Succulents are normally known for their rich green color, but did you know that there are a wide variety of colorful succulents? You can find vibrant red succulents, muted blue succulents and many colors in between. Some also have beautiful accent colors like yellow, white and black. Mixing up your terrarium or planter with unique succulents is an easy way to incorporate pops of color into your home and garden.
We selected some of the best colorful succulents to brighten up your space. Before you jump in, take some time to learn about why succulents change color and how you should take care of your plants.
- Why does my succulent change colors?
- What colors do most succulents come in?
- Purple Succulents
- Blue Succulents
- Red Succulents
- Containers for Indoors or Outdoors
- Eleven Species to Love
- Feed Your Passion
- What are monocarpic succulents?
- How to Cut Back Succulent Plant Growing Long Stems
- What Should You Do with the Cuttings?
- How to Plant Your Succulent Cuttings
- Floral Bouquets with Succulent Foliage and Flowers: Bouquets that grow into beautiful plants
Why does my succulent change colors?
Succulents change color based on a few factors: sun, water and temperature. The right amount of each can drastically change the appearance of your plant. Take a look at these three factors to learn why your succulents are changing color and what you can do to help their colors show.
Succulents are more vibrantly colored if they are exposed to sun. This is because plants react to the sun similar to the way our skin does. Our body produces more melanin when we’re in the sun to give us a tan and prevent our skin from burning. Plants have similar pigments that prevent them from burning.
When under environmental stress, like an extended period of direct sunlight without water, plants produce anthocyanins and carotenoid to protect themselves. Anthocyanins gives plants their red, blue or purple color. Carotenoids give plants a yellow or orange color. Keep your succulents in bright, direct sunlight to help bring out their color.
You can also bring out a plant’s color with water. You may notice that your colored succulent reverts back to a deep green color after giving it proper care. Succulents actually need to have a little “stress” to bring out the colors.
This means that you may need to water your plant less frequently to help its color shine. The key is to make sure you deprive your plant just enough to let its color show, but not to the point that it dies! Let your succulent’s soil dry completely between waterings to safely do this.
Colder temperatures can also bring out colors in succulents. Most plants typically have slow growth in the colder seasons and change color and shape to adapt to the drop in temperature. Darker colors attract heat, which helps plants survive in cooler temperatures. This is why leaves change color in the fall and why some succulents change color in cold temperatures.
If you feel like your succulent is under too much stress, you can check out our guide to reviving a plant to see what you can do to help. For example, you can water your succulent and place it in a humid area if you feel like it is dying of thirst.
Above all else, make sure you double-check your succulents specific care needs before making any changes. It’s important to do this since succulents can show their colors for any (or all) of these reasons.
What colors do most succulents come in?
Succulents come in many shades of purple, blue and red. Read on to learn more about what kinds of succulents come in each color.
1. Purple Beauty (Sempervivum tectorum var. purple beauty)
Sempervivums are also called the hens-and-chicks succulent since they produce offspring called “chicks.” The purple hens-and-chicks features a star-shaped rosette with purple shading. These colorful succulents are normally placed outdoors in large planters. They’re more cold-tolerant than most other succulents and appear more purple during cooler months.
- Height: .25 to .5 feet
- Spread: .5 to 1 feet
- Flowers: Pink
2. Purple Heart (Tradescantia pallida)
The T. Pallidat is also known as the purpurea and the purple heart wandering Jew. Purple hearts are commonly used to as groundcover or edging plants. Their lush foliage is also ideal for hanging baskets. However, these plants have brittle stems so it’s best to keep them in an area where you won’t brush into them.
- Height: .5 to 2 feet
- Spread: 1 to 1.5 feet
- Flowers: Pale pink
3. Perle von Nürnberg (Echeveria gibbiflora x Echeveria elegans)
The Perle von Nurnberg is a popular plant for weddings and bridal bouquets. Its light color and beautiful rosette help it blend right in with floral arrangements. The echeveria purple pearl and echeveria afterglow are two purple succulents you may want to consider for your garden or bouquet.
- Height: .5 to 1 feet
- Spread: .5 to .75 feet
- Flowers: Coral pink
4. Santa Rita Prickly Pear (Opuntia santa rita)
The O. Santa rita blooms beautiful yellow flowers that make an intriguing point of interest for any garden. Santa rita prickly pears are ideal for rock gardens and cactus gardens. Allow its soil to dry between waterings or else its purple color will begin to fade.
- Height: 4 to 8 feet
- Spread: 6 to 10 feet
- Flowers: Yellow
5. Blue Chalksticks (Senecio serpens)
These fleshy plants are perfect for small edging or groundcover. S. serpens are your go-to plant if you want to balance out bold, colorful succulents with a more relaxing color. Blue chalksticks can show a slight purple tint if they are exposed to enough direct sunlight. The increased sunlight in the summer helps them bloom small white flowers.
