How big do succulents get? Are succulents plants that stay small, or do they change size dramatically? For many people, succulents are the ideal houseplant. Most are low-maintenance, and you don’t have to have a green thumb to keep these plants thriving.
Most people would consider succulents and cacti to be slow-growing plants that don’t need regular repotting and don’t change much over the years. But is that true?
In this article, we’re going to explore the question of how big succulents get and look at what factors affect their size. Plus, we’ll look at how you can take steps to control their size, encouraging them to grow big or trying to keep them small.
As you can see from the image above, even in a small collection of succulents, there are a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.
In total, there are over 60 species of succulents and cacti worldwide. Each species has multiple varieties, resulting in thousands of different succulent and cactus types.
Consequently, there is no simple answer to the question, ‘How big do succulents get?’. The size of a succulent depends on a number of factors including:
- species and characteristics of the species and individual succulent type
- age of the succulent
- growing conditions (including soil, temperature, water, light)
Knowing these factors will help you to take the best possible care of your succulent and even control its growth if necessary.
Here is your complete guide to how big succulents get, including all the factors that affect their size.
Average Size Estimate For Succulents
Some succulent species are naturally very small, whereas others can grow to very impressive sizes. However, no matter what species of succulent you choose to grow, the way you care for your plant will have an impact on its mature size.
On one end of the succulent size spectrum you have Blossfeldia liliputana (pictured below). This cactus is known for its tiny size and rarely gets larger than 0.5 inch (15mm) in diameter. That said, it likes to grow in clumps, making it seem like a larger plant.
Other small succulents include Lithops (Living Stones) and Conophytum.
The largest succulent in the world is the North American saguaro cactus (pictured below), also known as Carnegiea gigantea. These succulents can reach incredible heights of over 40–50 feet (12–15 m).
So, as you can see, there’s a huge variety in the sizes of different succulent species.
But species isn’t the only factor you need to consider when estimating the size of a succulent. Even succulents that have the potential to grow very large can end up small if they are not provided with the right growing conditions.
Succulent Growth Rate
Succulents are not known for being fast-growing plants. In fact, if you compare them to other members of the plant kingdom, you’ll find that they’re slow growers on average.
But, of course, there is a wide variety of growth rates and it does depend on the species in conjunction with environmental conditions.
First, bear in mind that succulents have a dormant season as well as a growing season. While succulents are dormant, they do not do much growing.
Typically, succulents grow during the spring and summer months when the weather is warmer, and growth slows down significantly with the cold weather and shorter days.
Some cactuses and succulents might have significant growth spurts during their growing season. With other succulents, you might not see any noticeable growth for months or years.
For example, Gasteria and Haworthia are two common, slow-growing succulents. Growth over the course of a year is minimal and difficult to notice. These species might grow an inch or two in a 12-month period, which is completely normal. The Haworthia Cooperi shown below grows very slowly.
However, other succulents, like Aloe or Kalanchoe, grow very quickly by comparison. With optimal conditions for growth, the heights of some types of Aloe and Kalanchoe could increase by several inches each year. Pictured below is Kalanchoe delagoensis, Mother of Millions, which can reach 6 feet (1.8m) tall.
Factors That Affect Succulent Size
As we’ve already discussed, the species of your succulent will have an enormous impact on the full mature height and growth rate of your plant. However, as a gardener, you do have some control over how big your succulents get and how quickly they reach that height.
These are the main factors that affect succulent size and growth rate:
- Soil type and quality
- Pot Size and Space
1. Soil Type And Quality
Soil is one of the most important factors in how your succulent grows. Not only does it provide nutrition for the plant, but it also determines how healthy the roots are and healthy roots are a key factor in determining the growth of your succulent.
Succulents have evolved to thrive in dry, arid locations where any rain that falls disappears quickly. Succulent roots can take up available water quickly, which is then stored in the plant’s leaves and stem to help survive until the next rainfall.
