How to plant succulents

It is becoming more and more fashionable to grow succulents, either due to their relative ease of care or how much they invite to collect them. This makes many newcomers appear doubts when they find out that it is necessary to change the substrate that they bring from the nursery , such as which substrate to use or when to perform the transplant, so in this article we will delve into all that.   

The first thing to know is that succulents are simply plants that accumulate more water than normal , and this implies  that  since they are not really related to each other, both the transplant procedures and the substrate they need will vary enormously between some and others.

For this reason I have decided to separate them into seven large groups: non-bulbous succulent monocots (Agaves, yuccas, aloes …), bulbous (consider them succulent or not debatable, but as some of them are usually cultivated as succulents, we will  include them ), cacti ,  euphorbias crasuláceas , South African (living stones and other plants of winter growth, like many caudiciformes) and others.

Another thing to keep in mind is that  plants with different care should not be planted together . In principle the plants of each of the groups that we have created can be placed together, as long as you are also careful with the sizes they reach and their growth speed; Even so, I always recommend, if they are placed in a pot, put them alone . If it is on the ground, very interesting compositions can be made.

What do I need to plant succulents? 

The first thing you need to know is the place where you are going to place them, either in a pot or on the ground.  

  • If it’s potted, you’ll need a somewhat larger one than the one they are in right now.
  • If it is on the ground you will need a shovel or a hoe to make the hole. 
  • You will also need a suitable substrate , but unfortunately it is very difficult to find a mixture that really suits succulents, so it will be necessary to buy a good quality substrate (we recommend the universal one, which is usually much cheaper than that of cactus) and aggregates , like sand or gravel, whose proportions will depend on what you want to plant, but in general 50% of universal substrate and 50% of sand or gravel works well. When we talk about mixtures of substrates we mean to mix everything well , not to fill half of the pot with gravel and the other half with  universal substrate .  
  • It is also recommended to use gloves, especially if what you are going to plant is a cactus or an  euphorbia .  
  • Finally, a more or less large toothpick is recommended (the Chinese toothpicks work very well) to help the substrate enter between the roots. It is highly recommended in plants where you cannot get your hands underneath well and in small pots.

Procedure for planting and transplanting succulentsThere are many very different succulents.

This is where it is very important to know the plant with which you are working , since the roots of some are much more sensitive than those of others. Also keep in mind that this is not an exact science, you can perform these procedures and they fail and use others that we do not recommend here and that work well for you. Something that is common for all these plants is that when you buy them from a nursery you have to clean their roots , removing every last piece of substrate that they have stuck to.

For cacti and euphorbias, it is usually recommended not to water for at least one week after transplanting (and if they do not have roots, until they are removed), the rest are recommended to always water after any transplant or planting. The substrate mixtures that we are going to say below are recommended for pots, if they are going to be placed in the ground, it is usually interesting to make a hole of more than triple the volume of the pot they are in and mix the substrates that we say below with the earth, half and half. 

Non-bulbous succulent monocotyledons

These are generally very hardy plants that don’t even need a special substrate, but it always helps to add some gravel to improve drainage. In these plants it is not recommended to damage the roots since they only renew them when it is hot, so they must be kept as short as possible with the roots in the air. We will prepare the substrate that we want to use and we will plant them with the root ball as is, then  carefully filling in  the remaining holes. 

Bulbous

These plants are normally sold in loose bulbs. Except for a couple of very delicate species, any bulbous will hold up on a universal substrate or in the ground during its growing season. If you intend to leave them in place to avoid having to replant them the following year, you will need a substrate that drains somewhat better, although in this case it can be useful to use mobs. To plant them is as simple as making a hole twice the depth of the bulb and burying it with the bud facing up. 

