Tidy Up Your Succulent Containers

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Tidy Up Your Succulent Containers

Succulents are fabulous container plants for so many reasons, not least of which is how easy they are to care for.

They need little watering, infrequent fertilization, and because many grow slowly and seem to prefer cramped growing conditions, they rarely need to be repotted. However, after awhile, a long while, they may grow a little stretched out and untidy. Some may have died (whoops!) and others may have grown too big to play well with others. Not to worry! In a few simple steps, you get your succulent composition back to tip-top shape.

If possible, the first thing you want to do is to slip the entire planting out of the pot. Clean the pot with soap and water and set it aside to dry in the sun. If the plants can’t be easily removed from the pot in one “clump” then save this step until you’ve salvaged each plant individually.

Next you’ll want to turn your attention to the succulents themselves. This may sound harsh, but decapitation is the best bet for many types of rosette-forming succulents. For example, you may have purchased a lovely, diminutive aeonium that is now a 3 foot, multi-headed beast! You can make lots of new, smaller aeniums by cutting off each florette with its own small branch (make your cut right above the place where the individual florette’s branch joins a larger trunk). Echeverias can also be resurrected this way. If they have stretched out (probably because they didn’t have enough light), cut the stem right where it joins the root ball. Remove any dead leaves and those that are very far away from the main rosette.

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Sempervivums (Hens and Chicks) don’t usually stretch out of their rosettes, but surround themselves with many babies, often connected to the mother with an umbilical-like stem. To clean up sempervivums, try to remove the mother with as much of her root ball intact as possible. Pull off any dead leaves attached to the mother plant. Snip the umbilical cords of the babies and pat yourself on the back, you’re a new daddy!

Succulents that don’t form rosettes but have gotten leggy—such as sedums, graptolopedelums, graptosedums, and many crassulas—can best be cleaned up by taking cuttings. Cut off the tips along with a good portion of the stem (you can cut larger sized stems if you’d like to work with larger cuttings in your new composition). Remove any dead leaves and those that are too far from the nice-looking tip. Be sure that you have at least an inch or two of bare stem.

For ground-cover type succulents like stonecrop sedums, try and tease out as many clumps as you can with their roots still intact. Pinch back any portions that have gotten leggy.

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Now that you have all of your beheaded aeoniums and echeverias; sempervivum mothers and babies; cuttings; and/or clumps of ground cover succulents, you’re ready to put them back into their pot. Fill the pot with good quality cactus soil mix. Place your largest plants back in the pot first. If they have roots intact, make a hole for them and bury the plant to the appropriate level. If the plant is only a cutting, stick the cut end far enough into the soil so that the plant is steady and several former leaf nodes are covered by the soil. New roots will grow at the point where the leaf used to join the stem. Keep on filling in your container with your smaller plants until you have a composition you like. You will probably have more plants than you can fit in your old pot, they extras are great for giving to friends or creating new succulent containers for yourself!