Succulent roots prefer to be in dry conditions, and access to too much water for prolonged periods can result in root rot. Root rot is caused by fungal growth in damp conditions and is one of the biggest health issues for succulents.
Succulents need loose soil that allows good airflow around the roots and drains well. There are succulent-specific soil mixes available that contain the optimal mix of soil and gritty materials that improve drainage.
It is critical that you plant your succulent in soil that is not too compact and doesn’t contain elements that retain water.
Peat moss and clay are examples of soil elements you should avoid if you want your succulents to be healthy, since they encourage water retention. Instead, look for potting mixes that include perlite, gravel, or sand.
Soil also contains nutrients and if succulents don’t get enough nutrition from soil, they probably won’t reach their full potential in terms of size.
However, most succulents grow in nutrient-poor, rocky soils and can actually suffer if the soil is too rich in nutrients. This is a tricky balance to get right, and we suggest that beginners use a succulent-specific potting mix from a local garden center or online store.
Over time, your plant can deplete the soil of nutrients, particularly if you have multiple succulents planted in one pot, and many succulent owners replace the succulent’s soil every couple of years to refresh it.
You can tell if your soil is running low on nutrients if the tips of your succulents’ leaves will start to yellow. This is different from the kind of yellowing you might observe due to overwatering, which typically affects the bottom leaves first with damage spreading from the stem end first.
If you notice the signs of nutrient depletion, the best course of action is to repot your succulent or provide a succulent-specific fertilizer sparingly. A little goes a long way when it comes to fertilizing succulents.
Sunlight is an essential source of energy for succulents, but some succulents can’t tolerate as much direct sun exposure as others.
For instance, Cereus succulents (pictured below) love to bask in full sunlight throughout the day. This cactus species is a desert plant, used to getting plenty of heat and sunlight year-round.
On the other hand, Rhipsalis (pictured below) is an example of a succulent species that shouldn’t be exposed to too much direct sunlight. In their native rainforest environment, Rhipsalis succulents grow on trees and are accustomed to receiving sunlight filtered through canopies of leaves.
Most succulents will do well with at least 4 – 6 hours of bright, indirect sunlight each day. If you live in an area with intense sun, most succulents will need to be shaded from powerful midday and afternoon sun. If you live in a milder climate, your succulents may be able to handle more time in direct sun.
A bright, sunny window will suit most succulents. If the sun is intense, a sheer curtain that diffuses the light will help shade your succulents.
But we’re talking optimal conditions here. Many succulents will cope with lower light levels for periods of time.
Low light levels may result in stunted growth. Very low light levels may actually result in your plant growing taller than you’d expect.
Confused? If your succulent is really not getting enough light for its needs, its leaves may lose their vibrancy, and the plant will stretch out to grow towards the light source.
If the light source is above the plant, it will grow tall and lanky.
If the light source is to the side, the plant will lean towards the light source. Below is a photo of an extreme example of a stretched-out succulent leaning towards a light source.
To stop succulents from leaning, always rotate the pot every few weeks to ensure all sides of the plant receive light equally.
Succulents are fairly drought-tolerant plants. However, this does not mean that you shouldn’t water your succulent at all. Just because a succulent can survive for weeks or even months without water doesn’t mean it’s the best for its health and growth.
Many people make the mistake of under-watering their succulents because they believe they don’t really need water, and as a result, the plants don’t thrive and don’t reach their full height.
That said, it’s also very easy to accidentally overwater a succulent, which can lead to root rot, a condition that is even more damaging.
To avoid harming your succulents, knowing how to water them correctly is important. It’s hard to give an exact time frame on when and how often you should water your succulents as it depends on the climate, time of year, the species of succulent and the temperature, to mention just a few factors.
Obviously, it’s almost impossible to track and control that in a normal home environment, so the easiest way to know when to water your succulent is to check the soil. You should water your succulent deeply and thoroughly, allow any excess water to drain off, and then wait until the soil is completely dry before watering again. This mimics the real-world rainfall-drought cycle the plants experience in their native environments.