- Height: .75 to 2 feet
- Spread: 1 to 3 feet
- Flowers: White
6. Blue Glow (Agave attenuata x Agave ocahui)
Agave plants are another type of succulent that come in a variety of blue colors. The agave blue glow has blue-green leaves with yellow and red edges. These elegant succulents are commonly found along walkways and decorative planters. It’s quite a sight to see them “glow” when they are backlit by the sun.
- Height: 1 to 2 feet
- Spread: 2 to 3 feet
- Flowers: Yellow
7. Blue Spruce (Sedum reflexum)
The S. reflexum is another blue-green succulent that loosely resembles spruce trees. The blue spruce sprouts yellow flowers in the early summer. This combination of colors make it an eye-catching choice for walkways and containers. Its fast growth makes it an excellent choice to cover empty spots in your garden.
- Height: .25 to .75 feet
- Spread: 1 to 2 feet
- Flowers: Yellow
8. Campfire Plant (Crassula capitella)
These bold succulents have fleshy, bright red leaves when they are fully matured. They grow dainty white flowers in the summer that make them a delicate addition to any container garden. The C. capitella is also ideal for small planters if you want to add a pop of color to your home with a low-maintenance plant. It is also known as the “Red Pagoda.”
- Height: .25 to .75 feet
- Spread: 2 to 3 feet
- Flowers: White
9. Desert Cabbage (Kalanchoe luciae)
K. luciae is known as the flapjack or paddle plant because of its fleshy, round leaves. Its prominent leaves are further accented with strong red hues along the plant’s exterior. It grows radiant yellow flowers in between the later winter and early spring. This makes it a cheery plant to have in your home or garden when you’re waiting out the cold winter months.
- Height: .5 to 2 feet
- Spread: .75 to 2 feet
- Flowers: Yellow
10. Lipstick (Echeveria agavoides)
The E. agavoides dons bright red edges with lots of direct sunlight. These small garden plants closely resemble agave and makes a great alternative choice if you want a similar look without the large size. The flowers from a lipstick succulent are pink with hints of dark yellow along the petals’ edges
- Height: .25 to .75 feet
- Spread: .75 to 2 feet
- Flowers: Red
11. Sticks on Fire (Euphorbia tirucalli)
The vivid sticks on fire succulent stands out in gardens thanks to its color, density and height. These colorful succulents loosely resemble bright sea coral and add vibrant texture in contrast to plants with fuller leaves and foliage. Its red color is brightest in the winter and takes on a yellow tone in warmer weather.
- Height: 4 to 8 feet
- Spread: 3 to 10 feet
- Flowers: Yellow
Here’s what’s in store:
Containers for Indoors or Outdoors
I adore miniature succulents grouped in pots. They remind me of the exotic sea life of a coral reef, and I never get tired of admiring and fussing over them.
A variety of succulents including a finger-like Senecio, blooming Graptopetalum, rosette of Aeonium, and red-tinged Crassula fills a patio container. Photo by Allison Sidhu.
These little varieties are perfect for me because it’s too cold to leave them outside here in the Northeast. If you like larger types, just use containers on wheels and bring them in and out as you like.
You can also sow directly in the garden in spring, and if you’re in a frost zone, your flora will simply die out when winter comes. However, unlike typical summer annuals, you can dig these up, pot them, and enjoy them indoors through the winter.
Jade, Aeonium, and Sempervivum form a texturally rich and colorful sidewalk border. Photo by Allison Sidhu.
An even easier way to preserve your favorites is to propagate your own plants by taking a small cutting of each to root indoors. By summer, you’ll have small plants to take out to the garden.
Some succulents are perennials. My Sempervivum and Sedum withstand hard frosts and return year after year, spreading to form dense carpets of interest in former “problem areas” plagued by dry, sandy soil.
Stay tuned! We’ve got eleven eye-catching species just begging for pots on your patio and feature placements among your annuals and perennials.
Eleven Species to Love
The following eleven succulents come in a vast array of species, subspecies, and cultivars of varied colors, shapes, and textures. From geometric to curvaceous, subtly tinged to boldly striped, they offer an abundance of visually exciting flora with which to design containers and gardens.
Aeonium, aka houseleek, bears showy rosettes. The stems may become woody, and some species may exceed three feet in height. It grows outdoors year-round in zones 9 to 11.
Photo by Allison Sidhu.
Flowers appear from late winter into spring and are usually yellow or white. They may be tall, multi-blossomed cones or diffuse drifts of tiny blooms.
Aeoniums are monocarpic, meaning they die after flowering. But don’t despair! They produce offsets that live on after the parent’s demise.
Black rose Aeonium, A. arboreum ‘Zwartkop,’ is a well-known cultivar with glossy leaves that are an almost black shade of burgundy. Another, A. arboreum ‘Kiwi,’ has red-tinged chartreuse leaves, and stalks that top out at two feet.
Showy ornamental specimens like these add structure, color, texture, and an alluring and unique flavor to a collection of decorative containers and garden groupings.
