How to Grow Succulents (So They Thrive Instead of Shrivel)

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Succulents are the ultimate indoor plant—if you can manage to keep yours alive. For all their purported ease, it always seems that you’ve watered yours too much or too little, put it in the wrong part of the house or planted it in an inadequate container. Well, worry no more. If you’re wondering how to grow a succulent that thrives instead of shrivels, here are six expert tips that cover everything from how much water to give your plant to the best pot and soil to use. You’ll find that once you’ve cracked the code, succulents are actually quite easy to maintain.

“They’re great for any type of grower but are especially great for frequent travelers or those who forget to water regularly, as succulent plants are notoriously forgiving,” notes Meredith Gaines, a senior plant expert and horticulturalist at Fast Growing trees.

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Meet the Expert

Meredith Gaines is a Senior Plant Expert and horticulturist at Fast Growing Trees, one of the world’s largest sustainable nurseries. Gaines holds a degree in biology and horticulture from Clemson University and previously worked at the Desert Exhibit at the South Carolina Botanical Gardens and Filoli Estate in the Bay Area, California.

What Is a Succulent?

From agave to cactus to ZZ plants, a succulent comes in many different forms, Gaines explains. It’s their ability to retain moisture in the leaves and stem that lends succulents their plump, thick statures.

What to Look for When Choosing a Succulent

Aside from your preferred aesthetics, when choosing a succulent, you’ll want to consider the plant’s growing conditions. This includes the amount of sunlight and the growing zone you live in. (The USDA Hardiness Zone map helps determine which plants are most suitable for your climate.) Additionally, Gaines recommends taking into account any pets or young children, as some succulents can be spiky or toxic.

Six Tips for Succulent Success  

indoor succulent care 4

1. Put Them in Direct Sunlight

Lest you forget, succulents are an arid climate plant (and a sister to cacti). While they’ll likely do fine in partial sun, for best results, you should place your succulent near a sunny window where they can bathe in sunlight all day long. “Pick a sunny and warm location for your plant. Window sills are a perfect place for smaller succulents and larger ones do great near south-facing windows,” Gaines explains. “They need a good amount of sunlight, around six hours per day, or you might notice stretching or bending stems.”

While many people cultivate their succulents indoors, you can also plant them outside. If you go this route, Gaines says to choose a location that gets full sun and good air circulation. "Don't be afraid of planting your succulent next to structures, as the roots tend to be on the shallow side. Hardscape materials like brick, stone and concrete do well next to your succulents, as they can take the extra heat.”

Stretching and bending stems may indicate that your succulent lacks light. To fix, Gaines advises rotating the planter. "The plant will bend towards the light, so to correct bending, rotate the pot 180 degrees, so the bend faces away from the window.”

indoor succulent care 1

2. Make Sure the Soil Is Just Right

Just because succulents are low-maintenance doesn’t mean you should skimp on their needs—especially when it comes to quality soil. The best type of soil for a succulent should be a fast-draining, sandy mix, according to Gaines.

“A good way to test is to squeeze a handful of wet soil in your fist and see if it stays together after it’s released. Ideally, it should crumble after being squeezed.”

To make your own soil, Gaines says that you can take regular potting soil and add perlite, gravel or sand to it, which will facilitate drainage.

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3. Pick a Breathable Container

Succulents don’t like soggy soil. They’ll be happiest in a vessel that breathes and, preferably, has drainage. Terrariums, while a popular aesthetic choice, aren’t actually great long-term solutions because the glass doesn’t allow for airflow. You’ll want to pick something with plenty of drainage holes or is porous, so that the soil doesn’t get boggy. Gaines recommends terracotta and fabric pots for their breathability. If you go for plastic, it will need drainage holes. Two things she says you should avoid? Self-watering containers—the environment is too wet for a succulent to thrive—and glazed ceramics. The glaze prevents air from flowing and there are usually an inadequate number of drainage holes. However, if there is a beautiful planter you just can’t pass up, here’s a hack: place your succulent in a well-draining plastic pot and place that in your preferred one.

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4. Don’t Overcrowd Plantings

Just like humans, succulents need space. Overcrowding your planter will cause the succulents to compete with each other, and ultimately, they’ll all suffer.

“You can plant multiple succulents together but, as with any plant, make sure they have enough room. I would recommend a wider and more shallow pot if planting multiple, small succulents together,” Gaines says.

You should aim to repot and divide root ball clumps every other year to keep your containers looking fresh and your plants at their most productive.

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5. Be Careful of Overwatering

Overwatering is the number one killer of succulents. If you bog down your plant, it can lead to fungal issues and black spots—ick. On the flip side, too little water will make your succulent wrinkly and dry.

“Water every other week at the base of the plant. Don’t just sprinkle. Saturate the soil to let the water soak in,” Gaines explains. “This is also why the proper soil and container is a must, as excess water will not hold against the roots.”

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6. Don’t Fuss and Don’t Worry

As long as they receive a little bit of water, a good amount of sun and are planted in the right soil, you couldn’t ask for an easier houseplant. Try not to move them around too much or lavish them with attention.

Shop Succulents


1. ZZ Plant

Fast Growing Trees

If you’re looking for a touch-friendly plant, Gaines recommends the ZZ plant (Zamioculas zamilfolia), a current favorite at Fast Growing Trees. Characterized by its flat, shiny leaves and deep green color, the ZZ plant will grow to a maximum of two or three feet, making it a great houseplant that goes beyond some other button-sized succulents. Gaines touts it as easy going: the plant grows well and can tolerate light fluctuations.

Super-Low Maintenance

2. Aloe Vera

Costa Farms

Aloe Vera isn’t just for sunburns. It also makes a great houseplant and maxes out at a height of ten to 12 inches. This particular succulent does best with a half cup of water every two weeks, sitting in indirect sunlight.

Hard to Kill

3. Zeylanica Snake Plant

Fast Growing Trees

One of the lines used to describe this succulent? “Hard-to-kill evergreen.” If you’re new to the world of succulents, this is a great point of entry. The Zeylanica Snake Plant is trendy and bold with a good shade and drought tolerance. It can grow up to four feet, making it a moderately-sized houseplant that’s still a showstopping centerpiece.

Add a Little Texture

4. Fairy Castle Cactus


If you want a succulent with a little texture, the Fairy Castle Cactus does the job. Place it on your desk and you’ll instantly be transported to the Mojave Desert or Palm Springs. This little cactus will thrive in bright shade and can live inside or outdoors.

The Outdoor Superstar

5. Fox Tail Agave

Fast Growing Trees

Go big or go home. For those who want to take their succulent obsession outdoors, the Fox Tail Agave will make a lovely addition to the landscaping with its voluminous leaves. It’s drought-, deer- and disease-resistant, and does best in full to partial sun. A rosette can grow up to five feet tall and wide, while the stalk can reach up to ten feet. It will yield small, yellow-green flowers when fully matured.


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