Aeoniums are fleshy, succulent plants native to Madeira, the Canary Islands and North Africa. Members of the Crassulaceae family, they have rosettes of glossy, waxy leaves and range in height from a few centimetres to up to a metre. In late winter or spring they may produce clusters of tiny flowers but they are mostly grown for their distinctive, unusual shapes and foliage that comes in shades of green or purple-black or variegated in shades of white, yellow and red.
Aeoniums make excellent, low maintenance house plants that need very little care. They thrive on neglect – allowing the soil to dry out in between watering will make the colours more vibrant and the plant stronger. They look great grown with other succulents or cacti that thrive in similar growing conditions. They can also be grown outdoors in summer, in a pot with summer bedding plants or in a sunny, well-drained border.
The main growing season for aeoniums is spring and autumn, when the temperature and light levels are perfect for their growth. Aeoniums often go dormant in hot periods of the summer – you may notice the rosettes becoming tighter, and the outer leaves drying and dropping off. This perfectly normal. They need less water at this time as they can live off the water and nutrients stored in the leaves and stems.
Aeoniums are monocarpic, which means they die after flowering. However, on branching varieties, only the rosette that produced the flower will die, leaving the rest of the plant to live on. It is a good idea to take cuttings of your aeoniums so that you always have new plants.
How to grow aeoniums
Grow aeoniums in pots in a sunny position outside, or in a bright spot indoors. Aeoniums store water in their leaves and stems and need very little watering. In spring and autumn, water the plant thoroughly, then allow the compost to dry out before watering again – this mimics downpours in their natural habitats. Water more sparingly in summer and winter. Bring plants indoors in autumn to protect them from frost.
More on growing cacti and succulents:
Growing aeoniums: jump links
- Where to grow aeoniums
- How to care for aeoniums
- How to propagate aeoniums
- Aeonium problem-solving
- Types of aeonium to grow
Where to grow aeoniums
Whether you’re growing them indoors or out, aeoniums thrive in bright, dry conditions. They store water in their thick, fleshy leaves and need very little water, which means they do best in very well drained soil or in a gravel garden. The foliage is tough enough to withstand windy conditions, making them good for coastal gardens. If you don’t have the right conditions in your garden, grow them in pots, either on their own or with drought-tolerant bedding plants, such as pelargoniums. If growing aeoniums indoors, give them a bright spot – they can take some direct sunshine.
How to plant an aeonium
Good drainage is key when planting an aeonium – they suffer in cold, wet compost, which will rot the stem and roots.
A terracotta pot is ideal as it’s porous and allows the soil to dry out between waterings. Ensure the pot has a drainage hole – it’s important that any excess water can drain away. Add a 2-3cm layer of gravel or grit or crocks at the bottom of the pot for drainage, too. Choose a pot that’s the same size as the rootball. A free-draining compost is important, so use a 60:40 mix of peat-free, multi-purpose compost (or a John Innes number 2) and perlite, horticultural grit or sand. You could top the compost with a 1cm layer of horticultural grit, which will help with drainage and avoid the stem rotting.
When planting a flat-topped aeonium such as Aeonium tabuliforme, tilt the pot at an angle so rainwater can drain off it easily outdoors.
If planting an aeonium in the ground, ensure your soil is free draining – sandy soil or a gravel garden is ideal.
Caring for aeoniums
In the wild, aeoniums live in hot, dry areas that get occasional heavy downpours. If you’re growing aeoniums indoors, try to replicate this by allowing the soil to dry out completely, then watering thoroughly, letting any excess water drain away. This is a better method than watering little and often. Aeoniums are actively growing in autumn and spring, so reduce watering in summer and winter.
If you’re keeping your aeoniums outside, whether in the garden or in a pot, they should get all the water they need from rainfall.
You can feed your aeonium with a half strength plant food once a month from winter to late spring.
Aeoniums cannot cope with frost but they can cope with low winter temperatures as long as their compost is not wet – try not to let them go lower than 5°C.
How to propagate aeoniums
You can propagate aeoniums easily by taking cuttings, which should root in a few weeks. Take cuttings in spring. Select young, slender shoots as propagation material. These will root more easily and have more vigour than older, thicker shoots.