10 Gorgeous Succulent Cuttings from Fat Plants San Diego
An interesting variety of 10 cuttings, including Aeonium, is available on Amazon.
Aeonium ‘Kiwi’ Starter Plant
You may also like to purchase an A. arboreum ‘Kiwi’ starter plant in a 2.5-inch pot, also available on Amazon.
Evergreen medicinal aloe, or Aloe vera, grows year-round in zones 10 to 12, where it reaches a height of up to two feet and produces yellow blossoms in summer.
It does best in full sun but may tolerate a bit of shade, and prefers sandy, well-drained soil. As with most succulents, this one benefits from watering when it dries out during growth and bloom periods, although it tolerates drought well.
A. vera’s rosettes of spiky, variegated green and white leaves look attractive in pots that may be moved indoors for the winter. But keep in mind that when grown as a houseplant, aloe seldom blooms.
The sap of the fleshy leaves has been prized by healers for centuries, and is a staple ingredient in many commercial lotions.
There are many subspecies of aloe, including tiger aloe, A. variegata. This variety can tolerate more shade, grows to about a foot in height, and has pink flowers that bloom from winter into spring. It is hardy in zones 9 to 11.
3 Mature Aloe Vera Plants in 4-inch Pots from JM Bamboo
A. vera is available on Amazon in packages of three 8-inch plants in 4-inch pots.
The Crassula genus includes the shiny, dark green-leaved jade plant, C. ovata, which you may recognize from your grandma’s house. It’s long been a popular houseplant.
This genus also includes the matte-finished, red-tinged silver jade plant, C. arborescens.
Crassula is an easygoing option that tolerates almost any soil, provided it’s well-draining. It prefers full sun but tolerates some shade, and is a vigorous grower that thrives outdoors year-round in zones 11 and 12.
Silver jade plant, C. arborescens, in a stylish silver pot. Photo by Allison Sidhu.
Left to its own devices in pots or gardens, this gem may reach a shrubby five or six feet tall with branching trunks and fleshy, paddle-like leaves.
Use its towering presence as a linear focal point to draw the eye upward, creating drama in a container or garden bed.
Crassula grown in pots of manageable size benefit from fresh potting each spring, and a top-up of appropriate cactus/succulent soil. No fertilizer is required, but you may sparingly apply a slow-release type if desired.
Crassula Ovata in 6-Inch Pot from JM Bamboo
Indoor plants seldom bloom, but outdoors, expect clusters of tiny white or pink blossoms from late fall into early winter.
Jade plant, C. ovata, is available on Amazon in 6-inch pots.
Crassula Arborescens Live Plant
Silver jade plant, C. arborescens, is available on Amazon in 3.5-inch pots.
The Echeveria genus is large and varied, and often serves (sometimes erroneously) as a catch-all category for any rosette of uncertain definition. It is part of the stonecrop family, Crassulaceae.
Echeveria rosettes represent this group’s wide variety.
Species exhibit a classic rosette shape, and an astounding array of leaf attributes.
Evergreen leaves come in a palette of hues, and flowers of all colors perch atop delicate stems. Hardy in zones 9 to 12, Echeveria will do nicely potted up in any region.
Provide full sun to part shade and sandy, well-drained soil. Fertilizer is not necessary, but if you must, use a low-nitrogen, slow-release variety. And when you water, sprinkle the soil, not the leaves, to protect the waxy coating and inhibit rotting.
Depending upon the variety, it may be a low-growing groundcover or a saucer-sized rosette on a two-foot stalk.
You may prune leggy plants and root the cuttings. Some people “behead,” these, chopping an entire rosette from a leggy stem. With luck, the stem will continue to grow, and the cut rosette will root successfully.
Often, when you order succulents online, you’ll receive a mix of unidentified cuttings or small specimens. Generally, at least one is an Echeveria.
Echeveria, fresh out of the delivery box. Photo by Allison Sidhu.
But how can you tell?
I take the advice of Patrick Grubbs of Sublime Succulents. Echeveria are often mistaken for Sempervivum because both are rosette-shaped, and produce offsets of parent plants that spread densely.
Some folks try to differentiate them by:
- Texture – Echeveria is never furry, but Sempervivum may be.
- Plumpness – Echeveria leaves are usually thick, Sempervivum may be thin.
- Blossoming Style – Echeveria send up slender stems, and Sempervivum blossoms rise from an elongated rosette.
Perhaps the best way to tell is to see if it can withstand frost.
If you’re in a cold zone like me, take cuttings of your favorites to pot up, and leave the rest outside for the winter. If the latter come up again in the spring, they’re not Echeveria, but Sempervivum!
Otherwise, watch what happens at bloom time.
Echeveria is polycarpic, meaning it flowers and lives on after the blooms fade. Sempervivum, on the other hand, is monocarpic, flowering and then dying, leaving its offsets to carry on.
3 Echeveria in 3-Inch Pots
One type of Echeveria that’s often mistaken for Sempervivum is E. glauca, commonly known as blue hen and chicks. It produces slender-stalked blossoms of yellow with red accents from spring into summer.
