Succulents 101: How to Make Your Desert-Loving Plants Happy

It’s practically a law of nature…when you get your own place, you have to grow succulents. My sister, Lindsay, just bought her first house and asked me for the lowdown on starting a succulent garden.

Succulents tend to be low-maintenance and adorable, with a variety of foliage colors, making them a lovely addition to your home decor.

So I put together this guide for Lindsay and anyone else looking to grow these cute little plants. Here are the basic steps to start your indoor succulent garden, from buying to potting to keeping them alive.

Note: This article contains affiliate links. See my disclosures for details.

What Is a Succulent, Really?

A succulent is a drought-tolerant plant that stores water in its leaves or stems to survive in a dry region.

This typically includes cactus plants, though according to Wikipedia it depends on who you ask. It also includes other sun-loving plants like aloe vera, stonecrop and jade.

Tray of succulents for sale

You can usually spot a succulent by its swollen, rubbery foliage.

Some succulents bloom with colorful flowers if they get enough sunshine, while others never bloom.

Read More: Types of succulents

Where to Buy Succulents

There are lots of places to buy succulent plants.

  • Nurseries: The experts often have the best selection of high-quality plants. They might cost a little more, although the price usually goes down the farther outside of the city you get.
  • Home Improvement Stores: Making a DIY run to Home Depot? Check out their nursery, too. Your local home improvement store should have a few aisles of houseplants, including a variety of succulents.
  • IKEA: Yep, IKEA has real plants. I got my little jade at IKEA Portland for a steal. It thrives indoors with very little maintenance.
  • Online: Here’s a list of stores and nurseries that sell plants online.

Best Succulents for Beginners

Many succulents are unbelievably hardy and easy to keep alive, while some are more difficult to please.

These are a few of the low-maintenance succulents I recommend for beginners.

  • Aloe Vera: My first aloe vera grew from a 3-inch plant to a 2.5-foot giant! It loves sitting in a sunny window, and it just keeps growing. Plus, each year it makes more plant babies that I cut away, repot and give as gifts.
  • Cactus: The ultimate desert plant, cactus plants are survivors. Give them moderate water and lots of sun, and they’ll be happy.
  • Jade (Crassula): Jades are easy to care for, and they are easy to find, too. Anyplace that sells succulents should have some common jade plants.
Happy jade plant growing in modern planter and plant stand indoors
This is my happy jade plant from IKEA.

Succulent Plant Care Basics

Once you get your new succulent plants home, here’s how to pot them and keep them happy.

Potting Your Succulents

The soil is key for any houseplant. It feeds the plant, and it can help retain or drain water.

With succulents, you want to use soil with good drainage. Succulent plants do not like the soil to be moist for long.

Place your succulent into its new planter, and top it off with succulent potting soil. You can also add perlite to help prevent the water from sticking around.

Terra cotta and other porous planters are perfect for succulents, because they let the water evaporate faster.

That said, I use a lot of plastic planters, too. You just have to remember to avoid over-watering.

It also helps to have a drainage hole in the bottom of your planter, and empty the draining tray so the plant never sits in water.

Watering Your Succulents

So how often should you water your succulents? The answer is a good deal more than “never.” With my first succulent, I had this idea that they needed almost no water, and the poor thing dried up and died.

Succulents actually do like water. The trick is just remembering the drainage and not letting them soak and rot.

Indoor succulent garden with jade, aloe vera, Christmas cactus and other succulent plants

Generally, the smaller the planter, the more often they need water. Smaller pots dry out quickly.

I water most of my houseplants about once a week, but some get more or less water, or a different schedule. You will get a feel for how much water each succulent needs.

They might also want a little more water during the sunny growing season, and a little less water during the winter.

If your succulent looks happy, keep it up. If your succulent is wilting, dropping leaves or showing general signs of depression, adjust the water schedule.

Little cactus with yellow flower in cat planter

Under- or over-watering is almost always the culprit when houseplants die, in my experience.

Read More: How to keep your houseplants alive

Feeding Your Succulents

It’s easy to forget, but plants need food.

At first, they will get their food from the good soil you use to pot them. But after they absorb those nutrients, they will need an occasional snack.

Succulents don’t need as much fertilizer as the average houseplant. A few times a year, especially before or during growing season, you might want to add a squirt of succulent plant food to each pot with a splash of water.

Or consider repotting them to replenish the nutrients.

Repotting Your Succulents

One of the best ways to keep your succulents happy, healthy and well fed is by giving them fresh soil.

When a succulent starts looking sad, it might be time to repot it.

Gently pull it out of its pot, brush away the excess dirt, and repot it with nutrient-rich soil.

Happy Christmas cactus growing in a pot indoors

You might also want to upgrade to a bigger pot, if it has outgrown the old one. Small pot = small plant. Give it room to grow with a bigger planter.

Succulent Light Levels and Placement

When you repot, it’s a good time to consider your succulent’s location. Is it still happy with its spot in the house?

Most succulents love bright sunlight.

Some get burnt if they get too many harsh rays. But others can’t get enough sun and will stretch out to reach that vitamin D.

I keep my echeveria in a south-facing window with the most sun possible, and it still grows outside of its pot looking for more. Total heliophile.

Try moving your succulent around the house or rotating it so all the sides get sunlight, until you find the right spot to make it happy.

Research Each Plant

Those are the basics of succulent care, but every type of plant is different. It’s a good idea to do a quick Google search of each new succulent you bring home, so you know the unique guidelines for keeping them all alive.

Decorating With Succulents

As your succulent garden grows, you can get creative with how you decorate with succulents throughout the house.

Succulent display including aloe vera and jade plants

The variety and beauty of succulents make them perfect for home decor. Here are some ideas.

  • Start with modern planters to match the cool succulent style.
  • Try mixing different foliage colors and shapes, like blue, green, purple and pink colors, as well as spiky and round shapes.
  • Add height with a DIY plant stand or shelf.
  • You can use pea gravel or pebbles as a decorative cover to hide the soil. Just remember to keep an eye on the water levels under the gravel.
  • Place succulents in little nooks and crannies all around the house (as long as there’s enough light). Try these spots.

Have fun growing and displaying your succulent garden!

2 thoughts on “Succulents 101: How to Make Your Desert-Loving Plants Happy”

  1. So funny that this week’s H & H is about succulents. Andy ordered and had sent me for Mother’s Day 6 little succulent plants and little pots to plant them in. I have them on our d.r. table and they love the sun that comes in that window. They are doing great!! (I will text you a pic of them that I sent to him on Sunday). Succulents are awesome plants and so fun to watch grow. They are pretty easy maintenance too! We do have Aloe ones out in the backyard. Love all your tips and ideas you gave here! Your’s look very healthy and happy!! (And..Lindsay a new homeowner..Thats great!!)

    • I bet your succulents enjoy all the Vegas sunlight and warmth! Succulents are so cute, and I love all the different varieties you can find. I’m always seeing new options I didn’t know about out there.

      Definitely cute for home decor, and sometimes landscaping when it’s warm enough! We have a few hens and chicks, and lots of stonecrop in our yard that survive here in Portland. But most of our succulents come inside for the winter. 🙂


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