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Indoor succulents have become the stars of social media and a must-have accessory for any modern home. Most are known for their stylish good looks and reputation for being very easy to care for. But what makes a plant a succulent?
Defined as a plant with fleshy leaves adapted to storing water, most of the plants in this group hail from deserts and areas that experience hot, dry seasons, giving you a clue as to the conditions they need.
Succulents come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and while most are grown for their leaf interest, given the right conditions, some may also produce pretty flowers. Their love of dry soils and high temperatures makes them some of the best indoor plants, and while most will not tolerate cold, wet winters, many can also be grown outside in summer, provided they are in pots with drainage holes.
Create a bright, textured display with indoor succulents
To maintain these beautiful plants indoors, you'll need to place them in a room that receives bright sunlight but provide a little shade in the height of summer when direct sun can scorch their leaves.
If you're using succulents for your indoor plant ideas then any container will need drainage holes in the base in a 50:50 mix of loam-based, peat-free compost and horticultural grit. Water your plants over a sink, taking care not to wet the leaves, and always allow the moisture to drain away before returning them to a waterproof pot. This will help to prevent rotting, which is one of the few ways you can kill a succulent.
These striking indoor succulents include the tall Aeonium arboreum, which produces leafy rosettes on sturdy branches and can reach up to 3ft (1m) in height (which could almost be classed as a small indoor tree), as well as short, wide plants, such as the dinner plate aeonium, Aeonium tabuliforme.
Leaf colors range from pale green to orange-red and dark burgundy, and mature plants may also produce star-shaped flowers from late winter to early summer. Their main growth period is from fall to late spring, and plants can become semi-dormant in summer, when they prefer to be outside where the higher humidity prevents their leaves from withering.
Water them from fall to late spring when the top of the compost feels dry and apply a half-strength balanced fertilizer once a month during the same period. Reduce watering and do not feed in the summer.
These compact succulents are loved for their colorful leaf rosettes that resemble tiny waterlilies. Choose from jade green, deep purple, pink or pale blue-green leaves, or one of the variegated forms, and pot them up individually or in groups to create a colorful, textured display.
Echeverias are low maintenance indoor plants which also flower reliably, producing lantern-shaped orange, red or pink flowers on long stems in spring and summer, and they can be taken outside and added to your succulent garden ideas after the frosts in spring.
Water these indoor succulents from spring to the end of summer when the top of the compost feels dry and feed once a month during the same period with a half-strength balanced liquid fertilizer. Reduce watering in fall and winter, applying just enough to prevent the leaves from shrivelling.
The ever-popular aloe vera is the most famous in this group of indoor succulents, but while the gel contained in its leaves is very useful for soothing burns, it’s not the prettiest of the bunch.
More decorative options will make great plants for bedrooms. These include the smaller lace aloe (Aloe aristata), which produces leaves with fine white patterning, and the partridge-breasted aloe (Aloe variegata), with its striking white-striped foliage. However, these species do not have the same healing powers as their cousin. Aloes may also produce yellow, orange, pink or red tubular flowers on long stems in spring and summer, although when grown indoors they are often reluctant to bloom.
One of the key things to remember when learning how to grow aloe vera is to ensure that you water the plants from spring to early fall when the top of the compost feels dry, and feed with a half-strength cactus fertilizer once a month during the same period. Reduce watering in fall and winter, applying just enough to prevent the leaves from shrivelling.
4. String of hearts (Ceropegia Linearis Subsp, Woodii)
The fountain of heart-shaped leaves on slim cascading stems makes this easy-care succulent ideal as an indoor hanging plant in a sunny room. The filigree silver patterning on green upper surfaces of the leaves, which are purple beneath, adds to its charm, and the little pink and purple tubular flowers are a bonus when they appear in summer.
The main secret to success with how to grow succulents like String of hearts is that they should be watered only when the top of the compost feels dry; apply a half-strength balanced fertilizer once a month during spring and summer. Reduce watering in autumn and winter, when the plant should be kept almost dry.
Almost indestructible, crassulas are the perfect choice for a time-poor indoor gardener. The most popular plant in the group is the money or friendship tree (Crassula ovata) which produces branched stems of fleshy, oval, green leaves, edged with a thin red border.
The cultivar ‘Hobbit’ has tube-like leaves. These easy-going plants can reach up to 3ft (1m) in height and will form a tree-like structure, but, like all succulents, crassulas grow very slowly so buy big if you want a large one.
At the other end of the spectrum, the tiny jade necklace plant (Crassula rupestris subsp. marnieriana) grows to just 4in (10cm) in height, and sports unusual square bead-like leaves on gently trailing stems.
Small and spiky, haworthias are often mistaken for aloes, which are similar in shape. One of the most popular choice for indoor succulents is the zebra plant (Haworthia attenuata f. caespitosa) which, as the name suggests, features bright white stripes on dark green leaves. Haworthia fasciata is very similar and also produces white-striped leaves. Both bear tubular green or white flowers on long stems in summer.
Another good choice is Haworthia cymbiformis, with its small triangular, mid-green leaves and pale pink tubular flowers. Mix and match haworthias with echeverias and moonstones (Pachyphytum) in a bowl for a dazzling displays of shapes, colors and textures.
Water during spring and summer when the top 3/4in (2cm) of compost feels dry, and reduce watering in winter, keeping the plant almost dry. Apply a half-strength balanced liquid fertilizer once or twice from spring to midsummer.
You can also set these little plants outside in summer in a warm, sheltered area, in pots with drainage holes in the base to prevent waterlogging. Take leaf cuttings for propagating succulents into more plants.
