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Potting Your Succulents: Part 1, First Pots

So, you have a succulent plant that you have acquired, just now, or a while ago.  You want to put your beloved flora in a pot.  To begin, let’s learn about potting new succulents that are still in the plastic nursery pots, or in an arrangement that has gotten out of hand. Let’s talk containers!  Then we will hit soil needs, and how it all goes together.  This will cover individual pots for single plants.  Arrangements or multi-plant pots will be addressed later

First, the pot.  There are many, many options when it comes to containers in which you might plant your succulent.  There are, however, a few things to think about when choosing a container for planting.  First, the pot should be approximately the same size as the nursery pot. Succulents and cacti abhor large spaces, so pick a vessel correctly sized to your succulent.  Your pot needs to be deep enough to securely anchor the plant. Your pot can have drainage, or not.  I will talk about how to plant in both.  I use pots with drainage for a few of my Succulents, but for the most part I either have no drainage holes, or I plug the holes.  If you are a traditionalist, you can plant in planters or pots, if you are not, you can plant in mugs, candle holders, finger bowls, silver sugar dishes, or plastic dinosaurs.  The possibilities are endless!  My first succulents were planted in repurposed mugs that my kids and I painted.  Those mugs are among my favorite pots to this day.  If you want to plant on a budget, repurpose a can (be careful of sharp edges) or plant in a glass, or other small container you already have.  IMG_20160821_190209882.jpg Check out GoodWill and thrift shops, find something you love on the cheap! Terra-cotta pots are also very inexpensive, and can be fancied up in a million different ways!  I included a link to terra-cotta pots on Amazon, which I have ordered and used.  Try a Pinterest or Google search of “DIY terracotta planters.” There are literally hundreds of ideas for dressing up pots.  Or, leave a pot plain, succulents and cacti look lovely in plain terra-cotta.  Oh, one more thing, if you want to repurpose a food container, be sure to clean it very well.  Use your imagination!

3 inch Terracotta pots (pack of 9)

Once you have selected a pot, we can move on to soil.  There are literally thousands of succulent soil recipes.  So, you can investigate and decide what you want to try.  I make my own soil mixture, and use it for all my pretty babies!  In the above picture you can see what it looks like, sandy dirt.  That is what it is.  I use MiracleGro succulent, cactus, and citrus soil as the base. Which I like, because it has an appropriate amount of organic material (plant) and it is lovely and loose. I buy my soil at large department stores and hardware stores.  You may be able to find it at garden stores or nurseries.   You can use whatever soil you like, but, do not use anything that says “moisture control,” those hold water, which is the opposite of what you need.  Then I add clean sand.  Your sand can be sharp (larger grit than beach or soft sand) or soft, but it needs to be new and clean.  I use a ratio of approximately 2:1.  So two parts soil and one part sand by weight.  To be truthful, I don’t weigh the soil or anything, I eyeball it.  So something between half soil and three-quarters soil (which would be half sand and one-quarter sand).  That is it.  I put the soil and sand in a food grade 3 gallon bucket and mix it together.  Do not mix your soil in a bucket that has contained chemicals, they will leach out of the plastic and poison your soil.  So, use a new bucket!  You might read in various succulent sources that you need to sterilize your soil.  You don’t! Unless you are growing from seed, there is absolutely no reason to sterilize your dirt!  Mix your soil together in you bucket. I use a large metal slotted spoon to mix soil.  Be sure to mix it completely, which will take several minutes of mixing and folding the soil and sand together.  Also, you need to cover your soil when storing it, so make sure you have a lid.  Your soil should feel a little bit dampish, but not wet or sticky.  I actually add water to my soil with a spray bottle to keep it a little bit damp for storage.  Weirdly, if your soil is very dry, it will exclude water, and not let it soak in and through.  The other reason to have dampish soil is dust control.  A quick word of caution: dust is bad for your lung and sinuses, so avoid breathing it!  There may also be fungus or bacteria in the soil that can give you an infection.  So, use a spray bottle to moisten the soil before you dump it out of you pot when repotting.  Be cautious!  I do not reuse soil, as it is usually lacking nutrients and maybe be growing mold or moss.  So I throw away the nursery soil and always use new soil when potting or repotting.  Now we have a pot, and we have soil, and we can move on to potting!!

