It is amazing how popular succulents are today – and I’ve written about “how to care for them” in prior posts on this blog – but because many were purchased at my Pop-Up events this holiday season as gifts, and provided in my container gardening and succulent topped pumpkin workshops of 2016 – it seems a good time to provide reminders on how to care for succulents.
First and foremost – Succulents are tough, but not indestructible!
Well, you can glue gun them to projects – and they “may” shoot out roots a few weeks or months later – still surviving! Wow! Amazing. But this is not too surprising if you know how they are propagated, which I show in my workshops to attendees. After all, we cut many plants at the base and allow them to heal over before planting them up – but let’s get back to “how tough…”
So tough that using a bit of glue to attach them to projects will not kill them – isn’t that crazy? – and this is why we are seeing them upon pumpkins in the fall, as corsages for weddings, and on many artsy projects. The uses are endless today.
Initially, I thought this gluing technique was pure “plant abuse” but after testing it out – and witnessing the roots coming out of the succulents on my prototype succulent topped pumpkins from the fall – which, to this day are still doing well since October, I learned to accept these little toughies really rock it on crafty projects. They seem to have transitioned to not only being a living art but non-living art which has grown to be accepted and adored. And it feels a bit of going to the dark side as a plant enthusiast, because in general, I don’t like plants which are over-decorated (e.g., paint on plants or sprayed weird unnatural colors), but in this case, it works and since the plants don’t die – well, its okay.
Succulents are also tough enough to handle low temperatures and not die – thus, you may put them in a room as low as 50-55 degrees F and they will make it, maybe even 45 in winter (for some but not all). They typically go into a semi-dormant state in the winter months and just sit there and rest. They may not look “as plump” but when temps warm up and you begin a regular watering routine in the spring and early summer, they will plump back up usually.
Additionally, they almost can take freezing – just kidding, BUT I decided to attach succulents to my custom fresh wreaths this year- and well, if hung on a door where it gets cold but sunny and are protected by a glass door – they fared just fine. I even put succulents as ornaments in my Christmas tree (shown above). It is so pretty. The colors of succulents from cool blues to red-tinged edges are a nice compliment to our holiday colors of greens, golds, silvers and flashy sparkling reds.
As far as freezing – Nope, they will die if exposed to freezing temperatures – but you know what I think it kind of interesting? If they freeze, they still look good. Most plants look like total mush when they freeze.
I ended up putting a wreath on a sled for decor that had a few succulents on them. After a cold day when it snowed, they froze solid – but they didn’t even “look dead.” I had to touch them to see if they were mushy but they were frozen solid and kept in their original form. When using succulents purely as a decorate element, this is a plus. Think of it this way if you are not convinced, how often have you ate an expensive dessert only to see if disappear before your very eyes? Most plant lovers will absolutely refuse to let a plant die – but isn’t that better to have used it as decor, enjoyed it for weeks, rather than throwing it in the trash because it was unloved, un-purchased, and unused?
During the summer, another incredible aspect of succulents is they make the perfect vacation plant because they can go a very long time without watering due to their ability to store water in their leaves, stems and roots. You won’t come back to a dead plant – and you will feel relieved that you didn’t waste your money on a plant. “Look Mom, I didn’t kill my plant!”
With all of this said – succulents are not indestructible.
If you decide to store a hypertufa pot filled with the more hardy types of succulents over the winter in your unheated garage, cold basement or very cold room in your home, they still require some light and monitoring.
Basically, what I do is just give them a bit of moisture in the soil occasionally (like every 5 weeks or so). This way the soil isn’t completely bone dry throughout the ENTIRE winter. It is perfectly okay to let the soil dry almost completely “BETWEEN” waterings, and keep the watering to a minimum (I tell newbies – once a month in winter, on the soil, not on the foliage, meaning direct the water carefully, and let it drain.)
If your succulent is totally thin and papery after a few weeks or months, it may have parted and passed. This is usually when the soil is so dry for such a long time, the poor little baby gave up. Avoid the “crinkly” situation if possible. Avoid poor soil and total neglect if you wish to have it return to its beautiful state when the season warms up again in the spring and fall.
If you have a decorative pot, like the ones I sold this year as grab n go gifts or hostess gifts, remove the inserted pot which has drain holes, add the water to the soil, and let the water drip out from the drain holes a bit, then put it back into the decorative pot.
Giving these babies out as gifts definitely puts smiles on the recipients faces, believe me. It felt like the feeling I got when I used to give out fresh eggs to friends, the same reaction – pure happiness. I guess because succulents are just so darn cute, adorable, collectible, and usable in many ways. And they aren’t easy to kill, unless you freeze them.
Another aspect which makes succulents and cacti tough – is they do not require lots of fertilizer. They only need small doses from time to time – which I show attendees what I use and how in my container gardening workshops. They seem to be the type which thrive when neglected. After all, their origins are the deserts and hot arid places – they built up tolerance over the years of dealing with drought, wind, and dryness.
How to Pot them Up
Most succulents will go a very long time in their original home, but if and when you do pot it up, the most important thing to remember is very well-draining soilless media with perlite for excellent drainage. Also, I also recommend pots with drainage holes.
The plants typically have a shallow root system. Long and wide pots work well, but they may go in tall pots too if that is the look you are going for. After you pot them up, water them in so the soil is moist. They must get acclimated to their new home – especially important in the growing seasons to move them into a moist environment initially. And remember, many have spines (well, at least for cacti like Agave). They are tricky to re-pot when large, and require special tools and handling. But for the tiny small sweet ones, they are easy to handle and re-pot.
And, as noted above, the thing that kills succulents the fastest is over watering. You want the soil to dry out between waterings. Allow the excess water to drain from the pot. Avoid water sitting on the foliage where it will create rot.
If attached to the top of pumpkins, you must moisten the moss every few weeks, and be careful not to damage the decor. If the pumpkin starts to decay, cut the top off and set the portion with the succulents into soil. The succulents will take root when they begin to extend their roots in search of a new home – in most cases! No guarantees here folks, as I said, they are tough but not indestructible.
Sun or shade
Believe it or not – some succulents (and cacti) prefer some part to full shade, but most in general are sun or bright light lovers. Read the label if your’s came with one and pick the best spot to suit its needs. There are literally thousands of varieties. In the winter months, a bright room works well. They are tough, and usually won’t die if the light is not super bright.
Lastly, succulents are great baby-making machines. They produce offsets from the mother plant (little ones on the side) and it is so easy to remove them and re-pot or reuse on your decorative endeavors this way. Many succulents actively grown in the fall, so before winter hits – it may be a good time to collect those babies. By the way, if you see the Mother Plant shoot out a tall alien looking stem with a flower – you might be thinking, “Wow, it’s flowering” and then all of a sudden, the mother plant dies and shrivels up – and you think,”Oh My God. I killed it.” – Not! The mother plant dies after she produces a bloom, but the beauty is her little side shoot babies carry on the tradition of growing on the family. Just carefully remove the dead parts of the mamma plant and you are still in business.
Creations with Succulents
I’ve used succulents so many ways this year – some which I didn’t want to share online because they were so darn adorable – I preferred “revealing” them at the Holiday Pop Up Events held and plan to add them to the holiday workshops of next season in 2017, so that all my attendees will have fun creating with succulents too.
Well – its only 3 more days until Christmas, and I am still doing my last-minute holiday shopping. Got to run for now…
Owner of “Container Crazy CT” and “Cathy T’s Landscape Designs”