Succulents 101: How to Care for Succulents so They Can Thrive

Ready to learn how to care for succulents? If you find yourself suddenly obsessed with them, welcome to the club! 

Succulents are, in my opinion, the easiest plants to grow – IF you know how to care for them properly.

Knowledge is key- it’s the difference between succulents that thrive and succulents that wither away to nothing.

They’re the perfect plants for both beginners and experienced gardeners alike – and trust me – you CAN’T say that about all plants.

If you crave a low-maintenance garden that’s full of color, texture, and interesting aesthetic, then succulents are your best option. 

These hardy plants look beautiful in a variety of spaces, including outdoor gardens, balconies, and patios.

You can even use them to create table decor- as I did with this Holiday centerpiece.

Aside from their low-maintenance nature, succulents provide us with endless variety. You’ll never want for diversity when it comes to them.

Top view of several colorful succulents planted in a white pot.
Top view of several succulents planted in a white pot.

Take the Echevarria Lola, for example. It’s often referred to as a “rosette succulent” because of its rose-like appearance.

It’s an elegant plant and one of the most popular, plus it’s far easier to care for than actual roses!

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What Exactly is a Succulent?

Succulents are a popular plant, but you might be wondering: what exactly is a succulent? 

Put simply, succulents are plants that store water in their leaves and stems, which is what makes them drought-tolerant and thus, so low-maintenance.

Succulents come in different sizes, shapes, and colors – something any plant lover can appreciate.

They’re also known for being hardy, independent plants that don’t like to be fussed with, so they’re the perfect plants for beginners or those with a tendency to neglect their plants.

While succulents are indeed low-maintenance, they still require a few things to thrive.

If you’ve attempted to grow succulents in the past but ended up with shriveled plants a few weeks later, you’re not alone – this is actually a common problem. Let’s fix that!

A dark green jade plant planted in a grey clay pot.
Jade Plant succulent aka Crassula in a grey pot on top of a brown table. Photographed with a mini-sized red wheelbarrow.

How to Care for Succulents so They can Thrive

In order to grow succulents successfully, you’ll need the right supplies so you can provide them with an ideal environment. You can find the supplies below at your local garden center or on Amazon.

You’ll need a good cactus mix aka succulents soil, a terracotta planter (or any planter that has a drainage hole at the bottom), a watering can, succulent fertilizer,  and a top dressing or decorative stones (for visual appeal only, you can skip this!).

If you can remember a few simple guidelines, caring for succulents will come much easier to you. So let’s get started:

 –Succulents need moisture and sunlight. 

That’s pretty simple, right? OK – it’s more complex than that but for the most part, succulents can survive if they get water and sunlight.

Succulents potted in a white decorative pot, sitting on a wooden table with a small watering can.
Succulents potted in a white decorative pot, sitting on a wooden table with a small watering can.

Give them too much of each, however, and you can very well end up with rotting or sunburned plants.

This is why learning how to care for succulents and getting hands-on experience is so important.

I’m going to share a few tips I’ve learned that will make your plant’s life more comfortable.

They’ll help you provide the best environment for your succulents so you can keep them looking beautiful year-round.

It’s Best to Use Cactux Mix aka Succulent Soil

Yes, you should aim to use succulents soil aka cactus mix when you plant your succulents.

Regular potting soil is not ideal, especially if you have a tendency to overwater plants.

Here’s why cactus mix is important: it’s made to be fast-draining. It consists of soil, pumice, and sand, as shown in the photo below.

This soil allows for better drainage and better airflow – two things that succulents need to grow strong, healthy roots.

Succulents soil is a must when learning how to take care of succulents!
Commercial Cactus Mix

Cactus mix is easy to find – just head to your local garden center or buy a bag online for a few dollars. 

Planting Succulents Correctly is Crucial Step in Succulents Care

After you purchase your potted succulents, take the plants out of their plastic pots and transfer them to your terracotta pot or any pot that has a drainage hole. 

A drainage hole will prevent excess moisture in the soil that leads to root rot, so don’t forgo good drainage when picking out a pot for your plant.

