Succulents: 9 Common Mistakes That You Should Avoid

Translated by Nick R

Succulents are ultimately the trendy plants and is that, who wouldn’t fall in love with their various colors, sizes, shapes, and textures. However, although they are known for being pretty hardy, it doesn’t mean that they are immortal or bulletproof.

So, if you want to include succulents in your collection, or you already have some of them and have faced some drawbacks, you need to read this blog!

Below, we’ll tell you the 9 most common succulent care mistakes that beginners often make or that can happen even to any experienced gardener. We’ll also explain how you can avoid and fix them.

List of common mistakes when keeping succulents and how to prevent them 

Let’s take a look at the most frequent problems that can occur or be committed when taking care of succulents so that they don’t happen to you.

1. Problems with watering 

The main mistake is to overwater succulents misthinking that they have the same needs as any other plant. Well, remember that succulents store water in their leaves, stems, and sometimes in their roots.

Therefore, if you see that some lower leaves have turned black, yellow, or translucent and slimy, it’s because the roots are rotting due to excess water or moisture in the substrate.

In some succulents, it also happens that their leaves fall off more frequently and easily than usual, even though they seem to be in perfect condition. The positive thing about this is that new shoots will come out of these leaves; however, we don’t want the plant to be weak either, so this is also a symptom that you should pay attention to.

On the other hand, some people are afraid of overwatering or are confident that succulents can survive for weeks with no water. Thus, they mistakenly underwater them.

If you keep your succulents for long periods without receiving water, they won’t grow or have the expected vitality; their leaves will begin to wilt and fall off. You can easily notice this by touching them, as their leaves won’t be as thick as usual and will be limp. Alternately, the wilted leaves will feel dry and have a yellow tinge.

How to avoid issues with water? 

Regardless of the size of the plant or the type of pot it is in, the best trick to know if it’s time to water them is the following:

Stick a toothpick or a thin stick into the substrate, and if it comes out almost or completely dry, it means you can water the plant; otherwise, if it comes out with soil traces and is dirty, you should wait a few more days.

By now, you should also keep in mind to give the plant a generous splash of water every time you water it. That is to say, do not spray it superficially, but rather wet the soil deeply.

How to solve issues with water? 

Clearly, if your plant is rotting, the first thing to do is stop watering it. Then, remove all the damaged leaves and discard them since, unfortunately, they are beyond salvage.

On the other hand, the leaves that are in perfect condition, but have fallen off, can be placed in a pot with the substrate so that new shoots can grow from them and you can propagate your damaged plant.

You can also choose to transplant the stem, as long as it’s not too soft. If so, you could still try to recover it by letting it stand for at least 15 days without water; you may not succeed if it’s already too rotten.

If your plant is drying out, just increase the watering frequency, but without waterlogging. It may be twice a week or more, depending on where the succulent is located and the amount of sun it receives.

Actually, this problem is easier to remedy because it consists of taking more care of the plant and watering it regularly, although always following the toothpick trick so as not to overwater it.

2. Not fighting pests in time 

In general, this mistake applies to any type of plant you have at home and is usually caused by several reasons:

  • The first reason is to think that your succulents won’t have problems with pests because they are hardy plants.
  • The second is not checking the leaves and stems for insects.
  • The third one is finding the pest and not removing it at the moment because you think they are not a big deal, or you leave it for later.

Then, this is a problem that can become bigger because not only does it affect the growth and health of the infected plant but could also spread to other nearby plants.

How to avoid pests in succulents? 

To begin with, meticulously check your plants every time you water them to make sure everything is okay. If you find anything, the best thing to do is to get informed so you know for sure which pest you are dealing with.

So you can check out our blog on pests to get familiar with them. Keep in mind that the most common ones on succulents are mealybug, aphid, whitefly and spider mite.

How to solve pests in succulents? 

Once you know what pest is on your plant, find a method to combat it either with natural, homemade, organic, or chemical remedies. For this, we recommend our blogs on homemade insecticides and the use of neem oil and potassium soap to fight pests effectively.

Also, don’t forget to remove the infected plants and keep them isolated until the problem is solved. This way, you prevent others from catching them and you can better focus on those that are injured.

3. Excess or lack of sun 

Remember that succulents are plants that thrive well in desertic environments and therefore are used in xeric gardens. So they like to receive bright sunlight either directly or indirectly, depending on the specific variety.

So although they can be great as houseplants, you must be careful with the lack of illumination. For it will infer with growth, as the plants will either stretch out in search of light or simply grow very slowly. In addition, they will lose their hue and become paler.