An assortment of three Echeveria in 3-inch pots is available on Amazon.
Graptopetalum is a genus of rosettes that grow as perennials in zones 7 to 11. Also members of the Crassulaceae family, ghost plant, G. paraguayense, is one of numerous species.
Ghost plant, G. paraguayense, in full bloom. Photo by Allison Sidhu.
In full sun, leaves are faintly pink, but in part shade they take on a gray-green hue.
Graptopetalum grows well in sandy, well-drained soil with little moisture, but appreciates watering when it dries out completely during growth and bloom times.
When it is grown outdoors in spring, tiny white star-like flowers with red accents form on slender stalks.
This is a rambler, so rocky hillsides and hanging pots are perfect planting locations. However, allowing it free range may make it scraggly. Prune off leggy stalks for a more compact appearance.
Unlike evergreen succulents, Graptopetalum drops leaves. While a little messy, the leaves take root very easily, making for some of the easiest self-propagation ever.
10 G. Paraguayense Cuttings from Fat Plants San Diego
If you’re growing it in a hanging container, simply place a large catch-all pan of cactus/succulent potting medium beneath it to catch what falls.
G. paraguayense cuttings are available on Amazon in packages of ten.
Haworthia is an elongated, fleshy rosette that resembles aloe. Wart-like bands of white on dark evergreen leaves give a mottled look to H. margaritifera, and a striped appearance to zebra plant, H. fasciata.
Zebra plant, H. fasciata, shares a pot with sedum. Photo by Allison Sidhu.
There are numerous species in this family, some with leaves so plump and shiny they’re fit to burst. It thrives in full sun and sandy, well-drained soil. Water and apply a diluted or slow-release fertilizer during growth and bloom periods.
Most Haworthia rosettes remain shorter than six inches in height, but flower stalks may rise a foot or more above the base leaves.
Haworthia Collection of 5 Plants from JM Bamboo
Grow this succulent outdoors year-round in zones 9 to 11, or in containers that may be moved indoors for winter. Check houseplants in spring, and repot as needed to maintain adequate space for expanding and multiplying rosettes.
A collection of five assorted Haworthia in three-inch pots is available on Amazon.
7. Lithops and Pleospilos Nelii
I think Lithops, often called living stone, is one of the most unusual succulents. The one you are likely to find for sale is L. bella.
Both Lithops and Pleospilos nelii are mesembs, or stone-like succulents, from the Aizoaceae family.
P. nelii, or “split rock,” is generally larger than Lithops. It has a bit of a stem or neck, and is not set quite as deeply in the ground as Lithops. It may also get more than one flower at a time, as opposed to Lithops’ single bloom.
They are often mistaken for each other, and P. nelii is sometimes (confusingly) sold under the label “Lithops P. nelii.”
P. nelii is at home in a container with pebble-topped soil and other varieties. Photo by Allison Sidhu.
In the wild, Lithops grows mostly underground, exposing only the tips of its leaves to absorb what little moisture is available.
Topping out at about an inch and a half in height, it displays the color striations and smooth surfaces of rock, betrayed only by the lush white or yellow daisy-like flowers that emerge from its fissured center.
Grow Lithops in shallow pots, or in the garden where it spreads densely, creating an earthy, textural mosaic of browns, greens, and blues. It craves gravelly, well-drained soil and full sun, and may be enjoyed year-round in zones 10 and 11. P. nelii has the same requirements for planting, and it is available in shades of green or purple.
Lithops Living Stone Live Plants
The water requirements for mesembs are low. During winter dormancy, they requires almost none. However, during the emergence of new leaves and/or flowers, water each time the well-drained cactus/succulent potting medium or gritty soil dries out completely.
Lithops is available on Amazon in 3-inch pots.
Portulaca grandiflora, commonly known as moss rose, is an annual that thrives on neglect.
Moss rose, P. grandiflora, trails over the rim of a hanging pot.
Give it full sun and room to roam, and it will tolerate even the driest of soils. This half-hardy annual can’t tolerate the cold, so start seeds indoors in early spring and sow seedlings outside after the danger of frost has passed.
Ideal accommodations include gritty, well-drained soil, and water only when leaves droop.
In return, expect lots of bright, showy blooms that boast single or double rows of petals in a range of colors from yellow to hot pink. Narrow, fleshy leaves resemble pine needles and grow on trailing stems that are lovely in hanging pots and rock gardens.
This flower is one of my childhood favorites, and is often overlooked by “serious” gardeners. It’s a fun plant for kids because unless they kill it with kindness, à la too much water, it’s almost foolproof.
Double Mix Portulaca Seeds
There are numerous cultivars which bloom profusely from June through September. No fertilizer is required.
Portulaca is intended for the garden or outdoor containers, where it will live for one season. It is not a houseplant.
Mixed double Portulaca seeds are available from True Leaf Market. They grow as annuals in zones 5 to 11 and are perfect for containers.
