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ASK MARTHA: Growing Succulents

Succulents require little maintenance - as long as they get ample sun and not too much water - they can thrive indoors and out and are often happiest as houseplants.

Question: Hi Martha, I love the look of succulents, but don’t know how to care for them. Are they as easy as people say?

Martha Stewart: If you want to start growing plants, but are concerned about how to care for them, I encourage you to consider growing succulents or cacti. Succulents are so easy to maintain and are able to survive prolonged dryness because they store moisture in their fleshy stems, roots, and leaves. 

Sensational succulents have it all: exotic shapes, intriguing textures, and beautiful colors. And they’re even a breeze to propagate and care for. These succulents (above) spend the winter in my greenhouse, where we pot many of them in cement troughs to admire all year long. The plants’ varied shapes and personalities are a great match for the simplicity of the 40-inch-long container. This trough was filled with masses of mixed succulents: echeveria, sedum, and crassula.

Aloe, Echeveria, Agave, Rosularia, Sedum, Haworthia, Stapelia, Aeonium, Hylocereus, Faucaria, Sempervivum, Delosperma, Crassula...You may have heard of some of these plant families. Indeed, you may know all the names, but did you know that they are all classified as succulents? This is the rather juicy term for a group of plants that are quickly becoming popular with home gardeners because of the ease with which they can be propagated, raised, divided, and shared with friends and other gardeners.

I began growing succulent wreaths in 1991. Inspired by a gardener friend in California, I planted mixed varieties of succulents in heart shapes, dome shapes, and circle shapes. With bright sunshine, every wreath thrived, colorful textures and beautiful leaf shapes contributing to a very special display. I became an early adopter, avid proponent, and curious collector of every type of succulent I could get my hands on. When I saw, for the first time, an almost black Aeonium arboreum ‘Atropurpureum,’ I filled my bag with plants to take to my farm. A more recent discovery of a very unusual succulent, a euphorbia that looks like a bunch of dried sticks, Medusa Euphorbia shown above, has inspired me to start collecting that new family of plants. And the big, flat, complex Aeonium tabuliforme— dinner-plate aeonium—is so compelling that I have several on my dining-room table, potted up as ornamentals in flat saucers on beds of granite pebbles.

I am thrilled that there is such an interest in succulents—the Internet abounds with nurseries and growers who specialize in these striking plants, which, by the way, can travel well as plants (with roots), or just as leaves that can be rooted easily. I find that succulents are great planted singly in small pots or saucers, as well as in groups of one variety or many. Large aloes and agaves thrive in containers on sunny terraces or walls, or beside pools. Window boxes filled with echeveria, and sedum can be striking.


Succulents normally grow in arid regions, and the reason their flesh is so “plump” is that they store needed moisture in their leaves, stems, and even roots. Large-headed succulents should be watered extra-carefully under their heads, as too much water can cause rotting in the center of the rosette. And many succulents have leaves that mark easily, so it is advisable to handle them carefully and leave no fingerprints!

Clockwise from top left: I am holding a prized dinner-plate aeonium (Aeonium tabuliforme), which should be watered carefully under the head and never touched; fingerprints will mar the smooth, slightly filmy surface. An assortment of potted succulents, including a rhipsalis, a euphorbia, an echeveria, a sedum, and an aloe. In warm weather, the walls at the farm have dozens of succulents adorning them. A variegated smooth agave, underplanted with plump echeveria.

Most of the more familiar types, those we know by their common names—hens and chicks, jade plants, aloes, ice plants—can be easily grown almost anywhere and require little care when established in a garden. But once you’ve been introduced to this amazing array of charming, colorful, funny-looking, and interesting plants, you will certainly want to know more, and you may even become an avid collector, as I have.

HOW TO GROW SUCCULENTS 

Succulents require little maintenance as long as they get ample sun and not too much water. They can thrive indoors and out but are often happiest as houseplants.

GROWING BASICS 

While simple to grow, succulents do have some basic needs:

  • Let the soil dry between waterings, then drench them; it is very important for the container to have proper drainage, too.
  • Packing plants too tightly together will encourage mold, fungus, and deprive the plants of essential nutrients; pluck out some to grow in their own pots.

JADE (A): 

The bonsai-like appearance of jade makes it among the most popular of succulents; given plenty of full sun, mature plants will sport small blooms in the winter. 

STONECROP (B):

One of numerous stonecrop varieties, this plant has pointed green leaves covered in soft, bristly "hairs" and loves a south-facing window.

LACE ALOE (C):

A dwarf member of the vast aloe family, this stemless plant has dark grayish-green leaves spiked with white thorns. Aloe can thrive in only partial sunlight. 

PERLE VON NURNBERG (D): 

This striking succulent ranges from silvery green to purplish brown; the tight rosettes eventually sprout up on a stem. Keep in full sun for the best color. 

MOLDED WAX (E):

The plump, smooth leaves look as if formed out of wax, with sharp red points as tips. Like other echeveria, it can tolerate partial sunlight.

 ELEPHANT BUSH (F):

Named for the elephants who like to nibble on it this leggy succulent has small glossy leaves and offers wonderful contrast to the more compact, spikier specimen. Put in a window with indirect sunlight.

MARTHA'S HOW-TO: PROPAGATING SUCCULENTS

1. Break off leaves from a small branch, exposing a short stem. Dry, or “callus,”

2. Line seed flats with paper towels then fill with Miracle-Gro Cactus Palm and Citrus Potting Mix; water well.

3. Push the stems or ends of the leaves into the mixture and tamp around them to set them in place.

4. Water and keep the succulents moist in a sunny spot. Watch for new growth in four to six weeks, then repot.

Article by Martha Stewart, as part of the Growing with Martha Stewart partnership.