If you’re sad because you love succulents but you can’t grow them because either you have a shaded yard or you have no yard at all and you can grow plants indoor only, a reason for you to cheer up is that you can grow succulents even in shade.
Yes, although most succulents love bright sunlight for many or more than many hours, there are certain succulents which cannot tolerate hot sun all day and get burned easily, especially if the temperatures consistently stay above 90°F.
Succulents are plants that usually grow in arid areas or deserts and they usually have plump and fleshy leaves and stems where they store water, as their natural habitats lack water and don’t get rains for several days or months, and hence they have developed the ability to survive into scorching, bright sunlight.
However, there are several succulents that are actually tolerant to the low light and low humidity of indoors and hence, are known as low light succulents. They are even very easy to propagate. Even many of them actually do better in light shade during hot summers, while some others survive well in containers in shade and when moved as required for protection from winter cold or rainfall.
Choose Only Shade-tolerant Succulent Varieties
As mentioned earlier, most succulents prefer bright sunlight and hence, you cannot choose just any succulent on an impulse to create an indoor succulent garden. You should choose just those varieties which are shade-tolerant.
Here are some varieties that tolerate bright but indirect light indoors and lower light outdoors:
Jade (Crassula ovata): Jade plant is believed to bring fortune and wealth in some countries, and hence is also called money plant. It’s tough and very easy to grow indoors and prefers dry conditions. Just plant it in a well-draining soil with neutral pH. It can do well in full sun or partial or full shade, although full shade can stunt its growth.
Flaming Katy (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana): Kalanchoe is a lovely plant with several flowering varieties. It flowers heavily if placed in full sun or a bright spot that gets direct sunlight for a few hours. But if you place it in a shady place, it’ll still amuse you with its fleshy dark green leaves.
It’s a warm climate plant and grows well in small pots. You should protect it from harsh cold temperatures of winters. Its watering requirements are also low.
Panda Plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa): Also called pussy’s ear, this plant is ideal for the kids’ room. Children love it due to its fleshy and fuzzy leaves. However, it should be noted that it doesn’t bloom indoors.
It needs a couple of hours of direct sunlight or day-long indirect light, but it grows well in shade. Never water very frequently. Fertilize during the growing season once a month with a balanced liquid fertilizer. Maintain an average room temperature and protect it from cold drafts.
Devil’s backbone (Euphorbia tithymaloides): This succulent has some other interesting names like Buck Thorn, Jew’s Slipper, Redbird Cactus, Zigzag Plant and more. It can grow around 8 feet tall, but you can prune it easily to maintain a manageable size. A unique zigzag pattern of stem and variegated foliage are main attractive features of this plant. It’s a perfect large houseplant. Water it occasionally only when the soil is dry.
Aloe: Some dwarf and hybrid varieties of aloes and varieties like aloe vera, soap aloe and krantz aloe can do well in shade conditions. Aloes can tolerate shade as well as full to partial sun. Even they can live in deep shade in hot climates.
You have to make sure that the plant will receive direct sunlight for at least a couple of hours every day and water only when the soil becomes dry. You should also regularly remove pups to avoid a pot-bound situation.
Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri): Easter cactus blooms in late winter to early spring and flowers have amazing shades of orange, lavender, red, pink, white and peach. But even after the blooming period, the plant looks stunning due to its unique foliage.
Don’t expose it to direct sun, but place in bright indirect light. Water sparingly after the soil becomes dry.
Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii): This amazing plant blooms well in partial shade too, unlike many other succulents. Its flowers are tubular in lovely shades of pink and lilac. It blooms around Christmas and thus can decorate your house during the holidays.
You should water it deeply when the soil feels dry. It gives bountiful flowers if kept in bright, but indirect light.
Rosary vine (Ceropegia linearis): Also known as String of Hearts, Rosary vine is a semi-succulent with unique heart-shaped leaves and trailing stems. Besides the unique leaves, this plant has small round buds or tubers that also offer beauty to this plant.
Plant it in full or partial shade which is warm and bright. While growing in hot climate, water regularly, whereas while growing in cool climate, you should water carefully.
Wax plant (Hoya finlaysonii): This is a beautiful climbing plant and it can be trained on any structure or planted in hanging baskets as a trailing plant. It has light green leaves with a vein-like pattern of dark green color. If the conditions are optimum, it even grows white-burgundy flowers that have a sweet fragrance. Never place it in full sun as it does well in filtered sunlight. Humid conditions are best for this plant. If your climate is cool, make sure you keep it indoors when temperature drops below 50°F.
String of pearls (Curio rowleyanus): This beautiful trailing succulent grows well in deep shade and is popularly planted in hanging baskets. Its watering requirements are low. While planting it in a container, use cactus mix. Too much fertilization can harm this plant.
Burro’s tail (Sedum morganianum): Also known as Donkey’s Tail, Burro’s Tail is a trailing succulent and is popularly planted in hanging baskets. It has rows of trailing fleshy gray-green leaves shaped like teardrops. It does best in partial shade when it receives the morning sun.
