Along with bubble tea and tiny houses, succulents have defined the Millennial generation. But keeping these perky little plants alive is more involved than it seems.
This article describes which hydroponic succulents to grow, how to grow them, and everything else you need to know about succulents.
Table of Contents
- What is a Succulent?
- Are Succulents Sensitive to Too Much Water?
- What Types of Succulents Are Best Suited for Hydroponics?
- What is Needed to Grow Succulents Hydroponically?
- Instructions for Growing Succulents in Water
- Nutrient Requirements for Succulent Plants When Growing Hydroponically
- Alternative Method: Semi-Hydroponic Succulents and How to Do It
- Semi-Hydroponic Basics
- Tips for Growing Hydroponic Succulents
What is a Succulent?
Succulent plants contain over 60 taxonomic families and over 300 genera. In plain English, that means there are lots of adorable succulents on this planet.
Succulents have evolved in the water-scarce regions of deserts. They store water in their leaves and stems and have created ways to absorb moisture from mist, dews, and fogs rather than from rain or groundwater.
In addition to their cute aesthetic, succulent plants are perfect for the inattentive plant parent. They don’t need constant watering to keep them alive thanks to their evolutionary history.
Are Succulents Sensitive to Too Much Water?
You may notice you’re overwatering your succulent when their leaves become especially plump. They’re not used to so much water, so they have a slow metabolism for shedding the excess water they receive.
While the succulent plant will naturally rid excess water stored in its leaves, instead, you need to worry about the plant’s root drainage.
Succulent roots can rot if the soil remains wet for too long. Rotted roots weaken the plant, making it look like it needs more water. This is how overwatering a succulent can kill it.
Ensure your succulent has ample drainage in the dirt. Check periodically if the soil appears muddy or slushy to see if you must switch out plant pots.
What Types of Succulents Are Best Suited for Hydroponics?
Hydroponics entails growing plants with water as the medium. You may have seen setups in which plants look like they’re on bookshelves with water raining down on them, but you don’t have to do that (unless you really want to).
Many succulents will take to being placed in or above a jar of water. Note that this won’t cause the same issues as overwatering succulents, as the problem with overwatering comes from root rot in the soil.
Here, we recommend the following succulents for hydroponics:
- Hen and chicks (Sempervivum)
- Echeveria agavoides romeo
- Sempervivum tectorum
- Sempervivum altum
- Echeveria runyonii
- Echeveria macrophylla
- Graptosedum California sunset
- Graptopetalum paraguayense
What is Needed to Grow Succulents Hydroponically?
Preparing hydroponic succulents is easy — as long as you have the right materials.
You will need:
- Pot, jar, or other containers. You need to house your succulent somewhere. The vessel isn’t that important — just as long as it doesn’t leak anywhere.
- Filtered water. It’s important to get your water as neutral as possible, between a pH of 6.5 and 7. Filtering the water and bringing it to a neutral pH allows it to remain impurity free.
- Fertilizer. While hydroponic plants grow on an aquatic medium, water isn’t the only thing they grow on. You need hydroponic-oriented fertilizer to keep your plant alive and to help it grow.
- Succulent plant. You can buy a plant from the store or cut off a bit of a pre-existing succulent plant to grow it hydroponically.
Some succulents will grow rosettes, which are little bulbous stems with leaves growing off it. These stems are capable of regrowing on their own hydroponically. Be sure to cut the offshoot with scissors as opposed to tearing or sawing. Let it completely dry before attempting to grow it.
Instructions for Growing Succulents in Water
Step 1. Prepare the Plant
If you purchase a succulent in a pot, you will need to remove the plant from the soil. Gently wash the soil away from the roots, letting the plant dry on a towel.
If you’re clipping bits from pre-existing plants, you should cut parts of the plants with sharp scissors. You can grow rosettes (stem with leaves or other offshoots) or stems hydroponically.
Step 2. Prepare the Substrate
Once you have the plants drying on a towel, it’s time to prepare the hydroponic substrate.
Everyone will have their preferences. We recommend that beginners set up a shallow container (think your standard cat litter box but a little shorter).
