Succulent Care and Design

Indoor Succulents

Plants are an easy way to add a little life and beauty to your home or office. But without the proper care, you may find yourself cycling through different varieties more frequently than you’d like. Thankfully, succulents are very easy to take care of and require very little to thrive.

An array of succulents

We’ve rounded up seven types of indoor succulents perfect for any skill level, including crown of thorns, aloe, jade, and Christmas cactus. Not sure where to start once you bring your succulents home? We’re here to help with simple tips—like how much and how often you should water—to keep your plants happy and healthy indoors. Check out the infographic below to learn more.

Succulents in hanging basket

Designing with Succulents Outside

Love this pink frilled Echeveria

Imagine this…..You love overflowing containers and window boxes, but hate to water and/or forget to water! Then, succulents are for you. The colors, textures, and shapes of the succulent world are so varied and colorful that you won’t ever miss your petunia containers. Window boxes in full sun are a snap to put together, especially if you go on vacation for a couple of weeks and don’t want to be tied to a watering regimen or install drip irrigation.

A window box full of succulents; seen at Ladew Gardens
Another window box planted in the spring: by summer, this will be overflowing with succulents

Don’t get me wrong. Succulents do require watering and will thrive if you supply it regularly while growing. But if you forget……they are very forgiving and will bounce right back.

This container with only one special succulent is perfect for the spot
Perfect little succulent container

Container Selection

When putting together a succulent creation, rethink everything you know about regular potted containers. The depth of the container can be very shallow as the root run of most succulents is small. They store all their water in their stems and leaves and don’t require a large root system. So, think of a shallow container like an old enameled wash tub with drainage holes or a table with a 2 inch deep cavity for plants. Don’t forget generous sized drainage holes.

Table with a 2 inch deep cavity for succulents

Even a tall succulent of three to four feet will have shallow roots of two to three inches below grade. So, for succulent containers, I look for heavy ceramic containers with a shallow draft, only about 6 inches or less deep.

My succulents in my greenhouse that I over-winter and plant out in containers in the spring

Succulents do flower, but are usually very different looking ones; this is a Stapelia or Starfish Flower
Lots of colors in succulents in this greenhouse

Thriller, Filler, & Spiller

This succulent container has a thriller, filler, and spiller

We’ve all heard the mantra of Thriller, Filler, & Spiller, and it applies to regular containers as well as succulent ones. I usually build the container around the thriller, the big upright that makes the container, and then choose the filler and spiller to complement it.

A fall succulent container with tiny pumpkins and lights

Soil Medium

The biggest mistake you can make with succulents is a heavy potting mix that hold too much water. Forget those succulent/cactus mixes that you see for sale at the nursery. They are too expensive and you can easily come up with your own for a fraction of the cost. Porous, well draining potting mix is so important to the success of your succulents, that I can’t over emphasize this. It is really easy for a succulent to rot in the home of an over zealous waterer!

  1.  3 parts good potting soil
  2.  2 parts coarse sand or turface or stone dust (turface is a calcine clay product used to improve drainage and reduce compactation and is available on Amazon); if you keep chickens, you can add poultry grit instead
  3.  1 part perlite
  4.  For top dressing, you can use gravel, pumice, or colored glass
Succulent container seen at Philadelphia Flower Show

Keep Them Happy

  • Let the soil medium dry between waterings (this depends on the heat and sun that the containers are receiving)
  • Keep them in full sun
  • Most succulents are frost tender, so only keep them out after frost is over for the spring and bring them in when cold (in the thirties) threatens
  • Plant succulents with other plants that require little water, like grasses or silver leaved perennials, such as Lambs Ears or Angel Wings
  • Elevate your containers with pot feet so that the water can drain quickly
  • To over winter your succulents, bring them in when frost threatens and keep them in your sunniest window and stop watering! I water them about once a month while inside during the winter when growth slows down to a crawl; slowly increase your watering as spring approaches

A great variety of texture in a container

Elevate your containers for good drainage

Succulent Heart Trio

Heart made out of thousands of succulents at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, 2015
Having a bunch of succulents on hand from various projects, I wanted to create something special for Valentine’s Day. Rooting succulents is easy and I wanted to make the rooting process attractive as well as productive.
Succulent cutting
Succulent cutting

Succulent cuttings simply involves cutting a 3″ terminal branch and removing the lower leaves. Leave them out for a few days to form a ‘callus’, a hard, dry, crust at the stem cut.  This will prevent the cuttings from rotting which can easily happen with succulents.