If you don’t think you’ve got your watering right, check the leaves of the succulent. Underwatering will result in browning at the tips and wrinkled leaves. Overwatering will show itself as yellowing lower leaves that are turning translucent and mushy, particularly at the stem end.
Succulents also have dormant periods when they should be watered less often. It depends on the species whether that main dormancy is during summer or winter. Most succulents will require less water in winter and some cacti will require none at all.
Temperature can have a sizable effect on how much a succulent grows during its life.
Since most succulents are accustomed to warmer climates, it’s generally safe to say you should avoid very cold temperatures if you want your succulent to be healthy and grow to its maximum size. Although, there are some cold-hardy succulents, such as Sempervivum and some Sedums and Agaves.
For the most part, most succulents prefer average room temperatures of 65 – 78 degrees Fahrenheit (18 – 26 degrees Celsius) for their growing phases but can tolerate temperatures on either side. Some cacti, in particular, can tolerate higher heat.
It’s best to avoid extreme temperatures and fluctuations in temperature wherever possible.
Providing your succulent with enough space to grow is crucial if you want it to reach its maximum size. A medium-sized succulent planted in a smaller pot might not necessarily be unhealthy, but there won’t be enough room for its roots to grow, which can stunt overall growth.
As a good rule of thumb, try to make sure that any pot you plant your succulent in is around 10% wider than the current size of the plant.
This applies to depth, too. Remember that as your succulent grows, you may need to repot to adhere to these guidelines.
The 10% guideline is recommended because you don’t want your succulent swamped with too much additional room. If it is, your succulent might dedicate its energy to growing larger roots rather than increasing the size of its leaves.
How To Grow Bigger Succulents?
If you want your succulents to grow big, the four key considerations are:
- Basic Needs (water, light, temperature, soil, space)
- Pest and Disease Control
1. Basic Needs
If you want to help your succulents grow bigger, the most important thing is to meet all their basic needs regarding optimal growing conditions.
That means ensuring you give them the water, sunlight, heat, space, and soil that best suits their specific species and mimics their natural environment.
Remember, more does not always equal better. Providing more water, heat, or sunlight than your succulent needs can be just as damaging as depriving it of these things.
2. Pest And Disease Control
Pests are, unfortunately, a fact of life and despite your best efforts, the pesky little critters may find their way to your succulents. If you can spot pests early, most treatments are quick, easy and effective and should be gone before any major damage happens.
The most common succulent pests are mealybugs, aphids, scale insects and spider mites. Unusual tiny spots and bumps on your plants on the stems and both sides of the leaves and sticky leaves should be investigated as these are common signs of pest infestations. Most pests can be removed physically with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol or by spraying with neem oil. Remember to repeat treatments weekly to remove any eggs that have hatched in between treatments.
The most common diseases related to fungal growth most often caused by damp soil or excess moisture around the leaves and stems. Keep your succulent in an area with gentle airflow to allow any moisture to evaporate from the leaves and soil surface. Try not to get water on the leaves when you water, and give your plants a little space away from each other to allow air to circulate.
See our guide to common succulent pests and effective solutions for more details and images to help you identify any pests.
3. Fertilizer – Extra Food
Ideally, your succulent should be able to get plenty of nutrients from its soil. However, it can be beneficial to give your succulent some extra nutritients once in a while.
Succulents are used to low nutrient levels and excessive levels of elements such as nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus in the soil can cause chemical burns to the roots. If you wish to apply fertilizer to your succulents, use a succulent-specific fertilizer and follow the instructions for dilution and application on the packaging. Only fertilize sparingly and only during the active growing seasons for your succulent species. Spring is the best time to apply fertilizer.
