Succulents have adapted to suit dry, arid and sunny conditions by developing fleshy leaves, stems or other structures, which store water. There are hundreds of succulents to choose from, from common varieties such as Aloe vera to lesser know species such as Haworthia truncata or Lithops. Most succulents work well as houseplants and need very little care.
How to grow succulents
Succulents do best in bright light in very well-drained soil, as the roots are prone to rotting if they stay wet for too long. Succulents should never be left to stand in trays or pots of water, and shouldn’t be watered if the soil is already damp – let it dry out between waterings instead.
If planting succulents in containers, choose unglazed terracotta pots with plenty of drainage holes in the bottom. Terracotta pots are porus, helping the compost to dry out quickly. Most succulents have fibrous roots so can be planted in fairly shallow pots. Don’t over-pot plants – they do well in quite small containers.
More on growing succulents:
We’ve picked our favourite succulents to grow, below.
If you’re looking for something really unusual, go for a succulent like Haworthia truncata. Grown as a house plant in the UK, its succulent leaves look like large green teeth, with translucent ends that let sunlight in, aiding photosynthesis.
Pilea peperomioides has become something of a phenomenon in the house plant world. Initially it was quite tricky to come by, passing between gardeners via cuttings, but it’s now becoming more widely available. Mature plants are endlessly producing offsets that you can grow on and give away as gifts.
Commonly known as the Mexican snowball, Echeveria elegans is one of the many fantastic echeverias you can grow. It works well both as a house plant and in summer bedding displays outside, but needs taking indoors for winter. It has pale, green-blue foliage and will gradually spread to produce a colony of rosettes.
There’s such a diversity of sempervivums to grow that its tricky to pick just one. They’re easy to grow and it’s fun to mix and match them in pots and containers. Sempervivums do well outside and are perfect for creating low-maintenance planting schemes and green roofs.
There are lots of garden-worthy agaves to grow, but Agave americana is one of the largest and most impressive. Grow Agave americana indoors or out, in a large pot or in the ground in very well-drained soil in a sunny spot. Protect it from excess winter wet.
Sedum dasyphyllum is ideal if you’re looking for a plant to grow as ground cover in a hot sunny, spot. The species is reputedly hardy down to -12°C, so you can shouldn’t need to protect it in winter. You could you also try growing this fast-growing species on green roofs or in the crevices of walls.
Crassula ‘Gollum’ is a popular cultivar of the jade tree, Crassula ovata, with tubular leaves, though they aren’t actually hollow. It’s easy to grow as a house plant, and is less demanding of bright light than other succulents, so can be grown in a bit more shade. Not to be confused with Crassula ‘Hobbit’ – another cultivar of Crassula ovata that has larger leaves with a less tubular appearance.
There are lots of aloes you can grow indoors as house plants, including Aloe vera and Aloe rauhii, but Aloe aristata is the one of the hardier species, so is better suited to growing outdoors. It will quickly produce offsets, and in autumn produces tall flowering stems with coral orange blooms.
Graptopetalum pentandrum subsp. superbum
Unlike many other succulents, Graptopetalum pentandrum subsp. superbum can be grown for its stunning panicles of flowers as much as its frosted purple foliage. Hardy to -3°C, you can grow it outside all year round in milder regions. Some graptopetalums have been crossed with echeverias to produce beautiful hybrids, known as graptoverias.
Sedum morganianum ‘Burrito’ can often be spotted growing in pots in Mediterranean countries, where its succulent leaves trail over the edges. In cooler climes it makes a stunning house plant, especially suited to growing in hanging pots. Handle it with care as the leaves are easily knocked off.
This lovely succulent is perfect for growing as a house plant. It has reduced, fleshy leaves that give the stems a columnar appearance, almost like lots of stones stacked on top of each other. As the stems get longer, they gracefully tumble over the edges of the pot it’s growing in – an effect that looks especially good in a hanging container. ‘Hottentot’ also produces clusters of ivory coloured flowers.
String of pearls
Each ‘bead’ of the string of pearls (or string of beads) plant (Senecio rowleyanus) is actually a succulent, modified leaf. All this low-maintenance house plant requires is a bright, ideally in a hanging container where the dangling stems can be fully appreciated.
Living stones, Lithops, are unusual succulents, native to the deserts of South Africa. They have evolved to deal with very harsh sunlight, so are best grown in a sunny spot, such as on an east-facing or south-facing windowsill. Slow-growing, lithops gradually grow into small clusters.
H x S: 5cm x 5cm
Silver bracts, Pachyphytum bracteosum, is a fleshy succulent, with large, thick chalky leaves that resemble stones. Unlike most succulents, it will tolerate partial to full shade, so is well-suited to growing as a house plant.
H x S: 30cm x 20cm
Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ is a branching shrub with magnificent, almost black-purple, succulent, polished leaf rosettes with a lime-green centre, at the ends of its branches. It’s perfect for growing in containers on a sunny patio, or as summer bedding in a hot, dry border.
H x S: 60cm x 60cm
Cotyledon orbiculata is a South African native evergreen succulent, bearing fleshy, round silvery leaves with fine red margins. In late summer orange bell-shaped flowers hang from tall stems. It’s ideal for growing in containers both on its own and with other succulents, and in dry or gravel gardens. While hardy to -5ºC, it’s best brought indoors for winter.
H x S: 1.3m x 60cm
Echeveria ‘Blue Frills’
Echeveria are attractive succulents, forming evergreen rosettes of fleshy leaves. Echeverias flower in summer, but they are mostly grown for their foliage. Echeveria ‘Blue Frills’ is a particularly lovely cultivar, bearing compact rosettes of symmetrical, frilled, blue-green leaves.
H x S: 15cm x 20cm
Gasteria batesiana is an unusual, compact succulent, bearing rough, pointed leaves. It gradually forms a dense clump of offsets, making it easy to propagate.
H x S: 10cm x 30cm
Crassula ‘Buddha’s Temple’
Crassula ’Buddha’s Temple’ is an unusual, eye-catching plant with upward facing leaves that resemble a Chinese temple. They have a powdery coating which is rubbed off by water or touch – water plants from below to avoid this. A mature plant may bear pink flowers in summer.
H x S: 15cm x 15cm
Unusually for a succulent, Flaming Katy, Kalanchoe blossfeldiana, is grown for its flowers. It bears glossy, dark green leaves and masses of flowers for weeks on end, in a variety of colours.
H x S: 40cm x 30cm