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How to Care for Succulents ~ Beyond Watering

As we find ourselves confined to our homes, turning our energies inward, a love of succulents can be a sanity-saver. But it can be so hard to spend extra time on and with your plants without giving in to the temptation to give them an extra little drink, right? More succulents are killed by “kindness” than any other three causes put together. Yet succulents — and you, too — need more than water to thrive. The time you spend caring for and admiring your succulents will help to relax you and alleviate stress. It creates positive vibes for both of you! Fortunately, there is much more to caring for succulents than watering, and at least 9 other things you can do that will benefit them. Let’s look at how to care for succulents beyond watering.

Caring for Succulents Without Killing Them

{Please note, some links in this post may be affiliate links to sites that pay me a small commission if you click on the link and make a purchase. This commission is at absolutely no cost to you. I only recommend products and companies that I have worked with and truly love! ~Kat}

Propagating Succulents by Cuttings & Leaves

sedeveria letizia stretching for more light, compared with one in good light
Sedeveria Letizia, etiolated on left, with sufficient light on the right
photo credit: Emily Danielle Griffin and April Dailey

As the long, cold days of winter come to a close, it’s time to evaluate your succulents and get them ready to go back outside. Be sure to wait til your last frost is past. You may well find that many of your neatly compact succulents have grown tall, thin, and stretched, like this Sedeveria Letizia. In ample sunlight, the plant is a compact rosette shape. Over-wintered indoors, the succulent grew tall and stretched, reaching for more light. This is called etiolation.

How to care for succulents like this involves more light, yes. But the plant cannot change its growth pattern now. The best path forward is to cut back this succulent and propagate the stem cutting. Not only will that give you a new, compact rosette to grow, but the individual leaves can be propagated, too, resulting in many new plants.

Check over all your succulents before you move them outdoors. If any need cutting back or have dropped leaves, get ready to propagate. Although succulents go dormant at different times, in the spring, all are awake and ready to grow!

Grooming Succulents

Healthy Echeveria with dried leaves at the base in need of grooming

When you’re caring for succulents, it’s important to learn to read and understand the signs of succulents’ distress. They can and will tell you when they need more or less water, more light, are getting too much light, when they need to be supported, and more. Often, you’re watching for signs of change in the leaves. But some succulents, like this echeveria, routinely have lower leaves die and dry out. This is not a sign of a problem; it is just the natural growth cycle for this variety.

Periodically, it’s a good idea to groom your succulents. Not only does it keep them looking their best, but pests can hide between the layers of dead leaves like this. Simply pluck dead leaves or spent blooms using your thumb and forefinger and discard them. Pick up and remove any dropped leaves in the pot. Once all the dead leaves or debris is removed, assess the overall growth of the plant. If it needs to be cut back or pruned to improve the shape or strengthen a weak stem, cut back the stem and propagate it.

Use a Soft Brush to Clean Your Succulents

using a soft brush to clean a succulent Echeveria Perle von Nurnberg

After grooming your succulents, use a soft-bristled brush to clean dust or cobwebs from the leaves. This brush is one of my favorite succulent tools — I use it all the time. A soft brush allows you to whisk away dust and cobwebs without disturbing the delicate epicuticular wax some succulents have, like this Echeveria Perle von Nurnberg.

Grooming and brush-cleaning are important parts of caring for succulents that can only improve their health and your connection to them. I used to tell people how to care for succulents by keeping their hands behind their backs so they couldn’t give them extra water! But I much prefer this kind of hands-on care.

Learn Succulent Care Through Touch

succulent care through touch echeveria

We tend to judge the health and happiness of our succulents through how they look. What color are the leaves? Are they wrinkled? Is the plant growing too tall? etc. But many times, what we see is only half the story. Oftentimes, what we most need to know about our succulents comes only through touch.

Learning how to care for succulents through touch can tell you whether the plant needs water, whether it needs more light, or is it getting too hot? Often, the earliest warnings of succulent stress come to use through touch — long before we see visible signs. If it sounds like I’m suggesting you spend time petting your plants — good! I am! 🙂 It’s a great way to really connect with your plants, monitor their health and vitality, demonstrate and experience your love for them — all without watering.

Turn Succulent Pots for Even Growth

Echeveria leaning toward sunlight

Before succulents stretch for more light, they turn to face the light source. Another great way of hands-on caring for succulents is to review your plants and periodically turn their pot so the plants continue to grow straight. If it leans to the right and you turn the pot 180°, it will soon correct as it continues to lean toward the light.

You can also spend time arranging and rearranging your succulent pots. Keep the pots clean of debris and wipe them down, removing dust and cobwebs. Be sure any catch trays are clean, empty, and dry.

Try a New Top-Dressing for Your Succulents

succulent top dressing - echeveria perle von nurnberg shown with tan rock, caramel sand and black sand

I imagine that if social distancing and stay-at-home orders last much longer, we’ll see many dogs and cats sporting newly knitted clothes and fancy pedicures! Before you scoff too hard, I am going to suggest you play dress up with your succulents, too. 🙂 If you understand the importance of using top dressing with your succulents, now is a great time to try out different looks! Look what a difference a change in color or size of the top dressing makes in the look of your plants. Play with scale and texture, and you may discover new looks you really love!

When you’re figuring out how to care for succulents without watering, the six options above give you ways to ensure your plants’ health and well-being. These are perfect methods for showering your favorite succulents with extra love without killing them. But there are more ways you can interact with your succulents safely while you’re spending so much time at home.

Try Out Some Succulent Crafts

succulent crafts and DIYs

Because succulents store moisture in their leaves for later use, they are ideally suited to a wide range of succulent crafts — without killing or even hurting the plants! If you’ve never tried any succulent DIYs and you’re stuck at home during the COVID-19 lockdowns — now is an excellent time to start! They’re inexpensive, with readily available supplies. Some use just what you have on hand; others may need stuff you can order on Amazon. Don’t worry — none require anything truly exotic, like toilet paper! 🙂 Best of all, you can always re-root the succulent after the craft and continue to grow it.

Take Pictures of Your Succulents

You put a lot of time and energy into learning how to care for succulents. You plant them, propagate them, and learn to understand their signs of health and stress. Be sure to spend time appreciating the results of your care. Admire your succulents, take photos, and enjoy the health and beauty of what you grow.

Join The Succulent Eclectic Community!

Now that you’ve been caring for your succulents, grooming and cleaning them, trying some crafts, and taking pictures — it’s time to share them with the world! 🙂 Join with succulent lovers from around the world in The Succulent Eclectic Community on Facebook. We discuss succulent design, succulent care, identify species, discuss challenging growing conditions and climates, and so much more. We’d love to have you join us and share those pictures you’ll be taking!

There you have it — 9 methods of caring for succulents and interacting with them that don’t involve watering. I’d love to learn how you’re managing your succulents during this trying time — especially if you have a suggestion that I missed! Please take a moment and leave me a comment. I’ll get right back to you!

Stay safe, stay sane — and plant succulents!

Kat McCarthy, The Succulent Eclectic

P.S. For more information on succulents and their care, please subscribe to The Succulent Eclectic. You’ll receive my FREE e-course 7 Steps to Succulent Success!

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P.P.S. Why not join my Facebook Group for succulent lovers? We talk about succulent care, propagation, succulent identification, and design. It’s a warm and welcoming group that would love to meet you!

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