Updated: Apr 23, 2020
There's a succulent craze going on around here! Both faux and living succulents are used in a plethora of home decor and garden applications. Because of their variety of interesting shapes and diversity of pretty colors, succulents are used in container gardens, rock gardens, wall pockets, and wreaths. So what are these popular plants?
According to Britannica at https://www.britannica.com/plant/succulent, succulents are “… any plant with fleshy, thick tissues adapted to water storage. Some succulents (e.g.,cacti) store water only in the stem and have no leaves or very small leaves, whereas others (e.g.,agaves) store water mainly in the leaves. Most succulents have deep or broad root systems and are native to either deserts or regions that have a semiarid season.” Cacti come in about 2,000 species in curious forms from the tiny button cactus, barrel shapes, to the giant saguaro that soar up to 50 feet tall. Cacti are native through most of North and South America. The Ponytail Palm is also a succulent, storing water in its’ trunk. Leaf succulents include Aloe, famous as a medicinal plant; the jade plant; Sempervivum; Echeveria; Aeonium; Graptopetalum; and Sedum (also known as Stonecrop).
In particular, it’s the Sempervivum, Echeveria, Aeonium, Graptopetalum, and creeping Sedums that have gained raging popularity. Rosette shaped Sempervivum, Echeveria, Aeonium, and Graptopetalum look very much alike, but are different genus of plants. Sempervivum usually have tiny teeth, like a comb, along the edges of the leaves & actually need a cold dormancy. Sempervivum are native to colder regions like Europe, and the meaning of their name, semper (always) and vivus (living), points to the fact that they can survive winter in all but the coldest climates. Echeveria come from North & South America, have thicker leaves than Sempervivum with smooth edges, and most do not do well in the cold. Aeonium have leaves that grow in a flat manner as opposed to the upward growing leaves of Sempervivum and Echeveria. Aeonium can grow tall, mini tree like stems with branches and a rosette on the end of each branch. Graptopetalum are native to South America & are related to Echeveria. Graptopetalum rosettes are two to five inches in diameter and have gently pointed chubby leaves, thicker than those of Echeveria. Sedums are a very diverse group, ranging from tall sedums to mat-forming carpet, or creeping sedums which are prized for their draping form which softens the edge of containers, rock garden, and wall displays. The Latin name Sedum, means "to sit," and these plants surely sit pretty!
The artificial variety doesn’t take any care at all, but what's the best way to keep the real living plants alive & looking lovely? Let's cover the basics of growing popular leaf succulents: planting conditions including soil, spacing, and containers; water; light; fertilizer; pests; and temperature.
PLANTING CONDITIONS - Soil, Spacing, & Containers: Use fast-draining cactus soil mix or amend 4 parts potting soil with one part coarse sand or perlite (4 cups soil + 1 cup sand or perlite). Leaf succulents need good air circulation so give them a little space from their neighbors. I love a full arrangement, but circulation can be provided in a planting that appears to be overflowing by using interesting pebbles, marble, fine mulch, or sand as ground cover between the plants. Terrariums are not the best choice for succulents because the container holds so much moisture the plants don’t dry out and die from too much water that causes root rot or mold. Containers with drainage holes that are open to the air are best for succulents. If you have a particularly pretty container that doesn’t have a drainage hole, just plant your succulents in a slightly smaller container and sit that inside your decorative planter. You can cover the edges of the containers with pretty stones. When you water, you will need to empty out the water that drains into the decorative container.
WATER: Too much water is a common cause of succulent demise. Don’t water until the soil is completely dry, and then give your leaf succulent a good deep soaking with a narrow tipped squeeze bottle (like a condiment bottle) filled with rain water, distilled water, or filtered tap water that does not contain chemicals like chlorine. Letting the plant dry out & then soaking it encourages it to put out new thick root that can absorb lots of water when soaked again. Do not mist them with a spray bottle. Misting does not promote healthy root growth and can make mold grow. Misting or light watering causes the plants to grow tiny, thin new roots, and this will make the plant struggle to survive. As you water, when the water flows out of the drainage hole you know you’ve given your plant enough. Don’t give it anymore until the soil is completely dry. Succulents like a good, deep watering then they want to dry out, so water only when soil is dry. Plants with fatter leaves will require less frequent watering than plants with thin leaves. In general, small pots need water about once a week and large pots need water about every two weeks.