What is a succulent? Succulents are hardy plants - learn how to take care of succulents with this easy growing guide!

Since succulent leaves are prone to rotting if they sit in wet soil, you need to make sure that all the leaves sit above the rim of the pot and atop the soil.

The base of the succulent plant should sit parallel to the rim of the pot, as shown in the photo above.

Add soil around the succulent, and then press down gently to make sure the soil and plant are in place.

Important note: Do not water your succulents immediately after planting! You’ll probably be tempted to water your newly potted plant, but hold off. 

Try waiting a few days before the first watering; this will give any damaged roots time to heal and callus over; you don’t want them drinking up any water because this can lead to root rot.

How to Use a Top Dressing in Your Succulent Arrangements

When you hear the term “top dressing”, it simply refers to small particles like stones and decorative rocks that can be used to cover the soil so the arrangement can look prettier.

I like to place decorative stones on top of my succulent arrangements because it adds visual dimension.

However, leaving the soil bare can make for a nice, earthy look, too, so it comes down to preference.

Learn how to care for succulents today!
Graptosedum succulent with decorative stones as s top dressing

My advice is to choose a top dressing that will complement the pot you’re using, and the color of your succulent.

You’ll be amazed at how beautiful your potted succulents can look when they’re sitting above a pretty top dressing!

It’s not an absolute must when it comes to succulent care, but it does make for a prettier plant arrangement.

Top dressings also help to keep the soil cool and the water from evaporating too quickly.

Watering Correctly is the Most Important Step in Succulents Care

Learning how to care for succulents means mastering how and when to water them.

If you’ve never learned how to properly water your succulents, now is the time to learn, because this step can make or break your succulents garden.

Yes – it’s that important! 

Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula when it comes to watering because every succulent has different needs and several factors need to be considered, such as climate and hardiness zone, and whether they’re being grown indoors or outdoors.

There is, however, a general rule of thumb here and this is it: water succulents ONLY when the soil feels dry.

If the soil is dry to the touch about an inch or two deep into the pot, then it’s time to water.

Water thoroughly until water drains from the bottom of the pot.

Always discard the water that has drained into the saucer; you don’t want the root system sitting in this puddle of water for an extended period of time. 

Watering a rosette succulent using a watering can.
A healthy lime-green colored rosette succulent planted inside a terra-cotta pot with decorative rocks on top of the soil. A red spout is shown watering the plant.

Other watering tools you can use include a succulent watering bottle and a watering syringe.

Since they have thin tips, these tools come in handy when you have compact succulent arrangements in which all of your plants are packed tightly together.

Plenty of gardeners use this watering method and it’s a favorite because it prevents spills, plus it’s easy to designate different amounts of water to different areas of the pot with a simple squeeze of the bottle.

It also helps prevent water spots on the leaves.

Signs that You’ve Overwatered Your Succulents

If you notice that your plant’s leaves are turning yellow and feel mushy to the touch (as shown below), then you’re over-watering your succulent.

Yellow leaves indicate too much moisture, which means the leaves of your succulent are storing more water than they need.

Unfortunately, the plant below began to rot due to too much water in the pot.

(My post about how to water succulents has more information on proper watering).

A rosette succulent that's been over-watered.
An echeveria succulent in a small black plastic pot. The leaves are mushy, yellow and transparent, which are signs of rot from overwatering.

Caring for Outdoor and Indoor succulents

While most succulents are drought-resistant, they actually don’t do well when placed in a full-sun area, particularly during the summer.

This is actually how many people unintentionally kill their plants! 

It’s a misconception that all succulents can tolerate long hours of intense heat and full sun. 

Succulents need about 6 hours of indirect sunlight each day.

They prefer morning and indirect sunlight to direct afternoon sun, especially if you live in a climate where the temperatures reach above 90 degrees.

Unfortunately, succulents are prone to sunburn if they sit under direct sunlight outdoors for an extended period of time.

 It’ best to offer them some protection during hot days – they’ll appreciate some shade.

Remember: if you’re learning how to take care of succulents, then you need to protect them from the blistering sun that can damage their leaves.

Check out this post for a list of the Best Succulents for Full Sun.

