If you have a tendency to forget to water and otherwise “abuse” your plants, succulents are for you. A succulent is a plant that retains water and has thick, fleshy water storage organs. Succulents store water in their leaves, their stems or their roots. You are probably familiar with cactus, aloe and agave. There are hundreds more lovely succulents available around town when you start to look. It is addictive.
Christina LaDee, a local avid gardener, recently gave a program on succulents. Upon hearing this news, her friend and fellow gardener, Helen Solinger asked her why. Now they are both self proclaimed “succulent addicts” and Solinger recently planted more than 40 succulents to add to her collection. They both like the plant shapes and colors, which make you think of a desert sunset.
Last summer her love affair with succulents began when she spotted a neglected Hen-And-Chicks succulent in the corner of her deck. “It was the healthiest plant still alive on our deck. And there I was, hooked on succulents.” Helen adds that they seem to grow pretty slowly, but that’s good in a lot of ways. If you make a dish garden, topiary or wreath, it will hold its shape for a long time without much work on your part. Also, some succulents are so sculptural that a single plant can be striking in a pot by itself.”
Well, as these things go, Solinger spread her enthusiasm to another friend and gardener, Jan Pearce, by sharing some succulent plants. Pearce realized that this is the perfect plant to put at her new beach house. If any plant can suffer, endure and even thrive in the windy, salty climate there, it would be a succulent. The mechanics of succulents’ water saving are interesting: Their impervious outer skin, interior mucilaginous substances inside, and a waxy and hairy or spiny outer surface create a humid micro-habitat around the plant.
No matter what kind of succulent you grow, there are some general rules for their happiness. Succulents prefer bright light or sun if outdoors. Too much light will show as scorched leaves while too little light will cause the plant to stretch with super elongated stem and widely spaced leaves (etoilation). They prefer daytime temperatures around 75-85 degrees and nighttime around 55 degrees but are tolerant of extremes. As Solinger suggests on water, “I’ve learned a few things since discovering succulents. Over-watering is the fastest way to kill a succulent, but ‘low water’ doesn’t mean ‘no water.’ They are drought-resistant, but they will be better with regular watering. Just make sure they are in a soil that drains well.” The potting soil should be a fast-draining mixture with perlite to increase aeration and drainage. Fertilize during the summer growing season.
Helen, with her usual wit and sense of humor adds, “On the other hand, if planting 40 plus succulents doesn’t give us a rainy, humid summer, nothing will. When I single-handedly end the drought, I expect thank-you notes.”