All these rooted cuttings will be made part of my spring containers.
Succulent container
Succulent container
A trio of succulent hearts
A trio of succulent hearts

I thought I would use hypertufa which is a lightweight stone-like material made from Portland cement, peat moss, and perlite. Read my post on a Hypertufa Party. But in the middle of winter, I didn’t want to get into a messy outdoor project so turned instead to Shapecrete. An easy to use clay-like material that you mix with water, I picked  up a tub at Home Depot. Simply mix with water, and shape into your preferred shape, and it hardens like concrete. Watch this video on how to use it. Another product that I use for lots of craft projects is Wonderflex, a plastic-like composite material used in theater, puppetry, and costume making. Easy to cut and shape, I use it for lots of things.

Shapecrete from Home Depot
Shapecrete from Home Depot
Variety of cuttings from my succulent plants
Variety of cuttings from my succulent plants

DIY Succulent Hearts

Step 1

Shape strips of plastic called Wonderflex (available on-line)into a heart shape and fasten with a clip on a cardboard covered table. Attach the Wonderflex to the cardboard with duct tape all around the inside of the heart.Shape strips of plastic into a heart shape

Duct tape attaches the heart to the cardboard
Duct tape attached the heart to the cardboard keeping the shapecrete from bleeding out

Step 2 

Mix up your shapecrete according to the directions on the tub and smear into the heart forming a lip around the perimeter about 1/2 inch high. Poke some drainage holes with a dowel in the bottom.

I mixed the shapecrete in a disposal container with a paint stirrer
I mixed the shapecrete in a disposable container with a paint stirrer
Smooth out the shapecrete and poke two drainage holes in the bottom
Smooth out the shapecrete and poke two drainage holes in the bottom

Step 3

Let dry for at least 48 hours and peel off the plastic
Let dry for at least 48 hours and peel off the plastic and duct tape

Step 4

Moisten some sphagnum moss and place in the bottom, inserting the succulent cuttings. Keep the cuttings moist, misting them every day and they will root in a couple of months.

Moist moss in the bottom
Moist moss in the bottom
Succulent heart finished
Finished Succulent heart

Step 5

I made three different sizes of hearts, ranging from 5″ wide up to 10″ wide. for a trio of hearts. Any shape will work though…..

Heart trio
Heart trio

For more projects with succulents, go to Deck the Halls-A Succulent Christmas and Pumpkin Treats-Decorating With Succulents.

 

A few of my cuttings I used in a succulent necklace
A few of my cuttings I used in a succulent necklace

Deck the Halls – A Succulent Christmas

 


Who says you have to decorate with holly, mistletoe and pine? When I spotted succulent Christmas trees made up at a local nursery last Christmas for hundreds of dollars,  I was inspired to create my own for Christmas. Succulents are so versatile that I use them in many decorating ways. Air plants are right up there in popularity and ease of growing.

Very similar in texture and appearance to succulents are air plants: I like to mix them together

Other succulent ideas for a cool gift to a plant loving friend is a tiny garden chock full of succulents and Christmas miniatures. Read to the bottom of this post for ideas on whipping these together. For Thanksgiving Succulent decorating ideas, go to A Succulent Thanksgiving or Succulent Pumpkin Centerpiece.

Miniature garden using low maintenance succulent plants

Branch out and explore the many textures and colors of succulents.  To paraphrase the great Will Rogers: I never met a succulent that I didn’t like! I enjoy the sculptural colorful quality of succulents so much that I continue to find ways to use them around the house and garden.

Colors and textures of succulents make these interesting houseplants and good specimens for containers
A succulent container greets you at the door

Succulent tree

DIY Christmas Tree

Preparation

Taking months to fill in, I wanted to make sure that my tree was fully grown in for the holidays, so I started the tree in the early spring. Tiny succulents in two to three inch pots are available in big box stores for a good price and if you have any existing containers of succulents, you can trim the tips off for cuttings. But don’t despair! If you are making your tree now,  simply use more cuttings to fill the surface in fuller.

