1. Find your container. Choose a vessel that’s relatively shallow and a good tabletop size. This can be a low plant container from the nursery, a repurposed ceramic serving bowl or a funky recycled vessel such as a large shell, an antique metal tray or a collection of jars. For outdoor containers, make sure there’s a drainage hole, as succulents rot in wet soil. For indoor containers, you can choose a vessel without a drainage hole but be sure not to overwater.
2. Choose your succulents. Depending on the look you’d like for your centerpiece, select a mix of small succulents of various shapes, sizes and colors to plant together or choose one or two stand-alone specimens to each occupy its own container. In general, it’s a good idea to include one or two low-growing fillers (like hens-and-chicks) and trailing varieties (such as stonecrop) to cover the exposed soil.
Also consider where you’d like to place your succulent centerpiece. For outdoor displays, choose succulents that thrive in sunlight. For indoor containers, use succulents such as some types of aeonium and mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis baccifera) that can be grown in lower light.
3. Get planting. Use a quick-draining potting mix and plant succulents and cactuses shallowly — making sure that the soil does not cover their crowns or fleshy leaves. For mixed plantings, start with your largest succulents as anchors and plant smaller varieties around their base, leaving room to tuck in trailing varieties (like Sedum ‘Angelina’) at the edges of the container.
4. Add finishing touches. Cover the soil with a top-dressing material, such as gravel, sea glass, fine bark mulch or preserved moss, or fill in gaps with low-growing succulents to naturally cover the soil. The top-dressing not only gives the container a finished look but also cuts down on the need for water.
5. Care for your plants. Most succulents grow best with four to six hours of bright, indirect sunlight per day. You may need to periodically move indoor containers outdoors to give them a dose of sunshine, or choose succulents that can tolerate less light exposure for use indoors. Keep in mind that some succulents — particularly those used to growing indoors — can burn if exposed to hot, baking sun.
Water about once a week at the base of plants, avoiding overhead spraying. Allow the top 1 to 2 inches of soil to dry out before watering again.