I love succulents. They are versatile and look almost primordial. They make excellent flower arrangements that live forever and require very little care except for proper drainage, no frost and very little water. One thing that annoys me with succulents is that it is tough to find the varieties that I want without paying way too much. Most of the time unusual varieties are sent over from Asia, leaving them in a terrible condition when the package ends up in my mailbox several weeks later. I have found that growing them from seed is the best way to propagate rare varieties, so here is my guide on how to grow succulents from seed. If you follow these simple steps, you'll find it pretty easy.
Before even getting to the sowing stage there are a few tips you should bear in mind. You will need to get some shallow planting trays with a lot of holes in them; this allows for water to drain quickly from the planting medium when your seedlings are very young and fragile. Please see below for what I use - I've had great success growing both succulents and cacti in these.
Once your seeds have arrived, and you are ready to plant it is essential that your sand is free draining and pesticide free. Please bear in mind that much of the sand sold commercially is sprayed with both fungicides and herbicides to make it "hassle free" for the consumer. You will need to find some horticultural sand or even kitty litter without perfume for this. I like to use builder's sand that you can find at your local DIY store - it is meant for mixing into cement, but it works perfectly for this.
The little pieces of rock allow for small air pockets to form and makes sure that the roots develop entirely. The best tip I ever got taught when it comes to growing succulents from seed was that you need to make sure that your sand is wet before sowing. Succulent seeds are very tiny and will easily float with water to one corner of your tray before they have roots. If your medium is wet, they will stick to the sand and stay put until they have roots.
To properly illustrate how to grow succulents from seed I need to show you how small the seeds are. They are tiny. The Wind will carry them away very quickly, and so it is important to do this in a place that is sheltered. I find that emptying your seed into your palm is an excellent way to control them. This way you can gently nudge them into the tray exactly where you want them.
Make sure that you scatter the seed with some space between them and tap the tray gently against a flat surface. By tapping it, you are making sure that any seed that does not touch the sand will fall into place. Cover them with either a shower cap or a humidity dome until they start sprouting - this is important as most seed won't germinate unless there's a certain amount of humidity in the air.
Depending on the seeds the succulents will take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks to germinate. As you can see they are equally as small as the seeds were and will require stable water conditions for about a week before you can start letting the medium dry out a bit more. Remember to remove your humidity dome or shower cap as soon as you see them sprout. Too much moisture will make them rot.
And to point out how tiny they are, here's a picture of my seemingly enormous fingertip in comparison. From here on your most important task is not to water too much. Going by experience, I found that the best way to keep them going strong is to wait until the whole sand is thoroughly dried up and then water it well. Make sure to let it thoroughly dry out before the next watering.
To water them carefully flood the tray by pouring water into the corners of it. Make sure the water drains through and that you do not let them stand in water by keeping the tray in a container or plate. The sand should be soaking wet, but the plants should never sit in water. I move my trays into the sink or into the garden for watering so that the extra water can escape quickly. Let the sand dry fully before watering again. By doing this, you mimic what those plants would experience in the desert. Drought and flood - once it rains. After a few weeks, they will start looking like the little plants in the picture below. Even though you might be tempted to move them to another container since they are forming sturdy looking plants you should stay patient and let them grow.
If you managed to keep them alive for a total of about three months, you should be a proud parent of a whole little cluster of succulents. Bear in mind these are desert plants. They will not grow as quickly as other plants that you might be used to. Patience is the key.
As you can see you can grow as many as you wish at the same time. If you are going to garden events or plant swaps, they are a beautiful thing to grow. People will trade you any plants for these since many believe they are hard or impossible to grow from seed, just be sure to start them at least three months before you want to give them away. These succulents I grew specifically for this post, and they took exactly three months to reach sizes ranging from 1 - 2.5 cm (⅓ - 1 inch). It might seem unbearably slow, but there is a reason. Where these plants usually grow there is no steady supply of water and in most cases not many nutrients either, combined with harsh weather. They had to adapt and make the best of their growing conditions. They adapted by developing thick leaves that can endure the harsh climate and a very slow but steady growing speed. On a positive note, these don't need to be re-potted that often, and once you got an adult plant, you can have it for decades - granted that you take care of it.
Remember that seeds will be quite inexpensive while plants will cost anything ranging from a few euros to as much as thousands. The Queen Victoria agave (agave victoriae-reginae) is a prime example for hefty price tags. The seeds alone are more expensive than the common succulent plant. On average you have to spend €14 (US$16) on a few seeds as you can see here.
Varieties that I managed to grow from seed so far.
Here are a few pictures of my succulent and cactus collection that were all grown from seed. I hope that you can use this guide on how to grow succulents from seed to be able to start growing these unusual plants yourself.
I will keep adding more pictures to this post so do come back, in the meantime, please try using this guide on how to grow succulents from seed to start a collection on your own. If you want to have a look at my cacti, please click here. If you are growing your own from seeds and want to have a chance to have your pictures featured in this post, then tag your plants on Instagram with #gloriathegreedyvegan.