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Echeveria Elegans: Growing Mexican Snowballs

Echeveria elegans is as classic as succulents get. If asked to think of a succulent, we’d bet this is the one you’re picturing. It has tight rosettes of plump leaves, blue-green-grey coloring, and a healthy coating of farina (also called epicuticular wax). It’s no wonder you’ll hear this succulent called “Mexican gem”.

Also nicknamed Mexican snowball, Echeveria elegans is a drought-tolerant, Mexico-native plant that’s shaped like a sphere. It’s a great choice in succulent gardens, rock gardens, or a feature in a ground cover. This succulent also thrives indoors as a container plant and can be found at most garden stores and supermarkets. You may have even seen Mexican snowball rosettes used in floral arrangements! This is such a spectacular plant that it earned the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Whatever you decide to do with it, Echeveria elegans’s compact rosettes will add shape and movement to your garden. Plus, if you can get it to flower, the hot pink flowers are a show-stopper. This classic Echeveria plant is perfect for beginning succulent gardeners. It’ll help you learn the basics of desert plant care and propagation. So let’s get started on growing this beautiful plant.

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Quick Care Guide

Echeveria elegans
Echeveria elegans is often called Mexican snowball. Source: Mauricio Mercadante
Common NameMexican snowball, Mexican gem, white Mexican rose
Scientific NameEcheveria elegans
FamilyCrassulaceae
Height & Spread1’ tall, 6-8” wide
LightFull or partial sun
SoilWell-draining, coarse sand
Water“Soak and dry”
Pests & DiseasesAphids, mealybugs, spider mites, root rot

All About Echeveria Elegans

Echeveria elegans flower stalk
The flower stalk of E. elegans has many blossoms along its length. Source: troymckaskle

You probably guessed this, but ‘elegans’ is Latin for elegant. And what better term to describe such a classy plant? Aside from Mexican snow ball and Mexican gem, you may also hear this plant go by white Mexican rose (it isn’t actually white, but it’s not a snowball either). 

Taxonomically speaking, Echeveria elegans often gets confused with many other succulents in the Crassulaceae family and Echeveria genus. Let’s face it, most of them look a lot alike. The good thing is that most Echeverias have the same care requirements. So, if your Mexican snowball (Echeveria elegans) is actually a close cousin, like E. potosina, you’ll still be able to grow it.

To help you nail down a true Echeveria elegans, here’s a quick description. Each leaf is triangular and plump with stored water. They spiral into rosettes that fold into a sphere or lay flat like a disk. Some cultivated varieties can produce up to 100 leaves in just one rosette. They’ll reach around half a foot in height and spread 12 inches wide.

What really gives this species away though is the flowers. In late winter, spring, and summer, Mexican snowball plants can produce unique blossoms atop spindly stalks. Instead of the soft, rosebud-esque flowers on many Echeverias, this species has lantern-shaped pink flowers. Each pointy petal has vivid yellow tips, which contrast sharply with the pale rosette below.

You can propagate Echeveria elegans easily by leaves, but also by the small offsets it sends out. In fact, this growth pattern is so similar to that of Hens and Chicks that E. elegans is sometimes mislabeled as that (despite being in an entirely different genus than Hens and Chicks). Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that Echeveria elegans (Mexican snowball) is not toxic to humans, cats, or dogs. It’s a safe succulent to grow in your home – even around curious pets.

Care

Potted Echeveria elegans
Echeveria elegans does well as a potted plant. Source: srboisvert

Care for Echeveria elegans (Mexican snowball) is very typical of household succulents. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find this to be a very low-maintenance plant.

Sun and Temperature

Echeveria elegans needs at least 6 hours of sunlight each day. Full sun to partial shade is best here. If you’re growing indoors in pots, place your white Mexican rose in a south-facing window. If space is tight, this Echeveria plant can tolerate some partial sun.

As mentioned, this desert succulent thrives in zones 9-11. It’s not cold hardy in constant temperatures below freezing. However, if you live in a colder hardiness zone you can still appreciate this lovely succulent. It should be brought indoors when temperatures begin to approach freezing in the fall. When the cold weather and chances of frost are gone, feel free to set your plant back outside.

Water and Humidity

Most succulents need the “soak and dry” method, including Echeveria elegans. Mexican snowball plant is a desert, drought-tolerant plant that is used to sporadic yet deep watering. To mimic those conditions, wait until the soil has been completely dry for a few days before watering. Water the soil until the excess water drains out the bottom of the container. In the winter months, your Echeveria plant will go dormant and need less water. Watch for new growth in late winter as a sign to water your plant more.

Keep the leaves of your Echeveria elegans as dry as possible when watering. Too much moisture and humidity will attract insects and risk rot in succulents. It may be tempting to put succulents like Mexican snowball in a terrarium garden, but the excess humidity will do them more harm than good.

Soil

If you take one thing away from this article, it should be that Echeveria elegans needs well-draining soil. Good drainage allows water to run through it quickly so the roots can take their fill without sitting in water. Choose a sandy soil, such as succulent and cacti mix, that’s slightly acidic. If this plant is part of your container garden, make sure the containers have a good drainage hole.

Fertilizing

Closeup of Echeveria elegans flowers
The flowers of Echeveria elegans are quite brightly-colored and pretty. Source: EssjayNZ

You don’t have to fertilize Echeveria elegans. Mexican snowball, like most Echeverias, doesn’t need many nutrients and will grow well in poor garden soil. However, if you haven’t seen new growth in a long time, you can try adding a small amount of balanced, slow-release fertilizer to the garden soil.

