Can succulents grow in rocks? I receive this question over and over again. I asked the same question too back when I was started my journey as a succulent grower.
The very reason why people (including myself) ask this question is that there many commercial succulents planted in sand or pebbles.
This creates an assumption that succulents can grow in just rocks or sand.
So, can succulents grow in rocks? My quick answer is, yes. But it is only for the short term. Succulents need nutrients that are coming from the soil. Without soil, succulents can only grow for a short period of time.
This means that the gorgeous commercial succulent arrangements we often see are not designed for the long term.
It is a good short term project but not if you want to make a succulent garden for long term enjoyment. For me, a beautiful arrangement should be able to thrive longer to give me that stress relief effect.
Another reason why people ask whether or not succulents can grow in rocks is that they treat succulents as epiphytes. Unfortunately, succulents are different.
Epiphytes can grow without soil. They just get nutrients from the air. This is the reason why they are capable of growing on the surface of other plants. Examples of these are orchids and air plants.
Succulents, on the other hand, survive by getting nutrients from the soil and water. Therefore, they have very different growing needs.
Succulents are native to semi-desert areas where the temperature is usually high with less moist and water source. While the other varieties are native to rain forests and mountainous places.
But this does not mean that succulents can survive for long without water. They cannot also survive at extremely hot temperatures.
However, succulents are more resilient to a hostile environment than other plants. This is because they can tolerate drought and frost (some variety however cannot).
Their adaptability makes them able to thrive longer than other plants during winter and summer.
Some succulents grow on the beach or sea coasts where many plants don’t normally grow. Not only a place like this is hotter, but it also has dissolved minerals that are detrimental to other plants.
Related Article: Can Succulents Grow in Sand?
Because succulents are evolved to develop adaptive capability, they can perfectly grow well in harsh environments.
This is the main reason why succulents survive in a fancy arrangement for a few days using nothing but pebbles and sand.
But the biggest reason why succulents are capable of surviving in harsh environments is their ability to store water in the stems, leaves, and even roots.
Succulents are made of sac-like cells all throughout. These microscopic structures serve as water storage. During drought, these plants use the stored water to survive.
But their ability to store water makes them vulnerable to overwatering. If other plants could survive in wet soil or environment, succulents are not.
To avoid overwatering, you need to be mindful of the amount of water you are giving to these plants.
The best watering method that works for me all the time is the soak and dry method. This means that water succulents only when the soil is completely dry.
Do Succulents Really Need Soil?
The answer is yes. As mentioned, most succulents are not epiphytes. They cannot survive without soil.
But unlike other plants, succulents need special soil – soil that does not retain too much water. That said, compact soil is not good for these plants.
Succulents do not demand rich in nutrients soil. But they demand a fast-draining soil. Commercial succulent and cactus soil mix (click here to check this soil on Amazon) are perfect for these plants.
Soil like this comes with organic and inorganic materials that provide succulents drainage and nutrients.
If you don’t want to buy the commercial soil for succulents, you can make your own. You can read my guide on how to make the best soil succulents in pots.
Related Article: Can I Use Orchid Potting Mix for Succulents?
Can succulents grow in gravel?
Although some growers suggest that succulents grow in gravel, I don’t recommend planting succulents in pure gravel.
As mentioned earlier, succulents do need nutrients that can only be found in soil. Gravel does not provide such nutrients. The plants may find it difficult to thrive there.
But you can grow succulents in gravel that has a mixture of some organic and inorganic materials. This means that you need to add something to the gravel in order for the succulents to grow and thrive.
If you really want to go on this route, you can follow the steps that I will be sharing below.
The first thing you need to do is to fill a 3-5-inch-deep succulent pot with an inch layer of gravel. Some growers recommend using pots without drainage holes.
My practice though is always to use a dish or pot with drainage holes. This will keep the plants safe from overwatering.
If you use the pot with drainage holes indoor, make sure that the pot has a tray beneath. This will capture the excess water during watering.
The next step is to pour and evenly distribute some powdered activated charcoal over the gravel layer. The powdered activated charcoal helps neutralize odors that could possibly develop and contained in the layer of the gravel.
Next, add a peat-based potting soil mix on top of the gravel. You can make your own soil mix. You just need to combine two parts of the peat and one part of the compost. This is a great potting soil for succulents.