Take cuttings of healthy shoots with stems around 10cm long. Hold the stem in your hand to steady it and cut it off flush with the main stem so you don’t leave a snag. Use sharp secateurs to make a clean cut.
Place the cuttings on their side and leave them somewhere dry and warm for a few days until the wound has calloused (see cutting on left of picture). This will reduce the chance of the cutting developing rot later on.
Insert cuttings into deep 5cm or 8cm pots of soil-based potting compost mixed with equal parts grit. Firm the compost at the base of the cutting and make sure that at least half of the stem is above compost level.
Sprinkle a 1cm layer of crushed grit or perlite over the compost surface after gently watering each cutting. Give the pot a shake to leave a level surface. This layer helps keep the stem dry by improving drainage.
Leave your cuttings uncovered and keep them at a temperature of 18-20°C indoors, in a well-lit place such as on a sunny windowsill. Water your cuttings sparingly until they have rooted, taking care not to water directly onto the leaves. Aim to keep the compost barely moist at all times.
Growing aeoniums: problem solving
- Over watering is the most common cause of aeonium problems. Aeoniums come from hot, dry regions and look best when this is replicated in your house or garden.
- Washed out, pale foliage could be a result of over watering. Cut back on watering, and let the compost dry out completely before watering again. You may also find that if you’re growing your aeonium as a house plant, putting it outdoors in summer will restore its vibrant colour.
- A rosette that is closed up, with dry leaves around the edge that are dropping off, is normal in summer. Aeoniums go dormant in hot periods.
- A leggy, stretched plant is a sign that it is not getting enough light. Move it to a brighter spot.
- Hairy stems are actually aerial roots. They sometimes appear naturally and are nothing to worry about. However they can be a sign that the conditions are not right for your plant. It could be that the roots below the soil are not getting enough water. Watering thoroughly, then leaving the compost to dry out should avoid this – watering little and often is not the answer, as the water needs to penetrate deep into the compost. Conversely, they could be a sign that the compost isn’t free draining enough – this might be the cause if no perlite, sand or grit was added to the compost when planting. Aerial roots can also be a sign that your plant is not getting enough light, or that it is rootbound and needs repotting.
- A mushy brown stem is rot, caused by too much water, especially in the colder months.
- If your plant is dying back after flowering, this is normal – aeoniums are monocarpic, which means they die once they have flowered. However on branching varieties, only the rosette that produced the flower will die back. Cut off the flower head and the rosette and the rest of the plant will carry on growing.
- You may spot mealybugs on the foliage – white, fluffy blobs around 5mm across. Wipe them off with a cotton pad soaked in organic insecticide.
- Vine weevil can be a problem for plants grown in pots outdoors. These eat the roots unseen and the first sign you may see is a plant that is inexplicably dying. Look out for the adults on the foliage and white grubs in the compost. Remove promptly if you see any. Treat with an organic nematode drench in late August or September.
Advice on buying aeoniums
- Aeoniums can vary hugely in size, with some, such as Aeonium arboreum, growing up to 1m x 1m. So check that you have enough room for your chosen variety. It will need plenty of bright light in your home, or a sunny spot outdoors
- Check that your plant has healthy, fleshy leaves and is not stretching awkwardly in one direction
- You can buy aeoniums at garden centres, but for the best selection, visit a specialist succulent or house plant retailer, or buy online
Where to buy aeoniums online
Varieties of aeonium to grow
Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ (or ‘Schwartzkopf’) is a branching shrub with black-purple leaf rosettes with a lime-green centre. It’s perfect for growing as a house plant on a bright windowsill or in a conservatory, outdoors in a container on a sunny patio, or as summer bedding in a hot, dry border. Height x Spread: 1m x 1m
Aeonium tabuliforme is known as the flat-topped aeonium as it forms a wide, flat plate that is only a few centimetres high. It is best to angle it slightly, so that water can run off from the crown. In the wild, it can be found growing on the side of cliffs, so it can even be planted vertically in walls and rockeries. H x S: 10cm x 50cm
Aeonium ‘Sunburst’ has pretty, large rosettes pale yellow, white and green stripes, and pink margins. H x S: 70cm x 50cm
Aeonium ‘Blushing Beauty’ is an attractive, branching succulent with attractive, red-flushed leaves. H x S: 1m x 70cm