Can you plant succulents in rocks? I receive this question several times, and I have also been asking myself the same question. Succulents are, without a doubt, the most resilient plants. You’ll find them growing in deserts and soil with high mineral content, among other harsh conditions. It’s, therefore, understandable why one would think these plants can grow in areas where there’s little to no water such as in rocks and pebbles.
Succulents can survive in rock-only arrangements, but only for a short while. Like most plants, succulents need soil to grow and thrive. Most gardeners use rocks in succulents to promote water drainage. They also improve the aesthetic appeal of the plant.
So, what’s the right way to plant a succulent, and how should you add rocks for the best outcome? We’ve provided a comprehensive guide on this and the pros and cons of adding rocks to your succulents. Grab a notepad and let’s dive right in.
Is It Possible to Plant Succulents in Rocks Alone?
Most people choose to grow succulents because they’re low-maintenance plants. You don’t have to water them as often as you would other plants. And if you don’t have a green thumb, you’ll be glad to know it’s quite hard to kill a succulent. However, if you don’t know the right way to plant one, you may be in for a surprise.
Succulents have extensive roots that require sufficient soil to thrive. The plant gets nutrients, warmth, and moisture from the soil, which contribute to healthy growth. As a result, when you plant them in rocks or pebbles only, the plant will dry and die because it’s not getting what it needs to grow.
Another thing you should know is that succulents won’t thrive in any type of soil. These plants require well-drained soil. This is where the rocks you see on succulent plant pots come in. Referred to as top dressing or potting pebbles, these rocks enhance the drainage of the soil.
You’re probably wondering how some succulents thrive in what seems like rock arrangements alone. The truth is, gardeners use some soil below the pebbles before planting their succulent. In most cases, the soil is not as much as you would use for other plants. They only use a small amount to provide the nutrients the plant needs and top up with an assortment of rocks.
Pros and Cons of Using Rocks in Succulent Arrangements
You’ve probably come across numerous succulent plant arrangements with rocks on them. In fact, it’s hard to come by one without. So what are the benefits of doing so? Does it add any value to the plant? Are there disadvantages? Let’s find out.
There are a plethora of benefits you get from adding rocks in succulents. These include:
- Improved water drainage: The pebbles help water to move through the soil faster, thereby keeping the soil in a well-drained state at all times.
- Improved aesthetic appeal: There are various decorative top dressing materials you can use to elevate the look of your plants. These work perfectly to enhance the look of the pot and overall plant.
- They keep the arrangement intact: Some top dressing rocks are glued together to ensure the plant doesn’t move out of place. This way, you’re guaranteed your perfect arrangement will stay put, which is critical if the plant is for display purposes. Besides, the soil stays put when you’re watering.
- Prevents contact rot: When you use leaves as a top dressing, adding rocks between the leaves and the soil prevents contact rot that happens when the leaves leave the soil wet for too long.
If the setup is not done correctly or you use the wrong materials, your succulent arrangement may have a few drawbacks. The primary disadvantage is:
- Rocks can trap moisture: This mostly happens when the rocks used have very fine particles. When this happens, it’s more likely for the succulent to rot.
Tips for Using Rocks Effectively When Planting Succulents
As we’ve mentioned, there are three critical things your succulents need to thrive; moisture, warmth, and nutrients. If you want to use mostly rocks in your plant arrangement, you can do so as long as you’re providing your succulents with these three things. Here’s how to go about it.
Provide Nutrients Using Fertilizers
Like any other living thing, your succulents need nutrients to grow. If you want your rock arrangement to work, one of the ways to pull it off is to ensure the potting mix is packed with enough fertilizers. You can use organic or inorganic fertilizer.
Alternatively, you can apply the fertilizer directly to the soil after planting your succulent. You will only have to do this occasionally because the soil is already rich in nutrients. And if you notice the leaves starting to look pale or yellow, it means it’s time to increase the fertilizer applications.
Get a Resilient Species
Some succulents are more resilient than others. There are succulent plants that won’t even last a few days in this kind of set up. Others will thrive for weeks before you notice any signs of drying.
You need to get your hands on a species that’s capable of growing in a small amount of soil. A perfect example is the topical cacti. This plant will grow almost anywhere, including on the bark of trees. It’s, therefore, an excellent choice for a rock planting arrangement.
However, you still need to maintain proper care practices to ensure the plant stays in tip-top condition for a long time.
Increase the Amount of Soil Occasionally
With a rock arrangement, you’ll find that the amount of soil slowly reduces over time. For this reason, you need to keep an eye on it and ensure the soil is always above the roots of the plant. To avoid taking apart the entire set up every time you need to add soil, add the soil to the top and shake the pot until all of it settles at the bottom.
As a rule of thumb, try to refill the soil every two weeks. If there’s room in your pot to stick something inside to check the soil level, that should also work.
Provide an Alternative Source of Moisture
In a rock arrangement, your succulents won’t have access to enough moisture through their roots. To prevent them from drying up, mist the leaves with water often. These plants are capable of trapping water in their leaves. As a result, you’ll extend their life by doing so.
Do It Short-Term
Even with the best watering practices and proper fertilization, succulents won’t survive long in a rock arrangement. They need adequate moisture and nutrients that this kind of set up can’t sustain. Therefore, you should only use the arrangement for a short period of time.
For instance, if you have an exhibition and you’d like to have some succulents on display, you can use the arrangement. Afterwards, transfer the plants to a more favorable set up where they’ll get everything they need.
Make the Right Choice
There’s no doubt succulents look stunning in rock arrangements. Unfortunately, they can’t survive for a long time in such an environment. The plants need water and nutrients from the soil to thrive. Therefore, if you’ve been thinking of adopting this planting setup, it may be best to do it for a short period of time.
And when you do, don’t plant the succulents in rocks only. Doing so will surely kill your plants. Use a small amount of soil and use fertilizer to provide the much-needed nutrients. Most importantly, water your plants as needed to keep them healthy.
Alternatively, plant your succulents with sufficient soil and only add the top dressing to the top to improve aesthetic appeal. This approach is way easier and safer for your plants.