Growing succulents from seed

For many years, growing plants from seed seemed to me like a combination of mystery and magic. I was so intimidated that it took me a long time to even try. And when those initial attempts largely failed, I became even more disheartened.

In reality, though, starting seeds, whether it’s succulents or not, isn’t complicated as long as you sterilize your growing medium and keep the seeds and seedlings in a humid environment. Here’s what I do:

Thoroughly moisten a quantity of seed starting mix like this or this—however much you think you need. When the mix is evenly moist, put it in a microwaveable dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes to sterilize it.

Let the mix cool, distribute it across one or more small sealable containers (see examples below) or Ziploc baggies. Sprinkle seeds on top. Seal the containers or baggies.

Reused food and takeout containers on the sill of a west-facing window

Put containers or baggies in a warm spot with bright light, like on a sunny window sill inside your house, or in bright shade outside (not in full sun).

Leave sealed for 5-7 days, then check for germination. If you see any mold, spray lightly with a commercial fungicide like this.

Leave the containers/baggies closed for 4-6 weeks; open occasionally for ventilation and add small amounts of water (we're talking fractions of a teaspoon) if the mix gets too dry. Repeat until seedlings are large enough to transplant—it could be 6 months or longer. 

Why bother in the first place, you might ask. Everybody has their own reasons, but, personally, I find it exciting to see new plants emerge from what essentially looks like tiny flecks of dust. Plus, I like having something to do when gardening is slow, like in the winter. (The seedlings you see below were started between January and April.)

It’s amazing how early in life cacti start to look like cacti:

Eagle’s claw cactus (Echinocactus horizonthalonius)

Sneed’s pincushion cactus (Escobaria sneedii subsp. leei). The neon-green blob is moss growing on a small cactus. I should lift it off with tweezers.

Germination can vary widely between genus and species. See photo below for an example: I had the same number of seeds for both Hechtia species. H. lanata (left) had great germination. H. sphaeroblasta (right) not so much.

Hechtia lanata (left), Hechtia sphaeroblasta (right)

I’ve generally had good luck with agave seeds, both in terms of how readily they germinate and how robust and vigorous the seedlings are. Here are the agave seedlings I currently have growing:

Agave ovatifolia

Agave toumeyana var. bella

Agave utahensis var. eborispina

Agave utahensis var. eborispina roots

Last weekend, I decided to pot up the Agave ovatifolia and Agave utahensis var. eborispina seedlings into individual pots. They have surprisingly long roots already—see photo above and below:

Agave utahensis var. eborispina seedling with loooong roots

Agave utahensis var. eborispina seedlings ready to go in individual pots

Agave ovatifolia seedlings ready to go in individual pots

Here they are potted up. Five or six A. ovatifolia seedlings were too small to go into individual pots so I put them all in one 3" pot for now.

Agave ovatifolia seedlings (top), Agave utahensis var. eborispina seedlings (bottom). The smaller pots (top) are 2", the other are 3".

Ten days ago, I started a batch of Aloe lavranosii seeds:

Aloe lavranosii seeds, one day after sowing (8/28/22). I added a layer of pumice after hearing from a friend that it provides extra protection against mold.

Same Aloe lavranosii seeds, nine days after sowing (8/28/22)

The seeds I use come from a variety of sources: plants in my or a friend’s garden; online seed exchanges; and commercial sources like Rare Palm Seeds or Mesa Garden. Both these vendors sell seeds in quantities as low as 10, which is great if you want to try a variety of plants.

Starting seeds is a fairly inexpensive way to try something new. Sometimes, it’s easier to get a hold of seeds of a particular species than a plant.

© Gerhard Bock, 2022. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. This is an excellent summary/tutorial, Gerhard. Thanks for that and your links! I'll be bookmarking it for future reference. It's taken me awhile just to get comfortable with direct-sown flower seeds but I did try an approach similar to yours to grow Ferraria crispa with seeds from a plant I'd purchased. To my utter amazement, they germinated but I wasn't careful in handling them during their infancy so they died out. I'd like a small greenhouse space to support efforts like that but where to put it is a mystery that needs solving ;)

    1. I've been toying with the idea of getting a small greenhouse, but I'm afraid I might enjoy it too much and go overboard with tender plants and seedlings!

  2. Why thank you! Good timing. I will try your method with the two pods that have appeared from crossing Aloe dhufarensis with A. castellione. Quite a long time ago I got two or three Aloe capitata open pollinated and a few 'Blue Glow' self plants, but was much more casual about it than your better more meticulous method.

    Did you get a power outage in this terrible heat? I saw on the news your town had 12K customers lose their power yesterday--that must have been brutal. We're supposed to get relief starting Saturday.

    1. No power outages. But we followed recommendations and turned off the AC from 5 pm to 10 pm. It was brutal on some days!

  3. I agree it's very exciting to watch those tiny seeds germinate into tiny plants. You seem to be having great success. I have dabbled in seeding succulents but with marginal success. My best effort so far is an agave from a mixed batch of seeds. 'Charles' is probably an A. americana but is already fairly large and quite attractive. Seed starting is a good thing to do when you're stuck indoors.

    1. Another interesting thing is that you never know what kind of variation you might find in your seedlings. A great many gardenworthy cultivars were discovered that way.

  4. I currently have snapdragons and Rudbeckia growing under lights in my dining room-though pretty mundane compared to your cool cacti and succulent seedlings it's still a fun process. Not to mention a little indoor gardening when stuck in the house during this damnable heat wave !

  5. I had no idea you were such a seedy guy!


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