Another Portulaca with which you may be familiar is P. oleracea, or common purslane. This is an edible wildflower with succulent leaves and tiny yellow flowers that has naturalized in the US from unknown ancient origins.
Like me, you may find it sprawling in bare ground in your landscape. And, while many call it a weed and consider it to be a nuisance, purslane is in fact a useful groundcover that’s rich in nutritious omega-3 fatty acids!
Please note: Apart from the above-mentioned purslane, P. oleracea, the succulent plants discussed here are for ornamental use only as they may contain toxins that are harmful if ingested. And be careful when foraging, since many common edible plants have potentially toxic lookalikes.
Sedum is an expansive flowering succulent variety, another genus belonging to the huge Crassulaceae family.
Often referred to as stonecrop, some are evergreen perennials that will grow to be two feet tall, like S. spectabile ‘Autumn Joy,’ with its eye-catching deep pink flowers that bloom from late summer through fall.
Others, like coppertone sedum, S. nussbaumeranum, are low-growing perennial groundcovers that add tons of textural interest with their quirky shapes and hues, with occasional frothy white flower clusters.
Fiery coppertone sedum, S. nussbaumeranum. Photo by Allison Sidhu.
Sedum thrives in full sun in sandy, well-drained soil. Its fleshy leaves and stems are amazing water reservoirs, so only water when the soil is bone dry. It will tolerate some shade, but its preference is to bask in bright daylight.
S. Nussbaumerianum in 2.5-Inch Pots
Coppertone stonecrop, S. nussbaumeranum is available on Amazon in 2.5-inch pots. Each should reach a height of 8 to 12 inches.
S. Spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’
S. spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ is available from Nature Hills Nursery in #1 containers of approximately 2.3 to 3.7 quarts.
S. Spurium ‘Dragon’s Blood’ Seeds
S. spurium ‘Dragon’s Blood’ seeds are available from True Leaf Market in packages of 1000. Plants top out at 4 to 6 inches with starburst blooms of vivid pink, and are perennial in zones 3 to 9.
Closely related to sedum is Sempervivum. Its perennial, evergreen rosettes are the mainstay of rock gardens in zones 3 to 6, and often all the way to zone 8.
This is one of my favorites here in northeast Pennsylvania, with an array of choices ranging from one to twelve inches in height.
S. tectorum hen with chicks. Photo by Allison Sidhu.
Perhaps the best known is S. tectorum, aka hen and chicks, or houseleek (also a common name of Aeonium). It’s remarkable for the proliferation of tiny replicas of itself that mature and spread densely.
This is a useful and attractive groundcover choice for dry problem areas, like those along suburban sidewalks. It’s also a popular selection for roof gardens and rock walls.
Another is S. arachnoideum, the cobweb version of hen and chicks.
White filaments cover the top of each rosette as though a spider was busy spinning many, many webs. There’s always something funky to find with succulents!
Sempervivum thrives on neglect, and requires almost no watering. Simply provide sandy, well-drained soil and full sun, and it is in its element. If you garden in a northern climate, apply some mulch in early fall for an added layer of warmth.
Sempervivum Seeds, Hardy Mixture
Keep in mind that Sempervivum is monocarpal, and each hen dies after flowering. However, its chicks carry on from there.
Seeds are available from True Leaf Market in packages of 1,000.
The Senecio genus is a large one that includes blue chalk stick, S. serpens, and string of pearls, S. rowleyanus. Both species do well in full sun to partial shade, with sandy, well-drained soil and minimal water.
A leggy blue chalk stick, S. serpens, exhibits some signs of overwatering and low light, and mingles with ghost plant, G. paraguayense. Photo by Allison Sidhu.
In a pot, string of pearls cascades in jewel-laden vines. On the ground, it makes a dense covering, as creeping stems root themselves.
While the flowers are tiny, they are fragrant, long-lasting, and striking, with long stamens protruding from white blossoms. This unusual variety may reach up to two feet in length.
String of pearls is perfect for hanging planters.
Enjoy string of pearls year-round in the garden in zones 9 to 12. If you pot it, refresh the pot each spring, increasing in size as needed, topping up with fresh cactus/succulent potting medium, and a diluted or modest application of low-release fertilizer as desired.
Too much fertilizer may make some succulents leggy when they should be compact, so over-fertilizing should be avoided.
If a plant becomes root bound, or very old, it may be best to take cuttings and start fresh.
Senecio Rowleyanus in 4-Inch Pots
String of pearls, S. rowleyanus, is available on Amazon in 4-inch pots.
Blue chalk stick produces dusky blue finger-like leaves and stretches to a foot in length if given the opportunity. To keep it more compact, prune off leggy stems and root them if you like.
Grow it year-round in the garden in zones 10 and 11, and enjoy tuft-like, yellowish fragrant blossoms in spring.
