Indoor Succulent Care Basics
Hello! Jessica here from Leaf & Chick sharing the basics for growing succulents indoors in Canada over our cold, dark winters.
If you want the quick and dirty here it is:
Keys to successfully growing indoors in Canada: the strongest light you can afford to give such as a south facing window or a lamp with a grow light. Deep, infrequent watering- when in doubt, wait. Comfortable, warm temperatures similar to what you enjoy. And lastly, air flow for strong, healthy plants.
If the above is enough, fantastic! If you need to learn more about each point, read on.
I will preface all of my advice with the following: I am not a botanist nor a horticulturalist. My formal education consists of graphic design and photography. What I am is an avid, experienced succulent collector who is enthusiastic about plant care. My goal is to provide advice to the four season succulent gardeners, those of us who can not grow outside year round.
Now that is out of the way, let’s talk why you’re here. You’ve bought or have been gifted a Leaf & Chick arrangement and you want to know how to keep it looking its best. Wonderful and I thank you for supporting my Canadian small business! The advice I am about to give specifically applies to the succulents I’ve grown and potted for retail but can be used across your collection.
Here are the basic need-to-knows about Leaf & Chick succulent arrangements:
They have all been potted in a premium mixture of gritty soil, hand mixed by myself. The mixture includes cactus soil, perlite, lava rocks and /or clay balls, crushed granite and worm castings. Straight soil (even cactus soil with no amendments) will retain too much moisture for indoor growing.
Strong, Direct Light:
Succulents, and these arrangements are no exception, want all the light. That is the top requirement to keep them looking their perky, colourful best. Many factors go into the best lighting situation, but at a bare minimum, plan to have them right on a window sill over winter. This will still be less light than it wants, but we do what we can over the colder months here in Canada. The glass cuts the intensity of the light, and, as we all know, the days are very short over winter. With this is mind, don’t be discouraged if the colours revert to green slightly or they stretch out a little. You can start fresh with cuttings or you can simply introduce them to true, outdoor sunlight when spring arrives. I will touch both on cuttings and introducing them to full sun in a later blog series.
Another alternative to consider is buying a grow light. You don’t have to go all out and have an elaborate setup, but consider purchasing a grow light bulb that will fit into a regular lamp. They are sold in most local nurseries and on-line. Look for 6500 K, 'daylight' LED bulbs.
With the exception of the arrangements I create specifically labelled as ‘happy in any window’, the colourful rosette style succulents (Echeveria, Graptopetalum, Sedeveria, Graptosedum etc) will do best in a south or west facing window. If you choose to bring them outdoors in the spring be sure to introduce them to true sunshine gradually to avoid burning them. A few hours a day of morning light increasing over a period of a few weeks should do the trick. Also do not start leaving them outside until the overnight temperature is above 10 degrees Celsius. This is just broad average that will keep the majority safe although some will tolerate lower temperatures.
Sempervivum, also known as live forevers, and commonly known as hens and chicks are the only type I personally keep outside all year here in Canada. They thrive in ground over winter and perk up bigger and better each spring. You will never find Sempervivum in any of my arrangements as they do poorly indoors and do not play well with tender succulents. There are two categories you can easily place succulents for our learning purposes, and that is tender and hardy. Tender must be protected when temperatures become cold and hardy can withstand the majority of our Canadian winters.
Deep, Infrequent Waterings:
Succulents love water- they do- what they don’t love is sitting in wet soil (referred to a having wet feet). Think of it like this: when you water, a healthy succulent will uptake what it needs to fill out and become plump. If the soil it is planted in stays wet (doesn’t drain/ dry out quickly) it will continue to take up water- there is no off switch. Eventually leading the leaves to burst and split, or leaves will fill up to the point they pop right off. Eventually a once healthy succulent will rot when left sitting wet too long. Leaves popping off is self preservation as it knows it might rot and is popping off leaves to make babies in a last ditch effort to survive.
So long story short: if it’s still plump or too chilly (which would cause a deep watering to not dry quickly) do not water. If it’s puckered, wrinkly, or you can fold a leaf like a taco; water. When in doubt, walk away. Succulents would much rather be a little thirsty than rot.
When watering give the base of the plants (avoiding getting the leaves wet or water in the rosettes) a good soak. Set on a paper towel or over a sink and let water drain through. I personally like to fill a small tray with water and set it in. This is called bottom watering and can be a great way to easily get plump, fat succulents. The trick is knowing how long to leave them and unfortunately it can be a trial and error. You don’t want the top soil to become saturated, (not here in Canada where it could take a long time to dry due to our growing environment) you just want the water to wick upwards to about the half way point. I only plant in pots with drainage holes to sell. This is because I want the arrangements I’ve lovingly grown to survive.
Should you use distilled water, filtered water or rain water? I use tap water myself, the only difference being I fill large jugs and leave them out a few days before using. Does this work? It’s just my routine, everyone finds what works best for them.
Warm and Cozy Temperatures:
This one is short and sweet. Tender succulents are not native to Canada and therefore must be protected from our harsh winters. The rule of thumb I stick to: do not leave them outside once temps drop to below 10 degrees Celsius at night. Can they stay out longer? Yes, some can. Have I tested this theory? Sure have, results were sometimes heartbreaking. So the short of it is, protect them from low temperatures. As succulents store their water in their leaves and their stems, the water cells will burst once they have frozen and there’s no coming back from this.
Interesting to note, they need a period of darkness at night, and they like it cooler then, just like many of us do to sleep. Often, our thermostat is set to be cooler overnight and that will suffice.
Air Flow and Circulation:
One of the most important, almost always overlooked, keys to indoor succulent growing success is air flow. Lack of air flow can cause powdery mildew and fungus issues, help pests to go unchecked and spread as well as promote weak new growth. Fans will do wonders to the overall health of your plants. The areas most common to keep succulents and enjoy them is often a high traffic area, so this is not the most immediate issue. It is just good practice to keep in mind and give them a higher success rate.
Recap of keys to successfully growing indoors in Canada: the strongest light you can afford to give such as a south facing window or a lamp with a grow light. Deep, infrequent watering- when in doubt, wait. Comfortable, warm temperatures similar to what you enjoy. And lastly, air flow for strong, healthy plants.
I’ve personally grown out (via leaves and cuttings) each plant in each pot. I want them to survive and I love the opportunity to spread the succulent love in my community. If you have further questions or comments not covered here, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will get back to you In as timely manner as possible. Please remember I’m not a nursery or a big box store, simply a small business owner who does her best to keep up with customer communications. I will amend any topics as new or better information presents itself to me. Just as you are all learning about succulent care, I am also continually learning; perhaps I just started my journey earlier than you. Your questions may also give me direction and ideas for future posts as these will eventually become a blog series.