- Succulent Care
Welcome to the fascinating world of Soft and Hardy Succulents! Their variety, color and texture will intrigue you, while their ease of propagation and low maintenance requirements will help give you years of growing satisfaction.
On this page we cover the basics for growing and maintaining your succulent plants, including hardiness information, soil suggestions, sunlight and watering tips, propagation techniques, and dealing with pests & diseases.
USA Plant Hardiness Zone Map
What are Hardy Succulents?
Hardy Succulents will survive winter temperatures for the vast majority of people living in the United States. Most are hardy to USDA Zone 5 (-20 to -10 F), but can go as low as Zone 3 (-40 to -30 F).
What are Soft Succulents?
The term “soft succulents” (also known as “tender succulents”) covers a broad range of succulents that are less tolerant of cold temperatures than “hardy” succulents. We typically consider plants rated USDA Zone 9 (20 to 30 F) and above to be Soft Succulents, but some plants in the category go as low as Zone 7 (0 to 10 F).
All Hardy Succulents are hardy to USDA Zone 5 (-20 F) unless otherwise noted. Some varieties, such as a number of the Sedum and Jovibarba heuffelii, can be grown in Zone 4 or Zone 3. A number of hardy succulents will change colors or go dormant (lose their leaves) in order to survive the winter cold. Click here for more info on winter changes.
Soft Succulent hardiness varies among the different types. All can be grown outside in frost free areas (USDA Zone 10 and higher). Almost everywhere, they can be grown in containers and moved inside for the winter.
However, most of the Soft Succulents which have rosettes of thick fleshy leaves, such as many of the Echeveria, are hardy to at least the mid 20’s F (approx. zone 9). Soft Succulents with thinner individual leaves, like most Kalanchoe, can tolerate temperatures just below freezing but are killed back to the roots when the temperature reaches the mid 20’s F. This modest hardiness means that they do well outdoors in areas that receive only light frost (such as most coastal locations) and in protected spots in colder areas.
Garden Soil and Potting Mix
Almost of our listed plants will grow in well drained garden soils. Most will tolerate poor soil if it is well drained. If your soil is not well drained, you should amend it with 50% or more of pumice, perlite, or coarse grit or coarse sand. Bank planting works well with succulents and will help to achieve adequate drainage. A top dressing of sharp sand or grit can greatly reduce problems with crown rot. A 5.10.10 fertilizer is recommended 1-2 times during the spring. Bone meal can be added to the soil at any time.
Potting Mix When Planting in Containers
Good drainage is even more important in containers. We like coir (coco peat) as a potting but it is not readily available. A typical succulent mix is 1/3 to 1/2 organic material such as peat, or compost, and 1/2 to 2/3 drainage materials such as perlite, coarse sand, coarse vermiculite and/or pumice. Adding bone meal and/or a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer such as 2-10-10 is recommended for best results.
Planting and Care
Weather and Sun
All plants may be grown in full sun where summers are cool (80-85 degrees), although Sempervivum do prefer temperatures below 80. Where summer temperatures reach over 85 degrees for extended periods of time, best results are obtained by growing succulents in full morning sun with filtered shade after 1PM or with filtered shade for most of the day. Some succulents, such as the Jovibarba heuffelii and many of the Soft Succulents, keep their color better when it gets hot. If you are planting during a hot time of year, shade for several days to a week immediately after planting.
Related blog post: Sempervivum (Hens and Chicks) Care Tip - Too Much Sun
Winter and Cold Temperatures
Rule of thumb for all succulents: Water thoroughly, but wait until top half of soil is dry before watering again. Rain counts as a watering. It is particularly important not to over water when it is hot because the plants will be very susceptible to root rot.
Please consider these guidelines only. There are too many different conditions to make a concrete rule for watering that works for everyone. Best bet is to follow the watering rule of thumb, above.
Sempervivum and Jovibarba: Maybe once per week in full sun and high temps, twice per month in cool partial shade environments.
Other succulents: Maybe twice per week in full sun and high temps, once per week in cool partial shade environments.
Sempervivum: Overwatering often results in crown rot, which can be remedied by reducing contact between the crown and wet soil. This is done with a combination of reducing the watering frequency, using a better drained soil or potting soil, and/or planting through a top dressing of coarse, very well drained material so the base of the plant does not rest directly on the soil underneath.
Other succulents: Overwatering generally causes the roots system and the lower part of the shoot to rot. The remaining shoot should be trimmed and dried, then repotted in a better drained media and watered less.
Keep in mind that while most succulents are quite drought tolerant, they still need to be watered each time the soil dries out. Underwatering causes a higher rate of leaf loss or slow death if it persists for too long. These succulents are not cactus!
Related blog post: When should I water my succulents?
Most succulents are excellent container plants, and need only a small amount of well drained potting soil. If stem or crown rot is a problem, then reduce watering frequency and improve the drainage of the potting soil by mixing in additional perlite or pumice or planting in a top dressing of coarse sand or grit.
Most of these succulents also perform well in raised beds and rock gardens where they can be easily viewed.
Air Plants - Tillandsias
Tillandsias are low maintenance plants that only require water. Most varieties do fine with weekly misting/showering, but larger plants need to be dunked in water for 15-20 minutes per week. These plants will thrive in dry or humid climates as long as they receive adequate moisture. Direct sunlight is not recommended, but often times will inspire color with in some varieties. It is important to drain the water out of the crevices. When using Tillandsia for terrariums or art projects they cannot be used with any potting soil or dirt (hence the name Air Plants). Air Plants can be used with sand, sea glass, rocks, pebbles & bark chip. Tillandsia will color up and also spike a bloom that will flower. They also produce pups that create a whole other plant.
Sempervivum will produce multiple chicks per growing season. Some of the cultivars are more prolific than others but you can usually count on at least four chicks per season. You can leave them attached to the mother hen to fill in your garden planting, or you can remove the chicks and start a new planting elsewhere. Chicks will do best when you: Trim the stem to 1", place in a shady area for several days, then plant and water. Do not water again until the soil is dry.
Heuffelii do not produce chicks and must be cut apart with a sharp knife, leaving a part of the carrot-looking root on each section. Let cuttings dry in the shade for several days before planting. Water requirements are the same as for Sempervivum.
Sedums and Soft Succulents
Many of the sedums and soft succulents can be propagated by removing and planting offsets or extra stems, or by replanting cuttings or in some cases just leaves.
Pests and Diseases
The name "Sempervivum" translated means "Live-for-Ever" which makes a statement regarding the durability of the plants. The most common pest is the Aphid. Insecticide soap or a garden spray should take care of the problem. Mealy bugs can be found occasionally, particularly in potted plants. An appropriate insecticide will usually take care of the problem. If they do persist, try a garden systemic.
Most of the other types of succulents have been basically pest-free in the nursery.
Green Wall Guide
Our nursery created a beautiful living green wall for a flower show using succulent plants. We documented the process and created a brief guide showing how to create a green wall with succulents. Click here to see the guide.