Succulents are some of the easiest of all plants to keep alive. They’re an excellent choice for novice gardeners as they don’t ask for much beyond a bright windowsill and the occasional drink.
But do all succulents flower? It comes down to how you tend to them, but with proper care, you can coax flowers from some succulents.
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Do All Succulents Flower?
No, not all succulents grow the beautiful, colorful blooms we hope for.
While a few types of succulents flower consistently year after year, others take years to grow a single bloom, often followed by a swift death, and some succulents, like the mermaids tail succulent, never flower at all.
It all depends on the type of succulent, the care and conditions it’s grown in, and how much you’re able to mimic the natural environment from which they originate.
Still, flowering succulents make a fantastic addition to DIY succulent kits and arrangements.
Rare Beauties – Why Succulent Flowers Are Uncommon
Succulents are not a related group of plants. Instead, ‘succulent’ refers to the soft, wet tissues of the leaf. It’s called hydrenchyma and has evolved to store water in times of drought and higher temperatures.
As a result, the succulents we grow as ornamentals are almost always desert plants. Most species’ natural habitat is dry and warm all year round. They need heat and bright light to thrive, and they need to thrive in order to fuel flowers and seeds.
Blooming succulents are rare indoors because it’s easy to supply too little light to trigger flowering. For example, your pickle plant won’t respond to even a well-lit office in the same way as it would the full summer sun in the velds of South Africa.
Even a south-eastern facing window is unlikely to give them the full extended day of light they need to flower.
Interiors like homes and offices often sit at cool temperatures that prevent flowers. It’s common for homes to be kept a full 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit too cold for plants that evolved for warm environments. What’s pleasant for us may be far too cold for most succulent species.
Succulents often plod along, producing new leaves just fine in such conditions. Depending on the species, they’ll even reproduce via pups, miniature plants that spring up from the roots alongside a mother plant.
But to flower, they need more heat and more light. They won’t risk manufacturing seeds – the inevitable result of flowers – if the conditions are unfavorable for germination.
Flowering is also a matter of age. Most varieties need a few years of growth before they are able to flower. While it varies from species to species, most need three to four years of steady growth before being ready to reproduce.
Seed production is an energy-intensive process, and young plants simply lack the resources needed to get that process underway.
Mature succulent plants grown in warm regions outdoors, like here in Australia, often have no problem at all flowering during the summer season.
My oldest Jade Plant (Crassula ovata) regularly produces stunning numbers of delicate white flowers in early spring. She’s almost fifty and never fails to deliver.
What is a Death Bloom?
While my Jade plants may be able to dazzle with extravagant full-bloom displays year after year, not all succulents have that luxury. Like the popular Hen and Chicks (Sempervivum spp), agave plants only flower once before they die.
These are known as monocarpic plants, and they blow their whole lifetime’s wealth in one spectacular flower. It’s rather evocatively referred to as a ‘death bloom.’ They send up long stems topped with colorful flowers, usually from the center of the plant.
It might not be apparent from the outside, but once a monocarpic succulent plant blooms, its death warrant is sealed.
It might be tempting to remove the tall stems before they can develop even small flowers, but it’s too late. The chemical process that results in death is already underway, and it’s only a matter of time before this type of succulent succumbs.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. While they can bloom, many succulent growers give their monocarpic plants just enough light to grow but not enough to trigger the death bloom.
They’ll still put out new growth, and most also tend to be prolific producers of tiny new plants called ‘pups.’ Agave plants are especially prone to sprawling over whole garden beds before ever deigning fit to flower.
Many won’t ever flower at all.
It can be tough working out which types of succulents are monocarpic. In general, the bloom of death springs from rosette-style succulents.
If the flower stalk pops right out of the very heart of the flower, it’s monocarpic. If the flower is off to the side, or the plant branches and sprawls, odds are good that the entire plant will keep powering on even after the flowers die.
The most commonly grown monocarpic succulents include:
If you want to see a succulent bloom year after year, consider growing:
- Jades (both Crassulas and Portocularia)
- Desert Rose
- Holiday Cacti
- Most Escherveria
- Aloe Vera
- Ice Plants
- Trailing Succulents like String of Pearls or String of Dolphins
How to Make Succulent Plants Flower
Whether you’re keen on a seasonal show or ready to let an old succulent go out in a blaze of glory, there are a few things to do to get your succulent blooming.
How to Get Succulents to Bloom
Do know what type of succulent you are growing. It might seem obvious, but the group of succulent plants is so huge and varied that it pays to know which species you have in hand.
Make sure you find out both the scientific name and the common name of any new addition to your succulent collection, as it’s not usual for different species to be traded under the same name. Once you know what you have, you can tailor the succulent care to the species.
Some want a lot of light, while others get by on less – a Christmas Cactus needs less light than a Crown of Thorns plant, for example, which belongs to the Euphorbia family of succulents.
Some need more water, and others like some time to dry out.
And, of course, it helps to know if your bright blooms are a bloom of death.
Wondering if your succulents can cause allergies? This article covers succulent allergies and toxicity in detail!
Do provide plenty of light. High levels of bright sunlight are absolutely critical to induce flowering – especially for species like the prickly pear, which grows bright yellow flowers when in full bloom. How much and how intense varies a bit between species, but a few hours of bright direct sun a day is generally ideal.