2 Senecio Mandraliscae in 2.5-Inch Pots
Blue chalk stick is a bit temperamental when it comes to propagation. We haven’t had much luck in my family. You may try dipping a fresh, wet leaf or leaf/stem cutting into a powdered rooting hormone before placing it into sandy, well-drained cactus/succulent potting medium, or gritty soil.
Blue chalk stick, S. serpens ‘Mandraliscae,’ is available on Amazon. You will receive two 2.5-inch pots.
Feed Your Passion
With so many succulents to choose from, you’re sure to find a new favorite (or two, or ten…) on our list. And you’re ready to plant, now that you know a little more about the specifics on each.
For more of our top tips to become a succulent gardening pro, be sure to check out our expert guide!
6 Succulents in 4-Inch Pots from Fat Plants San Diego
If you decide that you ordered a few too many, or you found a sale at the local garden center and went a little crazy (we can’t blame you), why not give some away as party favors at your next get-together? (Here’s a mixed variety of six that’s available on Amazon that would be perfect for this…).
Don’t hesitate to jump into the amazing world of growing succulent plants. Will you add a few to your houseplant collection on the kitchen windowsill, or will you go all in with a rock garden full of perennial Sempervivum and Sedum? We can’t wait to hear all about your new garden passion in the comments section below!
What are monocarpic succulents?
If your succulent recently died after putting off a beautiful bloom, you may have a monocarpic succulent! Find out what that means in this post!
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I know the term monocarpic may sound scary, but it’s really not! What does it mean exactly? A monocarpic succulent only flowers once and then dies. While I knew that most Agaves die after they bloom, but wasn’t aware that other succulents do as well. I discovered first hand though that this was the case.
I’ve begun planting quite a few Sempervivums in my garden lately. A few weeks ago I noticed several were beginning to bloom. I was excited to see what their flowers looked like. I’m not a huge fan of succulent blooms, but it is interesting to see how they vary. As it turns out, Semps have a fairly unique look to their flowers.
Not long after the blooms had fully opened I noticed that the “hen” or mother plant was starting to turn black. These particular plants are in the shade so I knew it wasn’t sunburn. I didn’t think it was over watering as they don’t get watered more than once a week and the soil is usually bone dry by the time I water again. So, I did some research.
When I found out Sempervivums were monocarpic it all started to make sense. Only the blooming plants were dying but the rest were in really great shape!
Here’s what I learned… Most monocarpic succulents also “pup” or put off a lot of new plants before they bloom. This is definitely true with Sempervivums. The plants I purchased were packed full with tons of chicks. The idea is that by the time they are ready to bloom, they’ve already produced more than enough plants to replace themselves so they can die happy. They put all of their effort into their beautiful (and sometimes not so beautiful) flower as their last hurrah.
While this may not be the main cause for your succulents dying, it’s definitely a possibility! I actually had one reader email me photos of their Sempervivum shortly after I found out that is what happened to mine, so I know some of you are experiencing this or will soon. If you have experience this with any of your succulents please let me know in the comments! So far I know that Sempervivums, some Agaves, and some Aeoniums are monocarpic but I’m not sure beyond that. Also, if you ever see an Agave flower, you won’t be surprised that they die afterward. The plume they get is huge! Often several feet tall. They remind me of Dr. Seuss Books.
Oh, succulents we do love you but why do your stems grow long? My garden in Santa Barbara was chock-full of them but it didn’t bother me when this happened because I had so many. They intertwined and co-mingled. Every once in a while I’d cut some of them back to propagate and/or give away. Succulent plants growing long stems happens from time to time. This post will explain to you why it happens and what you can do about it!
I now live in Tucson which isn’t the optimal climate for growing fleshy succulents. Mine now grow in pots and look a bit sad when that intense summer heat rolls in. They’re all growing in pots in the shade – they can’t handle the sun here. One of my succulent plantings was due for a total cut back because the stems had gotten long, leggy and stretched out.
Are Your Succulent Plants Growing Long Stems?
The planting about 7 months ago.
In my experience, there are 3 reasons why succulent plants grow long, stretched out, or leggy stems.
1.) It’s the nature of the beast.
Some succulents naturally grow leggy over time & need to be cut back. Others stay in a more compact rosette form & rarely need cutting back.
2.) They’re reaching for the light source.
This, combined with #1 & the pack rats enjoying them as snacks, were the reasons I needed to completely cut my succulents back. The pot that you see here is right next to my front door & sits in a corner. I rotate it every 2-3 months but once the planting gets too leggy & those stems get too long, it won’t fit in the space. The light isn’t too low, it’s just not hitting the planting evenly all the way around.
3.) The light they’re growing in is too low.
This may be true for yours especially if growing indoors.
A little snippet of my front garden in Santa Barbara. I needed to cut the graptoveria, narrow leaf chalk sticks & lavender scallops back every year or 2 as they grew into the walkway. And yes, the large shrub in the background is a rosemary in bloom.
