The are many kinds of succulents you can grow:
- Basket Succulents
- Low-light Succulents
- Succulent Ground Covers
- and of course Indoor Succulents
In this article, we’ll look at succulents to grow indoors. Because anyone can grow indoor succulents!
Succulent plants are made to order for indoor use:
- They have low-maintenance requirements
- Built for the indoor conditions of dry air in our overheated homes
- Perfect for the forgetful gardener who frequently goes for long periods neglecting to water their indoor plants
- They require little space
In addition to their easy-going nature, succulents offer a fascinating variety of plant form and bear flowers of rare exotic beauty.
Most everyone is familiar with the schlumbergera – The Christmas Cactus!
And you can keep many indoor succulents down to a small size or allow them to develop and fill whatever role you set for them.
There’s no end to the many interesting succulents an avid enthusiast can find. But let me warn you! Collecting these unusual plants may become a mania.
The First Indoor Succulent
Many start their succulent journey by looking for a succulent plant to put on their desk in a low-light office or as a simple way to add some life to the home office.
Over time as they acquire more plants, they line the facing window full of bright light with a unique succulent assortment.
Succulents and cacti are structurally adapted to withstand extreme drought and atmospheric dryness.
They have thick, fleshy stems or leaves and are found among such dissimilar plant families as the lily, amaryllis. milkweed, stonecrop and thistle. Some have spines, others do not.
Not Every Succulent Is a Cactus
Contrary to popular belief, not every succulent with spines is a cactus.
Cacti are members of a single family and bear their spines in clusters in defined uniform patterns on the stems rather than singly in the hit-or-miss fashion of other succulents.
Starting plants from rooted cuttings is always a preference. You not only get to enjoy watching them develop but you learn more about plant care.
If you like to keep your plants for decoration indoors plant them in attractive glazed pots rather than those of red clay.
Either type is satisfactory if proper drainage material is provided. If you have ordered small plants, pots 3″ or 4″ inches wide are large enough.
Glass window shelves with grow lights will hold many small size plants to create an attractive succulent garden.
Indoor Succulent Care
The Potting Soil Or Potting Mix
When you plant succulents place a curved piece of a broken, clay pot or a few small stones over the drainage hole and cover with a generous layer of coarse sand.
In flower pots without drainage holes, mix a little coarsely ground horticultural charcoal with the sand to keep it sweet.
For the soil mix itself, we prefer to use a cactus potting mix but a mixture of equal parts of sand, good garden loam and leafmold will work as well. Add a little more sand to the cactus mix when potting cacti.
Before planting succulents or handling spiny plants it is best to put on an old glove for protection from the fine spines.
Watering And Fertilizing
After the plants are potted, set them in pans of water until moisture begins to show on the soil surface.
Succulents prefer sun (a south-facing window) which will intensify the variegated coloration of many of them.
Most succulents are desert plants and should be watered with care.
When to water and how much water for your succulents depends upon the temperature, season and light available.
During winter months or when plants are not in active growth, weekly watering is usually enough.
But when the sun is bright and the plants are growing rapidly or flowering, they will use more water. Do not allow them to dry out.
Avoid watering succulents on days when the sky is overcast. If in doubt, skip the water for that day. Better to have dry conditions than a soil mix with too much water.
These are plants you can leave over a long weekend without worrying about them.
Starting New Succulent Plants
If your plant becomes too large or want to increase your supply, start new plants from cuttings.
To do this follow these steps:
- Remove mature shoots with a sharp knife
- Let the ends dry until they stop “weeping”
- Plant the cuttings in a tray of cactus soil mix, coarse sand or crushed cinders
- Water sparingly at first – just enough to keep the cuttings from shriveling
- When the cutting has rooted move the plant to a small pot
Sometimes new plants are produced at the base of the old plant. These may be easily broken off and rooted.
Pests On Succulents Indoors
Mealybugs are the only common pests which appear as small cottony patches. Mealybugs can be removed with the end of a q-tip or a toothpick wrapped in cotton and dipped in alcohol.
Be careful to keep any alcohol from the plant itself. Mealybugs are easiest to control before they multiply, so keep a watchful eye on your plants.
Although cacti are essentially American in origin, others come from such far away places as the African desert, Madagascar and the Canary Islands.
Consider a collection on a window shelf representing many far-off lands.
Echeverias, the most beautiful of the American succulents, are desirable plants for pot culture.
Their foliage includes many shades of green, variously marked with red and purple, or tinted pink, rose, blue and amethyst.
Echeveria setosa, sometimes called Mexican firecracker, never bloomed for me, but its hairy leaves and symmetrical growth always intrigued visitors.
Echeveria Shaviana (Mexican Hen) – short stems, rosettes with smooth, fleshy pale powder blue-gray leaves radiating from the stem.