Cactus

For cacti you will always want a very draining substrate , mixing a  good  amount of sand and gravel. Cacti can be kept long with the roots in the air, although I recommend planting them directly if they have roots (by cleaning the old substrate first). If they do not have them and present  someopen wound, they can be left without substrate in the air one or two weeks to heal and there is no risk of rot. Once the substrate is prepared and the roots are cleaned (or wounds are closed), part of the pot will be filled with substrate, the cactus will be placed and it will gradually be filled, making sure that the substrate enters between the roots. Normally you should avoid burying it more than it was previously, although if it does not have roots it will have to be done.  Gloves are highly recommended . For the choice of substrate we can divide them into three groups: 

  • Typical cacti : 50% universal substrate and 50% gravel or sand usually works well. 
  • Napiform root cacti (very thick carrot-like roots): They need very draining and airy substrates, so they will need a lot of gravel and sand. 33% gravel, 33% sand and 33% cactus substrate usually do well. 
  • epiphytic or jungle actus : They usually hold a little more moisture, so we could use less sand. Also, to increase aeration we could use substrate for orchids instead of aggregates.

Euphorbias

Although it is a single genus ( Euphorbia ), it is one of the most diverse groups, with plants of all kinds and care of the most varied. Even so, in general, we could say that if they have roots, it is necessary to avoid damaging them and making the new substrate cover all the holes, and if they do not have them, they must be kept for up to a month without planting. With these plants it must be taken into account that they usually take root very badly and very slowly. You have to be very careful with its toxic latex and wash your hands well after handling them, so it is highly recommended to use gloves (which will also protect from their thorns) and glasses. 

Crassulaceae

They are generally very resistant plants that take root very easily. You can wait a while before  planting them  but there is usually no reason for it. I recommend not even breaking the root ball unless it is from a substrate you want to remove, and treat them like a normal plant. If it does not have roots, you can wait a couple of days for them to close the wound or plant them directly, it does not usually matter. If they do have them and it is decided to break the root ball or clean the roots, when placing them in the new place it will be necessary to make the substrate cover all the  holes well . You have to be careful when handling them since their stems and leaves are usually very brittle. As for the substrate mix, most can live on universal substrate, but I recommend mixing at least 30% gravel or sand. 

South African

Diverse group including Aizoaceae (living stones and the like) and many succulents from South Africa. The peculiarity of these plants is  that  unlike most of the previous ones, they only grow when it is cool, entering lethargy in summer. These plants often want extremely  draining substrates  and watering only when asked for, so they are not usually recommended for beginners. Regarding the substrate and the transplant, we are going to divide them into three groups: 

  • Living stones ( Lithops,  Pleiospilos, Lapidaria …): they need a substrate by strata, that is, a homogeneous mixture is not recommended as with the rest of the plants. We will need a coarse gravel base, a mixed layer similar to that of napiform root cacti ( 33% gravel, 33% sand, and 33% cactus substrate. The more gravel and sand, the less likely we are to kill it. by rot, but more will have to be watered) in which we will place the roots of the plant, trying to make them completely vertical (to achieve this, many recommend cutting a large part of the roots), and finally, a layer of fine and smooth gravel that will cover the stem of the plant and part of the leaves (will depend on the species).  
  • Caudiciformes (Dioscorea, Adenium …) are a group of plants that are not really related to each other, but in general, they all want a very mineral and extremely draining substrate. The mix of 33% gravel, 33% sand, and 33% cactus substrate generally do well, too. Its roots tend to be thick and few in number, so it is not difficult to fill the holes well with the substrate. Something very interesting that can be done with these plants is to place them higher and higher after each transplant, exposing the caudex more and more.
  • Rest: The vast majority will grow well in a mixture of universal substrate and gravel or sand in equal parts and the transplanting procedure will be the same as for the Crassulaceae. 

Others:

Here we can include all those that do not fall into the other groups. Each one is a world, but in general we can say that with 50% universal substrate, 50% gravel and / or sand and not having too long roots in the air they will hold well. 

When to plant succulents?It is recommended to clean the roots during the transplant.