Succulent varieties in small pots
Succulent varieties in small pots

Aim for a variety of colors and textures when you select your succulent to make the tree attractive and interesting. There are so many varieties of succulents that this isn’t hard to do. Containers are dotted around my property in the fall and I can’t bring them all in, so I take cuttings of them to root into my tree form.

Echeverias are my go-to for tree selections and they form a nice large rosette. One called ‘Red Velvet’ is sold extensively during Christmas because of the garnet colored fuzzy markings.

Echeveria ‘Red Velvet’ has beautiful garnet colored markings
My greenhouse has lots of succulents that I am rooting and over-wintering
An overflowing succulent planter that I took cuttings from
An overflowing succulent planter that I took cuttings from

Step By Step for a Succulent Tree

Succulent Tree
Succulent Tree
  • Cut off a piece of chicken wire about 18 inches in length. This length depends on the size of the tree that you want to end up with. Mine ended up at 15 inches tall and 10 inches wide at the base.
  • Form the chicken wire into a cone and fasten together by bending the ends in.
Chicken wire can easily be formed into a cone
Chicken wire can easily be formed into a cone
  • Saturate sphagnum moss in water and stuff the form with the moss firmly; Be sure to pack the moss so that you have a firm base to work with
Finished cone stuffed with wet moss
Finished cone stuffed with wet moss
  • If taking cuttings, I cut the growing  tip off, measuring between 2 to 5 inches in length, and strip off the lower leaves and let the cuttings sit out at room temperature for a day or two to form a callous.
Succulent cutting with fern pins for fastening the cutting firmly into the moss
Succulent cutting with fern pins for fastening the cutting firmly into the moss
  • If you are using small potted plants, remove the plant from the pot, shake off most of the soil from around the roots and you are ready to insert this into the moss form
  • Using a pencil or sharp pointed stick, insert the point into the sphagnum moss and wiggle the end to make the hole larger enough to receive the cutting or plant
  • Insert the cutting as far as you can; If the cutting is loose, you can use wire fern pins to hold it steady
  • Place the full moss cone into a pot of soil and fasten the edges to the soil with fern pins
Succulent tree finished with cuttings ready to fill in for the summer
Succulent tree finished with cuttings ready to fill in for the summer
  • For the first couple of days, keep the cone in the shade, gradually moving out to the sun, when the cuttings start to root which can take only a week or two
  • To water, submerse the cone into a bucket of water for a few minutes until thoroughly saturated, about once a week; alternatively, you can thoroughly mist the entire tree
  • As the plants grow, you will need to cut off the tips, and use these cuttings to fill in holes

My succulent tree kept growing all summer long and periodically, I would cut off a tip that was getting really long and fill in a bare spot so that by the end of the growing season, my tree was completely filled in.

At the end of the summer, the tree is fully filled in
At the end of the summer, the tree is fully filled in

If you want to see how to make other succulent creations, such as a wreath, a sphere, and a tiny garden, go to Succulent Creations to see step by step of making other shapes. For decorating pumpkins with succulents for the holidays, go to Pumpkin Treats to see how creative you can get with succulents.

Decorate the tree with ornaments for a finishing touch
Decorate the tree with ornaments for a finishing touch
I use a lot of Echeveria rosettes on my tree

Finally for Christmas, I placed the pot into a decorative container and decorated with some Christmas balls. As a finishing touch, I stuck some air plants for in for a feathery texture.  Insert them in between the spaces  of the succulents.

Add air plants in at the very end
Add air plants in at the very end

 

To keep the tree alive over the winter, I will place it in a sunny window and water sparingly because succulents can rot easily when they slow growth in the winter. When spring comes, I can increase the watering so that they begin to grow again.

Miniature Gardens

Requiring little care, succulents do well in small containers and pots. Lacking a large root ball, you can pot them up in very shallow containers. Succulents do need sun, so place your mini garden on a sunny windowsill. You can change out the Christmas decorations when the holidays are over for a spring time one in February.

Seasonal miniature garden with succulents in a bonsai dish

Miniature gardens are my passion, and I like to do seasonal ones with all the minis themed for that time of year. See my post on Springtime miniatures at Take Four-Springtime Seasonal Miniature Gardens. 

An open terrarium is perfect for succulents
Making up mini gardens for Christmas gifts
Small terrarium with air plants and lights