My Paddle Plant patch growing under my Giant bird Of Paradise in Santa Barbara needed cutting back after 2 or 3 years of growing. Kalanchoes tend to grow long stems and as do many other fleshy succulents. Once a succulent stem gets bare the leaves won’t grow back on it. You need to cut it back and propagate by stem cuttings or have it rejuvenate from the base (the piece of stem & roots still in the soil). Here’s what you do, whether your succulents are growing in the ground or in a pot, with those tall, stretched out succulents.
Getting ready for the big cut back!
When Should You Cut Back Your Succulents?
Spring & summer are the best. If you live in a temperate climate like me, early fall is fine too. You want to give your succulents are a couple of months to settle in & root before the cooler weather sets in.
How to Cut Back Succulent Plant Growing Long Stems
I used my trusty Felco hand pruners which I’ve had for ages. Whatever you use, make sure your pruning tool is clean & sharp. You don’t want the jagged cuts &/or infection to set in.
I usually take cuttings by making the cut straight across but have done them at an angle too. With succulents, it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference.
The cuttings I got from wacking back this planting.
What Should You Do with the Cuttings?
There were quite a few cuttings as you can see! I put them in a long, low box which I then moved to my very bright (but with no direct sun) utility room. The cuttings were prepped a few days later – I stripped off some of the lower leaves & cut off any curved stems. You want the stems to be as straight as possible because they’re easier to plant that way.
The cuttings healed over for about 6 days. Think of this as a wound healing over; otherwise the cuttings could rot. I’ve let some succulents heal over for 9 months just fine whereas something with fine stems like String Of Pearls only needs a couple of days. It’s hot here in Tucson so I don’t heal any succulents over for too long.
After planting, they’ll be rooted in 1-2 months time.
The cuttings after sorting through & prepping them.
How to Plant Your Succulent Cuttings
1.) Remove the top layer of soil (if planting them back in the same pot).
This planting was done 2 years ago so the soil mix hadn’t gone too old nor was it compacted. I removed the top 10″ to make room for a fresh mix. Succulents don’t root too deep so there wasn’t a need to remove it all.
2.) Use a mix formulated for succulents & cacti.
Fill the pot with succulent & cactus mix. I use 1 which is produced locally which I love but this one is an option. Succulents need a loose mix so the water can thoroughly drain out & they don’t rot.
3.) Mix in coir.
A few handfuls of coco coir. I always have this on hand but it’s not necessary. This environmentally friendly alternative to peat moss is pH neutral, increases nutrient holding capacity & improves aeration. If you feel your mix isn’t light enough, you can up the ante on the drainage factor which lessens the chance of rot by adding some pumice or perlite.
4.) Use compost.
A few handfuls of compost – I use Tank’s local compost. Give Dr. Earth’s a try if you can’t find anywhere you live. Compost enriches the soil naturally so the roots are healthy & the plants grow stronger. I mixed a bit of the good, fresh blend in with the old.
5.) Get ready to plant.
With the mix all prepped it was time to plant. I had a couple of small plants from another pot & started with 1 of those. I then placed the cuttings in groupings how I found pleasing to my eye. You may have to play around with them to get them to go the way you want.
My new planting. As you can see, I left a bit of space for the cuttings to all grow in. You can pack them in tighter if you’d like. Just know they do grow, especially when the weather’s warm.
How you arrange your cuttings is up to you. Just remember that some grow bigger & taller & will take up more real estate than others. I planted the Paddle Plants cuttings on the edge because the leaves are so big & they produce babies like crazy.
Here’s a tutorial video showing you how take care of succulent plants growing long stems:
How to Maintain the New Planting
I let it settle in for 3 days before watering. This is something I learned early on & it’s always worked well for me.
I’ll water this planting once a week until the weather cools. You don’t want to keep your cuttings as dry as you would an established plant. Remember, the roots are still forming. Conversely, don’t water it too often or the cuttings will rot out. Adjust according to your conditions.
Keep your cuttings out of any direct hot sun to avoid burn. Bright natural light (a moderate to high light exposure) is the sweet spot.
In spring I’ll apply a 1/2″ topping of worm compost. This is my favorite amendment which I use sparingly because it’s rich. I’m currently using Worm Gold Plus. Here’s why I like it so much. Over that, I’ll put 1″ or so of compost. Succulents growing outdoors love this combo. Read about my worm compost/compost feeding right here.
Here’s a newly planted succulent container which is tight & compact. Not for too long!
This also works with succulents which are getting too tall. If you have succulent plants growing long stems and getting too leggy simply give them a good haircut. They can take it and will come back stronger than ever. Gotta love those succulents!
Floral Bouquets with Succulent Foliage and Flowers: Bouquets that grow into beautiful plants
While incorporating succulents into bouquets might be trendy now, this tradition has a long history. I was recently invited to participate in a jointly sponsored program of the Garden Conservancy and the Ruth Bancroft Garden. Debra Prinzing, co-author of the book The 50 Mile Bouquet: Seasonal, Local, Sustainable Flowers, invited me to participate alongside her to add what I could about using succulents in bouquets.
