What Are Succulent Plants?

Succulents are incredibly tolerant to neglect which makes them a very difficult plant to kill. As such, they’ve become favourites for those homeowners who have little time to care for their plants – or for those who have gardens which are regularly subject to drought.

Succulents are plants that have evolved parts of their anatomy to store water. Since they store water in their tissues, they often have low water needs, and perform well where water is in short supply.

Cacti are sometimes classified as succulents – but some horticulture experts prefer to place them in different category. Bromeliads are also sometimes included within the succulent categorisation, though again, some experts prefer to classify them separately too.

These plants all have a number of shared characteristic. Most notably, of course, in their resilience to low-water conditions. But it is important to note that succulents come from ecosystems that can be very different. When it comes to water they may be similar, but in their other requirements, they can differ quite a lot. A good place to start when determining the conditions needed is with a plant’s native range. Looking at conditions where the plant comes from can help you see what they need.

Popular Cacti & Succulents Grown In The UK

There are a great many cacti and succulents that can be grown in the UK, especially when they are grown as houseplants indoors. Here are some of the popular options that you may wish to consider:

How To Care For Succulents

huge range of succulent plants

Succulents and cacti are a category that covers a wide range of plants. Though all are drought tolerant and have low water needs, and most need plenty of sunlight, their needs can differ markedly dependant on where they come from and the environmental conditions within their native habitat ranges.

Most are grown as container plants, and are kept indoors either outside the summer months, or year-round. However, there are some succulents that can successfully be grown outdoors in sheltered and sunny spots in certain parts of the UK.

Most succulents and cacti require a free-draining soil or potting mix, with plenty of grit mixed in to enhance the drainage. One of the main problems that can occur with these sorts of plants is waterlogging. These are not plants that like to have wet feet. Spreading grit or another soil cover over the surface of the medium used can be a good idea.

Succulents and cacti should generally only be watered once the soil or growing medium has been left to dry out. They will require infrequent but some watering between April and September, but water should always be allowed to drain away freely. Overwatering is a common rookie mistake, and one of the most likely problems you will encounter when growing these plants.

From September, watering will usually be reduced. Or you may stop watering altogether until spring. This encourages a period of dormancy. But there are exceptions. Some winter-flowering succulents, for example, will require regular watering during this time, followed by their dormant phase in the summer.

Succulents generally need good airflow – so ventilation is key, especially during the summer months. And established succulents of many types should also often be fed every four weeks or so during their growing season with a specialist plant feed. (Remember to opt for an organic option.)

What Conditions Should You Avoid?

As mentioned above, waterlogged and overly damp conditions are the main problem to avoid. All succulents and cacti require free-draining conditions and cannot tolerate wet around their roots. Avoiding overly moist conditions is generally the main thing to think about when growing these types of plants.

Of course, it is also important to think about the hardiness rating of the particular types of cacti and succulents you have chosen – especially if you plan on including these plants in an outdoor garden for some or all of the year.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Often Should You Water Succulents & Cacti?

Succulents and cacti water needs will differ to a degree depending on the specific types and varieties you are growing. But in general, you should water succulents and cacti only once the growing medium has dried out. And when you do water, that water should be able to drain away freely. As mentioned above, usually they will require less water, and may not need to be watered at all during their ‘rest period’.

Do Succulents Need Light?

All succulents need light to some degree. But the amount of light required can vary significantly from one variety to the next. Some need bright sun for many hours each day, while others can survive and thrive in much shadier environments.

Looking at the native environments of the plants you are considering will often give you clues relating to how much sunlight they require. For example, if they are an open desert plant then they will generally like full sun. If they naturally grow in a rainforest or woodland setting, then they will likely prefer more shade.

When you are growing plants indoors, even in a sunny spot, they will generally get less light than they would do when grown outdoors. This is something to consider. Start by understanding a plant’s native environment, and work from there to determine how much light they need.

If succulents get too little light, they will not be able to derive the energy they need through photosynthesis. But if they get too much light, they can be sunburned, which can threaten the plants’ moisture stores and impair this process.