Use a soil that is specially formulated for cacti and succulents. Water irregularly, when the upper layer of soil is dry, to be exact. For optimum growth, you can use 10:10:10 fertilizer. As its leaves are delicate, make sure you don’t disturb it from its place.
Woodland Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum): The very name of this plant proves that only stone requires so low care and lives longer than this plant. This succulent looks beautiful but needs little to no attention and is hardy to almost any condition. Never overwater. It doesn’t even require fertilizers.
Planting a Succulent in a Container
To start with, you should first remove your succulent from the nursery pot and transfer it to a bigger pot where it can become more comfortable. While transferring, remove as much of the old soil from the roots as possible because the cleaner your succulent from old soil, the healthier it will be. However, you must be extra careful to avoid damage to the roots.
You may want to plant a single succulent or a group of them in one container. While planting it singly, keep its roots as undamaged as possible. However, while planting in a group, you’ll have to cut some of the roots of each of them to accommodate all of them.
It’s a good idea to use a mesh tape or mesh screen on the drainage holes to prevent soil from getting drained out and allow only water to flow out easily.
While filling the pot with succulent soil, fill it to a level where the roots can comfortably get established and leave some space which will enable you to add more soil later on. Now while planting the succulent, make sure that leaves are left above the soil to prevent them from rotting.
IMPORTANT: After you plant the succulent the above way, leave it for 2 days before watering so that the roots get time to adjust and establish.
Choosing a Container
When it comes to planting succulents in containers, you should consider a few things.
Drainage: If you’re just starting out, you should plant your succulents in containers that have drainage holes. This is because planting succulents in containers without drainage holes needs a perfect watering pattern which can let your succulents not sit in soggy soil, and this needs experience.
However, if you have or find a pot which grabs your heart but doesn’t have drainage holes, you can make such holes with a drill bit. On these holes, you should place mesh tape or mesh screens to prevent soil from draining out along with water.
Once you get a confidence that you can water your succulents perfectly even if they’re planted in pots without drainage holes, you can use such pots.
Material: The material of which the planter is made is also important because its breathability, fragility, beauty and other factors determine the success of your succulent garden. Terracotta and ceramic are breathable but can dry out the soil very quickly, especially if left in direct sun. These pots can also be super-heavy and thus difficult to move around. They are also fragile and you’ll have to be careful about avoiding dropping or knocking over them.
Materials like plastic, glass and metal have no breathability. Hence they are not actually ideal for planting succulents. Plastic is not fragile and if you use well-draining soil and make drainage holes, the issue of breathability may be overcome. Glass containers usually don’t have drainage holes. Metals get heated up quickly which is not good for succulents.
Another interesting option can be wood. It’s unique and remains cool. However, if the area where you’d place your wood planter has very low sunlight and airflow, wood can easily get rotten or your soil can remain wet for too long. Wood may also split or break down over time.
Type of Shade
As mentioned earlier, although most succulents do best in the sun and become weak and leggy and fail to flower without at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight, some varieties actually will spot, fade or even get burned in full sun, particularly in humid climate and if temperatures remain above 90°F. Such varieties need protection from afternoon sun using shade cloth, arbors, lattice, buildings or trees with light foliage.
Succulents can survive dry conditions for a long time and typically become dormant in the winter. However, in their growing season, they’ll grow and bloom better with regular watering, Most of them, particularly those in containers, will need watering at least once in two weeks if the climate is very hot.
But you should keep in mind that watering too much can be more harmful than watering too little, and those grown in shade need even less water. So, daily watering can easily kill your succulents.
But while watering, you should not just lightly spray your succulents as they need a surprisingly big amount of water.
You should also remember that succulents generally go dormant during cooler months of the year and during that time, they don’t need much water as they’re not actively growing.
Soil chosen for containers for shade-tolerant succulents should hold moisture but should also allow excess water to drain quickly. If you buy readymade cactus mixes, you may have to improve them a little. To your garden soil, at least 6-8 inch deep coarse sand and a little compost should be added, whereas to the garden soil as well as to the container soil, you should add extra drainage material such as grit or pumice. You can even use expanded clay soil amendments that resemble kitty litter. Professional turf managers use this to loosen soils.
HOW TO MAKE SUCCULENT SOIL
It’s more economical to make your own succulent soil than buying commercial succulent soil. Moreover, you can make sure that all materials used are of good quality.
• Potting soil – 3 parts
• Coarse sand (or poultry grit or turface) – 2 parts
• Pumice or perlite – 1 part
It’s best to use a light, porous soil as a base to make succulent soil. Avoid potting mixes as they contain any kind of moisture control to help prevent the water from draining. Succulents don’t need a soil that retains water. On the contrary, they need a well-draining potting soil.
Succulents do well in a sandy porous potting soil and coarse sand is perhaps the best. If you don’t get coarse sand, turface or poultry can be used as alternatives.
It’s better to fertilize succulents in the spring or while blooming. A good low-nitrogen plant food should be used in just half strength, whereas no fertilizer should be used in the winter.
Growing succulents is rewarding. You don’t need to miss this experience just because you don’t have a yard or a well-sunlit yard. Grow shade-tolerant succulents and enjoy their beauty!