Debra’s invitation to join her in her talk was inspirational for me in many ways. The 50 Mile Bouquet focuses on the concept of buying local, emphasizes sustainability, and includes interviews and information from regional experts around the country. The creativity and vision of the individuals profiled in Debra’s book are inspiring. Reading the book and co-presenting with Debra also took me back to 1981, 31 years ago, when my oldest son and his preschool buddy Sara were photographed for an article in Sunset Magazine about succulents in bouquets.
In this picture from the 1981 article, my son Zach, who is now 37, is on the right looking at a bouquet featuring E. gibbiflora hybrid flowers. In the center is Sara Shoemaker Lind, who is now a professional photographer. She has photographed many of my plants for use in my new succulent encyclopedia. (Her sister Aimee is on the left, looking up.)
Around the same time that the article appeared in Sunset, I was working with the University of California Davis, sending cuttings of succulents for their vase life tests to test the longevity of fresh plant material for use in cut flower arrangements.
Above, the 1981 article in Sunset Magazine featuring Robin Stockwell talking about different uses for Echeveria gibbiflora hybrids, including using Echeveria and Aeonium rosettes and flowers in bouquets.
Using Locally Sourced Materials in Bouquets
Debra’s talk at Heather Farms included photos of sustainable materials used in bouquets and an informative discussion of the current state of the floral industry. It was, essentially, an interactive, in-person demonstration of the book, which highlights the many advantages of shopping for locally grown floral materials, giving many examples of uniquely local materials that can be combined into beautiful bouquets. Debra’s co-author, David Perry, shot the exquisite photographs that demonstrate the beauty of these unique and sustainably grown bouquets.
At this point, I am sounding like a book review, which was not my intent, but I was just so inspired and excited by Debra and David’s book and honored and grateful to present with Debra. It was an incredibly synergistic experience.
Integrating Succulents into Bouquets
As Debra wrapped up her talk, I came forward to speak about growing succulents and using them in bouquets. Debra began creating a couple of bouquets using more traditional flowers and materials. While Debra was preparing materials in two separate vases, I began my demonstration on how to remove cuttings from Aeoniums and Senecios. I handed the cuttings to Debra and she began introducing the succulent cuttings into the bouquets she was assembling.
The audience gasped when I lopped off a 10″ Echeveria gibbiflora hybrid with a thick 1″ stem to use in the bouquet!
Don’t worry! The Echeveria gibbiflora hybrid pictured above will grow roots and can be re-planted. The stem will also produce offsets that can be planted.
Try This at Home
Because most of you couldn’t be at my talk, I wanted to share the highlights with you here. You can try this with plants cut from your own garden! Here are some quick tips for using succulents in bouquets.
- You can use flower and/or foliage cuttings from succulents in bouquets. Foliage of succulents such as Echeveria and Aeonium are rosette forms that look much like a flower. You can also use the actual flowers from Aeonium and hybrid Echeveria. The hybrid Echeverias produce flowers on stems ranging from 12″ to 36″ tall from June through September.
Succulents pictured in the above bouquet are hybrid Echeveria flowers (trailing pink flowers) and Aeonium rosettes.
- When cutting rosettes from various succulent varieties, use a clean cutting tool that cuts and does not crush the stem.
- Cuttings can be placed in water with other flowers and foliage and will generally hold up just fine. Succulent cuttings usually last much longer than other materials. The succulent flowers will eventually dry up and can be composted.
Aeonium nobile lends flair in the bouquet pictured above.
The Beauty of Long-Lasting Succulent Cuttings
Long after most of the other materials in your bouquets have dried up and added to the compost pile most of the succulent cuttings in your bouquet will have produced roots and can be planted in a container or in the garden.
You won’t just get new plants from the rooted cuttings, though. The plants from which you took the cuttings will also usually produce new offsets or branches.
Just think–if you include succulents in your wedding bouquet, you can, potentially, keep part of your bouquet alive forever! The same cannot be said of regular cut flowers.
Succulent Flowers and Foliage for Bouquets
Look around your garden to find succulent foliage and flowers for your hand-tied bouquets or vased flower arrangements. Once you start looking at your plants with an eye toward design, you’ll find delightful choices everywhere.
Pictured above: Aeonium nobile flowers (left) and Aloe ferox flowers (right)
Pictured above: Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ foliage (left) and Aeonium ‘Sunburst’ foliage (right)
Succulent Floral Design to be Featured at the Succulent Extravaganza
If this article has whet your appetite for more, make plants to attend Succulent Extravaganza. Baylor Chapman of Lila B design will be speaking at the Succulent Extravaganza on Friday, September 28 (time to be determined). She will be sharing her vision and techniques of floral design working with succulentsand traditional flowers and foliage. I plan to turn Baylor loose to choose the succulents to use in some of the work she will be demonstrating. Visit the Lila B Design website here.
Stay tuned for the full lineup of Succulent Extravaganza speakers. Save the dates on your calendar: Friday, September 27 and Saturday, September 28. We’ll see you there!