Succulents are becoming a national gardening trend. It's about time, I say. I grimace as I think about the rather large pot of aloe that I neglected to bring inside this past autumn. It turned to mush near the front door.
Let's back up a minute. What's a succulent? You’ll know one when you see one because succulents are all fleshy and filled with water. Examples include haworthia, stonecrop, jade plants, aloe, and cactus plants. Keep in mind that succulents are really desert survivors. Usually, they grow in dry warm (often hot) environments in places where other plants would wither and die. Succulents succeed by storing water and food (nutrients, really) not only in their roots but also in their leaves and stems. They carry on their respiration (changing food into carbon dioxide and water and releasing energy) only at night. Succulents also take in the water they need for survival at nighttime as well. Making use of this information can help us raise healthy succulent plants.
Begin with the soil. A well-drained soilless medium containing perlite is recommended in a 70-30 ratio. Products made especially for succulents are widely available, so you don't have to make your own mix.
Pay attention to the shallow root systems of most succulents. If you are transplanting a jade tree, (Crassula) for example, into a larger container, be aware that needs more room horizontally (across the pot) than vertically. Too deep a pot may lead to root rot and/or sour soil. This leads to a slowdown in the growth of the entire plant. When you purchase a succulent, pay attention to the way it is planted before considering transplanting it into a new pot.
Don't over water. Allow the soil to dry out completely before watering. Water only at night when the plant will absorb the water. I bet you never heard that before!
Be patient! Many succulents are slow growers.
Don't neglect fertilization of your potted succulents. Small amounts of nitrogen (N) and potassium (K) will help your succulents thrive. Be careful not to add too much potassium because it can cause plant damage. Keep it simple. Buy a fertilizer especially made for succulents and follow the directions.
Pay attention to the light needs of your succulents. Most need full sun. But some, such as Nematanthus, bromeliads, and even some aloes do better in partial shade. Read the directions that come with your plant or do some research.
Soon it will be spring and then summer. My succulents will gradually be moved completely outside.
Carol Ann Harlos is a Master Gardener, beekeeper, writer, and speaker. Send questions and comments to email@example.com.