Introduction and first chapter: The Succulent Manual | Basic Tips: Expectations

The Succulent Manual- A Care and Repair Guide for all Climates

CONTENTS - *Not all content will be released at once. An asterisk means it has been published to Patreon

*Basic Tips

*Soil and Fertilizer

Make More Sucs 

*Propagation by Leaf
By Cuttings
By Division
By Seed

Succulent SOS



Zone Tips
DIY Projects
Buying Guide


Introduction: The Succulent Manual - A guide to care and repair

It's true there are plenty of succulent and cacti care books on the market, beautiful books by experienced authors with a passion for helping us keep our plants happy, teaching us how to create eye-catching arrangements, and other DIY projects. However, people are still asking the same basic care questions and they're still killing their succulents…both in droves. In order for a book on gardening projects to be of use, one first needs to be able to, well, keep their plants alive. 

A major drawback for many books published on succulents is not addressing the fact that we don't all live in sunny California or desert climates like Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. These states can get away with things that will eventually kill succulents in non-arid zones. We face climate challenges West Coasters will rarely or never experience like freezes, floods, hellish heat, weeks of overcast skies, and humidity thick enough to pour over pancakes. 

So one of the very first questions I ask when someone reaches out to me for help is, "Where are you located?" This helps me tailor my advice to their region based on temperatures, humidity, sunlight, and other factors. The Succulent Manual will help readers understand how to respond to their succulents' needs based on their location, and help them quickly resolve issues they will encounter before it's too late, or at least in time to save the rest of their collection. It also covers answers on how our locations influence the appearance and growth of different plant varieties. 

Whether you're from the 'I just got my first succulent and I love it so much I want to keep it happy' group of readers, or the 'I used to have succulents and I killed them all but I want to try again' readers, these are the folks I encounter daily and who are desperate for an easy to follow resource that will set them up for success. 

Another major interest is propagation. People want to know every last detail about propagating their succulents, and I'll cover this in a manner that is concise but thorough. Finally, there's a need to teach readers how to diagnose their own plant's problems based on its 'body language.' The Succulent Manual will cover common symptoms and possible causes with explanations and solutions to rescuing plants in the Succulent SOS section. It will also show how easy it is to find help online and how to connect with countless other succulent lovers around the world. 

Basic Tips: Intro

So what is a succulent? The term 'succulent' is used to describe a plant that has evolved to reserve water for future use somewhere within its structure, whether in its leaves, stems, bulbs, or roots. Broccoli, tulips and potatoes are all succulents in their own way, and while I have grown yams for their beautiful vines, I don't think of them as succulents. When we're talking about succulents here, we're referring to a category of plants sought for their unique look and growth habits which tend to store water in their stems and leaves. Cacti are succulents too of course, and while their care needs are a bit different than other succulents, we're going to include them in this manual because they're very popular and I somehow manage to love them more each day. 

Your climate will determine your plants' needs so it's important to understand that what works for someone in South Africa, where many native succulents originate, isn't going to carry over to Brooklyn or Seattle. When I started posting pictures of my succulent collection on Instagram and other social media platforms, I didn't expect to meet so many other succulent lovers from all over the world. I am always amazed to click on someone's photo of a cactus in Canada or a lovely species of rare echeveria in the Ukraine. I had no idea Japan and South Korea are ideal locations for growing some of the most colorful and fascinating species of 'meat plants' on the planet. Australians—I'm so jealous of your succulent-perfect climate and laughably large cultivations. Southern Californians need only look in the street median or plant boxes outside of shops or beachside cliffs to see the most stinkin' gorgeous succulents growing like weeds. 

As the number of people I connected with grew, I began to get a lot of questions from others about solving problems they were having with their succulents. A few inquiries were from regions like Houston—hot, tropical, unpredictable precipitation—but many are from garden zones with very different situations. The more enviable regions above tend to be arid with moderately hot days followed by cooler nights. While we tend to think of cacti as heat-loving, sun-worshipping desert dwellers, mosts deserts cool down greatly at night. Cacti try to find protection from the sun by growing behind rocks and other plants. They may seem to thrive under extremes, but the reality is they'd prefer a little respite from the burning sun and temperatures. Just like humans, most succulents are not going to reach their full potential if they're worrying about conserving energy just to make it through a 100°F day.

For now, we'll focus on potted succulents and their basic requirements, whether kept indoors or outside. I will discuss in-ground succulent gardening in its own section as this is a different beast altogether. Keeping in mind that we're all dealing with different environments, there are many constants among succulents' needs. We'll cover sunlight, watering, food, temperatures, soil, and containers. These are all relative to each other, as well as to the current climate and season, but it makes perfect sense in context. 

When in doubt, we can tap into the succulent community for their knowledge on specific plants, and for a more thorough exploration of their individual needs. Whether seeking information through online forums, social media, or websites devoted to succulents, the internet is an invaluable tool in my garden. An entire book could be written about each genus, species, and cultivar, so it's great we can find more manageable, tailored data for our particular needs online. I'll include my search methods and sources where applicable.


#1/Basic Tips: Expectations


It's common to purchase a succulent that catches our eye because of its colors, only to find a few weeks after we bring it home, it has faded from a raucous red to mild green, and maybe even changed shape. More than likely, your plant came from a greenhouse in a region unlike yours, where light and temperature conditions were controlled. Unless you can duplicate those settings, usually without knowing what they were, change is inevitable. However, one of the most beloved traits of succulents is their ability to put on a colorful performance of ever-changing hues throughout the year. Those beautiful shades will return when the right influences are aligned. After reading this manual, you'll understand how much control you can have over those influences based on where and how you are growing them. Whether in a window, on your porch, or planted in-ground, climate plays the biggest role in how committed (with time and money) you'd need to be to keep succulents in full color, year-round based on your location. 

Let's continue in that thread because it explains a lot about what we're going over here—how colors of a succulent can tell us a lot about what it needs to thrive. The greener a plant is, the more chlorophyll it contains. This enables it to photosynthesize with more gusto than a plant with lighter colors such as pastel pinks, yellows, or variegation. Should you have a few days of overcast weather, succulents with green rosettes won't stretch as quickly as others. So the easiest varieties to start with and keep looking tip-top are non-rosette forming with darker green coloring. This category is also ideal for filling those 'part-sun' spots in and around your home and office. Some of my favorite 'greens' are listed in the Buying Guide section and they include Haworthias and Kalanchoes, trailing plants like String-of-Bananas, Euphorbia, Aloes, and of course, cacti. There are thousands of choices that fit this category that will keep you mesmerized and amused. They flower, propagate, change colors, and come in an endless supply of shapes and markings.  

Plants don't talk (no really, I've tried), but they do communicate through body language. To hear them, we have to observe them and know how to read their messages. I'll help you to interpret the basics but it's also up to you to take my advice and customize it to your particular plant and climate. Tips and resources for teaching yourself will follow and are scattered throughout the manual.

Next up: Basic Tips- Light (public)

Table of Contents of The Succulent Manual