A south-easterly or southern window sill is the best place for indoor succulents, and if your climate is right, you can move them outdoors in late spring once the weather has warmed.
Do keep your succulent nice and warm. If you want flowers, that heat is critical. Aim for no lower than 25°C as consistently as possible.
Do provide appropriate soil. Succulents and cacti need a free draining mix. Commercial blends are fine, but I mix mine own from one part coarse sand, one part perlite, and one part good quality potting soil.
This gives the perfect balance of nutrition and drainage to nourish the succulent. A good pot is critical, too – there’s no point in free draining soil if the pot doesn’t have good drainage as well.
Do fertilize – but don’t go overboard. Succulents do fine with a quarter-strength dose of balanced liquid fertilizer, preferably in late spring or early summer. Mid to late summer fertilization isn’t usually necessary.
Do be patient. Even with the right conditions, most need a few years’ worth of new growth laid down before they will flower. Expect to wait until the plant is at least three years of age before it is ready to sprout its beautiful flowers.
What Not to Do for Succulent Blooms
Don’t over-water. Too much water just hanging around is a death sentence for a drought-tolerant plant. Ensure the soil dries out completely between each watering.
Don’t under-water, either. Of course, the plants still need some water in order to produce flowers. Wrinkled, puckered leaves and dropped foliage are signs you need to water more regularly.
Potted Exotic Pro Tip: When watering succulents, I let their weight be my guide. After all, a dry pot is lighter than one chock full of water! Make a mental note of how heavy your plant is before and after each watering. You’ll soon be able to tell if it’s time by simply picking it up. Failing that, an electric moisture meter is a great way to get a bead on just how much moisture is hiding away deep in the soil.
Don’t over-fertilize. It may be tempting to give a dose of fertilizer in the late winter months, but it’ll just sit in the pot and stress the roots. Wait till the weather warms before you attempt to feed the plant.
Don’t chill your plant. Environmental conditions like the temperature trigger chemical calendars in the plant. If it thinks it’s winter, it won’t flower – after all, there are few insects or birds around to pollinate the blooms or spread seeds.
Frequently Asked Questions About Flowering Succulents
Should I Let My Succulent Flower?
Most succulent species are perfectly fine during and after flowering. They’ll produce their distinctive blossoms with little fuss, year after year. If they’re well-fed and thriving, there’s no harm in letting nature take its course.
On the other hand, if you have a monocarpic plant, you might want to delay or prevent flowering entirely.
The bloom of death is called that for a reason, and if you want to enjoy a specific plant for many years yet to come, it pays to prevent those blooms from popping up.
How Do I Stop My Succulent from Flowering?
If you have a monocarpic succulent you’d like to keep alive, preventing flower buds is critical. Once the plant starts to produce that characteristic bloom stalk at the center of the plant, it’s toast. Keeping your plant in cooler conditions is probably the easiest way to achieve this.
Even with good sun exposure, a plant in cold temperatures will assume the cool conditions are the oncoming winter months and will refrain from blooming. The other is to limit the amount of direct sunlight the succulent receives.
They’ll grow quite happily on lots of bright, indirect light without having enough to flower. You’ll still see new growth but no flowers.
Are Succulent Flowers Rare?
If you’re in a cool part of the world and grow your succulent strictly as an indoor plant, flowers will be rare. They won’t get the right conditions required to flower. But if you’re in a warm climate and can grow them outdoors in rock gardens or the like, you’ll be surprised at how common a succulent in full bloom can be.
Here in Subtropical Australia, the weather is mild all year round, allowing succulents of all types to pop out beautiful flowers in all kinds of different colors and different varieties.
I’m personally fond of my aloe’s elegant orange flowers, yellow flowers, and pink flowers, brightly contrasting against their sharp green leaves.
What Happens to a Succulent After it Flowers?
A succulent flower functions just like any other type of flower. They contain everything needed to produce seeds and are just waiting to be pollinated. If that happens, the flower will die, and a seed capsule or a fruit will be produced.
If you’re quick, you can harvest the seeds and start your own baby plants at a later date. Once the seeds have been distributed, the flower will die.
For some succulents, it’s not much to worry about, and the dead flower stem can be removed with sharp pruning scissors or even bonsai scissors if you prefer.
If you’re cultivating monocarpic succulents, they will wither away and die once the flowering process is complete. The chemical changes inside the plant that triggers flowering also cause this type of plant to die off, so there’s nothing to be done for them once the flowers appear.
Thankfully most monocarpic plants also produce lots of off-sets or pups, so it’s not as rough as it sounds.
How Do I Get My Succulent to Bloom?
Giving your succulents the conditions they need to thrive is the most reliable way to see succulent flowers. You’ll need to meet and exceed their demands, providing the right conditions regardless of the season.
Warm temperatures, lots of time in the sun, and just the right amount of water are all keys to getting those lovely flowers to appear for the first time.
Indoor flowering succulents take a bit more work, but with a bit of effort, you can coax elegant spears or clusters of star-shaped flowers from even the most stubborn of plants.
Photo: Iryna Dobytchina via Canva.com
Photo: Andrew Waugh via Canva.com
Photo: 49pauly via Canva.com