Now, it is time to sprinkle the soil with water. If you are using the pot without drainage holes, it is very important that you don’t give too much water. If you do, the succulents will only rot and eventually die.
To determine the level of moisture, you can poke your finger in the soil. If the soil sticks on your finger, it is already wet. The water is enough.
Now you are ready to plant. Get the baby succulents and plant them in the pot. I love to start with small-sized succulents. It gives me an opportunity to make some amazing arrangements.
But whatever you do, do not forget to give space between plants. They need it to breathe. A 2-4-ink spacing can be sufficient for the plants to thrive healthily.
Set a watering schedule. Because succulents are capable of storing water in their leaves, stems, and roots, they do not like too much water. In fact, too much moisture will cause rotting.
The perfect watering technique for succulents is soaked and dry. As mentioned, this technique suggests that you only water your succulents if the water is already dry.
The watering frequency, as well as the amount of water you need to be giving, is determined by many factors including the season.
In summer, because the air is dry and the environment is hotter, succulents may need more water. This means that watering frequency increases.
During winter, in contrast, succulents need less water. This means less frequent watering and a lesser amount of water.
Whatever season though you need to avoid overwatering. In winter, succulents are more prone to this problem.
Fortunately, the soak and dry method will keep your succulents from overwatering or even underwatering.
Not to mention the easiness of the method to implement.
How to Prolong the Life of Succulents in Rocks?
Suppose that you are really into trying succulents in rocks. And you wonder how to make your plants survive without soil.
Can succulents grow in rocks for long?
Fortunately, there are ways you can do to make your goal come true. It only involves some materials and little extra effort on your part.
Below are some of the tips and strategies you can try to prolong the life of your succulents in rocks.
Because rocks alone don’t have nutrients that succulents need to survive, no wonder why they can’t survive for the long term.
What you can do to allow the succulents to thrive without soil is to add fertilizer. During watering, mix the fertilizer with the water you are going to sprinkle on your plants.
This will give the plants a source of nutrients. Estimate the amount of fertilizer you want to mix. Read the guide on the label so that you will be guided accordingly.
Add Organic Materials
Adding the source of nutrients for succulents planted in rocks may not be enough. This is because succulents need something to attach to. With rocks, it is impossible.
What you can do is to add some organic materials that will allow the succulents to attach with. Some of the organic materials that succulents love are the Coir (check this material on Amazon) or Coco Fiber and Sphagnum Moss (check this material on Amazon).
You can buy these materials from the near garden supplies or from online. In my case, I buy all my succulent supplies from Amazon.
Assuming that you already have the said materials, what you can do next is to attach the moss or coir onto driftwood. Then, attach the succulents onto the coir or moss. After that, set the pot aside and let the roots grow for a few weeks.
As soon as the roots grow, the succulents will become more stable. This is because the coir and moss provide the strength by holding the plants in place.
Sooner, as the succulents grow more and more roots the stronger and stable they become.
The next thing you should consider is the watering frequency and the amount of water you need to give to the plants.
Succulents in this set up only need a little amount of water. But it must be consistent.
What I mean by this is that you should give a mist every few days to give just enough moist to the plants. This prevents the plants from being under-watered.
If you are using Sphagnum Moss, you should not give too much water. This is because of the moss stores more moisture. It can be harmful to succulents if you mist frequently.
To help succulents thrive longer in rocks, you might want to add some additional nutrients. You do this by adding ¼ to ½ strength fertilizer to the watering before misting or watering.
The frequency of applying fertilizers to the succulent depends on the season. The reason being is that most succulents are dormant during winter and active during summer.
So in most cases, summer is a great time to apply the fertilizer. But this practice is common in succulents planted in the soil mix.
Succulents in rocks might be different. They might need more nutrients due to the absence of soil.
As a grower, it is your important job to constantly check your plants. Keep an eye on your succulents as they might have nutritional needs along the way.
Can succulents grow in rocks?
My quick answer is yes. But without additional organic and organic materials, they won’t live long.
In order for the succulents to thrive in rocks, you need to give them something they can hold on to. Some of the great materials are Coir or Coco Fiber and Sphagnum Moss.
Lastly, for succulents to grow in rocks, you need to provide them a source of nutrients. Adding fertilizer to the water you mist onto them is a good idea.
I hope this article helps you in growing your own succulents in rocks.
For more information, feel free to visit my Succulent Growing Guide. Happy succulent growing!