Lies the Internet Tells Us About Succulents

Welcome to The Succulent Whisperer blog!  I am so glad you are here!  Let’s talk about succulent lies you can, and probably have, found on the internet.  The beauty of the internet is the access to humongous amounts of information .  The horror of the internet is that a lot of that information is not true, or is half-true. If you google “succulent care” will get a ton of conflicting information about how to care for your succulents.  Let’s take a moment to go through some of that information, and decide what is false, what is true, and what is partly true or partly false.   Let’s look at the lies the internet tells us about succulents!

1. Succulents need a lot of/no water.  This is a big one!  To start, I have a confession to make: I sometimes argue with people on the internet about succulents.  I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help it!  The amount of watering information is astounding and a lot of it is wrong!  So wrong!  Let’s discuss.  One of the most prevalent untruths about watering on the internet is that Succulents should be watered with a spray bottle.  This watering method is based on another bit of false information, having to do with holes in the leaves of succulents. It is some of the most misguided  “advice” that can be found. Succulents are known to store water in their leaves and stems.  But unlike many plants, succulents cannot take water in through their leaves.  The leaves of succulents are specially designed to not exchange water. Why, you ask?  Because desert.  Succulents live in harsh conditions such as deserts, where humidity is virtually nonexistent, and high temperatures are common.  Succulents can close their stomata (holes in leaves that plants use to exchange water and oxygen) so nothing gets sucked out, and nothing can get in.  It is very true that water sitting on succulent leaves causes rot.  So, don’t spray!

This brings us to a second untruth, and another thing that you might read.  Succulents do not need any water.  This is blatantly untrue and ridiculous, everything alive needs some water! Sometimes just a tiny, infrequent amount, but it still needs water.  Which brings us to the flip side, Succulents need lots of water.  Although this may seem like a lie, it is what I would call sort of, a little bit, sometimes, kind of true.  Succulents generally don’t need a lot of water, but, some succulents, like Sedum, actually need a fair amount of water.  I water my sedums every couple of days, especially the mat forming Sedum.  That said, to clarify, all succulents need enough water.  I know, right? About as clear as mud.  Of course we don’t want to make mud, so we remember that these beautiful plants have a steep learning curve.  Watering your plants when the soil is all the way dry is a good general rule. If you are not sure, don’t water.  There is a lot more misinformation about watering, but that is for another day and another blog.  So onto the next!

2. Succulents are super easy to grow!  This is another one of the kind of true lies, if you squint.  This is commonly said with an air of, if you can’t grow succulents, you must really have black thumbs!  That is the lie part.  The true part is that some succulents are, actually, easy to grow, in the sense that you can ignore them for long periods of time, they are not picky about watering, and don’t really care about the soil.  Some are ok with low light.  Some can tolerate the random cat attack.  In reality, this is not a large group.  Really, there are two types of plants that are basically easy.  Sansevieria, most commonly known as Snake Plant, or Mother-in-law Tongue, is a wonderful plant.  It comes in many varieties and colors.  Not all the varieties are as hardy as others, but many can put up with a lot of neglect.  This group is one of my favorites.  Beautiful, showy plants that are actually hard to kill.  This is a great plant to have in your home or office. An added benefit, Snake Plants purify the air.  Air purification is also a talent of other plant that is pretty easy, the Aloe Vera.  There are many kinds of Aloe, some of which are not easy, but Aloe Vera is.  My Mother has not a green digit, her thumbs are in fact black.  But, she can grow these two plants. They are huge and impressive.  Which of course proves it.  These are the two easy succulents.  The other 3000 (or so) succulents are varying degrees of difficult.  Some more, some less.  So let’s change that to, Two Kinds of Succulents are Pretty Easy to Grow!

