How to Plant Succulents (Step-by-Step With Pictures)

If you’ve ever caught yourself admiring a beautiful succulent arrangement and wondering how these artful displays are made, then you’ll be happy to know it’s much easier than it looks!

The only major tricks to these arrangements are layering and having plenty of succulents to fill the space of your pot.

In this article, we’ll cover how to make two kinds of succulent arrangements:

Decorative planters as well as a hanging planters.

This article will go over the basics on how to select your supplies, what you’ll need for these displays, and how to put together the perfect succulent planter.

We’ll start with supplies gathering!


How to Choose a Succulent Planter or Basket

large selection of succulent planters

It can be pretty intimidating looking down the pot and basket section of a well-stocked store. However, picking a pot really comes down to a few simple rules regarding size, color, and material.

If you keep these things in mind, you’ll have no trouble finding the one.

Planter Size

Your planter should be at least an inch or two taller than the largest plant you’ll buy.

This space gives your plant somewhere to set down new roots as well as giving it a little space for how you’d like to arrange it.

If you’re buying succulents:

It should also be wide enough for your largest plants plus a little more.

The plants should have a little play when being placed in. It should also look just a little small for all of the plants you’ve selected.

Once you remove the pots the succulents come in, they won’t take quite as much space up.

If they comfortably fit, it will likely look a bit empty once you finish planting. A few inches between plants isn’t a bad thing for succulents to continue growing, but it will also be less aesthetic.

If you’re using cuttings:

If you’re using small cuttings or starts, then you won’t need quite as much space since they will fit in much more easily.

For a full look, decide how many plants you’d like to use.

The larger the planter you use, the more plants you need. If you’re on a budget or don’t have many starts, go for a smaller planter.

Planter Color

When looking for color, it should contrast and complement the colors of the succulents you choose.

Black is generally avoided for all sunny situations since black absorbs the entire light spectrum and holds onto heat, which can risk burning your roots.

Otherwise, think about how the light will look with your plants.

White and light yellow with lime green leaves will wash each other out. Deep purple and near-black succulents will be washed out by especially dark planters without additional colors to help them stand out.

On the other hand, purples and deep blues with stand out with darker planters, and light colored leaves can accent with darker colored succulents to fit into nearly any planter.

If you’re considering a planter with patterns on it, select succulents with coordinating colors.

Succulent Planter Materials

succulent planter materials

There are really only a few considerations for the material.

If it’s wood, does it smell and feel like chemicals have been applied to it? – These could leech into your soil, so these are best avoided.

Is the wood thin? It can decay quickly when exposed to water if it’s too thin and porous.

If it’s metal, will it be in direct contact with your succulents? Exposure to the water and soil can accelerate rusting, which can introduce an excess of nutrients that can harm your succulents.

If it’s wood or metal and you’re in love, you can line it with a landscaping material to separate your planter from the soil and water. You might cut in a couple of safe drainage spots, just in case.

Will your planter be left out year-round? Choose something that can tolerate your climate if so.

Ceramic and terra cotta are generally great choices for your succulents as they encourage breathing within the soil to help it dry out.

If you live in a cold climate, ceramic potters are often optimized to handle temperature swings and prevent cracking. If you’re choosing a hanging basket, the same rules apply.

If you’d like to create a hanging basket with trailing sides or a bottom, coconut fiber baskets are the most popular for this.

Plastic baskets can also have holes drilled out of them ahead of time if you’re confident about placement and size. If you’re a handy person, most any material could be used.


Choosing the Right Types of Succulents

types of succulents

Catching a glimpse of a succulent table is as magical as it is overwhelming. The stunning diversity of succulents inundates any succulent shopper.

Thankfully, succulents tend to fall into a few groups of care.

Once you determine where you want to keep them (outdoors, indoors, in full sun, in morning sun, etc.) as well as any dealbreakers (e.g. no thorns and no toxic plants), you’ll be able to narrow your hunt down to your perfect candidates.

At a nursery, there is usually an employee who can show you their selection and what will fit best into your conditions. If you’re at a hardware store, then there are usually labels.

succulent labels

These labels will give you a good idea about whether or not your candidate will fit into your plans.

If it can’t be identified and you’re unsure, it’s not a bad idea to pass to another option.

While you may have a million choices to pick from, many of them look identical while being from a different genus.

Echeveria, Graptopetalum, Sedum, Sempervivum, and their hybrids can all produce nearly identical looking plants. Even within their own genus, they have very different needs.

However, once you have it narrowed down to choices that will work in your situation, it becomes a matter of art and fun!

You can select from trailing or bushy succulents from black to red to blue to lime green to frosty white.

Hold them together to see how they complement each other. Once you have your plants, you’re just about ready to go!


Succulent Soil

succulent soil

The succulent soil used in this article is made with one of the recipes in our previous article.

