by Lisa Bartell of Wisteria Manor
One of the hottest trending plant species on the planet right now are “Succulents.” Succulents have their own built-in watering systems; this is why their leaves and stems appear fat and fleshy – because they are full of moisture. The root system is shallow so the roots can gather water closer to the surface. If you’re my age, you probably remember your mother growing “Hens and Chicks” or “Cats and Kittens.” Those are succulents.
Succulents are a form of cactus, but not all cactus are succulents. Designers have been incorporating these sculpturesque plants in home decor due to their diverse aesthetic structure. Some have smooth rounded shapes for a traditional setting and others a more fierce razor edge for a modern vibe. They come in different colors and some even flower. Another great characteristic? Well, to put it plain and simple: “they are hard to kill.” They require little watering, wo you can go away for a week or two and neglect your plant and when you come home it will look as good as the day you left. And if you never want to water a succulent we can solve that problem: buy an artificial one. The market is saturated with these and boy do they look real!
How to plant
In a shallow container, fill with ¾ potting mix and cover the top with small gravel. Next, mix the two together and dampen with water. Remove succulent from nursery container and place in new soil, tamping down soil around it to hold plant firm. Only water when it’s absolutely dry. Place in a sunny location such as a windowsill or outside in a sunny spot. This plant is great for planting outside in spaces that normally lack attention, like among craggy rocks or blistering hot, dry areas.
Choosing a container
Choosing a container for your succulent is fun, because you can go crazy and use your imagination. Remember, the root system is shallow in succulent plants so you can use something as shallow as a seashell! I have seen these planted in teacups, soup ladles, tea tins, a shoe, an old work boot, and driftwood. I even saw an old book opened to the first page and an inch deep hole cut through the remaining pages forming a pocket with a succulent stuck right in the middle of it. People are even making vertical wall planters out of wooden frames and chicken wire and planting with succulents. These can hang right on an outside garden wall. Some clever designers even use color and shapes in a pattern to form a mosaic. I once saw a heart shaped cake pan planted with succulents. I’d like to try this one and put it on a small easel to make it stand vertically. When planting in something unusual, be sure to poke a drainage hole in the bottom.
Bursting with color
Add color to your succulents by adding 1 tsp of liquid food coloring to 1 cup water. Next, drizzle into the soil around the plant, wait 24 hours to let it absorb and repeat the process again to get an even deeper color. Yes, you can have blue, purple and red succulents pretty easily!
“Hand” succulent container
Mix up a small batch of “Quikrete” from your local hardware store and pour into a pair of dishwashing rubber gloves. To give the hand a natural cupped palm shape, place it in a flowerpot so that the palm will rest on the bottom of the pot while the fingers extend up the side of the pot. Let it completely set up and dry, then remove rubber glove by cutting it off the concrete form. Plant your succulent in the palm of the hand. Clever!
Propagate your own plants
This is so easy, you are really going to want to try it, even if it’s just out of pure curiosity. Fill a small container with potting mix; next, cut a leaf from your succulent plant. Be sure to cut it as close to the stem as possible (even if you get a little stem in the cutting). Leave the leaf alone for a few days so that the cut end calluses over. Place the leaf on the soil so that the end of the leaf just touches the soil. (Do not bury the end in the soil.) Water it, and be aware that you will have to water this more often than you would a full-grown plant, yet don’t overwater. In a few weeks you will see roots and new leaves appear.
Now go buy some succulents and find something unusual to grow them in – and remember to use your imagination!