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Succulent planting instructions

Succulent planting instructions: Caring for your succulent plants and rooted cuttings when they arrive

When your plants arrive, please carefully unwrap and pot up your plants as quickly as possible to minimise stress to them from lack of light and water.

They will not have had light and water for a few days so the sooner you can pot them up and give them a drink, the quicker they will start growing and the better the condition they will be in.

Place them in good light but out of strong sunlight for a week or two, and water – but don’t over-water – them. They may take a few days to recover from their journey, but they should start to grow quickly if treated well.

Tools and other items you may need

  • Small pots: ideally 9 cm or 11 cm clay pots for potting small plants.
  • Small seed trays or wide shallow pots for cuttings.
  • Gritty compost mix: a mix of compost, potting grit, perlite, horticultural sand (see below).
  • Small tools for manoeuvring plant roots: miniature trowel, compost scoop, plastic stick or wooden skewer.
  • Potting grit for topping the pots (see below for tip on filtering potting grit to obtain small grit for young plants).

How to plant young bare-rooted succulent plants

Graptosedum young plant
Graptosedum young plant

Choose a 9 cm or 11 cm clay pot (depending on the size and shape of plant – to give it some space to grow).
For some very small plants a 4 or 5 cm plastic pot may be suitable initially, and the plant can then be re-potted in a month or two.

Cover the bottom hole of a clay pot with a piece of broken clay pot or a large flattish stone, and sprinkle some gravel around this.

Half fill the pot with your gritty compost mix.

Place the plant in the pot. If it has a lot of roots, make a hollow in the centre of the compost to accommodate the roots.

Gently hold the plant in place and, using a compost scoop or a small plastic tub, begin to carefully add the compost mix all around the plant. Gently push the compost into and around the roots with your finger or with a small stick (skewer).

The compost should hold the roots but leave space for gravel to go on top of the compost and under the plant’s leaves. Leaves should not be buried in the compost.

Top the compost with small grit (potting grit or other small ornamental grit) gently working it around the plant and under its leaves with a small stick.

Water the plant and place in good light but out of direct sunlight for a week or two.

If your plant loses any leaves during this process or during shipping/unpacking, place these leaves in a tray of grit, or grit with a little compost, and place out of direct sunlight for a few weeks and they should start to grow new plants. Mist them or lightly dampen the grit/soil once you see tiny roots or leaves starting to appear (usually 2 – 4 weeks).

How to plant rooted leaf cuttings or tiny succulent plants

Graptopetalum paraquayense rooted leaf cutting with baby plant
Graptopetalum paraquayense rooted leaf cutting with baby plant

Use a small seed tray or a wide shallow pot (plastic or clay) to plant rooted cuttings/leaf cuttings.

Fill the pot or tray with a gritty compost mix.

Cover the top of the compost with small / fine grit.

Lightly moisten the compost as this makes it easier to work with when planting (but don’t soak it).

Using a small stick (skewer), carefully make a small hole or slot in the compost – make the hole just large enough to get the roots of the leaf cutting into.

Hold the leaf (not the young plant – unless it breaks away from the leaf) and using the stick gently push the roots into the hole and then carefully move the compost around the roots.

Do the same for any other rooted plants or leaf cuttings you have.

Water lightly and place in good light – but out of direct sunlight – for a week or two.

When the plants have grown larger pot them up into small pots as for the bare-rooted plants (above). Or, for Graptopetalum and other plants which look good in groups, you could plant three or more leaf cuttings into one pot (11 or 13 cm clay pot) and leave to grow on to full size plants.

The leaf will naturally wither and fall away once the new plant is growing. Often the leaf can be removed sooner if the young plant has good roots, but that does risk damaging the young plant, so it is usually best to leave it to come away naturally.

If a tiny plant breaks away from its leaf it should still be able to grow.
If it has roots, just carefully plant it as above.
If it doesn’t have roots but has a group of leaves on a stem, let the cut end dry for a couple of hours, then push the stem into some fine grit or sand and moisten slightly.

Compost and planting medium for succulents

Succulents generally need a well-drained, gritty planting medium so that their roots do not sit in water. Many succulent plants originate from hot, dry areas of the world and grow in grit and gravel.

Make your own gritty compost suitable for succulents and cacti

A gritty compost suitable for succulents and cacti can be made by combining a mix of compost, potting grit, perlite and horticultural sand.

Everyone has their own preferred mix, but this should work well, and you can try out different variations:

  • 50 – 60% compost (a fibrous compost, those rich in coir usually work well)
  • 40 – 50% potting grit/perlite/horticultural sand/crushed stone (any, or a mix of all)

For potting smaller plants and cuttings it helps to minimise the amount of larger pieces of stone or grit, and only use smaller grit in your mix.

Filter the potting grit to collect small grit for small plants

Potting grit usually contains a range of stone sizes – typically from dust up to around 5 mm across. This is fine for larger plants, but the larger pieces of stone can be too large for planting or topping very small plants and rooted cuttings, so it can be helpful to filter the grit to get the smallest grit for these tiny plants.

You can use a small (7 cm) plastic plant pot to filter the grit, as the holes will only let through the smaller pieces of grit.
Half-fill the pot with potting grit, and gently shake over a large gravel tray or other container to collect the smallest potting grit.
When more than half has passed through the holes tip the remaining larger grit into another tub, to be used with larger plants or in the garden.

Pots – clay pots vs plastic pots

Both clay pots and plastic pots are suitable for succulents, but in most cases clay pots will be better.

  • For tiny plants and leaf cuttings, small plastic pots or small seed trays are often best.
  • For larger plants it is usually better to use clay pots.

Clay Pots

  • Clay pots make it easier to tell when the plant needs watering. When the compost is damp, the outside of the pot will usually feel cold and damp to the touch.
  • When the compost is dry, the pot will feel warmer to the touch.

Light requirements of succulents

Place your newly potted plants in good light, but out of strong sunlight, for a week or two and don’t over-water them. They may take a few days to recover from their journey, but should start to grow quickly if treated well.
Move them to a sunnier site once they are growing well.

Generally succulents need a lot of light to allow them to grow well. If kept for too long in low light their growth will become pale, thin and weak (etiolated). Their leaves will look dull and will lose their colour. Brightly coloured succulents especially need good light for the leaves to develop their colouring.
You may sometimes need to give your succulents some protection from very hot sun in the middle of the day at the peak of the summer. Succulents can actually get sun-stress and leaf damage in very hot sun.

Watering succulent plants

Succulents do like to have a good drink in summer, but they don’t like to sit in water or to have permanently wet compost around their roots.

  • In summer: give plants a good watering once a week, but allow the water to drain away and the compost to dry out between watering.
  • In winter: reduce watering and keep plants mostly dry, with occasional small amounts of water. Use the leaf condition as a guide, and water them if they start to look thin and less succulent.
    Gradually increase watering in spring as the light levels increase and the plants start to grow.

Overwatering in winter when the light is low will encourage weak growth, causing stems to be thin and leaves to be small and more widely spaced. It can also cause roots to rot.

Always water the compost – never water the leaves.

Water thoroughly and allow the water to run out of the pot.
Tip away any water remaining in the outer tray or outer pot after a few minutes.