What exactly are succulents?
Succulents are a group of plants that store water in their characteristic plump, fleshy leaves. They're typically found in arid environments (like deserts), meaning they're adapted to hot, full sun, infrequent watering and low humidity.
The word succulent comes from the Latin 'sucus' meaning 'sap', referring to the way that they are capable of storing water. This ability allows them to withstand prolonged periods of drought. In their native environment, they receive very occasional rainfall and this is then enough to keep them going for several weeks. Likewise, succulents are typically not able to survive temperatures below freezing. Extreme temperatures can, however, sometimes cause them to change color (known as 'blushing'), with some varieties showing vibrant shades of reds, pinks, oranges and purples.
There are many varieties of succulents that can vary greatly in appearance, showing many different patternings and leaf shapes from wide rounded, circular edges to thin sharp points!
Common problems with succulents
Unsuitable soil Unfortunately, it's often the case that succulents that are sold in stores and nurseries are planted in soil that isn't actually suitable for them, especially when they're grown as houseplants. Therefore, it's usually always a good idea to repot them as soon as possible using a gritty, well-draining soil. This allows the plant to dry out sufficiently, which is necessary for your succulent to stay healthy and happy.
The soil that is found in many nurseries is often made predominantly from peat. When peat dries out it becomes hydrophobic (water repellant), meaning that when you water again later on, the soil either retains too much water or the water only runs down the sides of the pot as the soil clumps together to form a lump. This prevents your succulent from being able to uptake water correctly and also increases the risk of overwatering.
Also worth noting is that not all cacti soil that is found in stores is actually that good for your cactus plants - make sure to check the ingredients / composition and check that it's gritty enough for your succulents.
Lighting requirements Succulents like the sun - and plenty of it! If possible, you should always place your succulents in full sunlight during the growing season, but part sun, part shade can also work for most succulents (generally speaking). If your succulent starts to look unhappy and you're not sure why, a common culprit is not enough sunlight. Try moving it to a sunnier spot in your home and hopefully it should perk up soon. Avoid overwatering When it comes to succulents, it can be very easy to 'kill it with kindness'! You may have felt that instinct before, to just give it a little bit of water because it's been a while and it looks dry, but succulents can go a very long time without water. In fact, they actually like drying out completely between waterings. It's much easier to kill a succulent by overwatering it than by underwatering it, so if you're ever unsure then it's much better to hold off on watering than to risk giving it too much.
How to help your succulents to thrive
Move your succulents outdoors during the summer Succulents love the warmth and sunlight they find outdoors, so as long as where you live doesn't get too cold (e.g. in the night) it can be beneficial to bring your succulents outdoors during the summer months. This can help keep your succulents healthier than they'd otherwise be indoors, as they enjoy the increased airflow and the direct access to the sun.
You should gradually introduce your succulents to their new outdoor home, as a sudden change in environment (particularly in temperature / lighting conditions) when you take your plant from indoors to outdoors can leave it vulnerable to sun damage, as it initially needs time to adjust to the change. Just like humans, succulents can get sunburnt, and can also struggle if they get too hot. It's therefore a good idea to start them off in a more shady area as the temperatures start to warm and then, after a week or so, move it to a slightly sunnier spot. Repeat this system of waiting a week in between each interval until your succulents are eventually in their final chosen spot.
Allow for dormancy Ensuring that your succulents undergo a successful dormancy period increases the likelihood that you will be rewarded with flowers once the warm season arrives again. Dormancy describes the state where your plant is not actively growing, and it thus needs less water (and less general care) than it normally would. In order to encourage dormancy indoors, you'll most likely need to adjust the temperatures your succulents are kept at, as normal indoor winter temperatures can encourage your plants to continue growing all year round. Cooler temperatures will drastically slow down your succulent's growth rate, so it's very important that you water less during this time (otherwise your succulent can die from root rot). Going through this cycle will help encourage your succulent to develop more flowers - in fact, many varieties won't bloom at all without experiencing a cold period first.