Fill the container with small rocks, roughly the size of walnuts. The rocks allow the hydroponic succulents to access the growth medium while still sitting upright.
Step 3. Mix the Fertilizer with Water
Now it’s time to create the hydroponic solution on which your plants will grow.
You will need to create roughly a 1:1 ratio fertilizer to water, though the fertilizer manufacturer may recommend different amounts.
Hydroponic fertilizers come in liquid and dry forms. Liquid fertilizer is easier to mix with water, but you run out of it more quickly. Dry fertilizer could clump up and not evenly distribute throughout the water, so you must mix it carefully before placing it into the substrate.
You don’t have to wear gloves while mixing fertilizer, as it shouldn’t be caustic or otherwise harmful to human skin. But it wouldn’t hurt to have around.
Step 4. Pour the Fertilizer into the Substrate
Carefully pour the fertilizer into the substrate. Beginners will find it easiest to swap out spent fertilizer water with fresh additions.
Some setups use pumps, which adds fresh fertilizer and water while removing used materials automatically. You can turn to this setup as you progress in your hydroponic succulent growing experience.
Since excess fertilizer in water runoff is an issue in some parts of the U.S. (such as around the Gulf of Mexico), you must refer to local jurisdictions on how to dispose of the fertilizer properly.
You could use your spent fertilizer on indoor plants or in a friend’s garden.
Nutrient Requirements for Succulent Plants When Growing Hydroponically
Soil typically contains nutrients for plant growth, but water and liquid fertilizer can do the same job. All hydroponic fertilizer will have the same nutrients plants need to grow:
The nutrients toward the top of the list are more important than those at the bottom of the list, but they all are crucial for growing succulents.
Alternative Method: Semi-Hydroponic Succulents and How to Do It
A simpler method for beginner hydroponic succulent owners is to do a semi-hydroponic convert. You essentially use an aerated substrate to let the plants get oxygen to the root while using a mostly water-based fertilizer mixture to feed the plants.
One common method for semi-hydroponics is using LECA. It is clay pebbles that are smaller than a quarter. You place the clay pebbles into a plant pot as you would soil, then put the plant on top.
Because there is so much space between the clay balls, there is more oxygen for the plant’s roots to access, making for one happy plant.
You will need a water-based fertilizer and a pH testing kit to ensure the growth medium doesn’t get to basic or acidic. Otherwise, semi-hydroponics allow the plant to grow quickly and robustly without having to aerate or swap out the soil constantly.
Here’s a short tutorial on how to grow succulents semi-hydroponically.
- Fill a pot with LECA clay pebbles
- Mix liquid fertilizer with water
- Test the fertilizer with a pH tester to ensure a neutral pH
- Pour the fertilizer mixture into the LECA-filled pot
- Place the plant on top the pot, ensuring the roots go as deep as possible
Tips for Growing Hydroponic Succulents
Growing hydroponic succulents might not come intuitively to you. Here’s how to refine the process:
- Feed your hydroponic succulents consistently. The time of day doesn’t matter as much as the time in between feedings. Try to feed your plants around the same time every morning and evening if you choose to feed them every 12 hours, or at the same time every day.
- Use fertilizers specifically for a hydroponic system. Soil-based fertilizers won’t work as well.
- Always dilute hydroponic fertilizers to half their strength unless otherwise indicated on the fertilizer’s label.
- Check the substrate and containers for plants frequently to ensure no mold, fungus, or other pests are growing near your hydroponic succulents.
- If you’re using a hydroponic medium, you don’t need to spray your plants with water. Doing so wouldn’t harm the plants, but it’s a waste of time.
Hydroponics and semi-hydroponics let you grow plants in less space. Using a fertilizer-water medium allows plants to access lots of nutrients to help them grow big and beautiful.
Succulents do especially well in hydroponics because it forgoes soil that could contain fungus. Consistently wet soil allows the fungus to rot the succulent’s roots, causing the plant to die.
While semi-hydroponics may be easier for beginners than hydroponics, anyone can get into this style of horticulture with the right materials — and this article lets you start doing that.