Refer to the photo below for an example of what harsh sunlight (above 90 degrees) can do to a succulent.

A sunburned succulent growing on moss.
Top view of a rosette succulent that has brown sunburned leaves, sitting atop moss and a white faux pumpkin.

If growing indoor succulents, place them near a window because they’ll need access to indirect sunlight. 

If you place them too close to a hot window during the Summer, however, they might burn and dry out too quickly, so keeping them a few inches or a foot away might be best.

Always keep an eye on them to make sure they’re holding up well.

Use Fertilizer Sparingly When Caring for Succulents

Succulents can benefit from fertilizer, but they’re not heavy feeders, which means that fertilizing won’t be the most important step in your succulents care routine.

Most fertilizers that are designed for cacti and succulents contain a healthy amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

These three nutrients help the plant grow and develop healthy stems and leaves. They can even help revitalize a lackluster plant.

Some succulent growers apply fertilizer only once during the active growing season (spring and summer), while others apply it once a month during this time. 

You can do either, but NEVER add fertilizer during their dormant season, which for most succulents, is winter.

Only fertilize during their active months when the plant can actually use it to grow.

Plants need plenty of sunlight when given fertilizer.

Good light helps them retain their shape so if they’re growing quickly but without ample sunlight, they’ll stretch out of shape and grow leggy in search of more light.

(For more information on what, how, and when to fertilize succulents, click over to my post here.)

How to Get Rid of Mealybugs on Succulents

You won’t encounter a huge insect problem when growing succulents, but you should still be aware of mealybugs.

Mealybugs on succulents look like white, cotton-like mounds that sit within the leaves and crevices of the plant.

They spread quickly so you’ll need to act fast before they steal the health of your plant.

Fortunately, you can get rid of mealybugs on succulents quite easily and inexpensively.

If you ever see mealybugs on your plant, simply take a Q-tip and dip it into rubbing alcohol.

Hens and Chicks succulent with a mealybug web on the leaf.
That white cotton-like mound on the plant is a mealybug infestation.

Swipe away the mealybug with the Q-tip and this should take care of your small infestation. If you experience a larger infestation, head here for a detailed post on getting rid of them.

Pruning: A Fun Part of Succulent Care

Caring for succulents includes dealing with dead, crispy leaves. Don’t worry, though, this is the plant’s natural process and it’s all a part of its growing cycle.

You might even find a few browning leaves on your plant after you purchase them from the garden center. No need to panic!

If the browning leaves are coming from the bottom of the plant, then this is completely normal.

Your plant is simply growing new leaves from the center, so it’s dropping older leaves from its base.

To get rid of these dry leaves, simply tug at them until they break off from the stem, then discard.

Echeveria succulent with dry bottom leaf.
This dry leaf is the oldest on the plant. It’s a natural occurrence. Simply tug it off to clean up your succulent!

If, however, you find brown, shriveling leaves at the top or middle of your succulent plant, then your succulent is most likely in dire need of water. It’s a major sign of dehydration.

Water your plant thoroughly and water again a few days later once the soil feels dry. Try setting a watering reminder so you don’t forget!

You’ve Now Learned How to Take Care of Succulents!

Now that you’ve read through this guide about succulent care, you can start your own mini succulent garden. Head to your local garden center to pick up a few succulent plants and get started!

Soon, you’ll amass many different types of succulents and cacti for your new garden. Don’t be surprised if you become a full-on succulent enthusiast!


I’ve got you covered with more succulent care posts plus craft posts, too!

Best Full Sun Succulents for a Beautiful Outdoor Garden
Why are My Succulent Leaves Shriveling?
Do Succulents Die After Flowering?
How to Make a Fairy Garden Using Succulents
How to Water Succulents
How to Care for a Jade Plant
How to Fertilize Succulents
How to Get Rid of Mealybugs on Succulents
What’s Wrong with My Succulent?

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About Me

Hi, I'm Natalie! I'm so glad you're here learning about your favorite plants. My hope is to encourage your love of succulents and help you understand how to care for them and make them a part of your home, too, via plant crafts and beautiful arrangements!

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