On the other hand, many species don’t like to receive too much direct sunlight, as it will cause their leaves to burn and get injured. Among them are the jade tree, the torch plant, and even the aloe vera; if they receive direct sunlight their leaves will turn brown or reddish and lose their characteristic green hue.

However, there are succulents with vibrant colored leaves that will undoubtedly need at least 6 hours of light a day to remain that shade. For example, Graptopetalus, Sedum Rubrotinctum known as Red Sedo, and others that we’ll show you in an image below.

How to avoid watering light problems in succulents? 

The main thing is that you know the likes of your plants, this way you will have an idea of the conditions they will feel best in.

In general, indoor plants should be placed near a window or in a space where they receive adequate lighting most of the day. If you want to have them outdoors, an area with indirect sunlight will be perfect for any of them. Of course, it’s best to cover them to avoid direct rain and stagnant water in the pot. However, you can collect the rainwater and use it to water your plants; it would be spectacular.

How to solve light problems in succulents? 

Both too much and too little sun are easy to remedy. It is enough to move the plant from its place once you identify that it’s having trouble in the area where it is located.

However, try to do it in time so that the plant doesn’t suffer major consequences. For example, the stem may twist in search of light, or the tips of the leaves may burn too much, affecting its appearance.

So, whenever you see that your plant is elongating, has fewer leaves and has lost its initial shape, it’s because it is lacking light. Whereas, if your plant with bright green leaves has grown brown spots, which even look as if it is dirty, it means that it’ll be better not to receive direct sunlight.

4. Combine succulents with plants of dissimilar needs. 

In nurseries, flower shops, or gardening stores, they usually sell beautiful succulents arrangements in which there are various succulent plants and sell them to you for a fair price.

On the other hand, you can also make your own homemade terrarium with succulents, however, there are several aspects that you must consider to avoid falling into this mistake.

The main issue is putting several plants together without considering their likes or needs. Although for a few months, it may look like a nice arrangement, later, some plants will remain healthy while others will die.

On the other hand, having many succulents in the same space for a long time is not a good idea either. As they grow, they’ll need more space and compete for the nutrients.

How to avoid combining succulents incorrectly? 

Group succulents by size and according to their light and water requirements. Avoid combining them with other plants that are not succulents or xeric.

As a better example, we show you this image in which we classify several succulents according to their preferences for water and sun.

Of course, once the plants have grown enough and have run out of space, we recommend moving them to a suitable spot where they can continue to grow without problems.

5. Having the wrong substrate 

It could be said that the only aspect in which succulents are somewhat demanding is in the substrate. Conventional soil that works for most indoor or outdoor plants is not optimal for succulents.

The type of soil they need must be light, which doesn’t retain water well nor hold moisture. Otherwise, the roots will suffer, rot, and eventually, the plant will die. As we told you when we talked about the problems with watering.

Although you could extend the watering frequency, the way the roots absorb water is much slower than any other plant. Therefore, the plants will be in soggy soil for longer and constantly, which they don’t like.

How to avoid using the wrong substrate? 

The best is to get the specific substrate for succulents in a nursery, a garden store, a florist’s shop, or directly on the Internet. Do not worry about its quality, as it’s usually the same as that of the universal soil.

On the other hand, if you’re planting succulents directly in garden soil or using that soil for potting, you need to know what type it is.

To do so, here we tell you quickly 3 classifications of soil according to its texture:

  • Sandy soil is dry to the touch. It doesn’t retain water well and would be a good alternative for these plants.
  • Loamy soil is much more textured, has a dark brown tone, and retains water better.
  • Clayey soil has a yellowish color and doesn’t have the best drainage; it even forms puddles of water.

For the last 2 types, the best thing to do is adjust the texture with some of the options we’ll give you below. For more information, we recommend you to visit our blog on substrates.

How to solve soil problems? 

That’s right, another way is to modify the soil you already have so that it has the properties that succulents need. Therefore, you can use artificial elements such as perlite, which will provide aeration to the soil.

There are also natural materials such as river, beach and construction sand (previously washed); wood shavings or sawdust; and coconut fiber (washed). These will help with aeration but will also improve drainage capacity.

You should use 1 or 2 of the mentioned materials and mix them in equal parts with the soil.

6. Not choosing the right pot 

Technically you can use any type of pot for your succulents: from clay, recommended for its greater porosity, to those made with recycled materials.

Now, the mistake lies in choosing a container without drainage holes. Although it is possible to use pots without drainage holes, it is not what we recommend for a beginner because it can cause more inconveniences thanks to that.

On the other hand, it’s also problematic to choose a much larger pot than the plant to be planted. This usually occurs at the moment of transplanting and it happens when thinking that the bigger the container is; the more space the succulent will have to grow.

