How to Take Care of Succulents, Inside or Outdoors

Don't stress, but succulents do require a little bit of care. Here's how much to water succulents, and how to fertilize and transplant succulents to make sure they thrive.

Succulents are unique, eye-catching plants that come in a huge variety of sizes, shapes, blooms and bold foliage colors. In practice, they’re just as versatile: succulents can thrive in an outdoor perennial garden, window box or indoor pots.

Succulents are considered low-maintenance: they’re fairly drought-tolerant, and with the right care they will reward you with pleasing displays of foliage and blooms. Our easy guide teaches you how to take care of succulents, no matter how experienced a gardener you are.

How Often Do You Water Succulents?

When it comes to the amount of water succulents need, the answer can sound both obvious and vague: not too little but not too much. So how do you find that perfect balance?

Your watering schedule should be guided by the seasons. Generally speaking, you should water succulents thoroughly once a week during warm and hot weather. During spring and fall, reduce frequency to twice a month, and then once a month in winter. For outdoor plants, keep rainfall in mind, and skip watering on wet weeks.

When you water, give succulents a thorough soaking. Succulents aren’t fans of small sips! Water until the soil is evenly saturated, whether you use a watering can, hose or sprinkler. For succulents in containers, water from the top and continue until water flows from the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. Empty the tray to prevent soggy soil soaking the roots.

If you’re in doubt, let the soil guide you. Poke the soil with your finger. Does it feel grainy and dry? It’s ready to water. Is it more like a damp sponge? Wait a while.

The leaves can also tell you if the plant is thirsty. Succulents store their water supply in their stems and leaves, so if the leaves are looking withered or shriveled, that is a good indication your plant is in need of water.

How Much Light Do Succulents Need?

Potted Succulents by the WindowAdrienne Bresnahan/Getty Images

Make sure your succulents get about six hours of sunlight a day. When planting a succulent in the garden, choose a location that will provide sufficient light, but avoid spots where the plant will get too much intense sun exposure, as the leaves will become scorched. Plants need sun protection too! If your garden is very sunny, plant succulents near a source of shade to give them a break.

Want to make sure your plant will thrive? Select a spot in the garden for a new succulent, and leave it in the pot for a week or two. Notice how much light the plant gets, and how it responds to the location. You can easily move the pot to find the best location before planting in the garden.

Make sure to avoid these succulent garden mistakes.

Do Succulents Need Fertilizer?

Succulents don’t require rigorous fertilization, but they can use a little boost now and then. Potted plants can especially benefit, as their soil will get depleted over time. Only use fertilizer during periods of growth (generally in the spring through early summer). Go gently! Dilute commercial fertilizer with water (follow the package directions) for a light feed that won’t burn the plants. (You can propagate succulents during the growing season, too!)

What Container Should I Plant Succulents In?

No matter how plain or stylish your succulent pot, it should have drainage openings to allow extra water to flow from the pot. Terracotta pots are a great choice for succulents since they help with even moisture retention and evaporation.

For in-ground plants, be sure to give the roots the best drainage possible. Excess moisture in the soil can lead to an unhappy plant and root rot.

For all succulents, plant in coarse soil that will drain quickly. Not all garden soil is created equal.

How to Transplant Succulents

Woman's hands transplanting succulent into new pot.Cavan Images/Getty Images

No gardener wants to leave a plant that isn’t doing well in a spot in the garden or container out on the patio. Sometimes a changed location or a fresh batch of soil can do wonders to revive a fading plant. You may also want to transplant a succulent that’s outgrown its pot.

Dig the succulent out of the garden soil, or carefully tip it from its container. Gently tap to remove any excess soil around the roots. Cut off any brown or black roots that look like they have rotted. Place the plant on a mesh strainer or newspaper to give the roots a chance to air dry for two to three days.

Re-plant a garden plant directly in the ground, making sure to dig a deep enough hole to set the roots in without crushing them. Lightly tap the soil over the plant.

For a potted plant, re-pot into a container that’s only one size larger than the former pot, or you may shock the plant. Fill the bottom of the pot with fresh soil, set the plant inside and pour soil to fill the pot.

With the right care, your succulents will be a beautiful addition to your healthy garden. They may even attract pollinators!

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Alice Knisley Matthias
Alice Knisley Matthias writes about food, family, education, and garden. Her work appears in The New York Times, Washington Post, Food Network, Delish, The Kitchn and Parade. Her book about healthy kid snacks is published by Scholastic. Other work includes Woman's Day, Redbook, Highlights for Children, Boys' Life, Kids Discover and America's Test Kitchen Cook's Country Cookbook.