To answer this, again, we are going to separate them into groups, but first we must bear in mind that if you do not plan to break the root ball, the time really does not matter, and if you have just bought it and it goes on an organic substrate such as peat or fiber of coconut it will be necessary to transplant it and clean the roots yes or yes, regardless of the season or the temperatures. Also be careful with sudden changes in location, which can cause them to burn if the hours of sunlight suddenly increase, especially if it is accompanied by a large loss of roots. 

  • Non-bulbous succulent monocotyledons:  They need heat to root, so it is recommended to transplant them in late spring or summer. If it is done at any other time they will not root until the heat arrives, although they are generally resistant enough to hold until then. 
  • Bulbous:  They usually sell them in bags in which it is indicated when to do it, but it is not really important and only influences when they are going to sprout and flourish. If they were previously planted,   avoid damaging the roots while they have leaves or flowers. 
  • Cactus:  The season is not too important, although it is recommended to do it in spring or summer so that they have time to adapt before winter. 
  • Euphorbias :  It is difficult to give a specific time, but the safest is spring and early summer, which is when they grow most vigorously. 
  • Crassulaceae:  Normally the season does not matter. A clear exception are the  Aeonium , which only take root when the maximum temperatures are around 20ºC. 
  • South African:  The best in general is in autumn, when they start to sprout or a little earlier, although those that also grow in summer grab whenever. As for  living stones, the optimal time is when you have consumed the old leaves and the new ones have fully emerged. 
  • Others: it  depends on each plant, but we could put as a general rule from mid-spring to early summer. 

Most common problems before and after transplantThe plant can show the lack of water or excess of sun acquiring reddish colorations.

Normally we will know that a plant needs a transplant when it grows slower than normal, it  yellows  although you fertilize it or it has a pot full of roots. If the substrate with which they come from the nursery is not removed, problems will appear very quickly , derived from the excess water that causes the lack of drainage and aeration of the substrates that they usually carry, including: 

  • Root rot : can happen to any succulent. 
  • Stem rot : generally lethal in cacti and  euphorbias , in the rest it is usually easy to save them. Very rare in  mon ocotyledons. 
  • Busting plant : very typical in cactus with napiform roots and live stones. It is not usually fatal if it is corrected as soon as it is seen, although it makes them very ugly. 
  • Dehydrated plant that does not recover by more than watering : very organic substrates tend to become water repellent (repel water) when completely dried. You can get it to rehydrate by submerging it in water for a while (from a few minutes to a couple of hours), but once it dries again the same will happen. This also happens with many napiform root cacti because they are not capable of absorbing the water retained by organic matter.

After transplant

If it has been done correctly and in its time there should be no problems , but if there are, the most common are:  

  • Dehydrated plant : it occurs especially in out-of-date transplants of monocotyledons when the roots have been damaged. It can also occur in crassulaceae if they are placed in full sun before they have roots. It is not a problem in succulents, they usually recover as soon as they take root.   It may also be due to insufficient watering.
  • Rotten base : occurs especially in out-of-date transplants of  Aeonium  and  euphorbias . You usually notice because the plant does not grow throughout the year. It is solved by cutting the rotten, leaving it to close the wound to the air for a time and replanting it, if possible in its time. 
  • Rotten plant : It usually occurs when you water too much before the plant has roots. It happens especially in cacti that have been planted without roots. To avoid it, it is usually recommended not to water them until they take root. 
  • Burned plant: this problem is not so much derived from the transplant as from the change of location. We must be very careful with sudden changes in hours of sunlight, both when we buy a new plant and when we change it, since although these burns are not usually fatal, they will cause scars that can last for many years.
These types of compositions may look good, but in the long run they give problems.

At the end of the day all these are recommendations, the best thing is to try until you find what works best for you. And above all, never stop trying to grow these fantastic plants no matter how many they die. Sooner or later you will find a formula that works perfectly for you.

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