Succulents have become very popular over the last few years, and for good reason. There are hundreds of unique varieties, and just about anyone can grow them, including beginners. Their special water-storing tissues allow them to survive in environments that are too dry for most other plants, so they will hang in even if you forget to water them for a while. Succulents also thrive in dry air and warm temperatures that most homes already have, so you don’t have to change anything to grow one in your living room.
If you’re a new parent plant, here are some of the best indoor succulents you can buy when you start collecting. They adapt well to indoor life and are easy to find in garden centers and nurseries.
There are dozens of different kinds of Kalanchoe plants, but the Panda plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa) is one of the most common. A native of Madagascar, the panda plants have fuzzy, gray-green leaves covered with soft, silvery hairs and dotted with brown or rust-colored spots. They can reach about two feet tall as a houseplant but grow very slowly. Give it bright light through the window, and let the soil dry through the waterings. When you water the plant, make sure you don’t get any of it on the leaves or it can rot.
Ponytail palms (Beaucarnea recurvata) aren’t really palm trees, but they look a bit like them thanks to their long, woody trunk and a tuft of leathery leaves at the top. They grow slowly but can reach a tree-like proportion of 12-20 feet, though indoors they are about four feet tall. Although the ponytail palm does not look much like a succulent, the swollen, bulbous base of the trunk stores water and gives the plant its other common name: Elephant foot. Whatever you call it, it’s very adaptable to life as a houseplant but is best suited to bright light, warmer temperatures, and low humidity. It’s the perfect houseplant for a neglected gardener because it doesn’t need much water, especially in the winter when it’s not growing actively.
Two succulent plants are widely known as hens-and-chicks. They’re closely related, but they look a bit different. They both produce “chicks”—small, exactly similar plants that are slightly offset by the mother (the hen).
Echeveria Elegans (‘Mexican Snowball’ variety, $3.99, Mountain Crest Gardens) forms flat, floral rosettes with rounded edges and grows to arch, bell-shaped flowers every year. Sempervivum tectorum (Green Wheel Sempervivum Hens-and-Chicks Quarter Pot, $6.99, Walmart) also forms rosettes, but each of the leaves tends to be flatter and more pointed. It has tiny, star-shaped flowers. Each of these succulents come in all kinds of varieties that offer interesting colors and shapes, so they’re extremely satisfying to collect.
Echeveria and Sempervivum have similar needs when grown as houseplants. Both should be allowed to dry slightly between waterings because constant humidity often causes their stems and roots to rot. They’ll do their best in the bright light near the window.
You can quickly scatter these succulents by separating the chicks and transferring them to their own tub, but be sure to use a sandy potting mixture that drains well.
Burro’s tail or donkey’s tail (Sedum morganianum) is a succulent that appears better in a hanging basket or tub lying on a ledge or shelf so that it can drape. Every stem can be up to three feet long and is lined with gray-green leaves of the size and shape of a plump grain of rice. While the tail of Burro rarely blooms, you can see pink or red flowers at the end of the stems in summer. Native to Mexico, she likes bright light for best results. You should let the soil dry out between waterings, particularly in the winter when it does not grow as actively as it does.
Unlike other cacti, the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) has no sharp spines.
Its smooth, fleshy, segmented stems can reach around one foot in length, sometimes draping in a way that gained it the nickname of crab claw cactus.
It also prefers a little more moisture than its spiky relatives, because water is dry whenever the top inch of the soil in its container is dry.
But if you fail to drink water for a bit, it’ll bounce back quickly from a little drying out. Hold it in the warm light of the window, and this plant is sure to reward you with its blooming in winter.
And if it blooms a little early than your plan and the flowers have yellow pollen, you might probably have a Thanksgiving cactus (they’re closely related to Christmas cacti), but the care directions are identical for all of them.
The jade plant (Crassula ovata) is an old-fashioned favorite for a reason: it’s a chinch to rise! This long-lived native of South Africa grows stocky, branched stems with dense, glossy green leaves, often tinged with red around the edges when grown in full light. With time, they can get a few feet tall, but as they grow up as a houseplant, they usually remain under a foot tall. They might be a little top-heavy, so it’s a smart idea to plant them in a heavier container like terra-cotta. The trick to keeping the jade plant satisfied is to allow the soil to dry entirely between waterings. Some gardeners only water jade when the leaves begin to glitter or lose their shine, but these are signs that the plant is still under stress; if you wait that long, the leaves can begin to drop.
Aloe vera grows like a cluster of long, thin leaves on a small stem.
Over time, it creates more clusters of leaves called offsets that can form a colony big enough to fill the whole bottle. It’s quick to split and switch to other pots as things get too crowded.
And while aloe vera may be better known for its soothing sap that has been used for decades to treat wounds and sunburn, it has sharp “teeth” around its leaf edges that can cut an unwitting passerby, so manage it carefully. Aloe vera is a forgiving, easy-to-grow houseplant that’s hard to destroy.
Like other succulents, it tends to be placed on a dryer side rather than chronically wet soil. And while it does well in bright light, if you unexpectedly transfer it into a hot, sunny window, its leaves will burn.
This succulent is almost indestructible. Snake plants (Sansevieria trifasciata) can live without light and water for weeks without losing their good looks. Their dense, rigid, pointed leaves grow straight up, about three feet long, sometimes with patterned markings reminiscent of a snake. Over time, it can multiply into a dense clump that fills the container, but it’s easy to split and repot as needed. Though snake plants tolerate low light, they are better seen in medium to bright light. They also enjoy some water if the soil is dusty.
African Milk Tree
Although the African milk tree (Euphorbia trigona) is capable of up to nine feet tall, it is not really a tree. As a houseplant, this succulent grows up to three feet tall, growing upright, triangular, branched stems lined with small yet sharp thorns. The tips of the green stems often have thin, reddish-tinted leaves.
African milk tree is similar to poinsettia because it produces a milky, sticky sap that will irritate the skin if you don’t wash it away. A lot of light and uniformly saturated soil is the secret to keeping it safe.
Zebra haworthia’s (Haworthia fasciata) striking stripes and spiky foliage may make it look like an unusual and exotic plant, but it is also sold in garden centers and is very easy to produce. Set this succulent by the window, where a few hours of bright, indirect light will arrive every day, and let the soil dry out entirely between the waterings. Zebra haworthia is also a good option for terrariums or growing next to other succulents because it will remain thin, around five inches long.
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