Succulents Outdoors

Succulents grown outdoors add texture, character and beauty to your garden.  They thrive in well-drained soil and love a few hours of full sun or light shade.

Succulents grow well outside in small or large spaces. They can add height and variety to your garden by planting some in pots and others in the ground. You can also transfer or propagate your indoor succulents and take them outside with a gradual introduction to the new environment. For information on growing your succulents indoors check out our Succulents Indoors guide.

Many succulents bloom, brightening your space with crimson, purple or yellow flowers. Even varieties that don’t flower have thick, fleshy leaves in interesting shades of green, blue, yellow, brown or red.

With a little knowledge about the optimal growing conditions of these hardy plants, you can enjoy a beautiful and thriving succulent garden. Thousands of succulent plant varieties exist. This is great news if you are a fan of these plants; you have so many from which to choose. Some grow to only a few centimetres high, while larger succulents stretch up to a few metres.

Plants in varying heights add interest to your outdoor garden. Planting succulents is possible in just about any sized space. Whether you have a large garden or a small verandah, you can enjoy their beauty.

Below are some popular types of succulents to get you started. Check out your hardware or garden centre for succulents to grow outside in your local area.

  • Echeverias Also known as hens and chicks, include more than a thousand colourful species. These popular succulents thrive outdoors where they can get plenty of light. They grow close to the ground and sprout rosettes that take root and spread away from the parent plant. Flowers emerge in the spring. They can grow for three to 30 years, depending on the plant and species.
  • Aloe These are plants that add height to your outdoor garden. A bitter aloe plant (Aloe ferox) can reach two metres, while aloe arbourescens can grow to 4.5 metres. If you aren’t looking for something so tall, you can find varieties of aloe that grow much smaller. Aloe vera plants do well outdoors until temperatures dip below 10 degrees Celcius, so you may need to move them indoors for the winter months in colder climates.
  • Crassula The crassula ovata, or money tree, is a popular succulent. It grows on rocky, dry hillsides in its native South African habitat. Its smooth, round leaves cluster at the end of branches, giving them contrast for visual interest. Under ideal conditions they bloom, sprouting clusters of sweet-smelling, star-shaped, pink or white flowers. Long nights and cool temperatures encourage them to produce flowers. Crassulas can grow for 20 to more than 100 years. Your successful succulent garden can last for generations with optimal care.
  • Round-Leaf Pigface The round-leaf pigface plant is native to Australia. It produces colourful purple flowers that belie its unflattering name. You can find it growing along the southern coast or farther inland in saline soil. It is excellent as an erosion-fighting ground cover or edging.
  • Kalanchoes There are many different varieties of kalanchoes,  the most popular variety is the brightly coloured Kalanchoe blossfeldiana, also known as Flaming Katy or Widow’s Thrill. It can be seen mass-planted in the garden or grown in pots and hanging baskets. It produces dense heads of brightly coloured flowers from cream to red and also includes orange, yellow and fuchsia pink. Kalanchoes live for about six to seven years.
  • Christmas cactus (Zygocactus schlumbergera) It is a beautiful flowering plant during the winter months in shades of as red, purple, orange, pink and white. Is it usually grown in pots or hanging baskets where it can hang down. It is easy to propagate however its stems are easy to break so care must be taken when handling it. It is a low-maintenance drought resistant plant that can live for up to 30 years.

With proper light, watering and nutrition, any of these succulents can add beauty to your garden, pots or hanging baskets.

Growing conditions

Aspect Most succulents are a drought tolerant plant that thrives in a full sun position to part shade position however, check plant tags for ideal growing conditions. In summer, the morning light is ideal for most succulents on hot days; afternoon sun conditions may be too harsh and cause sunburn. Plants exposed to direct sunlight in the afternoon may do better with some partial shade. When moving indoor succulents outside for the summer, start them in the shade and introduce them gradually to full sun. A gradual introduction to outdoor conditions allows them to get used to the increased heat and light

Soil Succulents prefer well-draining soil because of their shallow root systems. Poor drained or extremely wet soil may cause succulents to rot, so grow them in raised garden beds or pots. When growing in outdoor pots use a nutrient-rich potting mix designed for cacti and succulents in a pot with plenty of drainage holes.

Potting Succulents in pots may need frequent repotting to keep them healthy. When they grow quickly, the roots compact, and the plant stops thriving. You may notice brown, drooping leaves. The best time to pot up is in the spring or early summer before the growing season.

Terracotta pots are an excellent choice for growing succulents. They provide breathability, retain less water and promote drainage since they are porous. You can still grow succulents in glass, metal or plastic containers with drainage holes. Adding gravel to the bottom also allows moisture to escape.

Repotting a succulent is easy:

  • Water in with Seasol before repotting to help reduce transplant shock.
  • Loosen the dirt around the plant. Gently shake it, loosening the roots and pulling it free from the pot.
  • Prune any dead or damaged leaves and stems.
  • Choose a slightly larger pot and surround the roots with a fresh premium potting mix designed for cacti and succulents. The new pot should drain well.
  • Water the succulent thoroughly with Seasol to aid plant establishment and place it in an area where it receives bright light. Avoid direct sun at first.

You may need to water a newly potted succulent a bit more than an established plant. It can be sensitive for a while.

Climate There are succulents for all climates and most will grow well. Check plant tags for individual plant requirements.