Encompassing a varied group of plants, the most popular Kalanchoe is flaming Katy (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana), which has fleshy dark green leave and brightly colored starry flowers in shades of white, yellow, orange, red and pink that appear from late winter to summer.
Others have silvery leaves, such as the panda plant Kalanchoe tomentosa, with its soft grey-green foliage, edged with brown spots, while the flapjack plant (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora) produces rosettes of oval, red-edged grey-green leaves. The light conditions needed to grow indoor succulents make them good conservatory plants as long as they're kept out of direct sunlight.
In summer, water when the top of the compost feels dry, and apply slightly less in spring and fall. In winter, reduce watering further, giving just enough to prevent the leaves from shrivelling. Feed with a half-strength balanced liquid fertilizer once a month from late spring to fall.
Tiny living stones (Lithops) are among the easiest indoor succulents to care for, their pairs of squat stemless leaves rarely needing watering, even in summer. Resembling small patterned pebbles, these indoor succulents come in a range of subtle colors, from pale beige to olive green and blue-grey.
White or yellow daisy-like flowers appear between the leaves from summer to fall, and may be scented. From spring to early fall, water when the top 3/4in (2cm) of compost feels dry, and do not water over winter. Apply a half-strength cactus fertilizer once in spring, which will encourage the flowers to form.
The smooth round leaves of moonstones (Pachyphytum oviferum) look like sugared almonds and make a beautiful contrast when combined with pink- and purple-leaved echeverias. Or for a more subtle grouping, pair them with Pachyphytum bracteosum which forms a rosette of tear-shaped leaves with the same subtle silvery blue coloring.
Moonstone cultivars with pink, mauve and peach-colored leaves are also available. In spring, small red or orange flowers on long stems may appear between the foliage. Take care when handling these plants, as the powdery coating covering the leaves is easily blemished when touched.
All indoor succulent varieties will need some sunlight so they won't make good low light indoor plants. Water from spring to fall when the top of the compost feels dry, and keep the plant almost dry in winter. Apply a half-strength cactus fertilizer once in spring.
This wide and varied group of plants include many suitable for growing outside in a garden, and a few that make beautiful house plants, so check labels carefully if you plan to grow them as part of your indoor garden ideas.
The best include the trailing donkey’s tail (Sedum morganianum), with its short stems of bead-like grey-green foliage, and the more unusual jelly bean plant (Sedum pachyphyllum), which produces clusters of red-tipped lozenge-shaped foliage on upright stems.
Large yellow star-shaped flowers may also appear in summer on mature plants. Take care when handling sedums, as their stems are quite brittle and may snap off. From spring to fall, water when the top of the compost feels dry; in winter keep the plants dry, applying water only to prevent the leaves from shrivelling. Apply a half-strength cactus fertilizer every six weeks from spring to midsummer.
11. Houseleek (Sempervivum)
Prized for their tiny rosettes of fleshy leaves with pointed tips, houseleeks come in a wide range of colors, from apple green and blue-grey to dark burgundy and purple, as well as many variegated forms. The striking cobweb houseleek (Sempervivum arachnoideum) is a favorite, loved for its green or red rosettes coated with fine white wool – hence the name.
These ground-hugging plants can be grown inside or out, since they are hardy and will survive cold winters if the soil doesn’t become too wet. They are also more likely to produce their stout stems topped with starry pink flowers in summer when set outside. The leaf rosette from which the flower spike emerges will die after the bloom fades, but houseleeks usually produce plenty of baby plantlets to replace those that are lost.
From spring to fall, water when the top of the compost feels dry. Place houseleeks in a cool bright room over winter and water just enough to prevent the leaves from shrivelling. Apply a half-strength cactus fertilizer once a month from spring to midsummer.
What is the most common type of succulent for growing indoors?
There are thousands of succulent species but the most popular houseplants are the diminutive echeverias, which produce dainty rosettes of colorful leaves; aloes, including Aloe vera, prized for its sap which helps to relieve burns; and houseleeks, which look like echeverias but generally have slightly smaller and more compact leaf rosettes.
The smaller succulents are perfect for small spaces and a collection will easily fit on a narrow windowsill or desk as an office plant, and they can be grouped together to create decorative succulent wreaths, hanging displays and table decorations for your outdoor dining ideas in summer.
How do I know what kind of succulent I have?
If your plant has thick, fleshy leaves that contain a gel-like substance when you cut one open, it is probably a succulent. The best way to identify what specific type you have is to match it with one of the ones listed above, visit a specialist succulent supplier, or buy a book on succulents. Even if you can’t identify your particular plant, most indoor succulents require similar care, so follow the advice above and it should thrive.
What is the prettiest indoor succulent?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and while some may love the simple elegance of an Aeonium haworthii with its pink-edged leaf rosettes, or the smooth pebble-like folaige of moonstones (Pachyphytum oviferum), if you like brighter colors, you may be drawn to indoor succulents with more drama, such as a flaming Katy (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana) with its bright orange, yellow, pink or red flowers. With such a huge selection of varieties on offer, simply choose those that best suit your style.
Zia Allaway is a garden book author, editor, and journalist, and writes for a range of gardening and women’s magazines, including Easy Gardens, Homes & Gardens and Livingetc, as well as The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph newspapers. She has also written books for the Royal Horticultural Society and Dorling Kindersley publishers, including Eco-Gardening, Compost, Low Maintenance, Practical House Plant Book, Practical Cactus & Succulent Book, Indoor Edible Garden, What Plant Where, and the Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers.
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