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Select Succulents to Suit Your Site

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You buy a few favorite succulents that look great together in your basket. You plant them, and they look happy! But in a few days or weeks — mmm… not so much. One may be doing ok, but another is really struggling and the third – ugh. If this sounds familiar — you are not alone. And there is an answer. The key to having your succulents thrive is in the selection of succulents you plant. Choose your plants based just on what looks pretty, and you continue the disappointing cycle above. Instead, select your succulents according to the growing conditions where you will plant them. It may not sound sexy, but it is the secret to success with succulents.

Choose Succulents for Growing Conditions

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Of course, your succulents need good, fast-draining soil, and proper watering as well as sufficient light to grow and be healthy. But different succulents have different needs for these critical resources.

The sheer number of succulent varieties, colors, shapes, sizes, textures and forms is dizzying. So where do you start when it is time to choose a succulent? With your favorites? At last count, I have roughly a zillion favorite succulents, so this isn’t so helpful. Narrow your choices to those that thrive in the exact circumstances where you are planting. Then you know you and they will have success.

Succulents for Full Sun

Succulents for full sun include aeonium, agave and echeveria

Full sun plants are those that will grow healthy and strong in direct sun for as much as 8 hours each day. When looking for succulents for full sun, consider Agave, most Aloe, Argyroxiphium, Dasylirion, Dudleyas, EcheveriaEuphorbia tirucalli “Sticks on Fire”, Graptopetalum, Jovibarba, Kalanchoe lucaiae “Flapjacks” or “Paddle Plant”, Opuntia, Pachyphytum, Rosularia, Sedum, Sempervivum, Senecio serpens ‘Blue Chalksticks’, and Yucca**.

There are many succulents that tolerate full sun. I am listing only those I am completely certain of. Please note that some of these will not tolerate full sun when the temperatures are consistently above 85 degrees (29°C). Some succulents that thrive in full sun will not tolerate high heat at the same time. Aeonium, jovibarba and sempervivum, for instance, go semi-dormant in the heat of high summer. Many “full sun succulents” appreciate a break from direct sun in the heat of a summer day. For succulents that perform well in full sun in a hot summer, cross-reference with heat tolerant succulents to make your choice.

Although the succulents listed above will grow well and happily in full sun, they should be introduced to this exposure gradually. Do not take a new plant straight from the nursery and put it right into full blazing sun. Most succulents are grown under shade cloth to get them looking their very best for resale. If you move a sheltered plant into full sun too quickly, it will become sunburned. Unless you know it was growing in full, direct sun, start it in morning sun with some shade during the hot afternoons. Gradually move it into more sun, increasing by about a half hour every 2-3 days. Watch for signs of sunburn before increasing the lighting.

Heat Tolerant Succulents

heat tolerant succulents Furcraea in a garden

It is a common misconception that all succulents love to soak up the sun all day long — the hotter, the better. In fact, too much sun, especially when the temperatures are high, can lead to sunburned succulents. High heat can be a source of tremendous stress for succulents.  With so much water stored in their leaves, a very hot day can literally begin to cook them from the inside. Some succulents go dormant in very hot weather to endure the heat. Select your succulents carefully if you garden where the temperatures soar above 90 degrees (32°C).

My recommendations for heat tolerant succulents are: Agave, Aloe, Cotyledon orbiculata, Euphorbia Sticks on Fire, Furcraea, Graptopetalum, Kalanchoe lucaiae “Flapjacks” or “Paddle Plant”, Lewisia, Opuntia, Oscularia deltoides, PachyphytumSenecio serpens ‘Blue Chalksticks‘, or Yucca**. Of course, a wide range of cactus should be included here as well.

Please understand that succulents or any type of plant in a container in the full sun will experience more heat stress than it would in the ground. In the ground, the plant’s roots are insulated by the earth itself. But in a container, the sun is beating on the container, heating the soil and the roots within. There is nowhere for the heat to escape. Ceramic pots will conduct the most heat, followed by cement and then plastic. Lightweight, thick-walled faux stone or faux cement planters or those made from wood are the best containers for insulating your plant’s roots from temperature extremes.

