Often mistaken for lookalike Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum), Mexican snowball (a.k.a. Mexican Hens and Chicks or Echeveria elegans) is an adorable clumping perennial succulent. Even for inexperienced gardeners, Mexican snowball is an easy, attractive succulent to grow in sunny spots in your house or landscape.
Quick Guide to Mexican Snowball
|Botanical name (Family)||Echeveria Elegans (Crassulaceae family)|
|Sun requirements||Full sun preferred, partial shade tolerated|
|Hardiness/Zone||Hardy outdoors in Zones 9+|
|Water needs||Typical for succulent|
|Primary growth season||Spring blooming|
|Typical sizes||Typical rosettes are about 3 inches tall|
Growing Requirements for Mexican Snowball
Where to Plant
Echeveria elegans is native to Mexico and Southern California, so it is a tender succulent and not very cold hardy.
A mature plant may survive an occasional quick dip below freezing, but you shouldn’t plant it in the ground unless you live in USDA zone 9 or higher. If a cold snap is coming, protect your Mexican snowballs from frost with a blanket.
This succulent also does well in a pot that can be brought inside for winter. However, make sure to transition the plant gradually, especially when moving the plant outside (to avoid sunburn).
You can also grow it indoors year-round. This plant needs at least a couple of hours of direct sunlight daily, so a south-facing window would be best. Echeveria elegans are non-toxic, so it’s fine to keep them indoors within reach of pets and small children.
Indoors or outdoors, Echeveria appreciate full direct sunlight, although they will tolerate limited shade. Too much shade will cause the rosettes to stretch out.
Note: With enough sunlight, your Mexican snowball may produce flower stalks bearing clusters of attractive pink-to-gold blossoms during summer.
Container and Soil
Like most succulents, Mexican snowball evolved to grow in very rocky soil, so it needs well-draining soil to thrive. This plant also needs very little organic matter and lots of gritty material for healthy growth.
For potted Mexican snowball, use a well-draining succulent or cactus mix or make your own potting medium using one of our easy DIY succulent potting mix recipes.
Potted Mexican snowballs benefit from unglazed pots with large drainage holes because it will absorb excess moisture from overwatering. However, you should avoid using a pot that is too large or deep for the plant.
This plant’s shallow roots can’t access dampness in the soil in the bottom of a pot, so keeping the plant watered will probably mean the bottom of the pot never dries out.
Only water this plant on an as-needed basis, as with most succulents. Outdoors they probably won’t need much if any watering outside the summer.
For indoor plants, we recommend the “soak and dry” watering method, as described in our complete guide to watering succulents. You can test the soil with your finger to confirm the plant is dry before watering, assuming you aren’t using an excessively deep pot.
Note: Avoid pouring water directly into the rosettes. Excessive water trapped in the rosettes can encourage rot.
Fertilizer and Maintenance
You can use an organic liquid cactus fertilizer a year after repotting your Mexican snowball in fresh potting mix. If you use fertilizer not meant for succulents, dilute it to half-strength and apply in the spring. Reapply again a couple of months after.
Over time, the leaves at the bottom of each rosette will gradually dry up. This will leave you with a bit of a stem under your plant. You can leave them as is or cut an inch or two below the first healthy leaf and propagate the top of the plant.
Mexican snowball is easy to propagate using offsets or the heads of rosettes you’ve pruned. Check out our propagation guide to learn how to propagate offsets and stem cuttings.
Common Mexican Snowball Problems
Mexican snowball is very resilient and low maintenance, but there are a few problems to watch out for.
- Stretching: When this plant is healthy, it forms short, compact rosettes. If you can see the stem between the leaf attachment points, you need to move your plant to a location with more sunlight. Stretching isn’t really fixable, so consider propagating the stretched stems and starting over.
- Mealybugs: Mexican snowball’s compact rosettes make such good hiding places to mealybugs. Unfortunately, you will likely not see the mealybugs until your infestation is out of control. Mealybugs can often be controlled using organic products, but it’s an uphill battle.
- Leaves, stems, and/or roots are brown and mushy: Rot is the result of some combination of overwatering, inadequate drainage, and insufficient sunlight. You may need to address all three issues by repotting, relocating, and reconsidering your watering schedule.