Pruning

Mexican snowball (Echeveria elegans) doesn’t need to be pruned. In fact, it’s considered self-pruning since Echeverias shed their older, lower leaves to make room for new ones. You’ll see these old leaves start to turn brown and wrinkle up. You can gently pull them off and discard them to clean up the plant’s look.

Propagation

Just like Hens and Chicks plants, it’s extremely easy to propagate Echeveria elegans. Mexican snowball reproduces easily from leaf, offsets, and stem cuttings. All you need is well-draining garden soil, a misting bottle, and some patience!

For leaf propagation, start by selecting a healthy leaf or two. Carefully twist them off at the node, making sure you don’t leave any part of the leaves behind. Set the leaf cuttings on a paper towel for a few days so their open wounds can dry and callus over. Then, set them on top of the well-draining soil and mist them daily. Within a few weeks, a baby rosette will grow from the end of each mother leaf.

This same method applies to stem and small offsets. For these though, you’ll have to use scissors to snip the stem about an inch below the top of the rosette. Pluck off any leaves on that lower portion so you’re left with a several-leaved rosette atop a long, thick stem. Let the stem callus and then stick it in the soil.

When your leaf, stem, or offsets cuttings have grown their own roots, cut back on watering and start treating them like full succulents. In time, your new plants will become fully grown Mexican snowballs!

Troubleshooting

Thick Echeveria leaves
Some cultivars of E. elegans have very thick leaves. Source: Hornbeam Arts

Care for Echeveria elegans Mexican snowball is so simple that you should rarely come across growing problems. If you do though, here’s what you’re most likely to be encountering.

Growing Problems

Etilation in succulents can happen very quickly and is only fixed by propagation. When the Echeveria elegans Mexican snowball doesn’t get enough full sun, it stretches out trying to find more light. There’s no way to squish the rosette back down, so the next best thing to do is cut the stem off, strip the sparse leaves, and replant the top of the rosette that’s still compact. Even though it likes lots of light, sunburn is dangerous to Echeveria elegans. Mexican snowball plant’s leaves will scar when burned, which can hinder photosynthesis if large areas are damaged. The best thing you can do is move the succulent into partial shade. Sunburned leaves can be removed for cosmetic purposes, but the scars won’t harm the plant.

Pests

The nice thing about the Mexican Snowball plant is that it’s not usually bothered by pests. If you do find some concerning bugs hanging around, they’re probably aphids, mealybugs, or spider mites.

Anyone that grows succulents needs to be warned about aphids and mealybugs. The prime juice stored in succulent leaves is manna to these insects, so they’re bound to show up sooner or later. You’ll notice yellowing leaves followed by stunted growth. You can control these nuisances with insecticidal soap, diatomaceous earth (aphids), mycoinsecticide (mealybugs), or the classic go-to of neem oil.

Though aphids and mealybugs are the most well-known succulent pests, spider mites may nudge their way to infamy. They aren’t arachnids, but these mites still weave tiny webs across plants. Before you notice the webbing though, you’ll see yellowing, shriveling, and dropping leaves. If you don’t intervene right away, this infestation could be the end of your succulent. Prevent spider mites by clearing debris and insects from your succulents regularly (this also applies to aphids and mealybugs). For infestations, apply neem oil or another plant-based oil like canola or cinnamon oil.

Diseases

The fastest way to kill any succulent is overwatering. Most of the time though, it’s not the abundant moisture that literally kills the plant, but the bacteria and fungi it invites. A moist, warm environment is an open invitation to pythium, fusarium, and other nasty growths – all of which lead to the dreaded root rot

When root rot settles in, it’s hard for the plant to recover. The succulent’s shallow roots quickly rot away so the stem and leaves are the next victims. If you act right away though, you may be able to save your succulent. You’ll have to cut off any diseased portions and then transplant them into new soil. Destroy the diseased parts far away from your garden so the disease can’t spread through the soil. 

The best way to prevent root rot is to avoid overwatering. You’ll also want to keep the plant’s leaves as dry as possible and in a space with good air circulation.

Frequently Asked Questions

E. elegans as a groundcover
Over time, E. elegans can fill in to act as a ground cover plant. Source: Dick Culbert

Q: Does Echeveria elegans need sunlight?

A: Absolutely! Bright sunlight is a must with this succulent. It can be indirect or direct sunlight, as long as there are at least 6 hours of it per day. In some circumstances, Echeveria elegans plants can handle partial shade if full sun isn’t possible.

Q: How big do Echeveria elegans get?

A: These succulents can grow 6-8 inches tall and a foot wide. Some varieties can achieve a leaf count of up to 100!

Q: What is Echeveria elegans used for?

A: Echeveria elegans plants are excellent grown outdoors in rock gardens or among a dense carpet of ground cover. These plants also grow well in containers when brought indoors. This is an ornamental plant in landscaping, though it’s sometimes used in bouquets. It’s a very popular and beloved succulent (it was even praised by the Royal Horticultural Society!).

Q: How often should I water echeveria?

A: You should be watering whenever the garden soil has been completely dried for a few days. Depending on the temperature and sunlight, this could be once a week to once a month. You’ll likely be watering less often if it’s a potted plant. You’ll need to cut back on watering in the winter months. Watering requirements are also different when you propagate Echeveria elegans plants.

Q: Is Echeveria elegans a cactus?

A: No, but it’s very similar. Echeverias store water like cacti, are native to Mexico, and appreciate full sun to partial shade. However, Echeveria elegans is in the Crassulaceae family and only distantly related to true, native cacti.