Best Cold Hardy Succulents

best cold hardy succulents withstand snow and sleet

Succulents have evolved to grow and thrive in some of the most challenging climates on planet earth. The defining characteristic that all succulents share is their ability to store water in times of drought. We usually think of them as warm climate plants. But there are a good number of succulents that will survive snow and sleet. If you live where winters freeze, these cold hardy succulents will be a boon to your garden and containers.

These are cold hardy succulents that will adapt to a zone 5 (-20°F / -28.8°C). Many more are hardy to zones 6 or 7, and some will thrive in a zone 3 or 4! These are my picks for the best cold hardy succulents: Agave parryi, Agave havardiana, Agave toumeyana v. bella, Dasylirion texanum, Delosperma, Jovibarba, Lewisia, Opuntia basilaris ‘Caudata’, Opuntia ‘Zion’, Orostachys, Rosularia, Sedum* (cold hardy varieties!) Sempervivum, Yucca**.

*Please remember that there are many sedum varieties that are not cold hardy. Always double check the cold hardiness of your sedum plants. Mountain Crest Gardens has a wide selection of sedum and does a great job of separating cold hardy sedum from the more tender varieties.

Also, understand that some conditions affect your plant’s experience of cold, beyond your climate zone. In a container, a plant experiences a full zone colder than does a plant in the ground. Again, the earth is a wonderful insulator for the plants’ roots. The cold air wraps around the pot, and the plant gets the equivalent of a full zone colder. You can make adjustments for this by placing your container on the ground, up against your house for the winter. This provides shelter that can help to minimize the extra cold. Also, wet conditions may cause plants’ roots to experience a full zone or two colder.

Best Succulents for Shade

green aeonium is one of best succulents for shade

Shade in the garden provides a welcome rest from the bright hot sun. Because plants rely on light for photosynthesis, shade plants still need some sun during some part of the day, even dappled, or indirect light. While all succulents appreciate a break from full, direct sun at some point in the day, there are some varieties that grow well in far less sun exposure than most.

The best succulents for shade are those that will not stretch badly in lower light. Although their needs are met in shady conditions, they may not bloom well, or develop as much color as they would if grown in more sun. That being said, there are a number of succulents that grow quite well in shade. You will find more varieties of succulents for shade than I recommend for growing indoors. Despite tolerating lower light conditions, they need more of the full spectrum of light to truly thrive than they would typically get indoors.

My recommendations for succulents for shade or partial shade include: Aeonium, Agave attenuata, Agave bracetosa, Aloe grandidentata, Agave celsii, Aloe saponaria, Aloe Vera, Crassula multicava, Crassula ovata – “Jade Plant”, Faucarica tigrina, Gasteraloe, Gasteria, Haworthia, Kalanchoe Blossfeldiana, Portulacaria afra, Sansevieria, Schlumberga buckleyi “Christmas cactus” and Sedum ternatum**.

Best Succulents for Indoors

haworthia fasciata is one of the best succulents for indoors

The best succulents for indoors grow well in lower light and very consistent temperatures. If a plant grows well in shade, it does not automatically follow that it will perform well indoors. Modern windows cut out nearly all of the non-visible spectrum of light to keep our interiors cool and to protect flooring and upholstery from fading and rot. They also block some of the blue spectrum, to soften the light. However, those portions of light play important roles in the development of most plants. The succulents that perform best indoors are not as dependent upon these parts of the light spectrum. Further, some plants need the temperature variations that occur from day to night, as well as seasonal changes to grow their best.

The best succulents for indoors are: Aloe Vera, Crassula ovata – “Jade Plant”, Faucarica tigrina, Gasteraloe, Gasteria, Haworthia, Kalanchoe Blossfeldiana, Sansevieria and Schlumberga buckleyi “Christmas cactus”**. Again, there may be other succulents that will do well for you indoors. I am only listing those I am certain will give you excellent results.

For indoor succulents, provide as much light as possible. Supplement the light with artificial lighting as needed. Grow lights are getting both better and more affordable, but even fluorescent lighting is a benefit to your plants. Watch for signs that your succulents may be stretching for more light. Rotate your pots a quarter turn every few days as necessary to keep the growth balanced. But if significant stretching is observed, you will have to provide more light.

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