If you don’t have a quality succulent soil handy, here are a few of the recipes you can use!

Common Succulent Soil Mix:

  • 1-part organic matter (potting mix, peat moss, etc.)
  • 1-part coarse sand (builder’s sand or chicken grit)
  • 1-part grit (lava rock, perlite, pumice, etc.)

Gritty Succulent Soil Mix:

  • 3-parts organic matter (potting soil, peat moss, etc.)
  • 4-parts coarse sand (builder’s sand or chicken grit)
  • 2-parts grit (lava rock, perlite, pumice, etc.)

“In a Pinch” Succulent Soil Mix

  • 3-parts potting soil
  • 2-parts perlite
easy succulent soil

You can get a good quality potting mix or peat moss in most hardware stores and nurseries.

Chicken grit can be found in agricultural supply stores where you might see chicks in the spring.

Choose the gray, rocky grit (made of flint) rather than the pearly white grit (made of oyster shells) which can introduce unnecessary nutrients to your soil.

Builder’s sand is a cheap, coarse, gritty sand without additives so it won’t harden up after getting wet. This is found in building supply centers and some hardware stores.

Lava rock and pumice are usually found in nurseries, hardware stores, building supply outlets, and nearly anywhere you can find rocks.

Choose lava rock that is fairly uniform in size and ¾”-1/2” in size for the best drainage. Large, uneven chunks can encourage water retention instead.

Perlite is found in nearly any hardware store or nursery.

perlite

In addition, some nurseries may even sell grit for making soil with.

If any of your rocky or gritty options look sandy, you can rinse them out by placing them in a container (such as a bucket) and filling it with water and pouring it off repeatedly until the water is clear.

This will prevent any dust from clumping up in your soil.

For any of these recipes, choose a container to measure with and a larger container to measure your materials into.

Each part is filling your measurement container once so you can choose any container you think is best.

You’ll want a separate container to mix it into so you can layer in your soil and save any excess.

A small container of each ingredient should be more than enough to fill a small container and a basket.

It’s definitely more comfortable to err on the side of caution, though.

To Mulch…Or Not to Mulch?

succulent mulch

You can mulch your succulents! Make sure to choose something that will allow water to pass by, dry out quickly and will help keep moisture from your succulents.

Rocks, lava rock, and gravel are all common choices, especially in the yard as the sun can cause any nearby moisture to evaporate a little too quickly.

Inside the home, preserved mosses are sometimes chosen as they add a little bit of character to the planter and can dry out quickly.

In most cases, your succulents won’t mind either way.


Putting Together Your Succulent Planter

succulent planter

Now that you have your plants and planter, you’ll be able to build a professional-looking display in no time!

Gather your supplies first, much like the mise en place of cooking, and follow just a few quick steps to assemble it.

Gathering the Necessary Supplies

Besides the basics that we covered above (the physical planter and the plants), you’ll need some additional supplies to put together the final product.

succulent planter supplies

Here are some of the supplies you will need to put together this succulent planter:

  • Succulent soil
  • Your planter
  • Your plants
  • A wooden skewer, chopstick, or another thin tool
  • Window screen or landscape fabric (optional)
  • Scissors (optional)
  • Gloves (optional)
  • Spoon (optional)
  • Preserved moss and lichen (optional, this inexpensive touch is found at most hardware stores and craft stores)

If you’re hoping for a basket with a lot of rosettes, Echeveria, Graptopetalum, Sempervivum, and even Sedum can offer you a lot of choices.

Regardless, you’ll find a lot of diversity in what plants form rosettes.

Setting the Foundation

foundation of the planter

If you choose a planter without drainage holes, then you can add some in plastic, metal, or wooden planter pretty easily with a drill.

Just grab the largest bit you’re comfortable with and drill in!

If you’d rather not use a large bit or only have smaller bits, you can also add more holes. It won’t take much longer to add extra holes.

Don’t stress about how it looks or if it’s straight; nobody will know once it’s filled in. Here, we’ve added just two and it makes a huge difference.

planter with newly drilled holed

These holes allow your succulents to drain off the water much more quickly than without.

Even though this planter has holes along the sides of it, it would have continued to retain moisture at the bottom.

Since it’s wood, excess water retention isn’t good for the plants or the planter.

On the note of these slats and drainage holes, they would pretty quickly allow our soil to fall out since it’s got so many gritty pieces that don’t really compact.

This is another quick fix with landscape fabric or window screen!

If you have any holes or slats you’d like to cover, first line your planter with the screen.

succulent planter liner

Use a pair of scissors to slice the wrinkled edges until the fabric lies flat.

This may take a bit of cutting and adjusting. Once again, it’s not super important that this part looks perfect as it will be covered in soil.

mini succulent

You might need to trim the top. The fabric should be just shy of the top of the planter so it sits within the planter completely.