First things, first.  I wear light gardening gloves with a nitrile surface, when I pot and repot.  I also use a large tray or box when I am potting to cover my work surface, and catch the dirt.  Take the succulent out of the nursery pot.  Do this very gently, by turning the whole thing over and gently squeezing the pot.  Pull very slightly on the plant, but be very careful not pull it out of the soil or knock off leaves.  If the succulent has any kind of spines or stickers, wear heavy-duty gardening gloves!  If it is a very spiny cactus, then this is not the blog to be reading for instructions on repotting spiny cacti.  That is a very delicate process and will be addressed in the another blog.  You can injure yourself severely with cactus spines.  So let’s talk about that process later.  Ok, so you have un-potted your plant.  Now very gently remove some of the soil from the roots.  Try not to tear off the roots.  If you do tear off some roots, it is ok, the plant will live.  You might read that you need to completely remove soil, which you do not need to do.  Bare rooting your plan is shocking to it, and may cause damage.  Do not rinse your plant’s roots!  You really just need to loosen up the roots a bit to help with rooting in the new pot.  I like to remove the ridge of soil around the base of the plant, but be careful not to damage or wound the stem.  If there are dead leaves, you can remove those.  Set the plant down carefully to wait for its new pot!

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First, let’s run through potting in a pot with a drainage hole.  So you have decided to use traditional potting and are using a pot that will drain.  I do not use draining pots, except for the most water sensitive of my succulents.  I currently am using a pot that drains for 2 of my plants, a Baby Toes and a Wooly Cotyledon, which are extremely sensitive to overwatering.  So I use draining pots about 1% of the time (2 out of approximately 200 plants).  Now, add some soil to the bottom of the pot.  You can glue a piece of screen to the bottom of the pot over the hole to keep the soil in, but still let the water out.  You don’t have to use screen, but then make sure to use a saucer or plastic drip tray under the pot.  It will be messy.  Add soil until the pot is about 1/3 full.  Then set the new plant on the soil and check for depth.  You want the bottom row of leaves on your plant to be to be level or slightly above the rim of the pot.   The final height of the soil should be slightly below the rim of the pot.  If the plant is not high enough, remove it from the pot and add more soil to the pot.  When your plant height is where you want it, back fill the pot with soil around the plant.  Pat the soil down and be sure that the plant is secure, and will not fall over.  Very heavy plants need to be potted lower than light or flat plants.  Jades are usually very top-heavy, so make sure to use a pot deep enough and heavy enough to keep your plant upright.  There!  You have planted your succulent in a pot with drainage.  Now we will look at potting in pots with no drainage.

You will need, in addition to the plant and the soil, clean gravel or small rocks, a glue gun, and aluminum foil.  You only need the glue gun and foil if your pot has drainage and you want to plug it.  If there is no drainage hole, then you are good to go.  First, carefully glue a small foil piece over the hole on the outside of the pot.  You may also glue it to the inside, so really whatever floats your boat.  Now we have the drainage hole covered.   Remember that hot glue will burn you because it is hot.  And, I am not sure why I used such a large piece of foil, you really only need enough to cover the hole with enough overhang to glue it down.

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Now you have a pot with no drainage hole.  So we will need to place a drainage system in the pot.  Place the clean gravel in the bottom of the pot, and fill the pot about 1/3 full with gravel.

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These rocks will act as a drainage system.  The excess water will drain into the gravel and out of the soil.  You might read in another source that you need to add activated charcoal or another layer of something else.  You don’t.  Rocks and soil make for a very nice growing environment for your succulent baby,  Now potting is exactly like the potting with a drainage hole.  Add a layer of soil and check the height of the plant.  Add more soil if needed, or place the plant in the center of the pot and back fill around it.  Pat the soil down and be sure to check for stability in the plant.  Fill the soil almost to the top of the pot.  Don’t water your newly potted succulents for a couple of days.  Then, water deeply and place in a bright spot.  Water again in about 2 weeks, or when the soil around the plant is completely dry.  Do not overwater!  You will kill your precious succulent if you overwater it.  Then you will be sad.  But, keep in mind that these are plants with a learning curve, so if your plant does not do well, change what you are doing and start over with a new plant or a salvaged plant.  One more thing.  The photos in this blog are of my own collection, and you might have noticed that I do not use top dressing.  You can use it if you want to use it, but be careful not to choose top dressing that holds water next to your plant.  That will result in rot.  Rot is bad.  So make good choices! Good luck!!  Feel free to ask questions or leave comments!

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5 thoughts on “Potting Your Succulents: Part 1, First Pots

  1. Wonderful tips and advice. I just bought a cactus that has swelled beyond its tiny plastic container. I need to find something to re pot it in. Harder than it looks to find the best container.

    1. I am so glad you found me and got some good advice! Thank you so much for reading my blog. Feel free to ask any questions you may have. Good luck! The next blog is about re-potting when your Succulents out grow their home. I hope that will be informative, too!

      1. I don’t think my cacti are doing too well in the house with this cold weather in NY. We have not had much sun. I was told to keep them away from cold, drafty windows, so I don’t know what my options are.

      2. Most cacti can winter ok. Many don’t grow in the winter and get dormant. Water very sparingly, or not unless the cactus clearly needs it. So, as long as they are safe from freezing, they can just hang out and wait for warmth. Grow lights are another option, but not usually required. Send me a picture if you like. I would love to see your plants! Good luck!!

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