Can You Plant Succulents in Rocks? Will They Actually Grow?

Are you considering adding some succulents to your rocks in your garden? Perhaps you are thinking of planting some succulents using rocks in a bowl as the soil? If you do, are you wondering if your succulent will even grow correctly? In this article, we examine everything you need to know about planting succulents in rock beds, or bowls of rocks!

Plant Succulents in Rocks

Succulents are popular plants across the world, not only for their geometric beauty but also for their ease of care. Planted in sandy, well-draining soil, they are often found in rock gardens where they thrive in the hot summer sun. Succulents are also great container plants and look stunning on a patio or near a sunny window. 

The resilience of these hardy plants, combined with their native habitats, leads many gardeners to ask the question – can you plant succulents in rocks? And will they grow to their full potential if you plant them that way?

While we frequently see succulents planted in rocky soil or topped with rocks as decoration, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will grow in these conditions long-term. Let’s find out how long they will last, and what you can do to get the process right. 

Succulent Care 

Succulents in Small Containers
These plants are some of the easiest to care for with very little maintenance.

Succulents are not fussy plants, provided they are grown in the right conditions. When it comes to soil, those conditions are sandy or rocky and incredibly well-draining

Succulents store water in their leaves. That’s what gives them their plump juicy appearance. These water storage facilities mean succulents do not need to be watered very often. It also means that if they are watered too much, they will struggle. 

Succulents left to sit in water will slowly begin to rot. The roots and leaves can only take up so much water, so any excess begins to harm the plant, causing the leaves and roots to become mushy. The soil needs to drain well enough to get rid of any excess water to prevent this problem. 

When planting in containers, regular potting soil is often amended with river sand, bark, or rocks to increase drainage. 

Can Succulents Grow In Rocks Without Soil? 

Cactus Planted in Rocks
It is possible for succulent plants to survive when planted in only rocks.

With these conditions in mind, it should follow that succulents would be happy when planted in rocks. They do not hold on to water and drain incredibly well, preventing any chances of root rot. However, this does exclude another element of soil all plants require – nutrients. 

Succulents are not hungry plants, but they do require essential nutrients for growth. Macronutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are vital, with other micronutrients like zinc or iron required in smaller amounts. Without these nutrients, the plant will not grow at all or survive for very long. 

Rocks, by their nature, do not release nutrients fast enough to sustain the plants. They are made up of minerals, but these break down incredibly slowly over time and alone aren’t suitable for planting. They also typically don’t hold enough moisture, draining almost immediately and leaving the roots completely dry within a few hours. 

Unfortunately, that means succulents cannot grow in rocks without soil long-term. They may survive for several weeks or even months on the stores they have available in the stems and leaves, but will slowly die without consistent care. 

How To Get It Right 

Small Cactus Planted in Soil Topped With Rocks
Ideally, a succulent or cactus would be planted in well-draining or sandy soil and then topped off with small rocks.

Even though succulents can’t grow in rocks alone, there are several ways to make it look like you’re growing them in rock. 

When planting in a regular pot, the process is simple. Fill your container with succulent potting mix, plant your succulent, and cover the soil with a thick layer of rock. This covers the top layer of soil, making it look as if the plant is growing in rock

You can also do this if you are planting them in an outdoor area of your yard. This is what makes these plant types so fantastic for water-challenged landscaping, like xeriscapes.

Terrariums 

Terrarium With Rocks, Soil, and Plants
Adding layer of larger rocks to the bottom of the terrarium will allow more water to drain.

Planting in a glass jar or terrarium is slightly trickier. Firstly, terrarium containers typically don’t have any drainage, making their use for succulents problematic from the start. Secondly, the soil is visible from all sides, making it tough to hide. 

Start by adding coarse rocks to the bottom of the container. This will hide the bottom layer of soil but also prevents any excess water from sitting around the roots. Place a layer of soil in the center of the rocks, topping with your chosen succulent. Ensure all sides of the plant are covered to give the roots enough space to grow into the nearby soil.  

Then, instead of filling in the gaps with more soil, fill them in with the same rocks you used at the bottom of the container. This completely hides the soil in the center and makes it look as if the plants are growing completely in rock. 

Succulents planted in jars should always be left open to prevent humidity from building up inside the glass and rotting the leaves. The open side should also face the sunlight to stop concentrated sunlight from scorching the leaves. 

Whether planting in regular containers or in glass, ensure you choose the right soil. Purchase specialized succulent mix from a reputable nursery or make your own by amending potting soil with river sand and fine gravel. This will ensure the plants get everything they need from the little soil they have without becoming waterlogged or nutrient deficient. 

The Perfect Alternative

Person Holding Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate
Using clay pebbles is an excellent alternative to using rocks.

If the tricky process of hiding the soil around your succulents sounds like more work than it’s worth, there is another option – clay pebbles. Also known as LECA (lightweight expanded clay aggregate), these pebbles look just like rocks but have the ability to absorb water and nutrients, giving them to the plants slowly when required. 

Expanded clay pebbles offer a wide range of benefits, from moisture regulation to lower maintenance. They are ideal for gardeners who continually over-water their succulents, as the pebbles draw up water only when needed. They also allow you to use glass containers without the worry of drainage issues. 

Clay pebbles may be slightly more costly than regular succulent soil mix, but offer the same design aesthetic as planting in rocks. They are also reusable as they can be washed and used for other plants – a quality normal potting soil does not have. 

To grow succulents in clay pebbles, simply rinse off any existing soil around the roots and plant them in a glass container with no drainage holes filled with the pebbles. Leave a small amount of water at the bottom of the pot and leave it in a bright, sunny spot. 

Keep in mind that, as a hydroponic medium, the clay pebbles do not contain any nutrients. They will hold on to nutrients you add to the water, but you do need to add them yourself to sustain growth in your succulents. You can use a diluted liquid fertilizer added to the water, or specialized hydroponic nutrients available online to tailor the conditions to your plant’s needs. 

Final Thoughts 

As good as they may look in rocks, succulents can’t survive for very long in rocks alone. They need moisture and nutrients from the soil that rocks simply cannot provide. However, there are several easy ways to hide the soil around the roots, producing the same effects without compromising on plant care. Alternatively, you can give clay pebbles a try to give your plants what they need with the same design aesthetic.  

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