Trim lightly as it’s much easier to remove a little more than to start over.

If you only have drainage holes, you can add just enough to generously cover the holes. It won’t need to come up the sides. Your soil and plants will hold it all in place.

Now your planter is ready to fill!


Starting with the First Layer

placing in the first succulent

Fill your planter with enough to line the bottom. Use your largest plant to determine how high to fill the container.

Keep adding a bit at a time until your largest plant sits at the top of the planter.

planting additional succulents into the planter

This step just allows for you to get your largest plants sitting the way you like before adding more soil.


Adding the Second Layer and More!

Fill in every nook and cranny around your large plants until the sides are filled in.

Left unfilled, these little corners can cause shifting.

filling in the sides of the planter

Taking a moment to lift leaves to check that they have soil on all sides can save a huge headache.

If the gap is just a little too awkward, you can use a spoon or a similar tiny scoop to convince the soil to settle in.

The next layer of soil is done the same way of adding until your plants stand at the top.

This time, we’ll fill in for the medium-sized plants. Keep adding soil until they’ll stand at the proper height and get them sitting the way you’d like them to.

Once the medium and large size plants are in, the remainder of the soil and the smallest plants can be added around them.

adding additional succulents

This is where your wooden skewer (or another thin, pokey object) comes in!

Use it to create holes for the smaller plants by nudging the soil around until a small hole forms. Use this gap to fit your small plants in then nudge the soil back around them.

filled succulent planter

For a tightly packed, full look, keep using your skewer or poker to create space and add a few until it no longer seems reasonable to add more.

From the original supplies picture, every plant is used except for two small filler succulents.

Keep adding plants until you’re satisfied with how many you have or you’ve run out. Now would be the time to run out to buy more if you aren’t happy.

If you bought on the side of excess, you can use your extra plants in another arrangement or reuse pots—especially from the other plants here—to give them a temporary home until you’re ready for their permanent home.

Now that everything is packed in, we can either add any top dressings or simply get these plants set up in their new home!


Finishing Touches

If you’re happy now, you can stop. You can also add tiny decorations or statues if you want a more fairy garden-like appearance.

You can also top it off with preserved moss and lichen for a more professional display, which is done here.

succulent garden moss

Peel out a good sized piece of moss and peel it apart into smaller bits.

Tuck them in between plants until you feel the soil is covered enough and your plants are accented well.

filled succulent garden

At that point, other than cleaning up, you’re done!

You can water it if everything seemed dry, or you can wait until the plants are dry.

You might see a little dust from the soil come out in the first few waterings, then it should normalize a little.

You can now display your new arrangement or offer it as a gift with pride!


Building a Hanging Succulent Planter

If admiring hanging baskets, swaying in the sun with trailing plants draping over the edges, is more your style, then you might be surprised to know how easy they are to assemble.

The best part about choosing to use succulents to fill your basket is that choosing drought-tolerant varieties means it’s actually best if you find it a little dried out rather than watering it at least daily.

This is a great choice for any gardener, and especially those in a dry climate without an irrigation system for hanging baskets!

hanging succulet planter

The only consideration of a hanging basket is that it can be a little more time-intensive to set up if you want to fill more than just the top, but it’s also very easy to do.

If you’d like to skip doing anything on the sides and bottom, it can be filled just like a normal planter.

The only change from filling a planter is making sure you’ve placed trailing plants near the edges of the planter.

We’ll go over the process of how to add plants to the sides and bottom here!

Supplies

hanging succulent planter supplies
  • Succulent soil
  • Your plants
    • Something trailing for the bottom, even if it’s not a succulent (variegated vinca is used here, silver falls is a popular choice, and any hanging succulents will also do great; keep in mind how high the bottom of your basket will hang from the ground and how long the plant can grow)
    • An indeterminate succulent for the sides (two varieties of ghost plant, Graptopetalum paraguayanese, are used here)
    • A variety of succulents to fill the top (Crassula, Sedum, Climbing Aloe, and Sempervivum is used in this in this one)
  • A hanging basket
  • Something to support your hanging basket while you work (such as a plant stand)
  • A wooden skewer, chopstick, or another thin tool
  • Window screen or landscape fabric (optional)
  • Scissors (optional)
  • Gloves (optional)
  • Preserved moss and lichen (optional)

When choosing plants, you can use cuttings or young plants. Many gardeners start these baskets very young and wait years for it to fill out.

A full succulent basket for sale in a nursery or garden center is often times at least a year or two old and started with very young plants.

Since succulents grow slowly, you may not only be watching it grow for years, but you can also look forward to it sticking around without needing to be repotted for several years!

Once you have everything together, it’s time to start! This is another arrangement where the most important thing to remember is layering.

Bottoms Up!

