Plant a Succulent Container

Planting, growing and caring for a succulent garden is quite a bit different than the plants we are used to as backyard gardeners.  But oh how I love the wonderful textures and forms of succulents.  Take a little time to be sure you understand these curious plants, it is very easy.

Succulent Container by Midwest Gardening.JPG


Make sure you select an appropriate container.  Succulents prefer a shallow dish like container or trough, the roots are pretty shallow.  The container should be large enough to accommodate the plants selected but don't select a container too large.  Most succulents and cactus prefer to be a bit crowded but do check growth rate.

Good drainage is critical for succulents.  Create holes in the container for drainage if you must, and a drip tray is a good idea to collect draining water.  I like to cover the holes with a fine screen, but a coffee filter or other porous fabric will work too. This will prevent soil from funning through the drainage holes.

Selecting Plants

Succulent Plants by Midwest Gardening.JPG

Even succulents have varying care needs so be sure to select plants with similar light, water and feeding requirements.  Look for good coloring and healthy looking foliage.  Ideally you should be able to see new growth developing as a sign of good vigor.  Each plant should be firmly set in it's current container, not wobbling or broken.

Choose a good variety of plants with similar needs.  Some may not do well but over time those best suited to the environment will thrive.  Select plants with contrasting form and a variety of texture and color for a pleasing design.  One plant chosen as a focal point is a nice base to build your design around.  It can be the largest, or most colorful or very distinctive in form or foliage.  It can be place in the center, at the back, or left or right depending on the type of container you have selected.


Cactus & Succulent Potting Mix by Midwest Gardening.JPG

Be sure to use a Cactus Potting Mix.  It offers good drainage with just the right materials that hold moisture.  The mixture is generally a combination of potting soil, perlite and gravel or crushed granite.  Do not use standard potting soil.

Put soil into container just high enough to set the plants on top, allowing room to add soil to the current planting depth of the plants and up to an inch below the top of the container.  Arrange plants on top of the soil.  Leave them in their containers while you experiment with design and placement.  Once you are satisfied, remove the plants gently from their containers and place on top of the soil in the container.  Continue to fill around the plants with more potting mix, tamping it in lightly around the plants.  If you are able to leave up to an inch to the top of your container it won't overflow when you water.  Clean up dirt from your plants gently with a brush or by blosing it off the foliage.  Some of the succulent branches are fairly fragile.  

Consider adding a decorative top dressing to your container.  This is generally a coarse gravel or rock that can unify or add interest to your design.  It will be coarse enough that you can fill it to the top of your container, still allowing for watering without overflow.

Care and Feeding

Cactus Plant Food.JPG

Succulents will need at least 5 or 6 hours of direct sunlight.  The indoor temperature can be between 65 and 80 degrees with low humidity.

Wait for the soil to be completely dry before watering.  Then water thoroughly until the water runs into the drip tray.  When the water has finished running through, pour off the excess water from the drip tray or saucer.  

Every other watering a water soluble fertilizer may be applied.  Use a balanced fertilizer (8-8-8 or 10-10-10) at half the rate recommended.  Cactus and succulent fertilizer will be more specifically formulated at rates of about 5-7-7 or 2-7-7.

Periodically clean up dust from foliage by blowing gently through a straw to remove debris accumulated in crevices and spines.

If growth and vigor is reduced and plants have grown to overfill the container, replant into a slightly larger container.  Loosen the plants around the edges of the container using a knife or similar tool.  Wear gloves to safely handle and separate the plants.

Troubleshoot Problems

  • Wrinkled foliage - insufficient water
  • Swelling foliage - too much water
  • Leaves falling off - too much water
  • Pale foliage - too little sun
  • Weak growth - too little sun
  • Crooked growth - over fertilized  or too little light
  • Blackening of the plant base - overwatering
Sharon Dwyer