Miscellaneous·4 min read

Here's How to Stop Killing Your Succulents

A Prickly Pear, Aloe Vera, Zebra Plant and Jade Plant
Design: theSkimm | Photo: iStock
July 26, 2022

So TikTok told you that succulents are a great plant if you don’t have a green thumb. That's true — but they do require some maintenance. Here’s how to keep the little cuties alive.

What are succulents?

They’re a group of plants that store water in their leaves. And can survive in very dry climates. According to Succulent City, some of the most popular types are: 

  • Prickly Pear: A succulent so sweet, you can actually eat it. The flat oval leaves have a neutral flavor that’s often used in Mexican cuisine (think: prickly pear margaritas). Plus, the plant contains lots of fiber (from its leaves) and high calcium (from the fruit it produces). 

  • Aloe Vera (aka the plant of immortality): It has pointy and chunky leaves that contain a gel. Which is packed with tons of goodies like amino acids, antioxidants, and vitamins (which can help with issues like sunburns). 

  • Zebra Plant: It has dark and thick jade leaves that are decorated with horizontal white stripes in a — you guessed it — zebra pattern. Those leaves grow in the shape of a rosette and can produce tube-shaped white or pink flowers.

  • Jade Plant: Typically associated with friendship, good luck, and financial success. It can produce small white or pink flowers in the right conditions.

How to care for succulents:

While succulents might seem like Ms. Independent, they do require some TLC. 

How often to water succulents:

A rule of thumb: When the top one or two inches of soil feel dry (usually, about every two weeks), it's time for H2O. Water your succulent from above until the water starts to flow out of the drainage holes of your pot or planter. And keep in mind that they tend to need more water during the warmer months (like spring, summer, and early fall). During cooler months, you can water your succulents every three to four weeks. 

Note: It’s best to avoid using spray bottles to water your succulents. It can weaken the roots and cause damage to the plant. And make sure to let the soil dry completely between waterings to avoid overwatering. If the roots sit in water for too long, they can start to rot and die.

Do succulents need sun?

Yes. And preferably indirect sunlight (think: sunlight diffused by sheer curtains). Because they can burn in direct sunlight. Each time you water your succulent, rotate it a quarter turn in the same direction. That way, every side of your plant will get enough light.

One more tip: If your succulent starts to lean or stretch, that’s usually a sign it needs to be in a sunnier spot. On the other hand, watch for white or pale spots on the leaves, which can be a sign of succulent sunburn or too much sun.

What to know about succulent soil:

To stay healthy, succulents need soil that drains easily. Meaning, don't use the soil from your backyard. Instead, use cactus soil or mix perlite, pumice, and sand with potting soil. And be sure to pick a pot or planter with a drainage hole, so excess water can escape.

Also, watch out for bugs. Insects like gnats are attracted to succulents that are too wet. If that happens, you can spray the whole plant with 70% isopropyl alcohol for several days until the bugs disappear. Note: It's best to first do a leaf test (apply alcohol on your plant and wait two days). That way you can avoid burning the leaves

How to propagate succulents:

Translation: How to make more succulents from your existing succulent. To do this, you have two choices. You can propagate using a leaf or using a cutting (a stem or branch from the original plant). Depending on what type of succulent you have, one method might be better than the other. 

If you’re using the cuttings to propagate: 

  • Use a sharp tool to cut the stem just above a leaf. 

  • Either let the cut stem callous (which usually takes a couple of days), then plant it. Or, for quicker results, dip the cut end in rooting hormones (think: chemicals that help the root develop stronger and quicker) before planting. 

  • Plant your cut succulent piece, making sure to use the correct soil (see above). Then, wait until the soil is dry before watering the plant. Keep in mind it'll take a few weeks before the new succulent begins to grow. 

If you’re using the leaves to propagate: 

  • Remove a healthy and juicy leaf from the succulent you want to use. 

  • Let the part of the leaf where it was removed callous over on top of semi-moist soil. 

  • After three weeks (or more), baby succulents or roots should begin to grow out of the calloused end of the leaf. At that point, move them into indirect sunlight. And in a few more weeks, the “pup” plants that have formed can be detached from the original leaf. 


Succulents might seem complicated. But all they really want is indirect sunlight and proper drainage. Water them when the top one to two inches of soil are dry, and you'll be good to go. So long, black thumb.

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