Most succulents do not require pruning, but if you want to promote the growth of the plant, you may wish to remove offsets (baby plants) or flower stalks to encourage all the plant’s energy to go to growth.
You can also control the shape of your succulent by pruning.
Always use sharp, sterile implements to prune. The best time to prune is in Spring, at the beginning of the succulent’s growth cycle.
Tips For Reducing Succulent Growth
While many gardeners want their succulents to grow big, some prefer them to remain small. If you’re worried about your succulents taking up too much space, you may want to limit their growth.
The good thing about succulents is that while they thrive and grow to their fullest potential on a certain amount of water, nutrition, and sunlight, they can also survive on a little less of all these things. Therefore, if you don’t want your succulents to grow too big, the easiest thing to do is limit their nutrient and water intake slightly.
For example, if you know that your succulent would need weekly watering to grow to its maximum mature size, you might want to try watering it every two weeks instead.
You could also try keeping your succulents in small containers, although this can cause issues in the long run. Succulents that don’t have enough space to grow often become root-bound and will drain their small patch of soil of nutrients, and you may need to repot your succulents frequently to avoid this.
One thing we do caution against, however, is limiting light. Remember, succulents can etiolate if they don’t have enough light and grow tall and lanky, so if you restrict your succulent’s light exposure too much, it could stretch and grow into a different shape.
Ultimately, the best way to make sure that your succulents stay as small as possible is to buy succulent varieties that don’t grow very large in the first place. You can specifically buy miniature succulents to be kept in small spaces.
Many factors can impact the size of a succulent. First and foremost, different succulent species grow to different mature sizes, so some will stay relatively small throughout their lives, while others will grow very large given the right conditions.
A succulent’s exposure to sunlight and heat, as well as water and nutrients from the soil, will impact how fast it grows and whether it will reach its optimal size.
The space you provide for your succulent to grow can also have an impact.
Helping your succulent to grow larger involves knowing the species’ optimal water, nutrient, sunlight, and temperature levels. On the other hand, limiting water slightly may restrict your succulent’s growth.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Is My Succulent Changing Shape?
A common complaint we hear from people who are new to growing succulents is that their succulents are growing into unusual shapes. The main reason for this is light deprivation.
When succulents don’t get enough direct sunlight, they sometimes start to turn and grow toward the light source. This causes the succulent to become taller, and you’ll also notice the leaves separating from one another.
At the same time, you might observe the leaves getting smaller and losing some of their vibrancy.
This process is called etiolation. Remember, different succulent species tolerate and need different levels of sunlight. So, a perfectly fine amount of sun for one succulent could cause etiolation in another.
Can I Cut Off The Top Of My Succulent For Replanting?
If you’re concerned that your succulent is growing too tall, one thing you could do is trim the top off the succulent. This should not harm the bottom part of the plant as long as you are careful.
As a bonus, you can use the removed top section to propagate a new plant. Leave the cut end to dry out for roughly 48 hours before replanting it in succulent-specific potting soil. Keep the top layer of soil slightly moist until new roots form and provide plenty of bright, indirect light. Once your propagated plant starts to show some growth, start watering only when the soil is completely dry.
Why Is My Succulent Not Growing After Repotting?
A succulent’s growth might stagnate after repotting. Succulents can go into ‘transplant shock’ after repotting. If possible, try not to disturb or damage the root ball during repotting. It’s best to repot in spring which is an active growth time for most succulent species. Avoid repotting during winter and summer when extremes of heat or cold could cause stress to the plant.
How Can I Avoid Overwatering My Succulent?
Overwatering a succulent by accident is easily done, but there are things you can do to prevent it and avoid slowing your plant’s growth. Make sure your succulent is in a container with drainage holes with well-draining soil. Only water your succulent when the soil is completely dry.
Look out for signs of overwatering, like yellowing leaves at the bottom of the plant. If you observe this, you should wait until the soil feels mostly dry before watering again, and try adding smaller quantities of water until the plant’s condition improves.