Echeveria rosea grandis, has broad red-margined leaves.
Crassula rupestris, like Echeveria, is a member of the stonecrop family, but is somewhat vinelike.
Sedum rubrotinctum (aka Sedum guatemalense, jelly bean plant) has shiny deep green club-shaped leaves which turn bright red in the full sun. Somewhat similar, but larger and with red tipped leaves and yellow flowers, is Sedum pachyphyllum.
Sedum adolphi (golden sedum) has pointed yellowish leaves and white flowers.
The succulent members of the lily family originated in South Africa. One of them, Haworthia radula, is a rather flatly rosetted plant with long tapering leaves. Like the other Haworthias, it survives where sunlight is weak.
Haworthia fasciata – “zebra plant” stiff thick leaves, stores water, grows well with other cactus in succulent containers.
Another lily, Aloe variegata, the tiger aloe, is stemless, its white spotted leaves growing in triangular rosettes. Aloe brevifolia is smaller and has leaves with white horny teeth. Both bear red flowers.
Other Indoor Succulent Candidates
Crown of thorns or Euphorbia mili (Euphorbia splendens) originally came from Madagascar.
Its bright red bracts which resemble petals are borne on a spiny plant with vinelike growth.
Euphorbia pseudocactus is gray green in color with distinctive yellow U-shaped marks on its leaves, while the leaves of Euphorbia globosa are small and drop off.
All three exude the milky sap which indicates their relationship to the Poinsettia.
The fig marigolds (Mesembryanthemum) of South Africa are among the most numerous of the Old World succulents.
They are mostly creeping in habit with an abundance of flowers in many gleaming colors.
Stapelias A Delicacy?
In Africa, natives find the fleshy finger-like stalks of Stapelias a delicacy. While you would probably not eat them with equal relish, the plants are fascinating to view.
Stapelia bicolor and Stapelia peglerae bloom freely in a bizarre manner. Flowers of the latter species are about three inches across, deep maroon in color. and heavily fringed.
These are members of the milkweed family, as is trailing Ceropegia woodii. The latter bears heart-shaped silver-green leaves and pale purple or pink flowers.
You’ll want to include some of the Cactaceae family in your collection, too. The light green silver torch cactus (Cleistocactus strausi) has red flowers almost four inches long.
Rainbow cactus (Echinocereus rigidissimus) from the Arizona desert, bears ethereal blossoms of pale rose and white during April.
They look as though they were made from China silk and the placement of their pistils and stamens is unusual. It is the only plant I know that has them in straight rows – one row of pistils between two rows of stamens.
The golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) reaches a height of four feet in its native setting. The golden yellow spines for which it is named become white with age.
In sunlight its brownish flowers open to show a bright yellow inside. The plant is native to Mexico.
True to its Latin name, Mammillaria fragilis is easily broken. It is commonly known as the thimble cactus because it grows in clusters of small balls.
Its cream colored flowers are pinkish on the outside. Mammillaria dioica is a good example of the fishhook type of cacti.
Masses of long snowy hair give Pilocereus lanatus (Espostoa lanata) the name cotton ball. Growing in the wild to 15′ feet, it remains small indoors and produces pinkish flowers surrounded by its distinctive wool.
By contrast, Rebutia minuscula (Lobivia minuscula), is naturally small and globular, bearing bright crimson flowers.
Once you have become a victim of the succulent-cacti mania, only lack of “head space” will limit your choice of new specimens.
Cultural difficulties then become a challenge! For it is true that even in this easy-to-grow group of plants, there are some which do require rather exacting conditions.
Indoor Cactus and Succulent MUST
Certainly the snowy cotton ball cactus Pilocereus lanatus (Espostoa lanata) belongs in every cacti collection.
The golden barrel (Echinocactus grusonii) and one of the small Opuntia plants – perhaps Opuntia microdasys or rabbits ears are also distinctive in form and tolerant.
For cacti flowers the Mammillarias and Rebutia minuscula are good choices.
Echeveria setosa with its glistening leaves is justly popular with growers while Crown of Thorns has long been a reliable house plant.
Crassulas, on the whole, are easily grown from seeds or cuttings and usually flower freely. While the flowers of Haworthia rudula are of little consequence, it is an attractive plant and gets along with less light than other succulents.
A Sedum rubrotinctum (jelly bean plant) with its leaves turning red in direct sunlight, will round out an initial succulent collection.
You will find that many succulents are appropriate for hanging baskets, strawberry jars and indoor flower boxes.
An established basket of Crassula perfosa, Sedum pachyphyllum and any of the mesembryanthemums planted around a central Stapelia plant will be a real eye-catcher.
With a small collection and a flair for experimenting, you can find many happy combinations and your plants will be an ever-growing fascination and hobby.