3. You can’t Grow Succulents Indoors:  This one is one of my favorite more lie than truth bits of information from the internet.  This bit is held near and dear to the hearts of some of the more dedicated outdoor succulent people.  But, let’s be rational, much of the United States and most other countries in the northern hemisphere are not ideal for growing succulents out-of-doors.  But, if you are in a region that is conducive to growing desert plants in your yard or garden then you can do outside succulents.  A quick interlude: I got into this whole succulent thing (obsession?) after visiting the Botanical Gardens in Phoenix, Arizona.  I have never been so wildly awed and affected by plants!  So, I will admit that succulents grown in the glorious sun are amazing.  Stunning, in fact.  But, you can grow those same plants (with some limitations) in your house. So, back to the point.  I primarily own, write about, and photograph indoor succulents, but I love outdoor succulents, too.  The benefit of sun is color, astounding growth, and very large plants.  But, we lovers of indoor succulents can do amazing things inside, too!  You might read on the internet that colorful succulents cannot be grown inside.  This is a partial truth.  We often cannot get the intensity of color with indoor succulents (We will talk about artificial light sources in a later blog.), but, less color does not an ugly plant make!  The outside people will call indoor plants “etiolated.”  This means that indoor rosettes are not as tight, indoor plants have bigger spaces between the leaves than their outdoor counterparts.  The lack of light is the creator of etiolated succulents.  But, etiolated plants are completely unique.  You will have a plant that no one else has.  So, don’t be afraid to grow what ever kind of succulent you want.  Put them in a south window if possible, but any window will do.  Or, if you don’t have a window, that can be ok, too!  In the interest of full disclosure, I do not think that most Aeoniums can be grown indoors, except in large artificial grow light conditions.  They are gorgeous, but need an incredible amount of sun light.

4. You cannot grow succulents in pots without drainage holes!  This one of the things I argue most with people.  I have actually read on the internet that growing succulents without drainage holes is a “myth.”  For gosh sakes people, it not only can be done, it can be done and result in beautiful long-lived plants!  I have more than 300 plants for proof!  If you want to use planters with drainage holes, more power to you!  If you want to use drainage systems, more power also to you!  Do what works for you!  I don’t use drainage holes, I use drainage systems.  If you would like the low down on how, check out my First Pots blog.  Just do what works for you, and what you are comfortable with!  Then water appropriately.  This isn’t a competition, it is a journey.  A journey into a beautiful world filled with succulents.

5. One set of “foolproof” ways to raise succulents is all you need!  If this were true, what a simple and boring hobby this succulent thing would be!  Once you learn how to keep a succulent alive, and not just alive, but thriving, you can use what you have learned on you next succulent.  Each type of succulent has a learning curve all its own.  Sometimes, you can learn group care, like most Aloes need this, or most Haworthia need that.  There are some general rules of thumb that you need to know to get started in succulents.  But, those general things will not apply to every kind of succulent.  I have succulents I water often, and I have a few succulents that I water once every 6 months or so.  I have kept hundreds of succulents alive, but I have killed dozens.  There are a few kinds of succulents that I am still trying to figure out.  As I have said before, I do not think Aeoniums can be grown well inside.  But, some of them can do pretty well inside. “Kiwi Aeonium” for instance, can grow inside, but, it will never be the wonderfully beautiful plant it is in the sun.  I like my succulents to thrive, so I avoid losing space to Kiwi.  Of course the other thing is the difference between succulent care and more specific cactus care.  Generally speaking, cacti need less water than succulents.  But not always.  So, the take home message is, whichever kind of pot you use, you can grow succulents.  Just remember, less water is almost always the answer, whereas more water is almost never the answer.

The point of this installment is to help everyone understand that you cannot believe everything you read.  And anything you read about succulents on the internet should be critically considered, and applied to your methods only if it makes sense to you and for your plants.  Be especially wary of absolutes, such as, you cannot do this, or you must do this.  Have a wonderful time learning about these marvelous plants!  And, if you have Aeoniums that are thriving inside, I would love a picture!  Leave any comments or questions you have.  Thanks for reading!


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