Succulents are called “fat plants” because of the thickened, fleshy tissue used to retain water in arid climates or rocky and sandy soil conditions. This ability allows succulents to survive on limited water sources such as humidity, mist or dew. Rain is never a factor in Southern California which is where this group of plants thrives on their own, once planted. Texas climate is the extreme opposite, we have high humidity and torrential rain and now I will share what I have learned in the past year on growing succulents successfully.
My “roadtrip” with succulents started last summer when I walked into the local hardware store and saw a sign, “All Succulents 75% off”. I made 4 trips over the next 2 days to purchase most of the plants available, to start my educational process on growing and understanding succulents.
Another interesting point I learned was when I opened a bag of cactus and soil mix and found it to be peat moss and perlite and thought what the heck???!!! They will surely die in this mix, so I didn’t use it and I continued to craft my own custom media.
I had no idea how these plants would grow, so I put like-varieties together for evaluating and learning their names. There are so many intergeneric hybrids on the market and more being created as we speak that I now refer to them by their common names such as Living Stones, Sedums, Hens and Chicks and Kalanchoes.
Succulent plants thrive in California where the soil is rocky and sandy; nights are cooler, and no humidity. Texas conditions are very different; we have high humidity, high rainfall, high temps and no cooling nights. So we have to work harder to keep them beautiful and healthy and it starts with the “soil media”.
What type of soil do I use? I started with a 50/50 mix of soil and shale and last summers’ rains created “killing fields” of my collection. I rehabbed my clay bowls and started to use only expanded shale for the quickest drainage and best aeration of the roots. When you plant your succulents in the shale-media, remove loose soil around the roots as it becomes a wet sponge that dries slowly and rots roots. (See photo)
What about fertilizer? I don’t really want them to grow, because as they grow, their shape and geometric design changes. This cannot be stopped but it can be slowed down by not fertilizing and minimal watering. When the succulents start to grow, let them grow and bloom, then you will have to rehab them by propagating and cutting them back, to plant in a different area. I try them at the base of large oak trees, in the crotch where the palm frond attaches to the trunk or any little niche’ that suits your fancy.
Using Succulents Inside the Home need to be placed near a window. Succulents cannot grow in rooms with low light; they stretch and lose their interesting shape. Clear glass containers, decorative bowls and other home décor pots usually do not have a drainage hole so you need to mist sparingly. I recommend using a clean spray bottle to mist the leaves when you think about it. Go without misting and see what happens. If you are using them in the kitchen or bath misting may not be necessary as cooking and showering create humidity.
Outdoor Use on Covered Patio or Porch is a popular location because they do not need watering and they are protected from rain and direct sun. They can be planted in small containers and used as centerpieces. You can use a grapevine wreath and create a succulent ring to hang on the wall or use it as a centerpiece and add a flameless candle!
Outdoor Use Planted in the Ground can be achieved by tilling lava rock or shale in the soil, using stone to raise the area and create little pockets with more shale for your plant communities. Use hardy varieties for this application and there are about 10 different species that froze in January 2017 and returned from the roots and I now classify them as hardy succulents. I don’t think of them common anymore! (See photo)
TIPS TO SHARE:
• When using a large wire basket or plant stand and coco fiber, use lava rock in the bottom half of the space as the rock is larger and has less weight. (See photo)
• As you are filling up your container with shale, place the plant at the right height in the container and fill in around it. You cannot get the plant deep enough trying to dig out a space because the rock keeps filling in. Get them planted at the right height and not too high.
• I like to use rocks and colored glass to accent my beauties as this is great art therapy.
• You will learn which plants grow fast and cover up the slower growing ones, keep them separate. I pull these out and put them at the base of my oak trees!
• If you plant Lithops, Living Stones and Baby Toes, you will want to move them in during rainy periods as their water storage tissue will consume the rain and explode! (see photo)
Your plantings are temporary, so be creative and adventurous, you will be redoing the planter as you become more experienced in what you like and how to grow them, so have fun! Collecting containers to grow them in along with colored glass and rocks is as much fun as the plants themselves because you are creating LIVING ART!