Succulents are amazing additions to gardens, indoor and out. The photo-worthy plants come in almost every color of the rainbow—red, blue, orange, purple, and, of course, green—which means they can provide a brilliant pop of color to any setting. They look lovely lining a window sill or as a centerpiece for a breakfast table or in a container in a corner of the garden. They are incredibly popular right now, popping up on Pinterest and HGTV shows and everywhere in between. There is one thing about them that no one talks about, though: They are a bit finicky.
Succulents, which are related to cacti (thorns are the main way to tell the cousins apart), originally came from a dry, desert environment, so transplanting them to the South can prove to be a challenge. While they are frequently touted as nearly-indestructible, if you’re still working on your gardening merit badge, so to speak, succulents can require some special attention—not too much sun, not too much water, not too much soil. See? Finicky.
Succulent owners must learn to balance the plant’s love of dry climate and the need for water, as it can be very easy to overwater a succulent. Some succulents can go days or weeks without water, while others require a more regular water schedule. One trick is to take a chopstick or similar implement and push it into the soil surrounding the succulent, similarly to the way bakers test to see if a cake is done. If soil is clinging to the stick, no need to water. If your plant does need water, be sure not to water the leaves, instead only get the soil wet.
As for that soil, most succulents like a well-draining soil, requiring a mix of sand and gravel or a deep understanding of how well the soil in your garden drains.
While succulents are desert plants, not all of them do well in full sun. Instead they prefer a little shade, and while you’re at it some good air flowing around them, too.
Also keep in mind that not all succulents are created equally—some are hardy and live outdoors happily year-round, others need to be indoor houseplants especially come winter outdoors. Yucca and agave can do well outdoors, and according to the Washington Post, other outdoor options include stonecrop (also known as sedum) and house leeks, while Christmas cactus and jade plants do best indoors. They also note that mixing indoor and outdoor varieties can spell disaster as they have different needs. Mother Nature Network suggests choosing succulents for the landscape based on their hardiness for your USDA zone.
WATCH: How To Propagate Succulents
Succulents are generally pest resistant, but not always. Outside succulents can attract aphids and develop scale, while inside they can be plagued with fungus gnats, woolly aphids, or spider mites. If your plant is doing poorly, swing by your local nursery for suggestions.
Once you get the knack for these adorable plants, though, they can be easy to maintain and great for decorating with. When you learn the tricks, perhaps you can pass on your knowledge to someone else earning their green thumb.