It’s a mistake since it will only make it more difficult for the roots to absorb nutrients from the substrate, which will affect the plant’s growth and it will remain stagnant.

How to avoid potting problems?

To begin with, try to buy only pots with holes in the bottom. Or, if possible, drill them with the help of a pick and hammer or other items.

Also, if you’re going to transplant a succulent, especially those that are growing, make sure that the pot is about the same size as the plant.

How to solve potting problems? 

If you have containers in which you cannot make holes, for example, cement or glass pots, you should follow these tips.

First, place some stones at the bottom of the container to facilitate aeration and drainage. Other alternatives are the use of granulated activated charcoal or vegetal charcoal, which will also provide nutrients.

The second and final step is to water frequently but over longer intervals. Again, we invite you to use the toothpick method to make sure that the soil has dried out completely.

If you have large pots and smaller plants to transplant, our best advice is to group several succulents in the same container.

Now, follow the instructions we gave you above so you don’t make mistakes when combining plants and repotting them when necessary.

7. Ignoring the symptoms of the plant 

It may sound strange, but succulents do communicate with us. Surely, you already noticed this when we mentioned ways to know that your plants are suffering from too much or too little watering or sun

So, the best way to know if your succulents are having inconveniences is through their leaves, stems, and even roots. For this reason, you mustn’t ignore any changes that occur in them, because otherwise, the problem will get bigger.

How to avoid this? 

Simply check your plants anytime you can. Whether at the time of watering, transplanting, or when buying them. Look for some of the symptoms we have mentioned or any peculiarities.

In case you don’t have enough information, don’t doubt to do some research. The important thing is that you don’t overlook the signs given by the plant. Besides, they are considered resistant since, even if they are having a problem, it will always be possible to remedy it when acting in time.

8. Problems with fertilization 

Although succulents are not demanding in terms of fertilization, you should keep in mind that they also need micro and macronutrients to grow vigorously. Therefore, you can choose to feed them, but the mistake comes in fertilizing them like any other plant.

That’s right, if you fertilize succulents in the same way you feed, for example, your flowering plants, you will only overfeed them, and remember that any excess is harmful.

How to avoid fertilization problems? 

You can use several homemade fertilizers such as crushed eggshells, often used for succulents as it provides moderate amounts of calcium.

You can also use chemical fertilizers, but you must keep in mind the diameter of the pot the plant is in and apply the amount suggested on the packaging.

In both cases, it’s best to perform the procedure only once a month in small quantities or every 2 months if necessary. However, make sure that it’s only during the summer and spring.

That’s because during autumn and especially in winter, the plants enter a period of inactivity. Therefore, their growth slows down and it’s not advisable to feed them.

9. Not knowing what succulents you have 

We know that there are thousands of succulent plants classified in several families and with a large number of species. Some of them are not even genetically related, although they have characteristic traits of succulent plants, and some are so similar to each other that it is difficult to differentiate them.

Despite this, it’s important to know the name of our plants to be able to investigate a little about them and to know for sure what their likes and needs are in order to survive.

Well, as we have said in other points, and if you have succulents, surely you would already realize that they have their preferences. For example, some love direct sun but others love shade. Also, there are succulent plants that prefer constant watering while others a prolonged one.

But how can you tell? We’ll explain below.

How to avoid succulents identification problems? 

When buying a succulent in a nursery or a store, always ask for its name: most likely the seller will tell you, or the plant will come with a label. You can also use the opportunity to ask a little about its minimum care.

Otherwise, if you already have the name, all you have to do is look it up on the internet. We also recommend you to read our blog about the 11 succulents you should have in your home. There we teach you all about their care, and we’re sure you’ll fall in love with at least 1 of them.

How to fix succulents identification problems? 

Now, in case you were given the plant as a gift or you bought it and don’t know what it’s called, we’ll tell you an excellent tip.

Just take a look at our blog about applications for gardening lovers, there you’ll find several tools that will help you identify your plants simply with a photo and will explain some important facts about them.

On the other hand, if you have a large collection of plants, we recommend labeling the pots so you don’t forget their names.

Don’t worry! 

We don’t want you to get the impression that succulents are not as easy to care for as you may have thought; they are actually perfect for beginners. Why? Because even if you make mistakes when caring for succulents, they’ll let you know quickly, and if you act in time, you’ll be able to remedy or fix the problem and get your plant back to a healthy state.

So, if you have succulents that are not thriving or you see that they are sick, take a little more care of them. Avoid the common mistakes we mentioned or correct the ones you’re already making.

Therefore, we hope this blog has been of great help to you, and that from now on, you’ll grow beautiful and healthy succulents.