What is a succulent garden?

succulent garden with various different types and colors of succulent plants

If you’ve become intrigued by the #succulents posts in your Instagram feed, we’re here to tell you why it’s trending. Succulents are popular with apartment dwellers across the Instagram world, but they are also found happily soaking up the sun in the great outdoors across the U.S. 

If you’re new to the world of succulents, learn more about these trending plants.

What is a succulent garden?

A succulent garden is a small area in which ornamental succulent plants live in the great outdoors. Succulent gardens are most common in the southwestern areas of the U.S. where low-water landscapes are necessary.

What is a succulent?

Close-up of green and yellow succulents with red tips
Thomas Quine | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Succulents are drought-tolerant plants that store water in their tissues

Succulents are defined by their characteristics rather than their taxonomy or lineage. The word succulent is derived from the Latin suculentus, which means “juice” or “sap.” 

In semi-arid environments where rainfall is seasonal, plants store water for the same reason you put away tomatoes in the summer. The axiom might say: Preserve water (or tomatoes) while you can because the dry season is coming.

What to plant in a succulent garden

The following is a list of popular succulent plants by genus:

  • Aeonium
  • Agave
  • Aloe
  • Crassula
  • Delosperma
  • Dracaena (formerly Sansevieria)
  • Echeveria
  • Euphorbia
  • Haworthia
  • Kalanchoe
  • Opuntia
  • Sedum
  • Senecio
  • Sempervivum

If you’re not familiar with any of these genus names, you’ve probably heard of some of these individual plants:

  • Aloe vera
  • Christmas cactus
  • Jade plant
  • Stonecrop
  • Yucca

When you go to the garden center, notice which succulents are intended for indoor vs. outdoor use. Not every plant works well in both environments. If you want to plant an in-ground succulent garden, make sure the plants you buy will withstand the winter conditions in your area.

Climate conditions for a succulent garden

rock garden surrounded by colorful succulents
cultivar413 | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Succulents live in many different environments around the world. Contrary to popular belief, succulents are most often found in semi-arid, not desert, environments. A semi-arid environment provides regular, seasonal rains, even though these rainy periods may be spaced far apart.

Succulents are found in desert and arctic areas as well, so even homeowners in the far northern reaches of the U.S. can grow certain varieties of succulents outside.

Succulents need sunlight, but many species work better with full sun in the morning but shade in the afternoon. Check your variety to see what it likes. Nurse plants (plants that provide shade or protection for other plants) and rocks can provide adequate afternoon shade if you’re planting on a west-facing lawn.

How to water your succulent garden

Remember, succulents are low-maintenance, so treat them that way! If you hover over your indoor plants and water too often, nix those tendencies or you’ll end up with unhealthy outdoor succulents in no time.

When you first install your succulents outdoors, mist them with water once per week until they set roots (a few weeks, usually). After that, only water when the soil is dry. This can be every 7-10 days in the warmest months or every few weeks (or longer) in the winter. Stick your finger in the soil to determine when the soil is dry. Once it has fully dried out you can water again.

Signs of overwatering:

  • Leaves fall off under light pressure.
  • Leaves turn translucent or start to yellow.
  • Leaves are mushy, not firm.
  • Signs of underwatering:
  • Leaves throughout the plant (not only on the bottom) look dehydrated and thin.
  • Succulents are fairly forgiving. If you notice a problem, adjust your watering schedule and they should bounce back.

How to start an indoor succulent garden

two succulents in decorative pots
sweetlouise | Pixabay

Sometimes it’s helpful to start a succulent garden indoors to learn how to care for these diminutive plants before you leap into planting them outdoors. Here’s a quick and dirty DIY tutorial on how to start an indoor succulent garden.


Pot with one or more drainage holes and saucer

Cactus potting soil mix or gritty cactus mix

One (or a few) succulent plants, depending on your pot size

Step 1:

Fill your pot about halfway full with your cactus potting mix or gritty mix. Place your succulent straight up in the pot and backfill with more soil. Press firmly around the plant so it stands upright in the pot. If you’re doing a cutting, just make sure it is straight up and down.

[Note: Regular topsoil or potting soil will not allow for proper drainage, especially when you’re planting a container garden. Buy a cactus mix or gritty mix for the best results. Even if you have a cactus mix, some succulent enthusiasts recommend adding up to a 1:1 ratio of perlite or pumice with the mix. If you buy a gritty mix, you won’t need the extra perlite or pumice.]

Step 2: 

Pour water on the soil (not on the leaves, please) until it starts to drain into the saucer. Empty the excess water from the saucer.

Step 3: 

Place near a south-facing window to allow the most light exposure possible during the day. If you have a compact plant that starts to “stretch” and lose its compact form, it is likely not getting enough sunlight. A grow light can help with this, especially in the winter months.

Step 4:

Test the soil every few days at first to learn how fast it dries out. Picking up the pot each day also will give you an idea of how fast the soil dries out since the pot will become lighter in weight each day. Wait until the soil is completely dry and then water again.

Step 5:

Fertilize with a succulent fertilizer about once per month (or according to the package directions), and pick off dead leaves regularly to prevent pests and diseases.

FAQ about succulent gardens

1. Are cacti succulents?

Yes. The saying goes, “All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.”

2. How many types of succulents exist?

Scientists describe “3%-5% of all flowering plants” as succulents. 

3. How do I take care of my outdoor succulents?

The most pressing issue with succulent plants is water. There are a few things to keep in mind:

Succulents need well-drained soils
Naturally sandy soils work well, but succulents don’t work well in clay soil, which is very hard to amend to the point that it is succulent-friendly. You can mix non-clay soils with coarse sand (builder’s or sharp sand) or small rock chips to ensure good drainage. Succulents’ root systems are used to a “feast or famine” watering schedule, so make sure water drains from the roots quickly.

Water deeply but infrequently
Don’t water again until the soil is bone dry. Poorly draining soils or overwatering can lead to root rot.

Check for insects
Mealybugs are a common pest. They look like small cocoons of cotton on the plants. Spray with isopropyl alcohol or wipe them off with a lightly alcohol-soaked paper towel or cotton swab.

If your succulent garden needs extra TLC, contact one of our local lawn care pros today. They can install or maintain your succulent garden and lawn regularly.

Main Photo Credit: AnnieSpratt | Pixabay

Sarah Bahr

Sarah is a writer who has previously worked in the lawn care industry. In her spare time, she likes to garden, raise chickens, and mow the grass with her battery-powered lawn mower.