What I Wish I Knew Before Planting My Succulent Garden

Go ahead, think beyond houseplants when it comes to these gorgeous, drought-tolerant plants. Follow just a few simple care tips and you’ll have a thriving landscape in no time.

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Succulents offer eye-catching blooms, tall spires and soothing shades of green with a variety of surfaces and textures. They’re also fairly self-sufficient—but that doesn’t mean a succulent garden requires no prep. Here are a few things I’ve learned through trial and error when it comes to taking care of succulents in the garden.

Psst—here’s how to propagate succulents (for more free plants!)

First Steps for Planting a Succulent Garden

Nolina Among A Bed Of Aeonium 3294bbDoreenWynja.com photography
Various succulents in a planter box

Prepare for a succulent garden by doing an evaluation of your hardiness zone, soil, drainage conditions and irrigation.

Hardiness

Stacie Crooks   A Garden Color Texture 2061bbDoreenWynja.com photography, Stacie Crooks, garden designer
A variety of succulents planted in pots

Depending on where you live, certain succulents may be better off in pots that can be brought indoors during winter temperatures.

Soil

It’s important to understand your soil beforehand, because it may need to be amended. Dig up a small amount, hold it in the palm of your hand and squeeze. When you open your hand, does it hold together? That might mean you have clay soil, which could require amendments.

Are there a large number of small rocks? Is the soil grainy or soft? I have good results making adjustments to the soil with a succulent and cactus soil mix, which improves drainage to avoid potential water retention.

Learn how to grow a succulent container garden.

Drainage

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Search for succulents with a wide variety of textures to fill your landscape needs, whether they’ll be displayed in a border garden, xeriscape or patio pots.

Check the absorption rate for the area where you plan to grow succulents. If the water doesn’t drain well, it can lead to soggy conditions— which spells disaster for succulent roots. The easiest way is by digging a hole, about 12 inches deep and wide, where you want to plant. Fill the hole’s bottom with water and allow the water to drain naturally.

Does the soil absorb the water fairly quickly, or does the water pool and slowly drain? If it drains too slowly, you may need to amend with a product that promotes drainage in garden soils.

Check out the top 10 colorful succulents you should grow.

Watering

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Many people assume that succulents are extremely drought tolerant and don’t have any particular watering concerns. This is true, to a certain extent—the fastest way to harm a succulent is overwatering. But you should choose a location that gets occasional natural rainfall or is close enough to a water source, such as a garden hose, for manual watering.

Learn how to grow and care for Haworthia succulents.

Plan Your Succulent Garden Layout

Succulent PlantSONALI KUMAR/GETTY IMAGES

Giving plants space is important. Allow for enough space around each succulent to fully accommodate its growing habit. Research whether the plant will spread out horizontally, form tall stalks or create broad leaf shapes. The size of a succulent when it’s planted will change as it gets established.

We love these adorable dolphin succulents and bunny succulents.

Consider the Scale of Your Succulents

Stacie Crooks   A Garden Color Texture 2057bbDoreenWynja.com photography, Stacie Crooks, garden designer
Though succulents often come in green, look for options in burgundy, coral, pink and more.

When planning for visual interest, take the height and width of each succulent into consideration. If your garden space will have a backdrop, such as a fence or the foundation of a house, look at the scale in perspective to the background. I like to arrange the plants while they are still in the pots and look at the design from various angles before putting anything in the ground.

Mix up the height of the plants, too. Select space for shorter varieties toward the front and place taller succulents in the middle or back. My garden has done well with a tall succulent known as Palmer’s agave and a snake plant in a place where nothing else grew, and I’ve had success with echeveria and hens-and-chicks when I want something with a low profile for the front.

Learn how to tell if your jade plant needs repotting.

Pick Plants With a Purpose

Potted Succulents By The WindowADRIENNE BRESNAHAN/GETTY IMAGES
Potted succulents by a sunny window

If you’re strolling through the garden center and searching for succulents, you may see many plants simply marked as “succulents.” How do you know what you’re even looking at? Ask the staff at the garden center for help. They’ll be able to answer questions and offer guidance when you’re making selections.

You’ll want to plant a variety of succulents that will provide visual interest all season long, with buds, flowers and changes in leaf color. Plant early bloomers such as aloes and hoyas for spring. And nothing beats sedum for getting the garden to the finish line at the end of the growing season. My sedum has slowly taken over blank spaces in the garden, adding late-season interest.

And don’t forget about pollinators that will hopefully buzz by. Look into succulent options that attract bees, butterflies and more.

Track Your Succulent Garden Success

Womans Hands Transplanting Succulent Into New PotCAVAN IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES
Transplanting a succulent into a new pot

Throughout the growing season, make notes in a garden journal about what seems to be working, and what needs a little extra help.

Remember, a healthy garden is always a work in progress. Just ask the gardeners who find joy in tending to a garden— they’ll tell you it is never finished. There’s always something new to discover!

Next, check out pretty pink succulents for your home.

Taste of Home
Originally Published on Taste of Home

Alice Knisley Matthias
Alice Knisley Matthias writes about food, garden, family and education. Her byline has appeared in Birds & Blooms, The New York Times, Allrecipes, Taste of Home, TIME for Kids, Food Network, Washington Post, Delish, EatingWell, The Kitchn, Family Handyman, Birds & Blooms, Woman's Day, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, an America's Test Kitchen cookbook, Kids Discover, Boys' Life and Parade. She is the author of the book Tasty Snacks in a Snap!