How to Plant Succulents in Rocks

You might have seen succulents that are planted in only rocks. Planting succulents in rock is common but is more challenging than it appears.

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You might have seen succulents that are planted in only rocks. Planting succulents in rock is common but is more challenging than it appears.

While planting succulents in or on rocks may look exciting, it is challenging for succulents to survive in these types of environments. Rocks do not provide the nutrients that succulents need to survive, which is why many people experience issues.

Just like all plants, succulents need certain nutrients to survive. While simple rock planters or rock gardens may seem like the perfect place for a succulent, these environments often do not provide a sustainable amount of nutrients for succulents. Adding small amounts of soil or fertilizer can be a great way to support your succulent. Other mediums such as sand can also help the roots of your succulents. However, it is essential to consider that if your succulent can not properly root into the rocks or other mediums that they are planted in, their root systems will continue to grow, and they may outgrow their pots.

After dedicating time and energy to finding the best way to plant your succulents, we have discovered several tricks of the trade that will help you cultivate your succulents in rocks like a professional gardener.

Table of Contents

Will my succulents live if I plant them in rocks?

The simple answer is no. Although succulents are hardy plants that often survive in extreme environments where other plants cannot, they cannot survive in only rocks. Succulents in nature rely on moss, dirt, and other organic material to survive. While rocks are natural, they are not considered organic material that supports other living things.

The picturesque planters of succulents that appear to only have stones in them often hide soil, sand, or fertilizer below the surface. There are many things you can do to help your succulents survive in rocks but without the addition of a few other things, your succulents will struggle to survive.

Do my succulents get all the nutrients they need if I plant them in only rocks?

Rocks provide no nutrients, which means that succulents that are planted in only rocks are not getting any nutrients. While many succulents survive in high deserts or other extreme places, they still need nutrients to stay alive and to continue growing. If you plant your succulent in rocks and nothing else, they will be unable to extract the things they need to survive. Many people believe that water and sunlight are all succulents need in order to survive, but, in fact, the material a succulent is planted in is critical to their survival.

The soil that many people chose to plant their succulents is mineral-rich and provides essential energy sources to the plant. Succulents that are grown outside also need nutrients and need to be planted in an area where they can find those. If you plant outdoor succulents in a rock garden, you will need to provide them with additional support to keep them alive.

Can you add dirt to a rock planter for succulents?  

Many gardeners use one trick to keep succulents alive to hide soil within the rocks that you want to plant in. Many people enjoy the look of just rocks as the base for their planting, but there are ways to add in soil discreetly to keep the integrity of your desired look. If you are planting your succulents indoors, consider adding dirt to the bottom of your planter and then adding your rocks on top. This technique will give you the illusion that your succulents are planted in pebbles, but they will still get the nutrients and support they need.

If you are planting succulents in an outdoor rock garden, brainstorm ways to hid dirt when you are planting. If you are planting directly on the ground, you can just put a layer of soil down and put rock over the soil. This simple trick works because once you plant your succulents, the roots will follow the water as the water soaks into the dirt. As the roots grow and stretch to follow the water, they will find the soil, which will provide all the “plant food” your succulent could need.  

Can I add fertilizer to the rocks my succulents are planted in?

Another way to plant succulents in rocks is to add fertilizer to your rocks every so often. Fertilizer is like plant food. It provides plants with all of the things they need in addition to the water and sunlight that they need to survive. Plant fertilizer often comes in liquid form and can be added to your water that you are using to water your plant. This method works particularly well if you are planting in a container inside.

If you are planting outside, fertilizer can also work for your succulents. While indoor succulents may only need a few capfuls full of fertilizer every month, outdoor succulents may need much more. Because of a greater chance of evaporation and the possibility that your fertilizer could soak into the ground instead of your succulent, you will have to fertilize more or more often. The best way to fertilize is to find a fertilizer suitable for succulents and read the instructions to make sure you do not over or under “feed” your plant.

Should I add sand below my succulents before planting?

If you are keen on the look of your succulents to be planted in rocks but don’t want the hidden mess of a layer of dirt below, a useful method may be a combination of a few different things. In addition to the fertilizer suggestion above, using sand can be a great tool. Sand is very aesthetic and can add depth to your rock garden or planter while also functional. Rocks can be very unstable for succulents. While rocks provide good drainage, there is not as much material for roots to grab onto in order to grip the plant into the surface.

Plants that are only planted in rocks are more subject to winds, flooding, and other natural elements that could move them around. If your succulents are located outside, this could drastically affect the health and life of your succulent. Adding sand or another similar substrate can help you’re succulent find more stability in its environment. While sand provides added support, it does not provide any food for your succulent. This means that while using a combination of rocks and sand, you will still need to use fertilizer as well.

Can my succulent live in rocks forever?

A common question that people ask is: can my succulent live in rocks forever. While the answer to this question is dependent on all sorts of other environmental factors, the simple answer is no, and there are a few reasons why.

The first reason why your succulent can not live in just rocks forever is that they will not have enough nutrients and stability, as discussed above. Many of the succulent and rock arrangements you see either have hidden sources of nutrients or simply for show or a picture and do not live for very long.

The second reason why your succulent cannot live in rocks forever is that your succulent’s roots will continue to expand in such a richer material to live in. As the roots continue to expand, your succulent will outgrow its container or space. While you may not see very much growth on the leaves or stems of your succulent, rest assured the roots are below searching for what the plant needs to stay alive. Because of this, you may need to re-pot your succulent often, or you will notice increased roots sprawling across an outdoor area.  

How do I plant my succulents in rocks?

If you decide that the additional steps are worth the work, planting succulents in rocks is quite easy. First, you want to pick a type of rock that will be appropriate for the size of your succulent. You do not want to use fist-sized rocks for a succulent that is only a few inches tall; your succulent will have nothing to hold onto and will be unable to root itself. If you have a small succulent, use small rocks. For most succulents, pebbles will be a perfect size. 

Another key strategy of using rocks for succulents is to layer your work. Start with either a soil that your want to hide or large rocks that will be good for drainage. As you work toward the surface, you want your rocks to gradually get smaller so the rocks at the surface and are near most of the roots are a comparable size to the plant.

In an ideal planting environment, you would put medium-sized rocks such as river rocks at the bottom of your layering; next, you would add dirt or sand. Depending on how much dirt or sand you want to show, you can add a larger or smaller amount. After you add your soil or sand, you can add your smaller rocks or pebbles. 

How do I water Succulents planted in rocks?

Whether you chose to use big rocks, small rocks, soil, or sand, the most important aspect of planting in rocks is proper watering. While soil absorbs the water and the succulent can extract water from the soil for a time period after your water, rocks do not hold any water. This means that all the water your succulent needs is likely to run downstream through the rocks and not stick around for prolonged absorption.

The solution to this challenge is to water more frequently. Especially if you are using only rocks and no sand or soil, you must water more than you normally would. Succulents do not like to be overwatered, but when in rocks, the bigger issue is underwatering. Small amounts of water more frequently will help your succulent have ample opportunity to get the water it needs.

Succulents are very hardy plants that can survive harsh conditions and changing temperatures. Water is often disregarded when it comes to succulents because many people believe they only need to be watered every few months. Planting in rocks will significantly increase the amount your succulents need to be watered. Make sure to read up on your succulents to find out how much water they need to be healthy and how watering in rocks might affect that scale.

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