LIGHT: Many leaf succulents enjoy full or partial sun, but it’s also true that many prefer filtered light in the summer. Protect from direct sun when temperatures are above 80F, or your plants will get sunburnt. Solid green, pale, or variegated plants are most subject to sunburn. Plants that are red, gray, blue, or covered densely with spines tend to like more sun. When indoors, place by a bright window or under grow lights. If your indoor succulent doesn’t get enough light, it will stretch towards the light, grow too tall and “leggy”. The official term for this is “etiolation.” If this happens, don’t toss your plant. Consider it an opportunity to get some free plants! Get up your courage and cut the top of the plant off, leaving a few leaves at the bottom for the original plant to suck up sunlight. Do not water yet, and don’t plant the cutting yet. Let the ends that were cut on the plant and the cutting dry out for about 3 days until the cuts have calloused over. Then put the cutting in well drained soil and water both the original plant and the cutting. The cutting should start to grow roots and the original plant should begin to grow new leaves. This will take anywhere from a couple of days up to 2-3 weeks. Since your plant wasn’t getting enough light where it was, find a place for your plant and cutting where they will get more indirect sunlight or add a grow light.
FERTILIZER: Use a fertilizer with low nitrogen ( marked 5-10-10) diluted to half strength to prevent burning. Leafy succulents only need to be fertilized once a year at the beginning of their growth cycle in Spring.
PESTS: Leaf succulents are fairly pest resistant, but when your plants are outside in the summer, it is possible they may pick up common pests like mealy bugs or aphids. Both can be easily removed by spraying lightly with a soapy water solution. This is the only time it's a good idea to mist your succulents, and they should not be sprayed more than once a week with soap sprays because doing so too often can cause discoloration and lesions on the plant. Commercial soap sprays are available at most garden stores, but you can make your own. To make insecticidal soap, mix one cup of any vegetable oil (corn, soybean, etc.) and one tablespoon of dishwashing liquid used for washing dishes by hand. Do not use any dish washing liquid containing degreaser or bleach. Mix two teaspoons of this soap mixture with one cup of warm water and put into a spray bottle. Mix only what is needed for a one-day application. If you are using a homemade concoction, test it on a small section of the plant before spraying the entire plant to make sure that it will not do any harm. Do not spray if temperatures are over 90 F.
TEMPERATURE: The temperature that is best for your succulent depends on the variety of the plant. There are “hardy” varieties that can survive frost and there are “soft” or “tender” varieties that must be protected from freezing. Hardy succulents include some types of Sedum and Sempervivum that will survive winter temperatures for most areas of the northern United States. Hardy varieties are generally viable in areas as cold as USDA zone 5 (coldest temperatures ranging from -10 to -20 F). Some hardy succulents change color or lose their leaves as they go dormant for the winter. Common hardy succulents
include Swmpervivum hueffelii and globierum, and Stonecrop Sedums. “Soft” or “Tender” succulents” must be brought indoors for the winter in cold areas. Typically tender succulents can survive outside in USDA Zone 9 (coldest temperature ranges from 20 to 30 F) and above, but some tender succulents can survive as low as Zone 7 (coldest temperature ranges from 0 to 10 F). Common tender
succulents include Echeveria, Crassula, Jade, Kalanchoe, Aloe, and tender varieties of Sedum.
USA Plant Hardiness
The basic USDA Hardiness Zone Map is pasted below. Click here to go to the USDA website and get more detailed info about your specific zone.
Well, I hope this information is helpful to you. Happy planting!