So, I don’t know if anyone knows this about me, but I’m kind of obsessed with succulents. With growing them, propagating them (basically FREE PLANTS!), planting them, replanting them, fertilizing them and watching them grow huge, making gifts with them… it goes on and on. I decided it was time to share some of my knowledge and fun with you. Not that I’m extremely knowledgeable, but I’m going on a couple years with only killing a small percentage of my plants, so I’m pretty sure that makes me some kind of expert. Or not, but whatever! I still keep trying to tell people that THESE ARE THE PLANTS TO HAVE. But I still keep hearing, “I’m going to kill them Jemma. You’d do just as well to throw them straight into the garbage as give them to me…” Cue sad face. Awww. Well, I just have to say that I can relate to that sentiment. Before I became a succulent expert, I had been certified as a plant murderer myself, and had almost decided to go ahead and just pave my whole yard or do one of those “Florida Natural” yards. You know, the kind that is basically a bunny habitat? You just haphazardly plant all kinds of sawgrass, cacti, and sea oats and crawling plants that you would usually weed out of your lawn, and boom, you’re done! Only reason I didn’t do that is because I figured I’d spend all the money on it and then it would die too. Well, I have to say, succulents have restored my faith in my green thumb. It all started about three years ago when a therapy client gave me a plant as a thank you and it just refused to die. Since then, I’ve researched and done my own trial and error. Let me share with you what I’ve learned!
Well, first of all, you’re NOT going to kill it. Well, probably not. Let me just tell you a few things to get you started so that you have the best chance of not murdering your cute little plants.
1.) SOIL. You need the right soil. These plants are dry climate plants. They store tons of moisture in their leaves because they’re not used to getting much water. So when they do get water, that water needs to be able to get sucked up by the roots, but then immediately drain away so the soil can dry out again. So, you want that potting soil for cactus & palm. You can also make your own. It’s basically 3 parts peat moss or regular potting soil, 2 parts sand (I use play sand, it’s the cheapest one at the hardware store), and 1 part perlite (that’s that white stuff in there). It works out a LOT cheaper to make it yourself, but if you’re just starting with a couple planters, then you can just buy a bag of the special soil. I like to mix my homemade kind up in a bucket bit by bit before I put it in the planters.
2.) DRAINAGE. Speaking of soil and drying it out, there needs to be a hole in the bottom of your planter so the excess water can get out. If you can’t do that, then line the bottom of the planter with rocks or pebbles, so the water drains there and isn’t soaking the soil. What happens if the soil stays wet too long? Well, the plants leaves are already full of water, the stalk is full of water, the roots are full of water, so basically after something sits in water for a while, it rots. That’s all. It rots. It’s gross and it’s sad, but it’s true. Don’t overwater.
3.) WATERING. So, like I said, don’t overwater. “But how am I supposed to know when it needs water!!?? Help!” No problem. Everything I’ve come across says you should water when the soil feels dry to the touch. Usually this means giving them a dousing around once a week or two. “What if I wait too long and kill them that way?” Don’t worry, it takes a long time of not watering them to kill them that way. Just don’t go crazy. The key is not to overdo it! Stick your finger in there and see if it is wet under the surface too. Shouldn’t be if you have the right soil. The annoying thing about doing this is you might mess up your pretty rocks that you placed under the leaves. Wait, you did that right? Oh, sorry, let me tell you about that too…
4.) ROCK BARRIER. See how I put cute little stones all around the plants? I even caaaaarefully lifted up the leaves (because they snap off easily) to get them under the teensiest plants between the leaves and the soil. Why? Well, that rotting business can happen pretty quick. Sometimes between your watering and the absorbing and draining, the leaves have contact too long with the wet wet soil. So, to deal with that and make everything look awesome and pretty, aaaand to prevent dirt from sloshing and splattering everywhere when we water, you put a little rock barrier in there. I got these cute little guys from amazon.com. In most of my pots, I use the pea pebbles from Home Depot. Makes it look nicer too!
5.) SUNSHINE. Yes, of course! The sun is what these guys are used to. Now, that doesn’t mean they can’t survive in your windowsill or in a brightly lit room. It just means that they’ll grow much much slower there. They’ll also probably grow taller and spindly-er (um, is that a word? Let’s just say it is.) because they’ll be reaching for the light. I like to rotate my inside plants sometimes so they’ll grow a little straighter. Now, not all succulents are created equal with regards to how they can handle the sun. For example, aloe vera does NOT like direct sun. It turns yellowy brown in a hurry and begs to go back in the indirect light. I’ve found for the most part here in south Florida, that most of them prefer part sun and indirect sun. Just keep an eye on your plants. If they start looking crispy, you probably want to move them to the shade or a spot where they get a little less sun. FUN FACT! Some of the plants will turn brighter, more exciting colors in the full sun, so have fun watching that!!
6.) CONTAINERS. This isn’t really about rules, but I just wanted to say to have fun with the containers you use to plant these guys in! I love the teeny shell my friend Krisse gave me, as well as those cute pink bulbs up there. I think she came across them at Goodwill or something. And these tea tins are just so much fun. I love the aesthetic and they come for free with the really expensive tea you bought just so you could get the tins for free. Ahem. Anyway, get creative and look for interesting things to plant in. I was pretty excited about taking the labels off of and then double-boiler-ing the wax out of some used up candles so I could plant some more in there! So cool!!
Well, I hope you enjoyed this primer on succulents and feel slightly more confident in your abilities to care for these sweet and versatile little plants. I really enjoy them!! One day I’ll write about how to propagate them and show you all the crazy new plants I’ve made out of the plants I’ve already got! My goal is to one day have one of each kind of plant so I can produce more and more and become just like Isaac Farms!! Ok, maybe that’s overboard, but I do highly recommend them if you’re down here in the south. In fact, if anyone wants to road trip it with me (and I know you personally, sorry axe murderers), let me know, because that will happen soon!