Growing Succulents Outdoor Care Guide: Tips for vibrant and beautiful Succulents Outdoors
Growing Succulents Outdoor Care Guide: Tips for vibrant and beautiful Succulents Outdoors

General Care

Australian gardens provide excellent growing conditions for succulents. Proper plant upkeep involves providing them with the best soil, feeding them occasionally, watching for fungal diseases, warding off pests and avoiding too much heat and moisture.

Watering: The thick, fleshy leaves of succulents are part of their charm and appeal. These characteristic leaves also give away the secret of these plants: they store water. Succulents also reserve extra water in their stems and roots, making them well-adapted to living in arid climates. In fact, about 90%-95%* of a succulent’s makeup is water.

When succulents leave the desert and enter the garden, though, plant owners tend to mistakenly think these drought-tolerant plants require frequent watering. Overwatering your succulents can kill them with kindness. While you may be tempted to give them too much of a good thing, resist the urge to keep succulent soil moist.

A good strategy for watering succulents is to give them a thorough soaking and then leave them alone for a while. If your outdoor succulents grow in pots, keep watering until the water runs out the bottom of the pot. Empty any excess water from the saucer beneath the pot. Once they’ve had a nice drink, let the soil get dry before watering them again.

*Succulents: Simplicity and Sophistication Allison Kosto, MSU Broadwater County Extension Agent Montana State Unversity MARCH 24, 2023

Feeding and mulching You can feed succulents once at the beginning of every season with a controlled-release fertiliser such as PowerFeed Controlled Release All Purpose including Natives. It is designed to work over a period of several months to feed your succulents for strong growth, flowering and fruiting. It also contains beneficial microbes to revitalise soil and potting mix. Supplement feeding using a liquid fertiliser such as PowerFeed All Purpose including Natives every two to four weeks throughout the year. Decrease feedings to once a month during the winter.

Apply an inorganic mulch such as gravel, pebbles or rocks as this will aid the growth of succulents. Consider using coloured pebbles to add a striking contrast to any succulent.

Watch out Succulents don’t commonly suffer from infestations or diseases. The most common problems, such as root rot and dry rot, go back to overwatering. Keep an eye out for other possible adverse conditions.

  • Mealybugs These white, fuzzy insects live in cracks, leaf tips or axils. Infested plants will become discoloured and lose vigour. If the infestation becomes too great treat with EarthCare White Oil insect spray.
  • Scale insects Scale insects are small, round and brown and live on leaves and stems. They also cause plant discolouration. Either pick off the insects (wear gloves) or treat the plant with EarthCare White Oil insect spray.
  • Spider mites You may have a hard time spotting these tiny yellow insects. They are only about 0.25 millimetres long and may look like dust. However, they produce a tell-tale webbing, which you may spot on the bottoms of plant leaves. They leave brown spots as they eat the outer layer of succulent leaves. Red spider mites can also threaten your plant’s health. Don’t confuse them with the larger red mites — these are predators and can benefit your plant by attacking invasive pests. Spider mites don’t like high humidity, so you can treat the plant by spraying it with water. You can also use EarthCare Enviro Pest Oil insect spray.
  • Aphids Are common garden pests that feed on plant sap. They leave behind a residue that can encourage mouldy growth. If you notice ants surrounding your plants, you may have an aphid infestation. If your plants can withstand it, spray them vigorously with a garden hose to remove the aphids. If the infestation continues or if your succulents are delicate, spray them with EarthCare Enviro Pest Oil insect spray.
  • Snails They love to snack on plants overnight. You can spot their silvery, slimy trails the next morning. Snails eat chunks of plant tissue, feast on flowers or munch on new plant growth. Check your plants, bottoms of pots and shady garden areas for snails. You can remove them by hand (wear gloves) or use an organic snail bait based on iron to decrease large infestations. Warm, humid conditions invite snails, so keep an eye out for them during summer succulent care.
  • Root Rot Overwatering plants can cause root rot, a condition that stops plants from growing and causes discolouration. Plant roots also become brown and soft. Treat plants by pruning the infected roots. If they grow in pots, repot them in well-draining soil. Decrease watering to prevent future root rot.
  • Soft Rot Plants suffering from soft rot have translucent black or dark spots. They start at the plant’s base and progress upward. The plants may become weak and limp. You may also notice a foul odour. Plants with soft rot need drier, healthier potting mix and more air circulation. Cut and root healthy plant parts in well-draining soil.
  • Dry Rot It has a similar appearance to soft-rotted ones. They become soft and pale and stop growing. You may see dark spots on the stems. Treat succulents by putting them in a fresh potting mixture. They may require more sunlight and less frequent watering to help them heal from dry rot.
  • Leaf Spot You can identify leaf spot by its reddish or brownish circles. They usually have a darker ring, while the spot’s centre is often dry. Treat leaf spot by removing the plant’s affected parts (wear gloves).  Provide an atmosphere with lower humidity and higher temperatures.
  • Sooty Mould Sooty or black mould is one of the least harmful fungi. It indicates the presence of aphids, mealy bugs or other insects. You can spot it on the upper leaf surfaces. Treat the plant with EarthCare Enviro Pest Oil insect spray to rid your plant of sooty mould as well as the insects that caused the problem.
  • Powdery mildew If you notice a white, powder-like substance on leaves and stems, your succulents may have mildew. It turns darker with time and causes the affected part to lose vigour. It is not common on succulents, but it can grow under the right conditions. Treat with a fungicide such as EarthCare Rose Black Spot and insect spray.