI – they love the morning sunlight!) Jades, aloes, and haworthias are some of the most popular indoor succulents. Echeverias, cacti, and sedums require lots of indirect sunlight – without that major ingredient, you will surely have sad plants. When indoors, place by a bright window or under a grow light. You’ll notice if they’re not getting enough light when they start to “stretch” or their colors start changing. 


Now that you know where you want your plant, it’s time to shop for one. Be sure to pick out healthy, pest-free plants, checking the leaves for breakage, discoloration, or pitting, which is a sign that pests have been eating the foliage.  Here in North Carolina, our arch nemesis is mealy bugs – little white specs that will wreak havoc on your beauties. Mealies and aphids love to get in the tight crevices of the leaves and blooms, but both can be removed by spraying lightly with a soapy water solution (I also recommend applying 70% Isopropyl rubbing alcohol on a Q-Tip to the affected area). If using alcohol, only spray the foliage, as spraying the roots can kill the plant. Neem oil is also oftentimes recommended. I personally don’t like using neem oil because it can discolor succulents and also ruin their powdery finish, called farina. Farina is a waxy film that protects the plant’s leaves from sun damage and aids in keeping the surface of the plant dry. 


Once you’ve picked out your succulents, it’s time to plant them. Sure, there are so many cute coffee mugs and planters out there to house them, but if these containers don’t have drainage holes, your succulents will be sitting in wet soil with no way to drain and dry out (if your container doesn’t have one, using a drill bit that can make a drainage hole works perfectly). I recommend terra cotta pots, as they allow the soil to breathe and usually have drainage holes. Trust me … cacti and succulents thrive in terra cotta. (A little hint for planting cacti: Use a set of kitchen tongs!) I also believe they play a huge part in beating the humidity. Consider breaking out the paint brushes on a beautiful spring day, and get creative painting your pots. 

Choosing the right soil is crucial when it comes to growing healthy plants. You’ve heard that saying, “You get what you pay for;” well, that applies to succulent and cacti soil as well. Just because the brand is popular, it doesn’t mean that it’s the best soil for your succulents. You don’t want to use garden soils because they help to hold moisture. Succulents want gritty, fast draining soil. Personally, I think commercial soil mix for succulents and cacti are light on grit and hold more water than I like. Making your own succulent soil is super easy and much cheaper. I make mine by mixing organic soil with course sand and pumice. Not the playground sand, sand you brought back from the beach, or from your garden – you’ll have all kinds of nasties in those. Mix in equal parts for the perfect ingredients for healthy plants. Organic succulent and cactus mixes are pretty hard to find locally, but can be found online. 


Now let’s talk temperatures. Here in North Carolina, we can experience winter and summer all in the same week. Soft succulents (echeverias or any with thicker leaves) need to be protected from freezing temperatures, so they will need to come inside during the winter months. Just be sure they get as much light as possible. Hardier succulents do just fine outside during the that time of year. Some of the most popular are sempervivums (aka hen and chicks) and different types of sedums. Hen and chicks really thrive outside and do not like to be grown indoors. They produce beautiful colors during the cold season. 

Spring is the best time to fertilize your succulents and cacti. Most are coming out of winter dormancy and love the boost. Use a fertilizer with low nitrogen such as 5-10-10. Dilute to half strength to prevent burning. 


This is the most important part of succulent care. Overwatering is the number one cause of death for these plants; only water when the soil is completely dry. When it’s time to water, give your plants a thorough watering until the water drains from the drainage holes. This will help with proper root growth. Never mist them. When watering, let it go around the plant and its roots. You don’t want to water from the top. If water gets in the rosette (the middle part), blow it out with a straw or blot with a towel to prevent root rot which is caused by the plant sitting in too much water. 

Kelle Sullivan

The owner of Sully’s Succulents, offering succulent sales, classes, parties, and special events. For more information, check them out on Facebook (@SullysSucculents) or Instagram (@sullyssucculents).