Plant and Garden

What Do Garden Succulents Need?

These marvels are suitable for living fences, brush fire defense, and even home-grown burglar protection.

In-ground succulents can be combined with container-grown species for added emphasis, especially with those species which may need moving seasonally during adverse weather.

You may have noticed that succulents growing outdoors often seem to be healthier and prettier than those grown indoors.

The two biggest reasons for this are more sunlight which prevents stretching and better airflow thus allowing the roots to dry out more quickly.

Gardeners worldwide use them as stunning single-use focal point plants, durable groundcovers for difficult slopes, patio accents, or grouped in colorful combinations.

What Garden Succulents Need

There are three major considerations for growing succulents outdoors:

  1. Temperatures both winter and summer.
  2. The timing of natural rainfall,
  3. Duration and intensity of sunlight.

The best advice on succulent gardening is choosing the right plants for your area, preparing the soil for better drainage, and protecting some from hot mid-summer sun. And have fun!

Hint: Cold Temp = Water

High temperatures and low precipitation have forced these plants to store water in their leaves, stems, and roots. This adaptive mechanism has resulted in an incredible variety of different leaf forms and plant shapes.

Not all succulents are from the desert. There are some extremely cold tolerant alpine succulents, including London Pride saxifrage, will simply melt in warm climates. 

Many popular garden succulents will tolerate mild freezes, including certain Aloes and Senecios, golden barrel cactus, (Echinocereus), cholla (Cylindropuntia), pincushion cactus (Mammillaria). Echeveria, and Graptopetalum.

At least half a dozen types, mainly certain species of Yucca, Agave, Sempervivum, Delosperma, Opuntia, and Sedum, can easily survive being left outdoors in USDA Zone 4 or 5, which can get to -30 F. Keeping container plants close to buildings will help protect from cold injury.

Since there is much more sunlight outdoors it’s very easy to burn your succulents with too much sunlight or too much heat.

Succulents that are larger and have a more established root system will tolerate light and heat more easily.

Since there is much more sunlight outdoors it’s very easy to burn your succulents with too much sunlight or too much heat. Succulents that are larger and have a more established root system will tolerate more light and heat more easily.

On the other hand, newly planted succulents will need to be kept in the shade longer.

Once the weather is around 50 degrees you should take your watering down to once to less than once per month.

This is only during the cold months. These plants are not growing because they are basically hibernating.

Watering them only causes them to melt and rot. People often feel like they should water the plants because they see no new growth. However, you will not see new growth. EVEN when your plant blooms.

This is a natural part of its life. If you water more than once per month or use the spritz and spray method you are asking for an ugly outcome.

Garden succulents are able to tolerate dry conditions for a long time, but usually grow and flower better with regular watering during the active growing season.

Though quite a few, including Opuntia, Yucca, Aloe, Echinocereus, Cylindropuntia), Mammillaria, Agave, and Delosperma can survive in most arid or summer-dry parts of the country on rainfall alone, most will need watering at least every few weeks, often more in very hot areas.

Still, too much water is worse than too little, so most gardeners keep outdoor succulents on the dry side during rainy weather.

Especially in winter, to both help reduce rot and help them survive lower temperatures; this may mean covering them from rain or keeping them in pots to be moved under a protective porch roof.

Less Sun and Less Light = Less Water

People often do not realize plants have different water needs depending on the location, even if they are the same species.

In general, MOST succulents do best in sun; many will get leggy and weak without at least six hours of sun daily, and many get more colorful and flower better in eight or more hours of direct sun. 

Plants with colorful foliage tend to take more intense sun than green or variegated varieties.

However, some will fade, spot, or even burn in the intense heat of the full sun, especially in humid climates and when temperatures remain above 90F or so.

Many succulents need to be shaded from mid-day and afternoon sun by buildings, lattice, arbors, shade cloth, or trees with light, fine-textured foliage.

How to Plant Succulents Outdoors

You should plant as early in the season as possible to allow succulents to become established before winter.

Be prepared to protect cold-hardy kinds the first winter. In most cases, native soils and container soils alike will need amending with other materials to increase water drainage during rainy seasons.

You can add a little compost or other organic matter, and up to fifty percent total volume with coarse sand, pumice, grits.

Till these into at least the top six or eight inches of native soil. You should use a firm soil and mix carefully as you plant, firming it as you go. Then cover the area with coarse sand or gravel.

Allow them to settle in for a day or two before watering, and fertilize lightly in the spring with a low-nitrogen garden fertilizer. 

Have fun! You can supplement in-ground succulents with container-grown ones.

You can get creative by using natural accents such as small boulders, gnarly driftwood, glass sculpture, or a section of fence made of weathered wood, adobe, or stone.

Acclimation Is A Good Thing!

Start your succulents in an area that gets full shade and gradually move them into an area with more sunlight.

Try adding an hour or two of sunlight each week. Morning sun is cooler and is best for succulents. Keep your succulents completely in the shade for a few days while they get used the extra light and warmer temperatures.

After a few days in full shade move them to an area that gets morning sun. Wait a few more days and then move them to their permanent home.

Watch for early signs of sunburn such as bleaching or extreme color change. If you see these signs, move your succulents back to an area with more shade.

Old-hand gardeners know for best success indoor cactus and succulent plants require a certain amount of neglect.

Let us know your ideas and comments below!