Container Gardening

Succulent Basics 101

By Darren Sherriff


Growing succulents is a great option for those who want to have living plants in the home, but who also feel like they possess a brown thumb. That’s because succulents are easy to care for and will thrive even with neglect. This article, a kind of succulent basics 101, explains what you need to know. Succulents come in dozens of different sizes, shapes, colors, all with unique care needs, so no matter your gardening experience and knowledge there is a succulent just right for you.

Succulent Basics 101

Succulents need light. Imitating the light needed is usually the hardest part. Most succulents crave the brightest light possible. Indoors, a south facing window is optimal. Then the west and/or east sides of your home. If you can, place succulents outside during the spring and summer, just remember to acclimate them slowly or they will get a sunburn. Seriously! If your windows just don’t get enough sunlight, or you see your plants starting to stretch, consider adding grow lights.

Even though succulents are drought tolerant, they do need some water to survive. This is where neglect can help. If you tend to forget to water your plants, succulents can go a long time between drinks. In fac, too much water is the number one way to kill them. A good rule of thumb, if your soil feels dry, then wait a few more days and  hen water it, thoroughly.

If there are children in the house, here is a fun idea. Find out where your succulent originated from, country, state, or continent, then follow the weather for that particular area. If it forecasted to rain, water your plant. Try to mimic the weather as much as possible. If it is going to be very hot for a few days, maybe put a small space heater near the plant. This will teach the child about caring for a living thing and about different parts of the world.

if you decide to amend the soil, use a high quality potting soil. It will cost a bit more, but not much is required so a little goes a long way. The average bagged potting soil will tend to stay too wet for most succulents. However, there are cactus soils available. If you use something else, be sure to add generous amounts of sand, gravel, perlite or volcanic rock to increase the drainage.

Succulents are slow growers hence do not need much in the way of fertilizer. I recommend feeding succulents once in the spring and once again in late summer. Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer, with NPK ratios of 8-8-8, 10-10-10 or 14-14-14.

The container to selected for growing succulents is really a personal choice. Make sure there is ample room for the plant because they really do not like being crowded together – even though they are sold that way. There should be lots of drainage because too much water is the number one enemy. The container is sturdy enough to support the plant and not disintegrate in a short period of time. Some thoughts on some of the types of pots available: terra cotta (although they the soil tends to dry out faster), glazed pots (but they tend to retain more moisture), and plastic (but such pots eventually cause dry rot and are subject to cracking). Containers with no holes are a no-no.

Best Succulents for Beginners

Like all plants there are some that are much easier to grow than others. For those new to the plant, I recommend the following —

Aloe species. This is one of the most widely known plants because it is used for medicinal purposes (burns) as well as for decoration. Aloe Vera is the most common type of aloe, it is native to the tropical region of North Africa. Other types of Aloe have variegated foliage, they can be green or grayish-green, smooth edged or have teeth, and some have little white specks which adds to their visual appeal.

Crassula species. Also known as Jade plants, these succulents are tough cookies. They are easily identified by their fleshy, bright green leaves. The leaves may be stacked upon each other, be oval in shap and growing up a stem. Some are fuzzy, and some have red edges. There are tubular shaped leaves and leaves that have no discernable shape. The Crassula ovata or common Jade plant is also considered a lucky symbol for money. It has names such as Friendship Plant”, “Money Plant,” and ” Dollar Plant”.

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