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How to Keep Your Succulents Alive

Succulents. It’s hard not to know what they are in this day and age. Everywhere you look, they seem to be there—from Instagram to cookie decorations to Bobby Berk’s latest Queer Eye home makeover. And it’s easy to see why these little succas have stolen our hearts, especially coming in so many unique and interesting shapes, sizes, styles, and colors. PLUS, they’re pretty hard to kill, making them a #1 choice for arrangements and plant crafting for both green and black thumbs alike. But, even the hardest to kill need some TLC to stay alive! Here are our tips:

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SUCCULENT CARE TIP #1: TO WATER OR NOT TO WATER

One of our top reasons for loving succulents is that they require so little of what every other plant in the world seems to need every single day: water. Why? It’s all the result of one super simple, absolutely ingenious adaptation—their leaves. If you’ve ever accidentally (or maybe just curiously—we don’t judge) cracked open one of those thick, fleshy leaves, you may have been surprised to discover quite a bit of moisture inside. Well, that’s their hack for survival even in the most arid, desert climates—they retain their water in their leaves, so they always have a backlog to pull from. Pretty brilliant, right?!

So, with that incredible, built-in ability to ration the water it needs, it’s safe to say that you can go pretty long stints forgetting to water them and they’ll be alright. In fact, the most common cause of death for succulents is actually overwatering. To water your succulent, wait until the soil is nice and dry before going in for another dose. But, when you do water, water well. Just don’t leave him sitting in a pool of water—nobody likes wet feet.

Depending on the time of year, how often you’ll need to water your succulent will change. In the heat of the summer, when they’re reared up and ready to grow, you may need to water about once a week, depending on how hot and sunny it is. In the winter, just like you may want to when it’s 10 degrees outside, your succulent will be dormant. So, that once a week will turn into once a month pretty quick.

So, if overwatering is the #1 succulent killer, how do you know if you’re hurting rather than helping? Well, if those fleshy leaves are looking a little puffier than normal, that means your succulent is trying to store more water than it has room for. Then, the lower stems may turn brown, and the leaves will shrivel and dry like a raisin—a sure sign that the roots are rotting and can’t get the water where it needs to go. The Catch 22 is, though, that underwatering will also have the same shriveled and drying, but you can CSI the difference pretty quickly with a look at the soil. Dry soil = under. Moist soil = over.

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SUCCULENT CARE TIP #2: OH, THE HUMIDITY

We know all too well that winter weather does a number on our skin and hair. We’re talking frizz and chapped skin like nobody would believe. But, while our ferny friends may be wasting away without the help of regular misting and constant running of the humidifier, our succulents actually need that dry air to keep them dormant and happy. So, if you like to keep a humid home in those colder months—that’s fine! Just make sure to move your succulents into a spot with plenty of air circulation and don’t water as often.

SUCCULENT CARE TIP #3: FERTILIZER?

Succulents won’t actually need as much fertilizer as many other plants may. That being said, they won’t complain about a nice pick-me-up of all-purpose or succulent fertilizer 1-2x a month in the summer. When the mercury drops in October, though, you can put a pause on the routine until about March when the warmer weather returns. 

The top thing to remember here is to avoid fertilizers with a lot of nitrogen (a high first number). Like new blondes that may have gone too hard on the bleach, succulents have delicate roots that won’t appreciate harsh chemicals and may even end up burned in the process. In fact, unless the fertilizer specifically says it’s made for succulents, go ahead and cut the recommended concentration in half—they’ll thank you for it.

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SUCCULENT CARE TIP #4: FINDING YOUR LIGHT

Like Snowbirds on vacation in Florida, succulents like to soak up the sun and thrive best near south- or west-facing windows. But, as much as they love the sun, nobody likes a sunburn and glass actually magnifies light, so keep them at least 6 inches away from full-sun windows to prevent burnt leaves.

If you find your succulent stretching in any direction, that’s its way of telling you, “I need more light!” Most varieties do best either right by a window or even right outdoors in the summer, but shouldn’t be moved cold-turkey, even if they’re asking for it. To protect them from scorching, gently move them over a couple of days into a sunnier spot so they can acclimatize first.

SUCCULENT CARE TIP #5: SOME LIKE IT… NOT SO HOT

Many people automatically assume that, coming from desert climates, succulents can’t handle a chill in the air. Truth is, they actually love it! Deserts may be hot as heck during the days, but they’re also known for the cool nights, so around 50 degrees at night and 80 during the day is just right for the summer. But, chances are, if you’re keeping them indoors, your central heating isn’t quite giving them that kind of temperature swing, which they actually need if you expect to see any flowers. While they’ll be perfectly content with staying inside 24/7/365, if you’re looking for some pretty blooms to appear, setting them outside for the summer is a great way to encourage that kind of behavior.

While that all may seem like a lot, the basics of succulent care are actually quite simple: only water when dry, keep ‘em drier in the winter, fertilize only in summer, give them lots of sun, and let them enjoy the cool summer nights for mega blooms. That’s it! Even the blackest of thumbs can do it, we promise! 

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