How to Easily Grow Succulents Indoors

Even superstar plants need a little TLC. Here's how to grow them with ease.

Succulents have a supernatural ability to thrive in nearly any climate. From growing across rugged terrain in a sprawling desert to sprouting up inside a dainty teacup on a windowsill, these plants prove their toughness by storing water in fleshy leaves, fighting long periods of drought and producing new roots and rosettes. Today, the popularity of the desert dwellers arises from their resiliency, ease of propagation and exquisite formations.

Knowing what succulents like and dislike helps you understand when to tend to your near-invincible living works of art and when to let them be. Here are a few pointers to help you get growing.

How Do I Start Growing Succulents?

Garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin, author of Succulent Container Gardens and Succulents Simplified, attests that these plants can be grown anywhere by anyone. “Succulents are architectural and photogenic and have remarkable aesthetic aspects,” Debra says. “Use them to express your style and creativity.”

How you display them is a fundamental tenet of this type of gardening. Debra suggests containers that showcase the plant, referring to pots as the backup singers. She also recommends repeating design elements to create an overall soothing look, and playing with contrasting shapes, such as the glowing sunset colors of Sticks on Fire euphorbia (Euphorbia tirucalli) against an agave’s blue-gray tones. In general, succulents grow well together in larger pots, but they are equally admirable in individual vessels. Adding to their list of secret superpowers, Debra says, they won’t outgrow small containers, making them thoughtful accents for office or home windows.

What Should I Grow Them In?

Succulents, which include cacti, grow in both nondraining and draining containers. For pots with no holes, you may be tempted to add a layer of rocks to the bottom to create a drainage layer. While this sounds good in theory, Debra advises against it. “This is a common fallacy,” she says. “That layer of rocks provides an area for bacteria to grow.” Underwatering is actually a better solution. Use well-aerated soil designed for succulents and cacti, as regular soil with a higher peat content will hold too much water. And if you’re worried about soil seeping out of pots with holes, slap on some mesh tape. Once you have the plants all tucked in, top the soil with pebbles or gravel for a finished look.

Shannon Kelley (public domain)
Shannon Kelley (public domain)

How Do I Take Care of Succulents in Winter?

Where your plants prefer to winter depends on whether they are soft (also called tender) or hardy varieties. Some soft types tolerate temperature dips into the mid-20s (about Zone 9), whereas other varieties are less forgiving when exposed to below-freezing winters. Aeonium, aloe, crassula, echeveria, jade, kalanchoe and senecio are common frost-tender types.

For indoor growing, select a bright location, preferably near a south or east window. Your windowsill makes a lovely perch, but check to make sure the plants aren’t getting too much sun; believe it or not, even sun lovers can get scorched, especially if they’re young and newly planted. “The concern is that UV rays, magnified by window glass, may sunburn the leaves,” Debra says.

Hardy forms, however, are less worrisome for outdoor gardeners and withstand cold and frost down to Zone 5. Some varieties even survive in Zones 3 and 4. Popular hardy varieties include jovibarba, sedum, opuntia and sempervivum.

How Often Should I Water My Succulents?

The No. 1 secret to caring for succulents is to not overwater them. Give them a good soak and then wait for the soil to nearly dry out. Remember, succulents don’t like damp environments and will likely rot if their container is routinely saturated.

How often you water is contingent on the type of plant and time of year. During their growing season in spring and summer, they are a tad thirstier, but come fall and winter, they go practically dormant and need very little water. And keep in mind, nondraining containers, such as Mason jars and stone mugs, require lighter showers.

Once you start experimenting with the endless style combinations that succulents have to offer, don’t be surprised if you start rummaging through garage sales or thrift shops in search of interesting vessels. It’s nothing more than a sign you’ve become smitten with succulents. Welcome to the club.

What’s the difference between a cactus and a succulent?

Cacti are a type of succulent, which simply means having leaves or stems capable of storing water.