Bear Paw, Cotyledon tomentosa, is an adorable and easy to grow succulent known for its chubby, hairy paws with ridges at the tip reminiscent of little claws. It can also produce small bell-shaped flowers that vary in color from yellow-green to red-orange.
But how do you grow and care for this succulent? If you aren’t sure you have the right environment to help it thrive, read on for more information on how to grow Bear Paw succulents.
Quick Guide to The Bear’s Paw Succulent
|Sun requirements||Full sun preferred, at least six hours|
|Hardiness||Grow outdoors only in Zones 9b+|
|Water needs||Low water needs, drought-tolerant|
|Toxicity||Mildly toxic to human and pets|
|Primary growth season||Spring and Fall; minimal growth in winter and summer dormancies|
|Typical sizes||Mature outdoor plant can grow into a shrub nearly two feet tall; indoors they typically stay smaller|
Growing Requirements for Cotyledon Tomentosa
Where to Plant
Bear Paw wants full sunlight, outdoors or in a south-facing window, for at least six hours per day. If they get plenty of sunlight, the “claws” on the leaves will turn a dark reddish color, like your bear has been hunting.
Info: Indoors, your Bear’s Paw will probably stay green. Outdoors, the more sunlight it gets, the more the tips will redden.
Providing adequate sunlight is also a must because a light-starved Bear’s Paw will become a little leggy. Although it still looks attractive, the chunky and heavy leaves are more prone to dropping.
A south-facing window is a must when growing a Bear Paw indoors. If you put it in a north-facing window, the succulent is likely to become leggy even if it gets quite a bit of sun exposure.
Luckily, Bear’s Paw responds well to supplemental light. If you only have a north, east, or west-facing window available, add a grow light to keep your plant happy and healthy. For more information on how to care for succulents indoors and outdoors, check out our guide.
For the ideal outdoor placement, choose a location with as much full sunlight as possible for at least six hours. This will promote your plant’s health, and a little sun stress will encourage the tips of its leaves to redden attractively.
Bear Paw is moderately cold-tolerant, but, like a bear, it prefers to hibernate in a cozy spot in the winter. That means it is best not to plant them directly into the ground unless you are in Zone 9b or higher.
Note: If your plant is in the ground, and your forecast predicts a brief cold snap, use woven blankets, a cold frame, or other protection to keep it from freezing.
Ideally, plant your Bear Paw in a pot for outdoor growing. Being able to move it around has two significant benefits:
- As the seasons change, you can move the plant to give it as much full sunlight as possible to encourage the reddish tips that make this plant’s leaves so distinctive.
- Growing your Bear’s Paw in a pot allows you to move the plant into your cave (house or sun porch) to sleep away the winter.
Container and Soil
Like all succulents, Bear Paw is susceptible to root rot, disease, and pests, but usually due to overwatering and inadequate drainage. You can learn more about these problems in our guide to determining what is killing your succulent.
It is best to use a pot with a drainage hole. If the pot you want to use doesn’t have a drainage hole, we’ve collected several strategies for creating good drainage in a pot with no hole.
It is also essential to plant your Bear paw in a well-draining succulent or cactus mix that includes lots of perlite or pumice. This can be hard to find commercially, but you can easily make your own potting medium.
This is a simple recipe for potting mix that will work well for succulents like Bear Paw:
- Two parts potting soil — ideally, a blend designed for cacti,
- One part coarse sand (optional), and
- One part gritty amendment (such as perlite or pumice).
Some people don’t find this mix very attractive because of the high perlite ratio. But, you can add mulch to the top, use a thin layer of potting soil or coarse sand, or a decorative layer of pebbles, small seashells, or similar material.
Watering Bear Paw Succulent
Like most succulents, a Bear Paw does not need to be watered as frequently as most houseplants. Their thick, fleshy leaves soak up and store tons of water, and they originate in a part of Africa that is semi-arid but gets occasional drenching rainstorms.
One of the nice things about succulents, and Bear Paw specifically, is that they’ll tell you when they’re overdue for watering.
While they can’t exactly roar for attention, Bears Paws leaves will inform you that they need watering. You should water Bear Paws when:
- The leaves begin looking and feeling soft and limp.
- Leaves start falling off
We recommend the classic “soak and dry” method for succulents, which involves fully saturating the soil with plenty of water and then letting them dry out completely before the next watering.
For more information on this method and other watering strategies, check out our complete guide to watering succulents. It includes a useful card we designed to help you track your watering, fertilizing and other succulent care.
Fertilizer and Maintenance
Re-potting your newly purchased succulents is always beneficial because you can ensure healthy roots. You also reduce the likelihood of bringing in soil-borne diseases or pests.
Info: Cut unhealthy roots before replanting. Handle it with care since Bear Paw is prone to dropping leaves, especially since its leaf weight ratio to the stem connection-point size is so high.
Repotting your new plant also means you can make sure it grows in a fresh, well-draining potting mix appropriate for a succulent. As a bonus, you won’t necessarily need to fertilize it that first year because it will get plenty of nutrients from the fresh potting mix.
In the second year, fertilize your Bear Paw occasionally with a liquid cactus fertilizer, preferably organic. Dilute the fertilizer to no more than half strength (quarter-strength works well). Apply a few times a year during the spring and fall growing seasons.
Note: Do not fertilize at all during the plant’s winter and summer dormancy.
Bear Paw doesn’t require any other routine maintenance, just attend to its light and water needs.
Bear’s Paw Propagation
Propagation of Bear Paw can be a little trickier than some types of succulents, especially when propagation using leaves. Often they simply don’t take root. However, Bear Paw can be fairly reliably propagated using stem cuttings.
Stem propagation is often the best way to deal with a Bear Paw that’s grown leggy and lost a bunch of the leaves at the base of the plant. You simply cut the plant underneath the healthy new growth and plant the top. Two to four inches is a good length.
You can also cut the beheaded plant an inch or so above the soil line and leave it in the pot. Wait to see if the old roots grow new stems branching off from the old stump. If it doesn’t have any new sprouts after a couple of weeks, go ahead and compost it.
To propagate your Bear Paw:
- Use a sterile, sharp blade or pruners. This will help you avoid bruising the stem or spreading disease.
- Strip or cut off a couple of the bottommost leaves. Make sure the stem at the separation point is flat, not cratered. Inside that connection point is meristem tissue that will help the stem grow roots.
- Allow the stem to cure (dry out) for a couple of days on a plate or tabletop. It will form a callous over the raw area. During the curing period, keep the plant out of direct sunlight.
- Once it is cured, simply stick the cut end directly into a pot of moist, well-draining succulent potting mix.
- Gradually move it back to full sunlight to not shock the plant.
Note: You shouldn’t need to water the plant the first week or two; let it dry. The leaves contain plenty of water and nutrients to sustain the new plant as it roots.
The Grizzly Truth about Bear Paw
Other than needing an abundance of sunlight, Bear Paw is no more difficult to grow than any other succulent, which is to say, it’s pretty easy. With sun and minimalist watering, this plant will thrive whether you grow it outdoors (bringing it inside for winter hibernation) or indoors.
Whether your aesthetic is more teddy bear picnic or punk rock, the fuzzy paws and bloody claws make it an unbearably cute addition to your home.