Do Cacti & Succulents Flower?

Many cacti and succulents will flower when provided with the right growing conditions. Not all will bloom, however, and it is important to understand that some will only bloom rarely, and after considerable periods of time.

Immature plants (those from cuttings or leaves for example) will not mature to the point of flowering for some time. In some cases, it can be five years or more before blooms begin to appear. The time to flowering can be even longer with certain cactus varieties. Some do not flower at all, for example, until the plant is 30 years old.

If you have a mature succulent and would like to encourage it to flower, then achieving the results you want is usually down to providing the right conditions when it comes to light, and temperatures.

Succulents and cacti often prefer there to be a marked difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures. And need distinct summer and winter (or growing and rest periods).

When kept indoors in a controlled environment, failing to deliver these natural differences in temperature can explain why they do not always flower, even when you might expect it to be time for them to do so. Ensuring a cool night cycle, and overwintering, can often be crucial in getting particular plants of these types to bloom.

Succulents that do not receive sufficient light are also less likely to grow and flower successfully. So improving light conditions is another way to encourage your plants to bloom.

Adding a potassium organic fertilizer during the growing season can also help to make sure your succulents and cacti have what they need to produce flowers effectively.

Why Is My Succulent Dying?

Most problems with succulents are caused due to excess watering, or water sticking around. Waterlogging and excess water can cause a range of problems for succulents, and may even cause plants to start dying.

If you have a succulent with yellowing, or soggy/mushy leaves then it is most likely that the problem is with too much water. It may be that you have watered too much. Or it may be that the growing medium or pot is not sufficiently free-draining. Adjust your watering habits, pull off any yellowing or damaged leaves, and repot your succulent into a suitable, drier potting mix, in a free-draining container.

Under-watering, however, can also be a problem. Though they have low water needs, succulents and cacti do need to be watered consistently. If the leaves on your plants are shrivelling, wrinkled, or dropping off, under-watering could be the problem. Water a little at a time at first, adjusting until you are watering the correct amount for the plant you have chosen, and your succulent may still be able to recover.

Browning on leaves can be caused by fungal infection, often the result of overwatering. It can also be a sign of an insect infestation. For example, brown spots on succulent leaves may be caused by scale insects. If this is the case, remove or isolate the affected plant, and use a natural and eco-friendly soapy solution to remove the insects from leaves and stems. Then repot your succulent and it should be able to recover.

Can They Stay In Small Pots?

As a general rule, succulents prefer snug growing conditions. So it is best to choose a pot that is no more than around an inch wider than the plant’s root system in diameter. Choosing a pot that is too large for the root system of the plant can mean excess water is not used and can stick around, causing problems due to waterlogging.

However, as a succulent or cactus grows, it will need to be repotted to a larger pot over time. Of course, different plants will grow at different rates. But succulents need to be moved into larger containers before they become root bound, or before the root system clogs drainage holes in the pot.

Of course, if the root system is too tightly wound within the container, it will not be able to get what it needs from the growing medium. And where the drainage holes have become clogged, the problems with a lack of free drainage can take hold.

Should I Bring Succulents Inside For Winter?

Whether you should bring succulents inside for winter will of course depend on the types you are growing, and the winter conditions where you live. Generally, in the UK, weather conditions outdoors in winter are too cold and, especially, too wet, for most succulents to thrive. But there are exceptions.

Remember, it may also be possible to give shelter to succulents and cacti over winter in a polytunnel, greenhouse, or another covered growing area. Sometimes, a heated space will be required for overwintering. But sometimes, protection against winter precipitation will be sufficient and they will overwinter successfully in an unheated space.

Do Cacti Need A Specific Soil?

Cacti need a sandy or gritty potting soil that provides plenty of aeration and excellent drainage. It will have some organic matter that absorbs water and makes moisture available to plant roots. But will also dry out quickly and avoid any waterlogging or lingering dampness issues. Cactus roots are designed to quickly and efficiently make the most of any rain that falls, then shrink back. Because of this, they can be prone to rotting if grown in constricting pots or the wrong growing medium.

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