If your basket has removable hanging clips, start by removing them from your basket to keep the clips from catching on anything.

planter hook

Flip your basket over. In this case, this basket has a bar down the middle to support the weight of the basket.

planter bottom

We’ll cut out two holes to make use of this support since this vinca is pretty big, with one hole on each side and the bar to hold the vinca in place.

Not all baskets have this bar, and not all plants are this large, so more than one home may be unnecessary in your case.

The coconut fiber lining is pretty tough and thick, so you’ll either need a tough knife, a strong pair of scissors or shears, or a lot of willpower.

It doesn’t need to be cut as a circle, just a simple cross shape will allow you the bend the material back to allow your plant through.

If you have a smaller plant, you won’t need to make such big holes. Regardless, make the holes large enough to fit the plant through but not so big the plant can slide through it.

cutting holes in the bottom of the planter

Once these two holes are cut, the trailing plant is split so that its stems will evenly fit through the holes without being crushed by the bar.

If you don’t have a bar, don’t worry about this step. Your basket should be designed to handle weight regardless, so just make sure the hole is smaller than the rootball.

trailing succulents

Once the stems are separated, place the plant under the cut lining.

Since the lining should be just large enough for them, this is the most time intensive part of the assembly.

Keep moving these stems and leaves through the holes until the lining touches the base of the plant.

trailing succulents

Once they’re through, you can move on to the next step.

If this is a young plant or a young succulent, you’ll need to give it time to root in and get a good enough hold to support its own weight or it will fall out.

This technique is often done with succulents such as Sedum morganianum (burro’s tail) to help them stay in place once the basket is flipped.

If you’re waiting for a succulent to take root, this could take several weeks or months, so plan ahead for this.

If your plant is already well rooted, like this vinca, you’re ready to flip it over and start the rest of the basket!

The Side Steps

For plants that trail off from the side of the planter, you’ll need to cut more holes!

succulent roots

Start with your basket right side up now.

If you added a trailing plant in the previous step, you’ll want to loosen the roots.

filled succulent roots

This not only helps them to spread more easily for a healthier plant, but it also helps to mix it with the new soil.

If the soil is too different, surface tension can form and make draining further down the pot more difficult and lessen the effectiveness of your well-draining soil.

Fill your pot with your new soil to the line where you want to begin adding side plants. You can do this will plants that are well-matured, young plants or, even, cuttings.

Some growers will cut down a handful of stems from a more mature plant, then give the cuttings a few hours to a few days to callous over, then they plant them in the basket.

Young plants will take longer to set in, but they’ll look more natural once they’ve grown in, be more secure in their rooting, and be significantly less expensive than using mature plants.

Here, young ghost plants are used. One is a lighter colored, longer-stemmed variety, and the other is the standard darker, more colorful bunched variety.

To start, cut a hole in the side of your planter where you want your succulent to trail from.

It should be just large enough for your succulents to fit through.

If it’s too big, and your succulents are too young, they may have more trouble sticking in.

If it’s too small, you’ll risk having a lot of leaves drop off or bruising them. If it seems too small, just pull your plant back and widen the hole a little.

It might take a few tries, but you’ll get the hang of what size to make it.

Keep working your plant to gently slide it through until its root base is left behind.

If your root base is smaller, especially when using cuttings instead of rooted plants, you can more easily and safely just slide the back end of the stem through.

Add soil on top of your root base (or the back end of your stem) to keep your succulent in place and prevent it from sliding around.

Continue around the base of your basket until you’ve added all the plants you want.

This is another time-intensive part of the assembly, but it becomes much quicker once you’ve gotten the hang of it and know how big of a hole to make and how to slide your plants through with minimal damage.

Once that’s done, go ahead and start on the top layer!

Topping it off

Now we’re almost done!

Add the largest plants first and fill the pot in with soil.

completed succulent planter

This encourages not only your larger plants to stay in place but your smaller ones as well.

As we did with the regular planter, use your skewer or pokey tool to create holes for your smallest plants, especially any cuttings, and slide them into place.

If you’ve chosen any trailing succulents that you’re hoping to see trail over the sides, place them closest to the edges.

You can fill the more central areas with any matting succulents or tall succulents that won’t be as impressive hanging over the sides.

As always, if you choose to mulch, choose something that won’t hold moisture against the base of your plants and encourage root rot.

Rock, lava rock, and gritty sand are all common mulches.

Once you’ve gone around and placed all your succulents, you’re ready to hang it! Return your clips and take it to its home.

It’s normal for leaves to fall off during this process, especially succulents sold as seasonal merchandise from a store where they may have been stressed during shipping and overwatering.

If you have extra soil, add extra potting mix or peat moss to help it retain moisture. Let your leaves callous over and place them on top of the soil. These leaves will likely sprout a new plant.

Now you can enjoy these low-care, beautiful displays for a fraction of the cost at home, knowing that you were the one to pick out every piece!